Dec 29

During the pre-election period, those in state service were promised various improvements in their salaries, allowances and other perquisites. Some of these promises will undoubtedly be redeemed. However, what the beneficiaries were not told was that the 17th Amendment to the Constitution would be doctored in such a manner as to nullify the provisions presently contained in it, which serve to protect the rights and independence of public servants. This, CIMOGG fears, is what is going to happen in the near future, based on the information given in recent, unrefuted newspaper reports.

Originally, in 2001, the principal parties in Parliament deliberately weakened the version of the 17th Amendment that was proposed by the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), and then passed it into law. That the proposals made would be diluted by Parliament was, perhaps, not altogether unexpected as almost all politicians want to maintain their power over state employees, who could then be forced to carry out unlawful or irregular orders that honest, independent officers would otherwise have the courage to refuse to do.

Having observed the workings of the various institutions set up under the current 17th Amendment over the past four years, the OPA has appointed a committee of persons with excellent credentials to make recommendations to correct at least the more serious shortcomings that have been identified in this crucial piece of legislation. Even as this work is nearing its conclusion, it is learnt that the government is hurriedly proposing to alter the 17th Amendment so as to include politically appointed persons to be members of their respective Commissions. A case in point is the ill-intentioned scheme to make the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) an ex-officio member of the Police Commission whereas any right thinking person would agree with the OPA, CIMOGG and other public interest organisations that either the Constitutional Council or an appropriately empowered independent Police Commission should select the most suitable person for the post of IGP, without leaving it to the President to choose some less than upright person, as has happened in the past. This stricture and the suggested procedure for selection and appointment are seen, yet again, to be justified when one considers the horrifying report in the newspapers not many hours ago that certain drug-dealing policemen have named a retired IGP of being a prime participant in their criminal operations.

Similar machinations are being hatched by interested politicians to emasculate all the independent bodies which come under the purview of the 17th Amendment, particularly the Public Service Commission, which, to quote just one instance, helped recently to save several senior school principals from being wrongfully punished on unsubstantiated allegations of financial and other improprieties.

Eternal vigilance and vigorous non-violent agitation are the price that the public has to pay to make sure that what little protection they have from state employees working honestly and independently under the benevolent umbrella of the 17th Amendment is not eroded away altogether.

Dec 19

Sri Lankan politicians consistently claim to have sacrificed their welfare and wealth in their unquenchable urge to serve the nation. By now, therefore, the milk and honey produced by their selfless efforts should have overflowed into the Indian Ocean and changed its blue green colour to at least a light brown. This, we all know to our cost, has not happened, and is not going to happen any time in the foreseeable future and most certainly so, if things are allowed to continue to drift without public protest.

At the time Sri Lanka gained independence, our senior public servants had more powers than they possess at present relative to those of our legislators and, consequently, the scope for political rip-offs was quite limited. However, over the years, particularly after 1972, the role of public administrators in maintaining good governance has been steadily eroded and the powers of Ministers and the Cabinet to spend the taxpayers’ money on projects which allow a good proportion of state funds to be diverted for the personal benefit of Presidents, Ministers and MPs has increased very rapidly. The exercise of virtually unbridled power has led to such blatant and arrogant disregard for the constraints of decency that most members of the public and public officers have virtually lost all hope of putting things right. Those disillusioned citizens who are in a position to emigrate to a more disciplined and less corrupt country have left, or are trying to leave, whereas the rest have to choose between joining in the robbery of national assets and the taxpayers’ money, or remaining honest but helplessly supine, or contributing their efforts, however modest, towards establishing good governance.

The latest addition to the long list of unprincipled and highly questionable governmental transactions is the recently reported decision of the Cabinet to gift to the outgoing President a very valuable plot of land within a restricted, secure zone surrounding the Parliament building. If this unprecedented action is allowed to go unchallenged by the public as a whole, the Cabinet will get considerable encouragement to decide that it would be nice gesture, in the future, to gift similarly valuable plots of land to outgoing Prime Ministers and, subsequently, even to expand the scheme so as to reward our vast number of Ministers and Deputy Ministers in a like manner. The policy will very likely be further liberalised thereafter to reward senior public servants who have collaborated with corrupt politicians to manipulate tenders and the diversion of government resources into unofficial channels.

A first order comparison of what has been granted to President Wijetunge and what the Cabinet has authorised for President Kumaratunge indicates that about seven times more resources would have to be expended on the latter than on the former. This is not only in respect of security but in respect of non-security privileges as well. It is CIMOGG’s view that President Kumaratunge’s security requirements have to be assessed on an objective, scientific basis and not arbitrarily. For example, it cannot be seen how buying four highly-expensive bullet-proof cars and two luxury four-wheel drive vehicles are needed to ensure her safety. It cannot also be seen how her position as the head of a political party (which is not a national office) could be considered to entail a similar level of risk as being an Executive President. Moreover, if her party is so keen to have her at its head, it may be argued that the party should pay at least a significant proportion of the cost of the additional security and the major proportion of the expenditure incurred on the secretarial and domestic personnel reckoned to be required to keep her functioning as the head of her party, because there is no possible justification for the taxpayer to bear this burden which has no direct bearing on the national interest.
The other disgraceful side to this land-gifting business is that it had apparently been justified to the Cabinet by the Minister concerned on the grounds that the outgoing President had waived all rights to the pension and other perquisites of office of a retired President. It seems now that she has effectively gone back on her word and has asked for and been given “the moon and the stars”. The people of this country must not accept this kind of debased and profligate disbursement of state resources.

This type of totally reckless and unprincipled misdirection of national assets must be stopped at least now. Those who have already taken steps to try to do so, both through the legal system and the media, should be commended heartily for their civic consciousness.

CIMOGG calls upon every citizen to make known in writing to his or her representative in Parliament (with a copy to at least one newspaper) that this time the Cabinet has gone far too far beyond good governance and basic morality in the exercise of its powers.