Aug 16

President Sirisena, during his televised discussion on 13 August 2016, said that the Rajapaksa government carried out most projects without Feasibility Studies (FSs) and serious planning. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first authoritative statement on the absence of FSs on major projects of the previous government, although it was widely suspected to be so. He took the example of how the decision to locate the Mattala Airport was taken in order to reveal the irresponsible and flippant manner with which vital decisions were made. This means that massive funds, borrowed at commercial rates of interest, were wasted on these projects. Is any further evidence needed to conclude that the government was criminally negligent in the management of public funds?

President Rajapaksa, after enacting the infamous Eighteenth Amendment, was the most powerful president in the world in terms of the powers he wielded over the people he ruled. Therefore, he should be held accountable for lack of due diligence in executing the office of President. The mere fact that there is no FS on this thirty-billion-Rupee project, as well as for several other big projects, is sufficient proof of gross financial impropriety. The balance of probability suggests consequent financial mischief on a massive scale.

Prudence requires investment decisions to be based on robust and rigorous FSs. These studies explore all important aspects including physical, environmental and economic considerations arising from and impinging on the work to be undertaken. Project inputs and outputs are usually computed for periods extending twenty to forty years from inception. Cost and benefit streams expressed in border prices (for economic evaluation) are discounted to the present. Sensitivity Analyses (SAs) are performed to establish the integrity of the project in the event that major assumptions are subjected to adverse pressures. Measures of economic feasibility such as Payback Period (PP), Net Present Value (NPV) Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) and Economic Internal Rate of Return (EIRR) are calculated and weighed in making the investment decision. Physical and financial plans for a project would be drawn up within the parameters established in the feasibility reports. Excepting in defense spending, these reports are not classified documents and are usually made available to the implementing agencies and libraries, and also posted in dedicated government websites.

There was no mention of FSs and implementing plans and programs during the many public discussions on the mega projects of the Rajapaksa government; particularly those ghost facilities in Hambantota. There was much discussion over a rock that was obstructing the access channel to the fifty-billion-Rupee Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port, that was discovered only after it was declared open. How could that have happened if thorough geological investigations had been carried out before commencement of construction? The following are only a few of the questions that arise regarding Sri Lanka’s second international airport that has so far cost over thirty-billion Rupees.  (1) What other locations were considered and examined for building the airport? (2) By what criteria were they found inferior to Mattala?  (3)  What are the management and mitigation plans regarding environmental issues arising from its close proximity to a wildlife sanctuary, including risks posed to aircraft and wildlife?  (4) What are the assumptions and projections of demand for airport use by airlines, numbers of passengers and tons of cargo in the years ahead?  (5) Were implementation plans and schedules for construction, installations and operation with timelines up to the end of pay-back time and beyond prepared?  (6) How acceptable were the measures of profitability to the national economy over time (BCR, NPV, EIRR) derived by economic analysis?

We now know that there are no answers to these questions regarding the massive investment on this airport and other such projects. The irony is that these are questions that are routinely addressed, for example, before the Irrigation Department builds a minor village irrigation tank that would cost even less than a mere one-hundred-thousand Rupees!

The FS should have included a comprehensive overall plan with a timeline for implementation. The present government has stated that it is preparing plans to get the Mattala Airport functioning. This suggests that, before commencing work at the site, there was no implementation plan for management and business development of the completed project.  If there had been a proper plan the present government could have continued with development accordingly. Serious errors of technical design in the alignment of the runway and the absence of a parallel taxiway have been reported. It is also alleged that contracts for construction work on several large projects, both at Mattala and elsewhere, were awarded without resorting to competitive bidding procedures.

These issues were raised before and during the implementation of these projects. But they were not heeded by an all-powerful president with a craftily engineered and pliant two-thirds majority in parliament, basking in the glory of winning the war against the dreaded LTTE. History will record, and men will remember, his vital role as the Commander-in-Chief in that great victory. Nevertheless, what happened after that was a mockery of governance. Shielded by the Eighteenth Amendment, a veritable orgy of shameless squandering of people’s monies ensued in the guise of creating a mythical “Miracle of Asia”.

How could a responsible government commit massive funds borrowed at high rates of interest in such monumentally irresponsible and brazenly corrupt manner, and leave the consequences to be borne by a largely poor people? Did they have no honor or shame at all? The price of this despicable crime against the Nation would be paid in foregone prosperity and extended destitution by the poor un-empowered majority of the people, and yet to be born generations. (Sadly, robbery seems to continue under the present government as well.) Let us, the people, particularly the Civil Society Organizations that gave leadership to the ‘January Eighth’ transformation resolve, that such madness shall never happen again under the new constitution now being framed.

