“Mediocre men often mistake aspiration for inspiration; they have first-class ambition along with third-rate powers; and these coming together make a most ill-matched pair of legs, which bear a person along awkwardly in his path of life, and expose him to endless mortifications.” – ~William Mathews
From wherever one looks and to wherever one looks, one sees that the Government is in deep, deep trouble.
They may put out a brave façade. They may brush aside all criticism. But there is no denying that they are knee-deep in ‘fertilizer’.
Whenever a crisis takes shape, they look to the Chief Executive, not so much to convince a public who is getting increasingly disillusioned about the excessive powers vested in the Presidency but because there is no solution either attempted or thought about by the rest.
When the peripheral actors take unilateral action, it invariably turns into disaster; thus instead of finding a solution to the problem at hand, they eagerly look forward to passing the proverbial buck to a ‘higher-up’, you know who.
It’s not only the politicians but the officialdom that surrounds each Cabinet Minister and Junior Minister and those who are serving in the Provincial Council administrations too seem to be utterly clueless and incompetent and simply do not seem to possess the capacity to understand what the country needs and what they could contribute towards the resolution of the burning issues of the people.
No one even refers to or whispers about this ‘capacity’ factor, basic ability to discern and choose, of those who are elected and selected to find solutions for the problems the country is confronted with.
The dearth of people with ‘capacity’ is greatly felt in every sphere and in every stratum of society.
For instance, look at who J R Jayewardene’s key Cabinet Ministers and their respective teams of officials were. R Premadasa had Paskeralingam, Susil Siriwardena and K H J Wijedasa; Gamini Dissanayake had N G P Panditharatne, Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria, Mahi Wickremaratne and Dr. A N S Kulasinghe and Lalith Athulathmudali had Harsha Wickremesinghe and Lakshman de Mel and Ronnie de Mel had Dr. Tilakaratne, Ronnie Weerakoon and Chandi Chanmugam. All these civil servants could hold themselves against the best in the world and come out winners, both in production of genuine performance and as dignified personalities who roamed the corridors of officialdom in Sri Lanka.
Can we name one such name today, perhaps other than Dr. Jayasundara of the Treasury? It is not the purpose of this writer to ridicule or belittle those officers of today’s Sri Lanka Administrative Service; but a comparative study is essential in order for us to ascertain and analyze and reach conclusions as to what has gone wrong and how we could take any corrective measures; or even to conclude that there is no way we could match those yesteryear’s masters and so to get on with what we have.
That is a very pathetic scenario, a scenario in which one settles down with mediocrity and thus with the status quo against something novel and fresh, instead of undertaking a path in search of excellence they have opted to be rotting away in that dreadful pit of a comfort zone. Since the 1994 defeat of the United National Party-led government, there has not been one single new, creative national program introduced and enacted. They renamed the Janasaviya as Samurdi and started building infrastructure, roads and bridges. Not a single project has been undertaken so that the benefits of such programs could enhance the incomes of the poor and the middle-class. All decisions relating to expenditure are taken by the Chief executive and thus the initiative and creativity of individual Cabinet Ministers have been discouraged and killed.
Every other new project undertaken from Norochchole to Upper Kotmale has been suffering from weak construction and inadequate study; both the Hambantota Port and Mattala Airport are white elephants, draining the country’s resources and posing as colossal edifices to the makers’ stupidity and monumental egos.
One remarkable achievement of this Government, however, is her cleverly-designed and masterfully-executed propaganda campaign. On the back of the ‘War-Victory’ against the Tamil Terrorists in the North, they have embarked on a massive media onslaught. In ferocity and viciousness it would even surpass the guns and bazookas and claymore mines exploded during the fighting in the North and East.
One announcer who happens to be the head of the organization that owns the radio channel that he uses every morning, blasts away in his baritone voice, demeaning and debasing every norm and media etiquette and assaults all and sundry with his verbal blitz. This very man, a product of R Premadasa and was more popularly known as “Punchi Premadasa” (little Premadasa), had the smallness, certainly not audacity, of mind to belittle his own ‘Master’.
Little does he realize that the language he uses and the venom his verbal diarrhea generates, tells more about his emptiness than his targets of attack. In such bizarre situations, reasonable listeners undoubtedly arrive at judgments more on the announcer rather than on the ones he chooses to attack. There is no finer example of mediocrity surpassing excellence.
The whole machinery of government is entrapped in this web of mediocrity. The change that the 1956 revolution engendered is surely taking its strides, but in the wrong direction. The social muck and debris that this ’56 revolution threw out is now dominating the stage. The educated has been replaced by second-class practitioners; discipline has been overthrown and workplace anarchy has been legitimized, punctuality is overlooked and the callous disregard for clients and consumers has being accepted as a mark of masculinity.
Simplicity has been sacrificed and over-simplification of serious matters is portrayed as a quality of eruditeness. Quoting from the Great Chronicle (Mahawansa) is accepted as patriotism and any expression of reasonableness is regarded as weakness and traitorous. Excellence has no place and anyone showing signs of excellence is degraded and maligned and in its place mediocrity reigns.
Sri Lanka has become a country of mediocre rulers and officials, of mediocre politicians and supporters. The benefits of free education have been completely swept away and instead of producing generation after generation of free-thinking patriots, it has sprung up graduates and scholars bent on selling their degrees to the highest bidder. Prostitution of their degrees is accepted as a norm and the ones who choose to be different are classified as traitors and unpatriotic vultures.
The unfortunate consequence of the so-called common man’s revolution has completely distorted the view of oneself and one’s own philosophy. It is not only resident in the governing circles; it has spread laterally across the parliamentary Opposition as well. Open corruption is regarded as the ‘done thing’ and any deviation from oiling the right palm is abhorred and met with utter disdain.
Usurpation of people’s power which is vested in them by virtue of election results is being practiced not only by the politicians but even their wives and husbands and children, by all kith and kin and they pontificate to the country as paragons of virtue and liberators of values.
Let us not dream any more. The paradigm has changed and it has changed for the worse. The UNP of yesteryear is no more; the SLFP of S W R D Bandaranaike is no more, the country of our parents’ generation is no more. In its place is a malodorous pit of corruption, a nauseating concoction of government machinery, a sorry people whose dreams have been shattered and expectations dashed and a place where mediocrity reigns with no challenger in sight.