Dec 26

On account of the unwarranted diffidence of Sri Lankans when it comes to asserting their constitutional rights, the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) has found it necessary to assert repeatedly over the years through the media that the People are sovereign and that no one, however mighty, should be allowed to usurp their powers. Nevertheless, the reality is that, once an election is over, our citizens have got used to watching impotently whilst their elected representatives violate with impunity the trust placed in them to manage honestly and efficiently the affairs of the State. The situation has now reached such depths that, without any fear of punishment by his party’s hierarchy, a Member of Parliament recently proclaimed publicly that he and his fellow representatives in the party have made so much money that they will not need to acquire quite so much again, if re-elected – whereas members of the Opposition, if elected to power, would rob much more to make up for lost time! Members of his own party have not issued a meaningful denial.

We now quote from a 2010 CIMOGG article: “Ad hoc inquiries from friends, relatives, co-workers, retired public officers, shopkeepers, trishaw drivers, businessmen, professionals and other voters indicate that they are quite convinced that virtually all politicians are self-seeking opportunists, irrespective of party affiliations, and that elections merely end up by helping replace one set of opportunists with another. The people interrogated have little doubt that their assessment is logical because they see how much money is spent on capturing or staying in power, and enjoying the fruits thereof. They are fully aware that most of this money is from the State coffers and many questionable sources. The amount of abuse spouted against adversaries, particularly through certain media, and the number of threats, assaults, destruction of opponents’ assets, bomb-throwing, shootings, arson attacks and even murder, which occur during election campaigns, vindicates the public’s belief that it is certainly not the politicians’ concern for their fellow citizens or the truth that motivates them to vie so viciously to be the People’s representatives. The plainly discernible objective of pretty nearly every politician is to appropriate as much as possible of the Nation’s power and wealth for his own benefit and that of his close associates. Once in power, politicians eat as much of the cake as possible but smartly throw out enough crumbs and a mountain of Goebbelsian doublespeak to keep the majority of voters docile. In this scenario, it is not surprising that, sometimes, up to 30-40 per cent or so of the more sceptical voters refrain from casting their votes or spoil their ballot papers deliberately at our many elections.”

In the final analysis, the only practical measure of control that the public retain over their representatives in our elected assemblies is the right to express their (the public’s) satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the incumbent government by voting appropriately at the next elections. However, this powerful weapon has been devalued by individual voters who assume that their solitary votes would not be likely to have a decisive impact either way. They forget that the 15 Million votes in the country are, in fact, all solitary votes.

Defeatist notions must be countered firmly if we are not to throw away unmindfully the sole non-violent weapon that we possess to exercise some influence on the course of government policy-making and executive action so as to create an environment where the Rule of Law and good governance may have a better chance of prevailing.

It is worth mentioning that, whenever the Tamils of the North and East boycotted the polls, they ended up being worse off than before. There is little reason to think that a similar effect does not apply to the rest of the population. The first vital decision, therefore, that the voter must take, in his own interests and that of all his fellow citizens, is to decide that he will definitely cast his vote without letting it go waste. This is an absolutely fundamental civic and social duty.

Now we come to the crucial question as to which candidate one should get one’s vote. Although CIMOGG has strong views on issues of national importance, it is totally independent of party or other group affiliations. In order, therefore, to leave no room for accusation of partiality, we offer only the following neutral suggestions.

Politicians cover a wide spectrum that starts approximately at “cunning, power hungry, insatiably avaricious, intellectually dishonest, backed by every type of anti-social grouping, possessed of great mastery of double-speak and barefaced lying, and excellent communicational abilities” and ends somewhat tamely at “generally honest and patriotic”. There is a whole range of “in-between” types.

If we look at a Presidential election, decision-making regarding whom one should vote for is not so complicated as in, say, electing over 200 MPs to Parliament. There are just 19 contenders this time. By disregarding those who have no significant national record of public service, one would be left with a much shortened list of names – probably fewer than five. The voter may then either make his own assessment of the relative reliability of the candidates in the shortened list or secure the opinion of better-informed and impartial friends. This bit of inquiry is critical because there would be no point in favouring a candidate with a long record of broken promises.