In July 2015, RMB Senanayake wrote “If there is no law, then a new law on Public Finance and Accountability should be passed. If MR was a public official he would be guilty of violating the Financial Regulations. But there is a doubt about whether Ministers and the President can be bound by these Financial Regulations. Public Interest organizations should address their minds to this issue since public funds are the subject matter. Can Ministers be allowed to act with impunity in matters of public finance? We are now talking much about good governance. What about its applicability in financial matters?”

No new project to be funded by the Treasury should be undertaken without a thorough study of its feasibility and a plan of implementation. The feasibility reports with implementation plans should be freely available for public scrutiny. It should be the responsibility of the relevant Minister and the Parliament to ensure that the planning and execution of the project are done in a systematic and orderly manner. They should be among those accountable for any failure of the project. It is time that the civil society organizations that were active during the last presidential and parliamentary elections take this matter up and push through these essential reforms.

My purpose in this short essay is, to urge the men with wisdom drafting the new Constitution, to boldly write an unambiguous provision into that charter, preventing such blatant misuse of public funds by anyone including the President, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers, who are but paid servants of the people. This provision should be in the Constitution and not relegated to a mere regulation in a Government Gazette. It is the right of the people to expect that funds belonging to the people are used wisely for the benefit of the people. Civil society organizations that bore the brunt of the struggle to effect a change of government on the Eighth January 2015 should strongly pressurize our lawmakers to include this provision into the new Constitution.

Ananda Wanasinghe
Project Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist

Aug 04

When the Sirisena-Wickremasinghe partnership had exercised the powers of government for 260 days, the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) identified a list of nine pluses and eight minuses that could be applied to their achievements during this period (www.cimogg-srilanka.org).  After a further 70 days, their performance showed a noticeable deterioration and we expressed our sense of betrayal at the turn of events.  Now a further 240 days or so have passed and the time is ripe for another look.  As before, only a few key items are examined below.  The order in which these matters are commented on has no significance.

CIMOGG has already said that the President (MS), “who gave the welfare of Sri Lanka first priority at the beginning of his incumbency, has now relegated it to a lower status and promoted his party to the No.1 position in his list of prime concerns”.  Regrettably, there is no change to be seen here.

Whereas the MS does not suffer from the egomania that his predecessor exhibited by having “Mahinda Rajapaksa” (MR) added to the names of all important infrastructure items, MS’s staff seem to be stuck with their old habits.  Before 9 January 2015, whenever a significant piece of infrastructure was built on publicly owned land, using revenue collected from the people, public servants were in the habit of issuing publicity material and designing plaques which said that the MR had “vested” such infrastructure in the public, implying that it was he who had paid for all those things out of his own pocket.  These public servants should be dissuaded by MS from continuing with this type of self-serving servility.  Vesting government land in a farmer or land and a building to a non-profit-making institution would, of course, be different; it would be a gift to the recipient – not from the President but from the State.

Notwithstanding the strong measures which PM Ranil Wickremasinghe (RW) threatened to implement, the poor attendance of a large number of MPs, amounting to gross dishonesty, continues.  The permanent threat of MPs jumping from one political group to another plainly acts as a constraint on RW in his efforts to instil discipline.  Is there no way out?

The media continues to enjoy a high degree of freedom notwithstanding the somewhat justifiable but undiplomatic displeasure shown by RW.  It is no secret that certain sections of the media, mainly in their search for sensationalism and the interests of their own agendas, exaggerate the government’s shortcomings and, at the same time, fail to give generous positive coverage to its constructive achievements.  However, drastic confrontations will undoubtedly harm the government more than the media.

Many of our own economists, international lending agencies and, lately, Professor Razeen Sally have said that the economy has not been managed well recently.  Meeting the cost of the extravagant promises made to public servants and the public by the government is no less a burden than servicing the capital and interest repayments on the enormous loans obtained by the last regime to build several uneconomic or negative-return projects.  There are hopeful signs that the Central Bank will now be able act more independently to do its part to help re-establish economic stability.

