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Mon, 11 December 2017 22:16:16
Hypocrisy one-upmanship in Sri Lanka
20 Sep, 2013 09:32:08
By Rohan Samarajiva
Sept 20, 2013 (LBO) - One of the worst things this administration has done is double the size of the government work force. One of the best things the short-lived Ranil Wickremesinghe administration did in 2002-04 was to freeze government appointments in the face of an economic crisis that saw the economy contracting for the first time since independence.
So, I was surprised when, a few years after they lost power, a respected UNP MP challenged the government’s dilatoriness in hiring more graduates as promised in its election manifesto.

I knew that he knew that hiring more graduates without there being any real work for them was bad; that it was bad for fiscal probity; that it was bad for efficient delivery of government services; that it was bad also for the young people being hired to stand around doing nothing.

But his argument was that the administration had gained power by making promises. His job in Opposition was to hold them to their promises and embarrass them politically; not to speak for the right policy. Hypocrites, he called them. Hypocrisy one-upmanship, I call the phenomenon.

Casino debate

Hypocrisy one-upmanship is on the verge of taking over the present debate on casinos. Historically, it’s the SLFP that has ridden the puritanical high horse. MrsBandaranaike banned horse racing and drove the bookie business underground. The UNP was a lot more realistic in its approach to the “vice” of gambling.

It brought the bookie business above ground by enacting a law that made it possible even for “illegal” betting businesses to pay taxes. The government gained tax revenues; the people who had continued to place bets on unpronounceable horses running in unknown courses in distant England could now do so openly and without fear of prosecution.

The first “foreigners only” casinos came up during UNP rule. Everybody knew that the signs were partly to attract status-seeking locals, but as long as they paid the over- and under-the-table taxes, they could operate.

I, for one, think the UNP was right and the SLFP wrong in the approach to gambling.

Banning things humans have consistently done across cultures and over time is futile.

It breeds criminality and deprives the government of tax revenue. It places legal businesses at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the illegal. It makes it difficult to alleviate associated problems such as addiction.

But, today it is the UNP that is opposing casinos. It is seeking to take on the mantle of the moral police. When challenged, they point out the hypocrisy of permitting/promoting casinos while preaching enforced morality in other areas.

But where will this hypocrisy one-upmanship take us? One party talks the Taliban talk of forcing the moral codes of the majority, that even they do not follow, down the throats of all.

Once in power, it becomes more pragmatic, doing what is needed to harness primal human urges to grow tourism revenues and jobs. In reaction, the other party, traditionally pragmatic and a better custodian of the economy, now mounts the morality band wagon.

What began as a neededpolicy debate on the justification for tax breaks for casinos on India’s doorstep is in danger of being subsumed by hypocrisy one-upmanship. If the opposition gains traction and prevents the casino resorts being built, it will be another defeat for rational economic policy.

Rohan Samarajiva heads LirneAsia, a regional think tank. He was also a former telecoms regulator in Sri Lanka. To read previous columns go to LBOs main navigation panel and click on the 'Choices' category.

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READER COMMENT(S)
6. Al Somapala Dec 16
Good strategy by UNP associated clowns to blame the Sinhalese newspapers and brand them of being ignorant and stupid. Born losers you bunch of RW wing of UNP.
5. Rohan Samarajiva Oct 21
Sorry about the delay in responding. It is good to get a clear statement of the position taken by Harsha. I realize that media tell the story, not necessarily in the way the speaker intends. My column was based on what the Sinhala newspapers reported the UNP position to be. The FT was not my source.
4. Harsha de Silva Sep 23
Was busy on the campaign trail; but as the opposition MP who has spoken mostly on this issue I find it amusing that my dear friend Rohan has missed my point.

As reported in the FT the other day this is our position “A well-regulated, licensed and taxed casino industry is recommended if the Government wishes to promote casinos despite assurances to create a just and values-driven society. However, at present we have unregulated, unlicensed and untaxed casino operations,” the UNP MP claimed.

