Omission vs. commission | Sunday Observer

Omission vs. commission

8 January, 2023

What are governments blamed most for? For acts of omission or acts of commission? If those who run the country are blamed at a given time more for their acts of commission than acts of omission, it follows that the more acts of omission there are from such a dispensation, the better it would be on the whole. Translation: hands off the country.

That may be a sad day when people expect their rulers to do less, simply because if they do more that would be bad for the country. In some situations it stands to reason that the less Government intervention there is, the better. It’s said that if the private sector is the engine of growth the State should be preferably mute and disengaged.

That may work, but when it hasn’t worked obviously the finger is pointed at the State. What got this country into a mess were acts of commission by successive governments, and incidentally past rulers would have been forgiven for the acts of omission if any, if their acts of commission weren’t so damaging.

Rulers ran up massive debt, but those were acts of commission. Rulers created the tensions between various ethnicities in this country and caused the disparate communities to be at each others’ throats. They were all acts of commission.

None of this would have happened if there was a moratorium on politics and politicians in this country, but it happens to be a democracy and the people cannot ban politicians en masse even for a day or a brief interregnum.


Politicians elect themselves advertising their acts of commission or their intended acts of commission, but it would be better if they were elected on the basis of what they promise not to do. Well, that’s only half in jest.

It would be nice for instance if politicians swore before elections that they would not be corrupt instead of swearing to put up great works, and uplift the downtrodden. Very few people believe them when they promise the latter, but if they say they will not be corrupt, they could indeed be held to that pledge.

In other words we want our politicians to be remembered for their acts of omission and it has indeed come to that. There is enough greatness to celebrate in a man if he had not robbed the coffers dry — a significant act of ‘omission’. Not strictly an act of omission though, because pilfering coffers is not part of the job-description. (But you get the idea.)

However, these are special times. People expect that there is some just recompense for the acts of commission of a cumulative nature over the years that their politicians were responsible for.

In other words they expect that there would be more acts of commission by the same breed whose acts of commission got us in trouble in the first place.

This seems to be absurd in one sense. It’s worth remembering that a sage said it’s insanity to do the same things over and over again and expect different results.

This writer is focusing on politicians in general, not on specific personalities. That said, in this decisive year when predictions are that there may be even more trouble forthcoming than in previous years including 2022, should our prayer be for more acts of omission on the part of our politicians? Something on the lines of ‘god let them do less and we would all be spared,’?

Such a prayer may be misplaced unfortunately in these times. Politicians cumulatively over the years have got us into such a mess that we can only expect them to intervene to turn the tide, because only they have the agency to do so.

That’s a paradox. It should have been upto others whoever they may be and not politicians to get us out of the trouble they created. It’s such a plain straightforward expectation that it should have been axiomatic.

But we have to expect the politicians to act because they have been given the agency to act, and because nobody else is empowered. But of course there have been others whose acts of omission are also far too significant to ignore.

It includes the people of this country and so called civil society who turned a blind eye when the country was systematically laid waste by politicians. It would have been good if for instance there were more acts of omission by politicians, and more acts of commission by those who were expected to hold them to account.

But the latter category cannot put things right when they have gone horribly wrong. Politicians are expected to do that job, and that is called the ‘system’ but there seems to be obviously something wrong with that system until something is done about it.

But it is hoped that the coming years would have politicians doing just what they need to do to put things right and no more. More than in any other period, lofty statements by politicians should be treated with the utmost suspicion.


People would much rather that their representatives are seen and not heard as it’s often said about children. Each act of commission by politicians should be monitored carefully while in a general sense acts of omission should be lauded except when they are so obviously damaging as to be in the nature of dereliction of duty.

In other words, people want far more oversight. They want politicians to do less, except where obviously they have to do more because of how badly they have let things deteriorate until that point.

Remember that oversight is what was called for during the ‘Aragalaya’ when it was proposed that various civil society actors and ‘experts’ be given the job of running the country instead of politicians. But the system is entrenched and such substitutions are easier said than done, when state craft is, after all, not a football World Cup.

There is this footnote to this article then. Who is guilty of the more grievous acts of omission, or commission— the people of this country, or its politicians? Perhaps while politicos were guilty of monumental acts of commission that resulted in the ultimate economic crash or meltdown of 2022, it is the people of this country that were more culpable because of their acts of omission.

They turned the other way when politicians sowed ethnic discord. They were bemused at worst, or indifferent at best. Either way those were grievous omissions that resulted in massive consequences.


They looked the other way when politicians virtually hijacked parliament and used it in the main for their own ends. Civil society didn’t provide solutions and then sometimes didn’t like the solutions, bad though they have been, that the politicians provided.

In the main these were acts of omission but never mind civil society, by and large the people of this country have been largely non-participant. There has been collective omission and that was the malaise of this country — the real one.

Now they have to keep the feet of the politicians to the fire particularly this year — 2023 — because there is a lot that has to go right if we are to get anywhere, and that can only be through the intervention of ‘professional’ politicians.

A people remiss for over six decades find it hard to hold politicians to account even at this crucial juncture because it would be like the blind leading the blind. So this process of mending has to be mutual — a process of growth that’s hopefully symbiotic, that would involve politician and citizen on the street.

Politicians have a lot on their plate and people for once expect much of them that’s precise, and needs much application, because they know that there cannot be too many mistakes. It may be a tough ask, but the people by their acts of omission got us here. We the people.

We have to share part of the blame at least up to that extent. At least let the acts of commission of politicians not be as grievously harmful as they had been in the first six decades after independence, and let the acts of omission among the people of this country not be so ‘blasé” in nature in this new year, and thereafter. In fact let there be no acts of omission among the people at all so that the politicians don’t commit more acts of palpable damage as they did before we fell into a hole.