As previously feared, the delays in getting on with the construction of a large coal or LNG power plant will force the CEB to go behind the private sector “diesel operators” to meet the shortfall in power that is now inevitable from mid-2017 onwards.  To quote ourselves:  “The private sector must be rubbing its hands in delightful expectation of windfall profits to fill the power deficit, which would be at mouth-watering rates that border on the extortionate”.  The government has continued to do little or nothing to minimise the losses and suffering that will be caused over the next several years.

The Bribery Commission (BC) is now taking energetic action in respect of the hundreds of files which the former BC deliberately suppressed.  The Police, too, find themselves unshackled from most of the constraints that were obviously placed on them previously to stop them from investigating crimes committed by innumerable favoured persons.  The Attorney-General’s Department is also beginning to show a little greater speed in processing the files sent to them by the Police.  We have to be grateful to MS and RW for initiating these changes.

The resolution of horrendous crimes like the murders of Lasantha Wickrematunga, Thajudeen and Ekneligoda has shown some forward movement.  Dealing with these serious offences must rightfully be given priority.  However, there are vast numbers of similar but lower-profile crimes that, too, need to be investigated and justice delivered.

The public has for long been disgusted with the slow pace at which trials proceed after indictment.  Nor is there any an indication that the rate of conviction has been improved over the 4% that has been the norm for years.  The dispensation of justice in Sri Lanka is always grossly delayed.  It is time that the efficient procedures followed in the more advanced countries are adopted here.  The late Mr Felix Dias-Bandaranaike did try to do something to speed up litigation but his abrasive personality and the greed of the vast majority of the legal profession did not allow for any improvement.  This government must give priority to rectify this deplorable situation.

We have previously asked the government to tell the people of Sri Lanka what has become of the huge stock of gold and foreign currencies accumulated by the LTTE, not to mention the bank accounts, ships, properties etc which were under the guardianship of “KP”.  The present government would be no less culpable than the previous one if it continues to hide the truth regarding these vast secret assets.  We may be forgiven for speculating whether a new set of robbers has persuaded the old set of robbers to share the spoils.  Is that why no action is being taken against KP?

The admission by Minister Lakshman Kiriella that he has given employment to about 65 of his supporters, with the glorified title of “consultants”, to supervise road building, about which most of them obviously know little or nothing, is quite shocking.  He has justified his nepotism or bribery, whichever might be the more appropriate term, by saying that the previous government gave far more jobs without benefit of cadre openings, minimum qualification requirements and competitive selection.  Does Kiriella need to be taught that two wrongs do not make a right?  The nation has to be grateful to the JVP for the yeomen service it is rendering by exposing this and every other kind of irregularity.

The Thevaraperuma drama to get school admission for nine or ten children ended up by MS intervening personally to secure the required places for them.  Previously, too, there had been a number of protests outside various schools, which, too, had been “solved” by the relevant Ministers or MPs.  The questions that we should like to ask are “What prevented the Directors of Education for the areas concerned from having these children admitted initially to these vacant places?  Do MS and RW want politicians to solve problems that administrators are empowered and paid to do?”

One of the things that was quite disturbing about MR’s reign was the scale of the resources he was using and misusing to earn divine blessings to strengthen his own political position.  The amount of public money that was spent, the time and other resources wasted by government employees of every description, the media, and the cost of disruptions to the life of the public who were affected by the various restrictions of their movement would have added up to several billions.

There does not seem to be any reduction in the scale of these direct and indirect expenditures being incurred currently for the personal benefit of MS. The contribution made by Dr Usvatte-aratchi in your sister newspaper, THE ISLAND, on 30 July 2016, covers this same subject under the title “Public Funds for Private Ends”.  In brief, he rightly asserts that, whilst people are free to practise their religion any way they wish under the law of the land, they are not entitled to do so at public expense. We urge, therefore, that drastic cuts should be made in these selfish public exhibitions of piety so that the time and resources thus saved could be used to relieve the sufferings of hundreds living in dire poverty, especially as a result of natural and man-made calamities.

Dr A.C.Visvalingam
President, CIMOGG
email:  acvisva@gmail.com

Jun 14

CIMOGG has constantly emphasized that it is the duty of the State to punish, without discrimination, citizens who commit criminal offences, subject to the general principle that all relevant steps are carried out in strict accordance with the law by duly authorised institutions and agents.  This view is undoubtedly supported by all law-abiding citizens.  Consequently, the public cannot understand why a situation has been permitted to develop in the universities, where using threats and physical force to rag freshers, often in the most cruel, demeaning, and physically and emotionally injurious manner, is tolerated or excused. It is no secret that scores or even hundreds of victims, being unable to cope with the physical and psychological assaults perpetrated on them, were driven, with great bitterness and anguish, to give up their hard won places at the universities.  Some even committed suicide because the trauma was more than they could bear. A few were murdered.