What follows is to assess the relative merits of the candidates. One cannot expect anything approaching perfection in carrying out such an assessment but it should be possible at this stage to eliminate all but those three candidates who have the best combined reputation for integrity, competence, respect for the Rule of Law (especially election laws), refraining from recourse to violence and arson, impartiality, diligence in discouraging all divisive forces that attack the very foundations of national unity, financial responsibility, accountability, and so on.

It needs to be kept in mind that those who have not been in power before will not have had the opportunity of earning a good name or a bad one. On the other hand, one who has been in power would have either the benefit of an acknowledged clean record or may have his copybook blackened by many unlawful acts and breaches of solemn undertakings.

The voter may have strong opinions about whether it is good or bad for a politician to hold Presidential power for one term, two terms or more terms. He (the voter) may also have formed a firm opinion as to whether the office of Executive President should be eliminated or accept a candidate’s promise that its powers will be curtailed. The voter would have to assess which candidates are likely to do what he wants. By the time to vote finally arrives, the voter will have to identify which of the three candidates in his short list is most likely to abide by the commitments made by him in his (the candidate’s) manifesto. In short, there is a great deal of room for the voter to exercise his personal knowledge and judgment.

Let us now think about the current Presidential election. Before the election day, the voter will have made for himself a short list of three names. Armed with this list, under the law, every voter is allowed to mark a “1” against his preferred first choice of candidate, a “2” against his second preference, and a “3” against his third choice. That is all there is to it.

If no candidate receives 50% of the total vote in the first round, only the two candidates each of whom receives more votes than any of the remaining 17 candidates will automatically go the second round. At this stage, all the second preferences received by each of these two candidates will be added to the votes that they obtained in the first round. The second round will usually produce the winner.

The unfettered power to vote for the persons of your choice is what democracy is all about. CIMOGG implores all voters to make sure that they get to the polling stations early in the day on 8 January 2015 as the implications of not voting this time are certain to have more far-reaching adverse effects on this country that in any previous election.

Dec 04

The late Edgar Hoover, Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is known to have had files on every public figure in the US, including his own superiors. Apart from a vast store of data on the Mafia and thousands of others, he also had ample records of the frailties of US Presidents. It is said that he used to hint at the existence of such information whenever a President suggested that he (Hoover) had held the post of Director FBI for too long and was thereby holding up the promotion of others in the queue. The Presidents retreated rapidly and Hoover was able to retain his job for around 30 years!

Years ago it was rumoured that President J.R.Jayewardene had in his possession a number of files pertaining to certain persons (principally, members of his party) who were inclined to be uncooperative, and that he reminded such persons in private interviews that, whereas a measure of dissent was conducive to good political decision-making, open rebellion would be highly disadvantageous to the said persons because the contents of the files he had would be published for the edification of the public. As far as we are aware, Jayewardene himself did not ever indicate that he held such secret documentation to be used against those whom he wished to control. Had he done so, it would have amounted to his admitting to the concealing of information that he should have passed on to the Police and associated legal authorities. Moreover, after the end of his Presidential term, he could have been charged with having been either an accessory to a criminal act and/or resorting to blackmail. Being a lawyer, he would have recognized that it would have been a grave error of judgment to disclose to the public that he was doing anything outside the law. Nor would he have been so reckless as to have blackmailed anyone openly regarding their unsavoury dealings.

There is no data as to how many confidential reports were called for by Presidents Ranasinghe Premadasa, D.B.Wijetunga and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, and what use they might have made of them.

There is now a situation where President Mahinda Rajapaksa is reported to have proclaimed that he has files in his custody that contain material that could be highly damaging to persons thinking of leaving his coalition. As Mahinda Rajapaksa himself is a lawyer, we may assume that the files he has referred to are not the original files pertaining to any criminal investigations that had been carried out against the affected persons (MPs, in this instance) but are the reports called for by him. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, one may postulate further that he is neither an accessory to criminal acts nor a person who is capable of blackmail. In the event, the public find the recent revelation about the secret files highly confusing and mystifying.

One cannot lay much store by Minister S.B.Dissanayake’s subsequent explanation that Mahinda Rajapaksa was perhaps alluding to the personal files of members of the SLFP in the possession of the party, which would probably contain their application forms and other innocuous information. If it makes Dissanayake proud of his cleverness in coming up with this kind of plausible-sounding “clarification”, he could not blame us if we respond by saying that he is free to “tell that to pig-tailed Chinamen”, which is a passable translation of a phrase that seems to have become popular with our politicians in recent times, when they want to express complete disbelief. Others may prefer the American version: “Tell that to the Marines!” All in all, we are left wondering about the nature of the files to which Mahinda Rajapaksa referred.

