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Chanaka Amaratunga died 19 years ago, on the 1st of August 1996. He died a disappointed man, for he had not entered Parliament, which had been his dream. Only Chanaka, imbued in the Westminster style of Liberal Democratic politics, could have written an article entitled ‘In Praise of Parliament’ at a time when the Executive Presidency was well entrenched in Sri Lanka, and the tradition of the independent Parliamentarian long lost.

qrcode.30571558He had hoped to enter Parliament in 1988, when he was on the SLFP National List, but the defeat of the SLFP then had led to the sidelining of Anura Bandaranaike, who had been his great friend. He told me that, when he went to Rosmead Place on the day after the election, Sunethra had met him with the claim that the only hope for the party now was to bring Chandrika back. He had said this was nonsense, and that perhaps put paid to his chances. After her defeat, Mrs Bandaranaike too felt that the policies Anura had promoted had been a mistake, and moved back to the left.

Anura still had residual support, but he was soft-hearted to a fault, and gave up the Secretaryship of the party when he was appointed to the post on a split decision. The newspapers at the time reported that his mother had stormed out of the room, and he had followed her, and agreed to a compromise whereby Dharmasiri Senanayake became Secretary. The latter worked for Chandrika, and as we know she came back and took over. By then, though, it should be noted that Sunethra was supportive of her brother and when, forgetting the change that had taken place, I asked her what her sister was up to, she told me that she was trying to throw ‘my darling brother’ out of the party.

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qrcode.30541069Today, the electorate is at a crossroad with twice-president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, launching a new movement to form a government, at the Aug 17 parliamentary polls. A confident Rajapaksa launched his parliamentary polls campaign at Anuradhapura where he vowed to overcome the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combination. The pledge was made at the largest ever gathering in the historic city, where Rajapaksa recalled ancient kings had defeated foreign invaders. The war-winning leader alleged that the present Yahapalana government had destroyed, within six months, what his administration had achieved since the conclusion of the war in May, 2009. The former President asked what would have happened if the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration had continued for five years. Since the change of government, in January consequent to Rajapaksa’s defeat, some of those, who had switched their allegiance to the then common presidential candidate, Maithripala Sirisena deserted the new administration. Having joined Yahapalana project, late last November, Liberal Party Leader and State Minister of Higher Education, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, quit the administration in March. The UPFA included Prof. Wijesinha, in its National List submitted to the Elections Secretariat on July 13, hence making him a key element in Rajapaksa’s team.

Continued from July 22

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qrcode.30495452Government needs to be accessible to the people. At present however everything militates against this. Laws are formulated in language people cannot understand. They are amended with no effort to ensure that clean copies of the latest version are available for anyone to consult who needs them. Instead you have to go through the original Act and then all the amendments to the Act, Thus, even though the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed three months ago, a consolidated version of the Constitution is still not available.

The President called for one the other day, and could not understand why this had not been prepared already. But our Legal Draughtsman’s Department still works on the old system that developed before computers made production of a consolidated version simple. When I pointed this out five years ago – having asked for the earlier Act that was being amended one day in Parliament, since I thought I should know precisely what I was voting for – I was told that this was the tradition and there was no need to change it.

Fortunately the Secretary General understood the implications of my question and said that a copy of any Act being amended would be available for inspection in the Officials’ Box (he said it would be a waste to give copies to all members, and I fear he was correct). Anyway now that the President has made his view clear, I hope the Department will in future present new Acts as a whole when there are substantive amendments. But I suspect the usual lethargy will take over, and we will go on in the same old way.

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The Editor

Colombo Telegraph

Thank you for sending me notice of the article in Colombo Telegraph regarding the current difference of opinion in the Liberal Party. I had not thought of myself putting such matters in the public domain, but I assume you want an answer to the various allegations made in the statement you have carried.

I can do no better than to send you the text of the letter I sent the Commissioner of Elections, and also my response to Mr Nissanka’s letter to me informing me that he off his own bat declared I was not a member of the Party.

I attach too the letter I copied to the Commissioner in which, in January this year, Kamal affirms that I am the Leader of the Party contrary to the claim in his statement. I should note that Kamal’s resentment developed because I did not make him Student Adviser in the Ministry of Higher Education as he wanted – see the following extract from an email of January 15th =

Considering all these development I suggest that when positions are offered in Rajiva ministry priority should be given to me and Ananda Stephen. I have no opposition giving to other members of the committee thereafter

In fact Mr Palitha Lihinikumara requested me tio get the “Post of Adviser- Student Affairs”. . He said somebody who has an understanding in present day radical student politics should be in charge on that..