If a group of citizens outside the universities were to inflict on anyone what the seniors at most of our universities do to new entrants, they would be liable to be imprisoned for unlawful restraint, assault, rape, attempted murder, murder and similar criminal offences.  Hence, it is saddening and disappointing that the academic staff of the universities as a whole have not taken strong enough collective action to eradicate this monstrous cancer from their midst.  Too many of them remain passive, outwardly justifying the horrible practice of ragging on the grounds that they, in their time, had also been ragged and that this is a good way of establishing close camaraderie between freshers and those who had entered the universities earlier.  We do not know what initiation ceremonies were practised when such academics were freshers but there is no doubt that the cruelties inflicted during ragging have progressively become ever more sadistic and barbarous.

We give below a selection of some egregious cases connected with ragging.  Brief descriptions of the horrendous treatment meted out to freshers, attacks on those who oppose ragging, some academic opinions, and a few tragic consequences are set out below from information published recently in the Press by several responsible sources.

1.      In 1975. a Peradeniya student leapt off the second floor of her Hall to avoid a candle being forcibly inserted into her vagina.  She was paralysed and eventually committed suicide.

2.      In 1993, a Ruhunu student died as a result of unbearable ragging.

3.      In 1997, a female Ruhunu student committed suicide after severe sexual harassment.

4.      In 1998, a Peradeniya student died from the ragging injuries inflicted on him.

5.      In 2001 or 2002, anti-ragging leader Samantha was murdered at Jayewardenepura.

6.      In  2011, a female Ruhunu student became semi-paralysed in one limb by the severe ragging to which she was subjected.

7.      Also in 2011, three Peradeniya students were arrested for sexually assaulting a fresher.

8..     In 2013, a group of freshers were stripped naked and forced to perform indecent sexual acts.

9.      In 2014, a male student left Peradeniya because he could not bear the ragging; and then committed suicide.

10.    In 2015, a female student at Sabaragamuwa committed suicide because of the unbearable ragging.

11.    This year in Kelaniya, a female student was verbally abused, beaten and threatened with sexual abuse because she insisted on wearing jeans.

12.    Freshers have been compelled to do exercises without stopping, to the point where their muscles break down and they have to be treated for renal failure.

13.    Untold numbers of them have been forced to have cold showers at midnight, or to stay immersed all night in ponds containing dirty water, or to have their testicles inserted into a drawer which is then closed, and so on.  They have been terrorised into eating stale food from bins, lick toilet bowls, consume foods in which cockroaches have been mixed, or crawl through a makeshift tunnel after being soaked with a bucket of liquid consisting of a mixture of outflows from drains and sinks, urine and sewage infested with worms.

14.    This year, some university lecturers at Kelaniya were assaulted for trying to stop ragging.

15.    There can be no doubt that those who managed to survive their humiliating initiation ceremonies, without being driven out, injured badly, or murdered, total many thousands over the years.  There are bound to carry mental scars that cannot be erased and are too humiliating to recall.

A Chairman of the University Grants Commission has expressed the view that most of the worst ragging is sexual in nature.  A Head of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Peradeniya has opined that ragging is a complex psychological issue with elements of mob mentality, thirst for power, student politics etc.  It is a sub-culture which is also violent and gender-based.

We respect greatly the lecturers at Kelaniya University who opposed ragging but were assaulted for their initiative.  It is gratifying to learn that about ten students will face criminal prosecution in this connection.  If a sufficiently large number of academics join hands in this same spirit to oppose ragging, the government will be obliged to decide that taxpayers’ money should not continue to be spent on humouring a bunch of perverts in our universities.

An Anti-Ragging Act was passed in 1998 but the terror instilled into the minds of freshers makes them fearful of coming forward to give evidence.  Similarly, most teachers in the universities obviously prefer a life of safe inaction to one of righteous activism.  It is an utter shame that such bright minds have not felt motivated to devise and promote a reasonably foolproof system to enable victims of ragging to help identify and convict their tormentors without endangering themselves.  How heartless and cowardly it is to continue to look the other way!  If the academic establishment wishes to claim that it is inactive because it is powerless, it should hand over the responsibility to the government and call upon it to set up a strong Police presence in the campuses and outside hostels, with adequate intelligence-gathering units to which freshers may furnish information, even anonymously, to facilitate the monitoring and elimination of ragging activities.

