Oct 05

Most Sri Lankans desperately wish that our political parties would find some way of forgetting their self-interest and cooperate constructively in Parliament for the long-term good of our beloved motherland.

What we need to face up to is that neither of the two major parties is likely to be successful in securing a sufficiently powerful majority in Parliament in the foreseeable future to carry out any serious programme of work to solve the current economic and ethnic problems, not to mention those pertaining to employment, transport, energy, education, environment, health and the ageing population.

The present excessive concentration of power in the hands of the Executive President complicates matters many-fold.

With a view to eliminating the evil effects of having Parliament divided into several antagonistic groups, whose sole function is to oppose and denigrate each other, with the President exercising almost unlimited power independently and rather arbitrarily, CIMOGG has, over the past three years, developed a proposal that would enable all Parliamentarians to cooperate with each other for the benefit of the country, without losing their separate political identities, and which could be implemented with minimal changes to the present Constitution. The only person who would lose a substantial amount of personal power would be the President, whose powers, in any case, all Parliamentarians want to curtail and transfer to Parliament.

In the short term, the CIMOGG solution envisages no change to the present electoral system. Pending future improvements, what is proposed is the immediate setting up of a five-person Supreme Council which would be composed of the President, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and two independent Members. The President, Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition would be elected just as they are now but the two independent Members would be elected by secret ballot from among those MPs who do not belong either to the Prime Ministers party grouping or the party grouping of the Leader of the Opposition.

The Supreme Council would take over all the non-ceremonial functions of the President.

The procedure for the secret balloting to elect the two independent Members referred to above would need to be formulated in such a manner as to exclude bargaining exercises based on party, race, religion, caste, class, region and financial or other considerations, so that the most capable and highly-regarded persons would have the best chance of being elected.

In an arrangement with similarities to those in the old State Council, and presently practised in the US Congress, twenty Parliamentary Committees would be set up. All the MPs would be required to join one of these twenty Parliamentary Committees, in keeping with their interests or expertise. It would be the responsibility of the Supreme Council to ensure that the area of responsibility of each of the Committees is clearly defined and all of them made equally important, with more or less similar budgetary allocations, so that no one Committee will be substantially more attractive to serve in than any of the others. Each Committee would have about 12-14 MPs as members.

The Chairmen of the Committees would be elected by secret ballot. All Chairmen of Committees would be automatically accorded Ministerial rank and shall form the 20-member Cabinet, which would be chaired by the Prime Minister. This process would eliminate the present inhuman pressures on the President and the Prime Minister to reward most lavishly the most loyal, most subservient, most vociferous, most underworld-connected, most fund-providing and most extreme supporters, which, in the past, has led to the appointment of an army of Ministers and Deputy Ministers, with overlapping functions.

Provision would be made for every proposal of each Parliamentary Committee to be studied and commented upon by a group of not less than five recognised specialists in the field covered by the said proposal. Recommendations submitted by each Parliamentary Committee, together with the specialists report, would be considered by the Cabinet. Endorsement by a two-thirds majority of the Cabinet would lead to the proposal in question being submitted to the Supreme Council, which shall consider all issues connected with the proposal. The proposal would be implemented only if at least four of the five members of the Supreme Council give their consent.
Neither the President nor the Prime Minister shall be vested with power to overrule any of the majority decisions of the Supreme Council or to delay arbitrarily the making of any appointment required to be made under the Constitution.
The present Presidential candidates are urged by CIMOGG to meet together immediately after submitting their nominations for the forthcoming elections and agree to include in their manifestos their firm intention, if they come to power, to make every effort to implement this proposal, or something essentially similar, in order to achieve the salutary effect of diminishing rivalries and disputes based on the multitude of divisive factors which plague this country. The proposed system of ensuring cooperation between the various political parties and independents will enable every MP to contribute his best efforts without slavishly voting under orders.