I had no objection to appointing anyone willing to work full time to cadre positions but I told Kamal that I could not create positions as had been done previous. He was not happy.

Letter to Commissioner of Elections

Dear Commissioner

I have had a letter from the General Secretary of the Liberal Party claiming to declare that I have ceased to be a member of the Party. There is no basis for this decision at all, and the Secretary General has no powers to make such rulings.

I have replied as in the attached. I should also note that he casts doubt on my position as Leader of the Party, on the grounds that the meeting of the Committee that took place immediately after the National Congress last December was invalid. This again is a nonsensical position, since the first Committee meeting always takes place after the Congress. The Leader has been elected on that occasion ever since we changed the constitution to have the Leader elected by the Committee.

Unfortunately the General Secretary did not produce typed minutes of that meeting at the next Committee meeting in January. He has since refused to give us copies of what I believe was a hand-written document he read out, which recorded what had occurred.

I should note that he did give me a letter in January making it clear that I was the Leader of the Party. A copy of this is enclosed. However a couple of months later he decided otherwise.

I would be grateful if, in view of his arbitrary and almost lunatic behavior, you do not take cognizance of communications from him, but instead await a formal decision from the Committee as to the status of party officials.

Yours sincerely

Letter to Secretary General of the Liberal Party

Dear Kamal

Thanks for your letter dated July 15th, which I received yesterday by Registered Post. I am bemused by the contents, and the constant shifts in your position. It is also totally unacceptable that you should interpret Section 21 of the Liberal Party Constitution as allowing you to do whatever you want. All it says is that the Secretary General ‘shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the Liberal Party. The Secretary General shall be responsible for the office and staff of the party’. I cannot understand how you interpret that to mean you can declare that I have ceased to be a member of the Liberal Party by Operation of Law.

The Minutes of the last meeting, which you yourself drafted, though deeply flawed, do not at any stage indicate that the Party wanted lists of its own to be put in for the current election. They indicate that you had followed up on the party decision for an alliance with the UPFA by writing to the President. In accordance with the reply received, three members, including yourself and the Deputy Secretary General, had sent in applications for nomination for the coming election.

You and the DSG indicated that you no longer wished to be considered but it was noted that ‘committee did not want to sabotage if any member of the party further negotiate with President regarding nominations’.

Your draft claims I volunteered (in fact I checked if I had a mandate from the committee) ‘to discuss with President Maithreepala Sirisena regarding a national list seat nomination and a district nomination for Kurunagala’.

Despite this you arbitrarily decided to put forward four lists and only informed the committee subsequent to nominations having closed. Having done this without authority from the committee, you purport to dismiss me from the party on the grounds that my National List nomination, made in accordance with our requests and the MoU that you signed, ‘causes much political hardships to the candidates of the Liberal Party’.

This is an illogical position. Under the circumstances I continue to see myself as a Member of the Liberal Party, and will act as such.

I note that the meeting of the National Committee scheduled for August 19th at the previous meeting has been suddenly cancelled by you. This has happened with regard to previous meetings this year. This time, after I was invited, you sent a note indicating that I was not welcome, and therefore did not inform me of the cancellation.

Yours sincerely

KN letter

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by Shamindra Ferdinando

qrcode.30456176Today, the electorate is at a crossroad with twice-president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, launching a new movement to form a government, at the Aug 17 parliamentary polls. A confident Rajapaksa launched his parliamentary polls campaign at Anuradhapura where he vowed to overcome the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combination. The pledge was made at the largest ever gathering in the historic city, where Rajapaksa recalled ancient kings had defeated foreign invaders. The war-winning leader alleged that the present Yahapalana government had destroyed, within six months, what his administration had achieved since the conclusion of the war in May, 2009. The former President asked what would have happened if the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration had continued for five years. Since the change of government, in January consequent to Rajapaksa’s defeat, some of those, who had switched their allegiance to the then common presidential candidate, Maithripala Sirisena deserted the new administration. Having joined Yahapalana project, late last November, Liberal Party Leader and State Education, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, quit the administration in March. The UPFA included Prof. Wijesinha, in its National List submitted to the Elections Secretariat on July 13, hence making him a key element in Rajapaksa’s team.

Full text of an interview with Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

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qrcode.30420388One of the biggest stumbling blocks with regard to Good Governance is the confusion in Sri Lanka between the Executive and the Legislature. Such confusion is to some extent unavoidable in countries which have a Westminster system of government, where the heads of the Executive are drawn from Parliament. But in those countries which should be our models if we are to continue with this requirement, there are rules and regulations and customs that prevent the abuse we suffer from in Sri Lanka.