The mere presence of the Police in and around the campuses, initially in large numbers, should be sufficient to make it more difficult to rag.  The few who may be caught red-handed may be indicted and will lose their chance of completing their studies.  Of course, it is vital that the Police should not adopt their often heavy-handed methods but use more subtle techniques to get the cooperation of the vast majority of students who are not criminally deviant.

We are bound to be told by some academics that the real culprits are usually the Ministers of Higher Education, who do not like to cross swords with violent student organisations which sponsor ragging for their own ends.  Is it too much to ask academics to join hands in large numbers and protest in a non-violent manner by insisting that they will not carry out their teaching responsibilities if Ministers do not tackle the problem of ragging?

In any event, the Constitution requires that all citizens should be treated equally and that no one group shall be given privileged treatment.  It is, therefore, a major violation of the Constitution that the law of the land is not enforced only within university premises.  If students act in a violent and unlawful manner, the Police have an inescapable duty to intervene.  It is unacceptable that successive Ministers of Higher Education have interfered with the Police and given in to the lawbreakers.  They must not be allowed to continue to ignore the glaring crimes that are being perpetrated on thousands upon thousands of helpless students who merely want to get on peacefully with their studies.

We need to remind ourselves that university students, with rare exceptions, have lived off their parents or guardians from birth until they enter university.  Thereafter, they receive free education and, in many cases, financial assistance.  It is the indirect and direct taxes collected from the poorest citizens to the richest wage earners and other taxpayers of this country that pay for these privileges.  This being so, how is it that university students, including some who are attached to various religious orders, are given the right, once they have completed their first year of studies, to break the law with impunity whereas, in similar circumstances, the citizens who pay for the education of these students would be subject to the full might of the law?

We call upon the government to ensure that the law will be applied in an independent and fair manner in all sectors of our society without conferring special privileges only on university students.  We urge all political parties to declare clearly and unequivocally that they stand for the Rule of Law and that they will support whatever government is in power to rid ourselves of the small number of criminals and psychopathic monsters masquerading as students.  We most earnestly request the academic establishment to work actively to protect the human rights of all members of the university community.

Dr A.C.Visvalingam
President, CIMOGG

 

 

Apr 21

Sri Lanka has almost certainly the largest number of public holidays of any country.  From an individual and personal point of view, most of our citizens are very happy that this is so.  In contrast, those persons and organisations that have tight deadlines of any kind to meet can hardly be expected to be pleased that their employees are statutorily required to work only a little over one-half of the days in the year, taking into account weekends, public holidays and personal leave of various types.  The country’s productivity and its competitiveness in international markets are severely affected by how little work Sri Lankans do in comparison with those in many other countries that have a much better national work ethic and, consequently, a higher standard of living.  Even more worrying is the fact that Sri Lanka has accumulated huge debts that need to be serviced to very demanding schedules, which cannot now be adhered to without incurring yet more debts, or having the repayment of the existing debts re-scheduled to enable them to be settled over a longer period of time.  On their part, our creditors are not going to agree to such accommodations without fresh conditions, which are unlikely to be very palatable.

Adding to our concerns about our dwindling foreign reserves, our imports have swollen alarmingly whereas our exports have grown at less than one-quarter of the rate at which, say, Vietnam has succeeded in doing.

While the country is in such dire straits, our public-funded governmental figures and institutions think nothing of wasting the people’s hard-earned resources and valuable time by organising – almost on a daily basis – vast assemblages and processions of government employees, members of the public and schoolchildren to act as captive audiences for political propaganda.  There are also countless meetings with religious dignitaries to demonstrate to the public the unflagging “piety” of our leaders.

Apart from the damage done by the self-promoting exercises organised by our elected representatives, costly strikes are called, for the most trivial or selfish reasons, by State employees, not only with scant regard for the convenience of the public but with heartless indifference to the sufferings of the poor and the sick.  There is also an unending succession of highly disruptive ‘ad hoc’ protests on public highways, roads, rail tracks and elsewhere.

There are protests against the transfer of school principals, failure to maintain roads and bridges, doctors and nurses fighting over who should have the only rest-room in a hospital, alleged water pollution by industries or others, and so on.  The most serious are the acts of violence that take place to prevent the police going about their legitimate business of guarding public and private property, and keeping the roads open.

