President J.R.Jayawardene, fearing to face Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike at the polls, went to great lengths to deprive her of her civic rights. He did the same to Mr (now Dr) Nihal Jayawickrema. It was a small mercy that only two persons were affected by this perversion of the powers vested in the Executive Presidency.
Much later, in or about September 2010, Government MPs, comprising two-thirds of Parliament, metaphorically tucked their tails between their legs, and voted blindly to pass the 18th Amendment. They gave up all pretence of being independent representatives of the People. By supporting this undemocratic Amendment, they gave President Mahinda Rajapaksa the freedom to do virtually anything he wanted, according to his needs, moods or inclinations. Neither the MPs in the government’s ranks nor others can now deny this all-powerful President whatever he wishes to do. UPFA members dare not propose anything he does not favour or oppose anything that he sponsors. With the passing of this infamous Amendment, all twenty million citizens of Sri Lanka – not just two – have effectively been dispossessed of their sovereignty and their rights.
The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) has already pointed out that, under the 18th Amendment, the so-called “Independent Commissions” are just decorative entities. They are the President’s personal creations and can only function within the space allowed to them by him. It is at his pleasure that the President makes all senior appointments to the Judiciary, the Elections Commission, the Police, the Armed Forces, the Public Service, the Foreign Service, the Universities, State-owned Banks, and all Authorities, Boards and Corporations. Thus, the entire machinery of government has been surrendered to the will of one person.
The 18th Amendment is being exploited to the full; but how often for the public good? For example, the piecemeal dissolution of Provincial Councils to suit the Government’s political ends is of current interest. There is no need to remind anyone that the cost of electioneering and the holding of elections in dribs and drabs is a highly wasteful exercise of the Nation’s resources. It is not that previous regimes did not hold elections improperly to suit their assessments of the advantageous times to do so, but the scale of such aberrations has increased significantly over the past six years or so. Newspaper reports state that the forthcoming elections to just three Provincial Councils will cost in the region of Rs650 Million. In other words, the holding of these highly premature elections will entail an expenditure that will dwarf even the profligacy of taking fifty or more relatives, friends and hangers-on on several free trips overseas!
There is no one with the necessary strength now to call a halt to the irresponsible manner in which public funds are wasted, misapplied or robbed by the sycophants and crooks who have insinuated themselves into the inner circles of the regime. The latest craze is the desire to build airports at intervals of 50-100km over certain areas of the Island. Those who travel by air know how long it takes to get to an airport, go through security and baggage checks, fly, get out of the airport, get a taxi and then travel to one’s destination. While it would be safe to say that the flying time for journey of 100km would be not much more than 30min, the other tasks referred to above would take not less than 45min on average at each end, not to mention the bothersome need to transfer one’s baggage from a vehicle to the plane and, later, from the plane to a second vehicle.
If the same journey were undertaken by car, utilizing the improved roads that are being built everywhere, it would cost very much less and, what is more, take up much less of one’s time. The only losers would be the con-men who are promoting the construction of unwanted airports. If these white elephants were not built, these crooks would be deprived of hundreds of millions of rupees in commissions on the contracts pertaining to investigations, planning, designs, construction, construction administration, equipment purchase, maintenance and a whole host of ancillary items.
The proposal for an airport at Kundasale is a particularly sick joke. Driving along the roads in around Kandy is like following an interminable funeral procession because of the traffic congestion, which will take many, many years to see a solution. To think of destroying the beautiful paddy fields, and the spice and other plantations in Kundasale, in order to build an airport that fewer than one per cent of Sri Lankans will use demonstrates how powerful greed and megalomania are when compared to plain commonsense and financial propriety.
In order to make an authoritative comment, over and beyond commonsense alone, the citizens in a responsibly governed country would require access to the relevant project proposals, traffic studies, income generation, expenditure, interest charges and other data figures from the appropriate departments to determine whether value for money was being obtained or whether their taxes were being squandered. But this facility is denied us in Sri Lanka. Instead, the President has said that there is no need for a Right to Information Law because all you have to do is to ask him personally for the information! The correct constitutional position is that the People delegate various components of their sovereignty and powers temporarily to whomever they elect to the Legislature and the Executive as their representatives. The People, as the grantor of such powers, have every right to monitor how honestly, competently and accountably their representatives are carrying out those responsibilities with which they, the representatives themselves, had begged to be entrusted. These representatives are legally and morally obliged to keep the public informed comprehensively as to why a particular project is necessary, what investigations and studies have been done to prepare the details of the project, how it will be financed without upsetting the economic stability of the country, what benefits will accrue to the People by implementing the said project, and how the relevant contracts will be advertised and the resultant offers evaluated. There should be no need to trouble the President of the country for such information; one should be able to see it on one’s computer.
Shortly after the LTTE were vanquished, the public was bombarded with the great news that Sri Lanka had the second-best performing Stock Exchange in the whole world. One recollects the sneering remarks made by the architects of the government’s economic policies about how poorly the Stock Exchanges of more advanced countries were performing in comparison with our own. Among the individuals who proudly sought to take much credit for this remarkable achievement was the Governor of the Central Bank. Just over two years have now passed since then and we have gained the doubtful distinction of having become the world’s fourth worst bourse. Just as much as credit was sought to be taken for the mighty performance of two years ago, any reasonable person would expect some blame for the current disastrous bear market to be taken by the Governor; but we have not heard any expressions of regret from him.
To compound the mismanagement of the People’s assets, this Governor explained a few days ago that EPF investments in shares are not made by the CB on the basis of individual assessment but on how all the shares in the “basket” perform collectively! He does not tell us what criteria he had set to guide his officials to decide on buying a particular share at a particular time. Would any sensible housewife buy a basket of vegetables and fruit collectively without looking at each one for quality and price? Would she tell her servants “Just buy a lot of stuff and come. We shall then see which items are unripe or rotten and which items are good, and thereafter tell my family that the good items outnumber the poor ones!” As for buying Greek bonds when the whole world was aware of the parlous state of the Greece’s economic situation, it is difficult to see how it could have been a bona fide transaction.
The nature of the explanation offered by the Governor is not very different from that of the convoluted ones given by two Ministers and their subservient officials about how the Z-score process was applied by them. They had taken two different sets of examination results, mixed them up, subjected them to a meaningless mathematical exercise, and then decided on who should gain admission to our universities. In this connection, we must admire the concise and clear manner in which the President has told these incompetents that, if you mix oranges and apples, you cannot to expect to get mangoes.
These disastrous mistakes can be traced to the fact that, in this country, the persons who are recommended by the Executive as being suitable to hold responsible positions are not subjected to informed questioning by a permanent High Posts Appointments Committee of Parliament, with equal representation from the government and opposition benches, assisted by experts in the relevant fields to which the positions pertain.
One could go on and on with a tedious recital of the evil effects of the 18th Amendment in comparison with an improved and strengthened 17th. In recent times, one or two MPs of the government have indicated that they regret having cooperated in the destruction of democracy in our beloved land. We hope that more of them will see the light and use their good offices to persuade their colleagues to help undo the damage. They do not have to leave the government to do this. They have only to speak the truth at their party meetings so that its internal oligarchy will realize that it is time to stop telling lies.