Monday, December 05, 2005

The Palace of the People

The palace of the people
Is a curving glass affair
A vaulted crystal ceiling
With a spiral circuit stair
People walk in twos and threes
Above the parliament
People curving round the stair
Contemplate government
While outside random walkers walk
In lines and no array
Cursing all the empty talk
And wend their solitary way.

-A. David-

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Rampant Corruption

Many people are concerned by both the rising crime rate and the high level of corruption but may not realise that these problems are linked, and that the electoral system has built in incentives that foster both corruption and crime.

When large sums of money need to be spent to enter politics, (a presidential campaign can cost Rs.1bn) it tends to create two problems:

1. People entering office need to recover the money spent and therefore have an inbuilt incentive to corruption.
2. Campaign finances are raised from many sources and the politician is under obligation to the financiers. This creates further incentives for corruption. The most dangerous situation is when organised criminals finance politicians, this leads to a breakdown of law and order which can eventually result in the failure of the state.

Sri Lanka is already on this dangerous path, the following are some measures that can correct the problem.

1. Do away with proportional representation and revert to a first-part the post system. This will give clear working majorities to winning parties and prevent them being held hostage to minorities like the JVP/JHU/CWC.
2. Do away with preferential votes for individuals; a vote is only made to the party. The party thus needs to run just one campaign for each district; individuals need not run their own campaigns. This reduces the expense of running election campaigns and removes the need for individual politicians to raise campaign finance-and thus be under obligation to the financiers.
3. Strict spending limits on election campaigns. An elections commission to monitor spending by each party and details of spending to be made public. Scrutiny by rival parties and the public is the best way of ensuring spending stays within limits. The spending limit should be set at a low level and strictly enforced; exceeding the limit should result in disqualification. This cuts the need for finance and reduces the incentive for corruption.
4. Each potential candidate needs to declare his assets and produce a tax clearance certificate from the Inland Revenue prior to standing for office. Annual declarations to be made while in office.
5. The bribery law be amended that evidence of living beyond ones declared means may be taken as evidence of corruption.
6. Details of campaign finance, giving names of individuals/organisations financing political parties also needs to be made public.

None of these are easy measures to implement, but it is necessary that the fight against corruption starts at the top and starts early, before goodwill is lost.

From a broader, national point of view, it can prevent the country from sinking to a failed state in a morass of corruption.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A tribute to Farookh Bulsara better known as Freddy Mercury

It is fourteen years since Freddy Mercury, musician par excellence, died, of complications caused by AIDS on the 24th of November 1991.

He was born on the 5th of September 1946 to Parsi (Zoroastrian) parents in Zanizibar, an archipelago of islets in the Indian ocean, some 25 miles from the coast of Tanzania.

Educated at St Peter's boarding school in Panchgani (near Bombay) where he studied piano and singing as part of the curriculum and earned the nickname Freddie. His talent manifested itself early and he formed a band in school called the Hectics.

He returned to Zanizibar in 1962 when he was 18 but the family fled to England following a revolution there in 1964.

In England, Freddie lived a bohemian life, while perusing his interest in art. While studying graphic design and art at Ealing College, a chance encounter with Roger Taylor and Brian May rekindled his interest in music

Leaving Ealing College in 1969 he moved into Roger Taylor's flat and set up a stall in the Kensington market selling artwork by himself and fellow students, and later second hand clothes.

But from then on, it was the music that drew him. First joining a band called Ibex, he then left with the drummer to form Wreckage, later moving to Sour Milk Sea before finally forming what was to become Queen in 1971.

Mr Mercury's graphic design skills were employed in the logo based on the birth signs of the members: two fairies for Freddie (Virgin), two lions for Roger and John (Leo) and a crab for Brian (Cancer). He also took the stage name Mercury, after the winged messenger of the gods of Roman mythology.

Like all great musicians Mr Mercury had the ability to absorb and blend many influences while retaining his own voice. Few are aware of his love of opera and of the voice of Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé for whom he wrote a number of songs including Barcelona. Some of his more dramatic songs owe a debt to grand opera, Donizetti in particular. Indeed the resemblance between the high theatrics of opera and some of his more flamboyant stage shows is difficult to miss. He performed with the Royal Ballet in 1979.

Like all good artists his work was drawn from personal experience and his songs The Show Must Go On, I’m Going Slightly Mad and his remake of the Platters song The Great Pretender all testify to his deteriorating health, although this fact was carefully hidden from his fans. When asked what his music meant he replied, ‘I say what any decent poet would say if you dared ask him to analyse his work: if you see it, darling, then it's there’.

In a world increasingly dominated by synthetic music, manufactured to formulae, tested on focus groups and performed by glamour bands his highly individual voice is sorely missed.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Mahinda's first week in office

Well, he's been in office for a week and there are some ominous signs of things to come.

1. All roads to parliament seem to be closed, causing huge traffic jams. Spent an hour in one of them yesterday.
2. While wending my way in one of the jams encountered a convoy; motorcycle outriders, backup jeeps and a car in the middle thundering down on the wrong side of the road. Had to get onto the pavement to let the convoy through, was informed by one of the outriders (in sign language) as to the specific kind of oaf I was for peacefully sitting on my side of the road in a traffic jam.
3. The markets are jittery and driven by all manner of rumours, in the absence of a clear policy statement by the government. The stock market fell 10% in two days, the rupee is nudging 102.40 (its being held down by Central Bank intervention).
4. The Tigers seem to be intent on provoking the army, meanwhile the president calls for talks amongst parties in the south and of changing the facilitator.
5. Nobody seems to have a clear idea of what the government is upto, there seems to be no communication between government and the business community.
6. Parliamentary elections are rumoured to be held in March 2006.

All in all, the inexperience is beginning to show and there is a danger that things can spiral out of control, particularly on the war front.