Arbitrary public agitation not only deprives the country of the work inputs that the agitators themselves should be making but also the vast contribution of the great numbers of the public whose attendance at offices, schools, hospitals, factories, plantations etc is disrupted.

Many citizens think that the answer to these and other ills would be to conjure up a “benevolent dictator” to take over the country for a few years and put it on right path. However, when one considers that a dictator would necessarily have to enforce strict discipline, any compassion on his part would be mistaken for weakness, and we would be forced back to square one.  In short, a dictator, by the very nature of his powers and duties, cannot possibly act indulgently towards those who transgress laws and engage themselves in activities that are against the interests of the public.  After tasting power for some time, he may even feel so pressurised as to be tempted to resurrect the despicable 18th Amendment in a more virulent form than the original and becoming something other than benevolent!

A significant factor is that most protests take place because those who have long-standing grievances are fobbed off day after day by Heads of Department, Secretaries and Ministers who do not give them a proper hearing through days, weeks, months and even years.

Here, we must fault both the President and the Prime Minister for insisting on having sizeable gatherings of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Secretaries in their respective audiences to listen to what they have to say to grama niladharis, teachers, nurses, school children, farmers etc.  Surely the gist of the thinking done by the President or the Prime Minister on any subject could be condensed within one or two A4 pages that could be sent to these functionaries any time after the gathering disperses.  Legislators and senior administrators, would thereby be able to save the time wasted in having to record their superfluous presence at the such gatherings and, instead, make sure to be present in their offices without giving the public the run-around.

There is no short cut to putting things right in this country.  What we need first are laws that allow reasonable freedom of assembly but not the “freedom of the wild ass”.  The relevant laws should set out a clearly defined procedure for negotiations, with time periods specified, to be carried out under the supervision of a Court-appointed, independent body before the aggrieved party embarks on a destructive protest.

Under the proposed new laws, the periods given for the various stages of negotiation between complainants and the authorities should be specified and limited.  If the clearly defined procedure for negotiation fails, it should be obligatory to seek relief from special Courts set up for this purpose so as to minimise delays.  The decision of the Courts will, of course, depend on their interpretation of the applicable laws.  If the Courts are compelled to give a judgment that is not palatable to the complainants because the relevant laws are not flexible enough, the only democratic way forward thereafter would be for the complainants to work to get public opinion created in a peaceful manner to put pressure on our legislators to change the laws.

Protest meetings should be permitted to be held only at venues which will not affect the public’s rights.  Those who feel the need to protest must be made to understand that in trying to get justice for themselves, they are not entitled to perpetrate a multitude of injustices on the public – for example, preventing people from getting to work, children from going to school, patients from getting to hospital, and so on.

Political processions and meetings, too, which bring life to a standstill over public roads and substantial extents of the populated areas should be banned altogether.  There are enough widely-read newspapers and popular TV stations in Sri Lanka to carry the core messages of political parties and their leaders to the public.  Short political messages on TV should be broadcast during peak viewing hours in the early evening.  All major newspapers and TV stations must provide this national service free of cost or at a highly discounted rate.  The paper coverage and TV times allowed must be fairly distributed between the parties, perhaps in proportion to the total votes polled by each claimant in the last three Parliamentary elections.

There is a general public perception that the JVP is behind most of the traffic-distrurbing university and public protests.  Its past history of two violent uprisings are held against it by the vast majority of our citizens other than the impressionable young in the higher classes in schools and the first couple of years at university.  It is for this reason that, on its own, the JVP has not succeeded in getting more than about 5% of the votes at general elections.  The tight secrecy that envelopes the decision-making processes in the higher echelons of the JVP rouses suspicions as to what its real agenda contains.  Most thinking people have great regard for the honesty, self-discipline and altruism of JVP leaders and their rank and file, but all these positives are effectively cancelled out by the negatives that we have referred in the first few lines of this paragraph.  A recent threat by one of the more fiery members of the JVP to cause a blockage of the four main entrances/exits to the City of Colombo only reinforces these fears.  Few citizens would want to vote for a party that utters such threats.  Hence, it is time that the JVP ditches the burdensome baggage of the past, becomes more open in respect of its inner workings, and offers itself as a party that thinks of the country first and their own party next, unlike the other political parties, which clearly and incorrigibly place their parties ahead of Sri Lanka and its people.