If you read the piece at http://www.ft.lk/2013/09/17/harsha-wants-mr-regime-to-come-clean-on-casinos/ you will see I am making a rational case for the people of this country as opposed to the casino owners.

You will see there is no hypocrisy or one-upmanship there. Incidentally this is same line taken by my (and also Rohan's) good friend Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Advisor to the President, Director of JKH and also of the Pathfinder Foundation!

3. Rohan Samarajiva Sep 23
@Raju. Answer to your question is that I did not. It would be helpful to read the column before commenting.
2. Raju Sep 21
How can the writer say a respected UNP economist suggested to stop hring by the government. All these ideas are good as long as this economist is employed and making big bucks. The graduate unempoyment problem was a big one created by the successive governments. We have provide the free education upto univerisity and then these graduates are thrown aside. At least the present government seem to be taking the right steps by reducing the intake for Arts Faculty. This education was the breeding grounds of JVP. They hounded these unemployed graduates created by us and use them to destroy the country.
1. fuss-budget Sep 20
The moralistic nature of politics is an inherent part of the development fascist-nationalism as is the undermining of the process of parliamentarism itsel so as to expand and worship the state. This has been going on for a long time.

Attacking 'Western decadence' and a paper tiger moral decay of citizens was a core value on which Eastern European fascism was built upon, as the popular vote and the mass media - which allowed illiberal and liberal ideas to be spread rapidly - developed in Europe. 'Western decadence' was a term invented by European fascists, not Asians in the East.

The state is supreme in forging 'unity'. The individual and 'harmful liberties' and diversity has no place in the state enforced 'unity' of a fascist nation.

To destroy the concept of parliamentarism and undermine people's confidence in parliamentarism and create the perverted 'democracy' as it now exists in countries like ours it was essential for the elected rulers in the opposition to hypocritically attack actions by their partners in power, especially attempts to give liberties to citizens.

The justification and legitimization of power and authority of the state and a supreme ruler and the subsuming of rule of law also comes from the relentless and hypocritical attacks by a section of the elected ruling class on their counterparts who have the tools of power for the time being. This in turn undermines parliamentarism but they justify it as 'democracy'.

In enacting the deadly parody of parliamentary debates they do not further the cause of the liberty of man but expands the state and statolatry and reduces the citizen into nothing, ultimately giving his life a value less than what existed even in the feudal era.

For this status to be reached it is essential therefore to attack any and all policies, so that arbitrary interventions by the elected rulers will be accepted by the masses and urban intellectuals in the belief that 'democracy hinders economic development' and a 'strong leader' is needed to push through 'correct' policies.

The justification for Sri Lanka's 1979 constitution came in that fashion as it did in several (Eastern) European nations.

They can quite easily forget that the entire Western Europe and North America was 'democratic' but gained 'economic development' with no autocracy.

A party with a specific ideology and aims that only changes very slowly if at all, that is inherent in parliamentarism, is absent in fascism. Diametrically opposing policies can be promoted while in power and in opposition with no shame. Opportunism rules eventually, resulting in arbitrary rule (dictatorship in common parlance) where thje legislature has no mind of its own or a desire to protect the liberties of the citizen.

And also in religious politics of the fascist state, the moral police is indispensable. That is not seen as opportunism or hypocrisy by the practitioners.

To quote Benito Mussolini:

"Whoever has seen in the religious politics of the Fascist regime nothing but mere opportunism has not understood that Fascism besides being a system of government is also, and above all, a system of thought.

"The State, as conceived and realized by Fascism, is a spiritual and ethical entity for securing the political, juridical, and economic organization of the nation, an organization which in its origin and growth is a manifestation of the spirit. The State guarantees the internal and external safety of the country, but it also safeguards and transmits the spirit of the people, elaborated down the ages in its language, its customs, its faith. The State is not only the present; it is also the past and above all the future. Transcending the individual's brief spell of life, the State stands for the immanent conscience of the nation. The forms in which it finds expression change, but the need for it remains. The State educates the citizens to civism, makes them aware of their mission, urges them to unity;"