Democratic Governance: Unnecessary Evil or Prerequisite for Progress?
Rotary Club of Kandy Annual Meeting
Kandy, Sri Lank
March 25, 2009
I wish to present some thoughts to you on Democratic Governance and whether this is an evil that is unnecessary today or whether it is an essential need of the hour. I shall examine this question from the point of view of what is most effective for progress in the present world.
The concept of governance has existed for several millennia and has undergone various transformations with every change in the socio-economic structures of human society. Institutions of government have evolved to keep pace with the social, economic, and cultural structures of a given society, at a given time in history.
The changes wrought by the advent of the industrial revolution, which gave birth to modern capitalism, brought about revolutionary changes in forms of government. The capitalist or free market economy required to give priority to creativity, freedom of thought to generate inventiveness that was required for scientific inventions of the modern capitalist era. Also free movement of peoples had to be permitted, in order to fulfil the need for workers in the factories. This required the ending of feudal bondage of farm hands and the end of slavery.
In the 19th Century, the fundamental freedoms and equality were considered to be a progressive agenda and became the corner stone of liberal democracy. The point I am trying to make here is that the foundation of a free market economy is a liberal democratic system of governance.
For instance, it is no accident that the United Kingdom, said to be the mother of Parliamentary Democracy, gave birth to the Industrial Revolution, Modern Capitalism and the Free Market Economy.
Hence, it is clear that the one cannot exist without the other.
Almost the entire world today, has adopted the free market economy for better or for worse. Of the third world countries, Sri Lanka has a fairly well developed free market system. We also have a functioning Parliamentary Democracy.
My Government from 1994 to 2005 had a well defined Vision of Justice, Good Governance and Economic Development.
We were morally committed to freedom and democracy in all its forms. We also realized that practically, the free market economy which was in place, could not function effectively without democratic forms of government. As we were committed also to the other pillar of our programme of action, i.e. to a just and equitable economic development, we knew that democratic institutions had to be re-established and strengthened at the time we came into government.
We adopted a large number of policies and measures to ensure the foll:-
fundamental rights of the individual,
equal rights and justice to all communities and so on.
We also realized that the enjoyment of freedoms and the fruits of development would not be durable, unless the entire population had access to the benefits of development.
Hence, we formulated a detailed Plan of Action for economic development. We formulated annual plans that looked at every aspect that effected people's lives: - Education, Health, Infrastructure development such as roads, highways, electricity, water supply, communication and telephones and transport. Priority was also given to those areas of the economy that could generate increased production and employment, hence adding to national wealth. These were the development of services, such as Ports and Aviation and creating a conducive atmosphere for foreign and local investment.
We realized also that if we were to achieve development, in order to alleviate poverty and create a stable and peaceful Nation - we desperately needed an enlightened government with a clear Vision with an effective Action Plan to implement that Vision. In short we needed to re-establish good governance at the top and then, everywhere else.
To achieve this we had to undertake several tasks:-
Firstly, the Leadership, especially the Leader had to convince the people and win their confidence about the commitment, honesty and integrity of the government. This could only be done through the moral behaviour and practices adopted by the leadership.
Secondly, Laws, systems and procedures had to be formulated and brought in to streamline government actions, so that arbitrary action which could lead to corruption was minimized.
Thirdly, legal as well as moral sanctions had to be put in place to punish those who violated the laws and systems.
All this we did in accordance with a clear plan of action. New Laws, new institutions, new procedures were brought in and set in motion. I, as Executive Head of State and Government did all that was humanly possible, on my part, to safeguard by word and deed, democracy and individual freedoms, transparency and honesty, political integrity and commitment to principles.
All this gave us rich results. Economically we were able to double the GNP and also the per capita income within the first 6 to 7 years of our government. The supply of fixed telephone lines was quadrupled and electricity supply was almost doubled in the same number of years. The supply of safe water to house holders in the remote areas, also increased by more than double.
The largest number of development projects and investments also took place during the years 1994 to 2005.
The first major development of the Colombo Port, since British times, was undertaken during this period, with the largest ever investment the country has seen until then,
The Katunayake Airport underwent the biggest ever development,
The first expressways and motorways were commenced, designed and construction begun, during this period e.g. The Southern Highway, Colombo / Katunayake Highway, Colombo / Kandy Highway. The fact that they have run into unnecessary difficulties in the past few years is another matter,
All the flyovers were also commenced during my government,
The largest number of power projects undertaken by any government was also completed or begun during this period. This included Kerawalapitiya and Norochcholai as well.
We also undertook a massive Education Reforms Programme, the first in about 03 decades, in order to take an archaic education system into the modern, scientific world and also give back a new morality of understating, coexistence and Peace, to our youth whose value systems were torn apart by decades of political violence.
What must not be forgotten is that all this was achieved while we had to fight a vicious war against separatism and terrorism, whilst at the same time attempting to persuade the LTTE to give up the arms struggle and come to the negotiating table.
A Democratic State is founded on People's Power, as expressed by the free vote, freedom of thought and expression and freedom of action. This also means the freedom to oppose.
Any willful whittling away of the most essential bases of democratic governance, will inevitably cause weakening of the State, leading to its collapse. The latter State would be called a failed State.
The destruction of the fundamentals of a Democratic State would cause unending whirlpools of destruction that will necessarily affect the efficient functioning of the other aspects of the State such as the economy, the ethical value systems and so on.
For instance a capitalist or for that matter even a small farmer, living in fear, does not invest money nor effort. This would lead to a slowdown in economic activity and finally to the flight of capital to safer environs.
People in fear migrate to safer shores, made so much easier in our globalized world. This leads to a serious dearth of skilled and able professionals, managers and workers.
Terror perpetrated by various groups or State terror, lead to an overall pall of depression and unwillingness to act, resulting in the loss of productivity in all sectors.
A State that refuses to be democratic will refuse dialogue with its people and increasingly depend on a small coterie of "yes" - men and women, who are incapable of giving the State an effective vision or action programme.
All this will lead to a slow but sure paralysis of all government institutions and a breakdown of the economy e.g. Zimbabwe, Uganda, Pakistan. Also the refusal of dialogue and intolerance of others views, especially if they are critical even in a constructive manner, leaves room for lack of dynamism, low productivity and inefficiency in government and private sectors as well as every type of dishonest and immoral conduct. This leads to corruption, intimidation and physical violence against anyone who dares to cross the paths of those in power. Even the use of the free vote comes to be considered as an act of hostility against the powerful. Oppression and suppression of those who do not agree on one hand, and shamelessly disseminated lies to propagate the myth that all is well on the other hand, begins to be considered the natural privileges of the powerful.
Authoritarian regimes by definition retain for itself the possibility of decision making and action, simply because that is the nature of autocracy. They tend to become corrupt and insensitive to the people's needs, because autocrats believe in their God-like powers and rights. They consider that they have every right to apportion national wealth solely for themselves, their families and cronies, never mind the Nation's interest.
I state all this simply to make a point unreservedly, that progress is not possible in our times, if we leave room for the destruction of all that forms the very basis of the structures that are required for development, human as well as economic. History has proved every leader who believed that he could short-circuit democratic governance by establishing autocratic dictatorial regimes has never succeeded for long.
Adolf Hitler was the world's most powerful man - for a short period of 7/8 years. Then he fell from power like Humpty Dumpty from his wall.
Mussolini, Idi Amin and so many other African and Latin American dictators suffered similar fates.
In all these countries the change agents were the International community OR the People rising up in organized protest.
In such instances History has proved that Leaders of every religious and social group together with the people and their leaders will and must breakthrough the cycle of fear and silence to stand up for Truth, Justice and Fair Play.