Feb 26

To the best of our knowledge, a few key members of the Government and their advisors have spent one year on drafting a new Constitution for Sri Lanka.  However, no firm details of its contents have been revealed.  Instead, interested institutions and individual citizens were asked in January this year to send in, on or before 10 February, their preferred proposals for consideration and evaluation by a 20-person Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PRCCR).  The question that immediately arises is whether PRCCR will accept only those suggestions that do not go counter to any of the mysterious provisions of the still-secret Government draft and ignore the others.  If not, what are the objective criteria that the PRCCR will employ in accepting or rejecting a particular proposal?  

We ourselves sent in by courier 24 copies of a 35-page proposal on 9 February and an emailed reminder on 17 February but have had no response to date, which gives cause for concern as to how seriously the public’s views will be taken.

Let us now look at a topical issue, viz. the number of MPs that Parliament should have.  By comparison with countries which have much larger populations, we already have too many.  There are 225 MPs for a population of about 21 Million giving an average representation of one MP for every 90,000 citizens or so.  At this rate, India would have to have a Parliament of over 13,000 MPs!

Regarded from another point of view, fewer than one-half of our MPs attend Parliament with anything approaching an acceptable measure of regularity.  In a recent exercise designed to train our MPs on the functioning of Sectoral Oversight Committees, only 55 or so MPs had attended these very important sessions.  Guided by this attendance rate, and even after introducing a considerable measure of generosity, we see that there would appear to be little or no benefit in having a Parliament of more than about 110 members.

In 2007/2008, the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), with the voluntary participation of in-service and retired public servants who were then holding or had earlier held high office, worked out carefully that the number of Ministries could conveniently and efficiently be limited to 25 in all.  If, therefore, Parliament were to have 25 Permanent Parliamentary Committees of five MPs each, a Speaker, a Deputy Speaker and an Assistant Speaker, the total number of MPs required would only be 128.

The pressure by Sri Lankan politicians to have a bigger Parliament with more than 225 MPs, with some of them even mentioning larger numbers (!), is founded solely on the desire of party leaders to accommodate those importunate supporters of theirs who would ordinarily not be within the chosen 225 and who would, otherwise, have to be satisfied with a place in local government.  Just as government leaders have got into the habit of creating vacancies outside the relevant cadres in government departments in order to help take in all those who graduate from our seats of higher learning, irrespective of employability, they appear to want to extend this practice to create superfluous seats in Parliament to accommodate those ambitious hopefuls who are in a position to bring in large financial contributions of questionable provenance for election expenses and a surfeit of belligerent supporters for campaigning and “jousting” with their opponents.  Once these candidates get into Parliament, their principal endeavour would be to become a Minister or a Deputy Minister whereby they would get into a position to recover their elections expenses, and a great deal more, by misusing the powers so acquired.

Apart from the aforementioned issues, it is our position that our Constitution should have a number of clear goals to help the Country go forward without dissipating its resources through disunity or corruption.  Some of the more important goals are listed below –

a.     The Constitution should be secular so that fissiparous group differences will not lead to the people wasting their energies competing with each other but, instead, encourage them to join hands to work for Sri Lanka’s progress.  A secular Constitution will greatly facilitate the creation of a clear Srilankan identity which would apply to every citizen without distinction.

In short, religion is a personal matter and the State should progressively reduce its involvement in religious affairs.

b.     The official name of Sri Lanka should be “the Republic of Sri Lanka” without tautological terms like “democratic” or politically tendentious terms such as “socialist”.

c.     A parliamentary system is preferable to a presidential system subject to the provision of rigorous checks and balances to prevent the Prime Minister acting dictatorially with little restraint.  Otherwise, why change?

d.     There is no need for a second chamber because it usually serves only to delay but not to prevent Parliament passing bad bills.  If suitable checks and balances are incorporated in the Constitution, there would be no need for an unproductive second chamber.

e.     Every bill should go through several stages of primary approval and secondary approval, with the final approval being given by Parliament.  For at least each of the more important bills, there should be provision for a White Paper to be produced for public discussion and comment.  This could be done immediately after primary approval so that the secondary approval would have the benefit of inputs by the public.

f.      Parliament should have only 128 MPs, of whom 125 would be divided into 25 Permanent Parliamentary Committees (PPCs) of 5 MPs each.  Each of these PPCs must have a permanent cadre of technocrats to carry out the background research and detailed formulation of the contents of proposed bills.