Recently the public was given the opportunity of watching and hearing MP P.Harrison instantly silencing the usually irrepressible MP Mervyn Silva by asking him (MS) to stop disturbing him (PH) if MS did not wish it to be revealed to the House where MS had been the previous evening. It appears that one does not always have to possess a compromising file to exercise control over even those MPs who seem to have been granted wide executive dispensation to disregard the law with impunity.

If there is anyone naive and charitable enough to think that the majority of MPs in a government in power in Sri Lanka do not amass wealth by robbing the People, MP Mahinda Amaraweera has reportedly said a mouthful to disillusion such innocents. He has stated that the MPs of the UPFA have collected enough assets during their past terms of office and would, consequently, be less likely to want to acquire yet more wealth upon re-election, unlike those currently in the UNP who, in his view, would want to make a gigantic killing quickly to make up for the long period that they have been deprived of the chance to indulge in large-scale plunder of the People’s assets! Amaraweera’s proposition that a thief stops stealing when he has collected enough is the opposite of the truth because, in the vast majority of cases, the richer a persons gets, the more he wants to accumulate, irrespective of whether he has earned his wealth honestly or by theft. Although one ought to be grateful for his confession, what is truly astonishing is the brazenness with which he admits to the criminal misappropriation of what belongs to the People by himself and his fellow MPs.

It is crystal clear that we desperately need elected People’s representatives who are not drug-dealers, smugglers, bribe-takers, leviers of protection-money, arsonists, murderers, rapists, land-grabbers, destroyers of the environment, and so on. In order, therefore, to thwart unscrupulous leaders who rely on dubious methods to retain the support of their despicably corrupt party members, innovative constitutional provisions have to be developed to help filter out from the very outset such miscreants from worming their way into being allowed to contest elections. The formulation of appropriate systems and procedures does not require one to be an expert in rocket science or to have a double-doctorate in jurisprudence and constitutional law. Plain common sense can readily provide the necessary answers.

CIMOGG has completed the key chapters of a radical new Constitution that incorporates an easily-implementable screening procedure to enable the public to choose candidates of good quality, commencing with the election of, say, ten People’s Representatives from each Grama Niladhari Division. The 140,600 or so candidates so identified would be re-screened in three more stages for the Pradeshiya Sabhas, District Councils and Parliament (see the SUNDAY ISLAND of 19 October 2014).

In addition, the CIMOGG Constitution incorporates the following features. It will delegate the power of the People among Grama Niladhari Divisions, Pradeshayas, Districts and the Country as a whole in such a way that the first three entities will be allowed to look after their own affairs within their respective geographical boundaries. Parliament would be obliged to concern itself only with matters of a national character – defence, foreign affairs, currency, harbours, airports, trans-District highways, railways, shipping, electricity supply, telecommunications, national standards etc.

Parliament will have 25 Permanent Parliamentary Committees, advised by specialists from a registered Panel of Experts, to formulate laws and to approve programmes and budgets.

There will be a comprehensive separation of powers, eliminating especially the highly contradictory dual role played by Ministers, who now have one foot in the legislature and another in the executive. Instead, Ministry Secretaries will be made fully responsible for running their Ministries efficiently to complete the programmes approved by Parliament, within the approved budgets, and in conformity with the relevant regulations. The selection, appointment and monitoring of the performance of Ministry Secretaries will be entrusted to a Central Executive Council of highly-experienced chief executives from the public and private sectors.

Members of the Judiciary will be selected for appointment, promotion and transfer by a modified Judicial Services Commission which, for the higher posts, will submit a short-list of three names for Parliament to vote on in secret.

A foolproof mechanism to monitor annually the income and wealth of specified holders of public office has also been developed.

Politicians who have been robbing the People will do everything they can to stall the adoption of a constitution that includes the features mentioned above (and many more innovative ones). The negative tactics of such politicians can only be thwarted if enough honest and committed opinion-makers will support a strong initiative to have a rationally-designed new constitution.

A soft copy of the key chapters of the CIMOGG Constitution may be obtained by anyone who furnishes his/her name and e-mail address to – Subash Ranasinghe