Jun 25

The former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, according to a recent newspaper report, had stated, a day or two before he retired, that A… power must be devolved from the bottom to the top, not the other way round. The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) has been promoting this very concept strongly for a number of years except that we do not accept that there is a Atop and a Abottom in this regard. Our view is that the People, Parliament and all other institutions of government are all at the same level, and that power should be considered to flow Ahorizontally from one entity to the other, each of which is entrusted with some agreed component of the totality of State power.

Nearly three years ago, on 30 August 2006, in a submission made to the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, we wrote as follows -

AThe Concise Oxford English Dictionary (10th Edition, 1999) states that, in politics, subsidiarity is the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level. Where subsidiarity applies, the system of government would allow citizens of the Primary Voting Units to take decisions and act on behalf of their respective communities without having to seek the inputs or approvals of Divisional, District, Provincial or National (central) governments. Similarly, the local governments at Divisional level (say, AGA’s Divisions, Urban Councils and Municipal Councils) would be able to act on their own behalf in matters where inputs from the District, Provincial or National governments are not needed. The District governments would, in turn, be free to carry on with their reserved powers and responsibilities without having to look to the Provincial or National governments. And so on.

The Primary Voting Unit could be defined as the area of command of a polling station or a Grama Niladhari Division, the latter being preferred in order to bring the concept more into line with the prevailing structure of government at the current primary administrative level. In parallel with CIMOGG’s thinking, SWARAJYA and the MAHATMA GANDHI CENTRE have been working for nearly two years on their first Grama Rajya experiment in the Wattegedera Grama Niladhari Division, close to Polgahawela, in the Kurunegala District. The response of the citizens of Wattegedera in carrying out those tasks which can be performed by them independently has been highly revelatory and provides unequivocally positive support for the more general application of the principle of subsidiarity.

The logical meaning to be applied to the term Adevolution was elaborated in July 2007 by CIMOGG in a contribution that appeared in two of the leading English language dailies under the title ADEVOLUTION – AN ILLOGICAL CONCEPT. The full text of what was articulated then may be found in the CIMOGG web site at www.cimogg-srilanka.org. What we said then, and continue to say, is that sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable, as set out clearly in the Constitution. Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise. According to the Constitution, the People do not give up their sovereignty but merely delegate the exercise of their powers to Parliament, the President and the Courts. The problem has been that Parliament has arrogated to itself many powers that it should have left in the hands of the Grama Niladhari Divisions (GNDs), Pradeshiya Sabhas (PSs), District Councils (DCs) and Provincial Councils (PCs) so that each of these entities could carry out those tasks which are perfectly within their capacity to handle, subject to a rational allocation of funds to the various units.

It is our position that, just as much as a grantor of a Power of Attorney (PoA) usually retains certain powers which are not given to the holder of the PoA and can, at any time, withdraw any of the powers granted to the holder, the same position should apply to the People (as grantor) and Parliament (as holder). In other words, there is nothing extraordinary in the People demanding that Parliament restore to the various units of government appropriate components of the People’s sovereign powers.

As far as CIMOGG is concerned, the standard picture of a pyramid with Parliament at the apex and the People at the bottom, with the Grama Niladhari Divisions, Pradeshiya Sabhas, District Council and Provincial Councils in between, is an affront to the sovereignty of the People. If the pyramid analogy is to be used at all, it should be inverted so that the People are located at the broad top face and power flows down to the point at the bottom, where Parliament may be considered to be situated, but we simply do not understand why they cannot all be considered to be operating at the same level.

At election time, politicians solemnly declare that they are coming forward as candidates because they wish to serve the country, even though almost every one of them is only interested in gaining power and making money. Currently, the first hurdle a potential candidate has to overcome to be considered for nomination is access to large funds, often running into millions of rupees, from not-so-philanthropic benefactors who will expect, in due course, to recover many times their investments. The second requirement is to be able to call upon a bunch of committed henchmen who are willing to break the law and resort to violence, particularly during election times. The third is a highly elastic conscience. The fourth is the gift of the gab. The fifth is the weakness of character that will allow one obsequiously to do whatever the leader of the candidate’s party wants done, right or wrong. As this system largely spawns crooked or mediocre candidates, there is a fundamental need for a screening process which will favour only those whom the voters themselves pre-select, from intimate local knowledge, as persons who are genuinely motivated to serve their fellow citizens, and are essentially capable and honest. If, say, it is legally stipulated that the voters in each GND shall, by secret ballot, elect 10 resident citizens of the GND, or those closely identified with it, as persons possessing the requisite integrity, competence and dedication required for public service, to form a Citizens Committee (CitCom) to serve their GND, it would be relatively difficult for undesirable characters to get into this group. This pre-selection process could be used to weed out the less desirable type of candidate for election to the PSs, DCs, PCs or Parliament.

It should be made a requirement for a candidate who seeks to be elected to a PS, DC, PC or Parliament to have been first a member of a CitCom for at least three years. Such a stipulation would significantly diminish the incidence of persons of dubious background buying or battering their way to political office. If this proposal is adopted, there would be a pool of about 140,000 pre-selected candidates available for political office, who could, at the same time, form a reliable electoral college which could, if so legislated, be empowered to elect members sequentially to the PSs, DCs, PCs and Parliament. This procedure would greatly reduce expenditures on a multiplicity of elections and prevent upstarts with money and thugs from getting nominations. The President alone may be elected directly, but with greatly reduced powers and fully answerable to Parliament.

At present, the representatives of the people, whatever the unit of government to which they have been elected, soon become a law unto themselves, with little danger of being removed from office for a period of 4-6 years, notwithstanding gross inefficiency, corruption or flagrant misconduct. This factor, combined with voter apathy and inertia, is probably the most important contributory reason why Sri Lanka has fallen so far behind many other nations since achieving independence. All CitCom members should, therefore, be compulsorily required to meet their constituents at least once in three months to report on the work that they have done for their constituency, and also agree on what are the jobs which remain to be done, and their order of priority. Failure to do so, without good reason, should be sufficient cause for steps to be taken to recall and replace such elected persons. There would necessarily have to be carefully worked out procedures for doing so in order that malicious or frivolous efforts at recalling good representatives are nipped in the bud. Similarly, the People’s representatives in the PSs, DCs, PCs and Parliament would have to report regularly to those members of the Electoral College who elected them. These representatives, too, would be subject to recall for inefficiency or corruption.

Serendipitously, the 140,000 members of all the CitComs would form a statistically ideal and highly reliable sample group of the entire population of the country. They could be polled at short notice to ascertain the People’s wishes in as effective a manner as a full referendum of all the citizens, but at a fraction of the cost. It would, hence, be possible to organise frequent, economical referenda to consider all controversial legislation.

It is appreciated that many transitional provisions will be required in changing from the present system to a better one based on the ideas which are presented here. The change-over could, however, be implemented in several evolutionary stages to make for a smooth transition into a future with greatly improved governance.

Dr A.C.Visvalingam
President, CIMOGG