A commentary by the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) regarding the the 100-day Program of the government was published in the SUNDAY ISLAND of 8 March 2015 (www.cimogg-srilanka.org). The key points made there were –
- No bill, other than one concerned with dealing with a national emergency, should be presented to Parliament on an “urgent” basis because such a procedure would not allow sufficient time for stakeholders and other members of the public to consider and comment constructively on the contents of the bill. Hence, any bill that is passed without enough opportunity for the public to submit their views should include a provision for compulsory review and amendment, as required, within a period of 12 months after becoming law;
- In upgrading the 17th Amendment, the selection of persons to hold positions of high responsibility, in particular, should be entrusted to an independent body (Constitutional Council, Public Service Commission or similar) on whose advice alone the President or Cabinet should appoint such persons;
- The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) should be given all necessary resources to carry out the huge load of work which has been entrusted to it;
- CIABOC does not initiate investigations on its own. Its responsibilities invariably commence from the need to inquire into and act on the allegations that members of the public forward to it. Consequently, it is inevitable that any action that can be taken on representations made by the public will be several years behind the date of the alleged acts of corruption. Patently, more timely action is required. Therefore, it is our view that a Permanent Assets Monitoring Commission (PAMC) needs to be created with comprehensive authority to carry out obligatory, contemporaneous checks on the compatibility between the legitimate income, expenditure and changes in assets of specified persons;
- The PAMC must be given unrestricted access to the income tax returns filed by the specified persons, ie. those who occupy positions where there is potential for large-scale corruption. This category of taxpayers would comprise no more than about 1% of the total number of taxpayers. By having an efficiently functioning PAMC, the long delays that are bound to occur by waiting for belated, random allegations by whistleblowers may be minimized. A simple amendment to the secrecy clause of the Inland Revenue Act would be required to allow the PAMC to function effectively. Despite this amendment, the level of confidentiality will be higher because there would be no need to submit these details to the Elections Commissioner or to one’s head of department.
Numbers of Ministers, Deputy Ministers, State Ministers and Crossing-Over – It is widely accepted that a small country like Sri Lanka does not need more than 25 Ministries, if not fewer. Why our leaders have outrageously exceeded this number over the last few decades has been due to the basically corrupt practice of bribing Members of Parliament (MPs) in the Opposition to “sell” their loyalty to the ruling party. The first requirement to eliminate this type of prostitution would be for the proposed new Constitution to forbid cross-overs of MPs. An MP who is voted in by his electorate on the basis of the program presented by him before his election should not be permitted to abandon his program and adopt the program of some other party. It must be incumbent upon him to resign his seat and face a fresh ballot at such time and under such restrictions as the new Constitution shall permit. We understand that such a condition is being considered but remain wary that we may be faced with yet another “slip between the cup and the lip”.
We had hoped that, for the two years or so it would take to write a satisfactory Constitution to safeguard the interests of the people in preference to those of our “rulers”, the members of the Opposition would forget their greed and not insist on being rewarded with a superfluity of ministries. After all, they proclaim from dawn to dusk that their consuming desire is to serve the people! Our legitimate fear is that, whereas the rivalry between political parties would normally be considered to be a check on the excesses of the ruling party, the joining up of political parties with a proliferation of ministries will tend to make it easier for a greater number of MPs to line their pockets at the expense of the public.
We hope that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe will be mindful not to betray the trust that the people placed in them on 8 January 2015, and keep a firm hand on the reins. A first step in this direction would be the immediate creation of the PAMC.
National Executive Committee (NEC), National Advisory Council (NAC) and Oversight Committees – The NEC is a temporary body, consisting of representatives of political parties, to meet current political exigencies. It is expected that it will cease to exist after the next parliamentary elections are concluded, if not before. The NAC, on the other hand, would presumably be a permanent body of representatives from various professional and stakeholder groups. Although the intentions behind the idea of having an NAC are good, it is foreseen that there will be many an obstacle to be faced in getting it set up because it is not going to be easy to decide which groups or individuals should be included in the NAC, and who may be excluded. If professionals are thought to be indispensable, what would our farmers or fisherfolk say? Moreover, it is not clear at what point in the lawmaking process the NAC’s advice and that of the prospective Oversight Committees would be sought. The details of how the NAC will fit into the legislative process should be explained soon so that the public may contribute their suggestions for refinement.
Substandard Parliamentarians, Electoral Process and the next Parliamentary Elections -
There is no doubt that the public regards the majority of MPs as of rather questionable honesty but extremely cunning at using their positions to enrich themselves unlawfully. In the 7 December 2014 issue of the SUNDAY ISLAND, we wrote: “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!” In the context of the decline in the integrity of our politicians over the generations, a National Unity Government will experience some serious potential negatives. Citizens must be more vigilant than ever to prevent the negatives from outweighing the positives.
It is obvious that, if election by proportional representation under the present Constitution is retained for the forthcoming parliamentary elections, we shall have most of the same robbers returning to the scene of their crimes for a second helping. Provisions on the lines of the first-past-the-post-plus-proportional-adjustments-system, even though not ideal, would be a significant change for the better. If this change is not made by the National Unity Government before Parliament is dissolved, it would be a terrible disservice not only the small group of brave people (including President Sirisena and his family) who risked life, limb and possessions to get rid of government by the villainous 18th Amendment but also to the long-suffering people of Sri Lanka.
Delays in Fulfilling the Promises made in the 100-day Program – We have reason to believe that those who decided to help the “Common Candidate” had originally intended to set themselves a tough time limit of only 180 days to accomplish what, most ill-advisedly and without much forethought, was later compressed into 100 days. Inevitably, the backlog is increasing by the day. The delays are mounting up but they can be forgiven only providing that the extra time gained is spent on getting things done correctly rather than being messed up at high speed. Haste will end up in waste. Trying to live up to an unrealistic schedule will prove to be a disastrous mistake. It would be much better for Sirisena and Wickremasinghe to admit that some of the items in the 100-day Program are not capable of being done within the time allowed. They should take the people (who are by no means as stupid as many of the “elite” think they are) into their confidence, ask for more time for their program, and do correctly from the outset whatever remains to be done.