|Port City Confusion and Uma Oya Cockup: Challenges to good governance|
The latest news on the Port City and Uma Oya projects is that the government has “automatically stopped” the former, but only after some dithering, and “suspended” the latter until further review. While Port City has been all over the news, the Uma Oya project is another screw-up from the Old Regime that deserves no less scrutiny. The new government is still finding its way in clearing the old Rajapaksa decks and setting up its own stage for good governance. Or, is it? Ministers running around like headless chickens, and cackling at cross-purposes, is not an encouraging sign of good governance. The corruption of the Old Regime must be exposed and dealt with, but the new government must also demonstrate competence not only in dealing with the misdeeds of the Old Regime, but also in replacing them with good deeds of its own. People’s patience can end abruptly and their frustrations can flare up alarmingly, now that they have tasted the power to bring down what, until two months ago, was considered to be an irremovable government. Talking about regime screw-ups, I need to digress to insert here a sentence, and no more than a (long) sentence is needed, to dismiss Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s recent claim to his ‘irreplaceability’. GR was not a “government servant”, as he now seems to describe his role in his brother’s regime, but a political appointee who exercised government power over and above any and all ‘government servants’, and he should be judged not by his claim to what he thinks to be his unmatchable attributes, namely, “hard work, commitment and vision”, but by his qualification and competence to undertake the responsibilities that he so highhandedly assumed and he so powerfully discharged after 2009, by the degree of conformance his actions had with established norms and practices of government that real ‘government servants’ could deviate from only at the peril of losing their jobs, and by the evaluation of the intended and unintended consequences of his actions in terms of public costs including lost opportunity costs, benefits, and (mis)allocation of resources. Be that as it may.
Is the Port City in, or, out? It depends! Not on the merits or demerits of the project, but on which Minister happens to be the government talker for the day. That’s the way it has been for days and weeks, until last Thursday when the “acting Cabinet Spokesman”, Lakshman Kiriella, declared the project “automatically stopped” until further revisiting and renegotiation of the project to the “mutual consent of both China and Sri Lanka.” If the stoppage could be automatic now, where was the need for so much dithering and conflicting statements by half a dozen ministers? In opposition, the UNP was more opposed to Port City than it was opposed to the impeachment of Chief Justice Shiranee Bandaranayake. During the December election campaign the Port City development was held up by the opposition as an example of the sweetheart deals over land and property development in Colombo that the Rajapaksa regime was getting into with state sponsored Chinese companies and Indian developers. The project is in clear contravention of the last five commitments (#96 to #100) of the Maithri Manifesto. Why then the confusion? Why the hesitation?