I realized how stringent these rules are when communicating with an old friend who is now a senior member of the British Cabinet. He has been kind enough to respond to emails, but initially one gets an automatic response which makes clear the difference between constituency matters and those pertaining to his portfolio. The former is handled from within the constituency, and there is obviously no question of support for his electoral prospects from within his Ministry.

Personal staff pertaining to Ministry matters are drawn from within the Ministry, as I found out long ago, soon after my university days, when high fliers who had joined the Civil Service (all retired now I fear) were appointed to work with the Minister. But even so, when meetings are held with regard to official matters, it is those within the relevant departments who work with the Minister.

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qrcode.30377434Last week Parliament debated an Adjournment Motion introduced by Mr Yogarajan, one of the more thoughtful members on the government side of the house. He wanted more consultation of political parties and interested groups with regard to electoral reform.

This is an admirable idea, but it is significant, sadly so, that he should have proposed this only in June. As I have pointed out previously, the President’s manifesto said very clearly that on Wednesday January 28th ‘An all party committee will be set up to put forward proposals to replace the current Preference Vote system and replace it with a Mixed Electoral System that ensures representation of individual Members for Parliamentary Constituencies, with mechanisms for proportionality.’

Nothing of the sort was done, so it was surprising to hear the gentleman who seconded the motion claiming that the government had fulfilled almost all its promises. In essence, the process of consultation that the minor parties are pushing for now is something they should have urged as soon as the government was elected.

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qrcode.30357119Many allegations are now being traded with regard to corruption, but sadly there is no discussion about measures to get over the problem. We seem more inclined to concentrate on allegations for political purposes rather than institutionalizing preventive measures, remedial measures and also measures that will give early warning.

I am very sorry about this since one of the reasons for my leaving the last government was perceptions of increasing corruption. Though now I realize that this government too is engaged in corrupt deals, this was not a reason for my resignation from the Ministry, nor yet for my crossing over. But what seemed the institutionalization of nepotism was a reason, the requirement that jobs and perks be provided for one’s supporters, as exemplified by the takeover of Ministry vehicles by Kabir Hashim’s henchmen after I had left.

Measures to prevent all this could easily have been taken as soon as the new government was set up. I had high hopes because the responsibility for reform to promote Democratic Governance, by which I thought Good Governance was also meant, had been entrusted to Karu Jayasuriya. I thought he was sincere, and he certainly seemed so at the start, but it was soon clear that his heart was not in it.

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qrcode.30341177In this 8th Chapter of my book on this subject I look at how the majoritarian system of democracy we had in this country contributed to increasing resentment by those who felt shut out of the decision making process. This played out principally with regard to racial differences, where what seemed majoritarianism on the part of successive elected governments contributed to the movement for autonomy and then for secession. But we should also remember that there were deep resentments based on class differences that led to two violent youth insurrections in the seventies and the eighties.

The Official Languages Act

In 1956 S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became Prime Minister, in a coalition of nationalist forces dominated by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). He had established the party after leaving the United National party (UNP). During the election campaign he had presented himself as a champion of the common man against the elite who had dominated Sri Lankan politics. But due to the pressures of political competition his victory was seen as the triumph of Sinhala nationalism.

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qrcode.30319581In the last few weeks I have looked at the way in which several of the pledges regarding reforms in the President’s manifesto were forgotten or subverted by those to whom he entrusted the Reform process. In addition there are some fields in which reforms have been carried through, but in such a hamfisted fashion that the previous situation seems to shine by comparison.

One area in which this has happened is that of Foreign Relations. The shorter manifesto declared that ‘A respected Foreign Service free of political interference will be re-established’. This was fleshed out in the longer version, with the following being the first four Action Points –

  •  The country’s foreign policy will be formulated to reflect the government’s national perspectives.
  •  Within hundred days all political appointments and appointment of relatives attached to the Foreign Service will be annulled and the entire Foreign Service will be reorganised using professional officials and personnel who have obtained professional qualifications. Our foreign service will be transformed into one with the best learned, erudite, efficient personnel who are committed to the country and who hold patriotic views.
  •  Cordial relations will be strengthened with India, China, Pakistan and Japan, the principal countries of Asia, while improving friendly relations with emerging Asian nations such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Korea without differences.
  • Our Indian policy will take into due consideration the diversity of India.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

August 2015
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