g.     There should be a clear separation of powers between the Ministers in Parliament and their executive administration arms, which should be headed by Executive Secretaries who would be solely responsible for the implementation of the programs and projects approved by Parliament, within the allocated financial provisions.  The Minister should be responsible for identifying programs and projects and getting Parliament’s approval for these and then communicating Parliament’s requirements to the Executive Secretaries.  Ministers should not be given the authority to interfere in the procedures authorised by the relevant regulations in respect of appointing technical committees, prequalifying tenderers, awarding contracts and so on.

h.     The Auditor General’s Department’s powers and functions should be enhanced to help monitor contemporaneously the performance of the Executive Secretaries and their Departments in keeping to Parliament’s approved programs and allocated funds.  This key department should have a legal division that, in cooperation with the Director of Public Prosecutions (see “w” below), would take action against any deviations from approved programs and procedures.

i.      Dual citizens should not be permitted to vie for or hold elected office.  They may be employed in the administration other than as Executive Secretaries or their principal deputies.

j.      The Directive Principles of State Policy should not be a valueless ornament as it is in the 1978 Constitution.  Article 29 of the 1978 Constitution should be repealed.  Where there are lacunas in the law, these Directive Principles should be utilised by the Supreme Court to bridge such lacunas.

k.     Pending the passing of laws to bring Sri Lanka’s statutes into line with the various international treaties, protocols and covenants that Sri Lanka has signed, the Supreme Court should be empowered, at its discretion, to pass judgments based on the said treaties etc.

l.      Sinhala, Tamil and English should all be declared to be National Languages.  Parents, regardless of their own language affiliations, should be free to have their children educated in any one of these three languages.

m.    The People shall be supreme, the Constitution shall be next in the line of precedence, and Parliament and all other elected bodies shall take third place in the “supremacy” hierarchy.

n.     Parliament should not have any judicial powers.

o.     The Judicial Service Commission should consist of the Chief Justice, the two most senior SC Judges, three distinguished professors of law and three distinguished senior lawyers.  The JSC should be responsible for the appointment of judges and magistrates, their promotions, their transfers and their disciplinary control.  Once Judges have reached the Supreme Court, seniority shall strictly prevail in the appointment of the Chief Justice.

p.    The powers of all elected bodies should be defined and fixed in the Constitution in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.  Parliament should be empowered to deal with matters which can only be handled on a national scale such as defence, foreign affairs, immigration, emigration, currency, national taxes of every kind, ports, airports, railways, electricity, telecommunications, customs, nature reserves, narcotics, terrorism, national standards of every kind, major highways etc.

q.     Electoral reforms should be based on a combination of the first-past-the-post and proportional voting systems.

r.      Candidates for election must be required to fill in a form furnished by the Elections Commission which would effectively serve as the candidate’s bio-data.  These forms shall be distributed (with appropriate translations into the other two National Languages) to every household in the candidates’ electorates.  Public meetings, processions, posters and loudspeakers should be banned from being employed as campaign tools; the money so saved would be more than sufficient to distribute the completed bio-data sheets.

s.      There should be no politicians in the Constitutional Council.

t.      Elections should be held on a fixed day of the year, once every four years, and no one should have the right to dissolve Parliament or any elected body prematurely except in the event of war or a major natural disaster.

u.     There should be a not-too-complicated provision for the temporary recall of elected representatives against whom there is strong prima facie evidence of misconduct of a kind that is incompatible with their position of public trust.  The recall may be rescinded or confirmed depending on the outcome of the relevant investigations.

v.     Any increase in emoluments of elected representatives that is passed by an elected body shall only come into force after the next set of elections is held.

w.    The Attorney General responsibilities should be reduced to giving advice to government and government institutions.  A separate and independent Director of Public Prosecutions should be created to deal with prosecutions of persons charged with offences against the laws of the land.

x.     Delimitation exercises are usually carried out with race, religion, caste and other similar considerations in mind.  Therefore, the boundaries of electoral units should be fixed once and for all as in most stable countries so as to eliminate this undesirable practice.  It should be kept in mind that the Seychelles, Sri Lanka and India have only one vote each in the UN General Assembly despite the disparities in their populations.  Hence, the relatively trivial variations in the populations of our electorates should not be taken as an excuse for tinkering with electoral boundaries.

The above recommendations have already been made in a little greater detail to the PRCCR.

Dr A.C.Visvalingam
President, CIMOGG