The manner in which the President’s manifesto has been by and large ignored by those entrusted with implementing it is quite shocking. The collegiality pledged with regard to the Cabinet and the National Advisory Council was flouted, and nothing was done about the pledge to strengthen Parliament through amendment of Standing Orders.
These were pledged for January and could have easily been accomplished, given that they were not contentious. But in the rush to interpret the manifesto as being only about abolishing the Presidency and handing power to the Prime Minister – which Jayampathy Wickremaratne had revealed was what he wanted done within a day – the actual spirit of the reforms, which should have been about limiting concentration of power, was treated with contempt.
The other main pledge for January that was ignored was the introduction of a Code of Conduct for politicians. Such a code is indeed necessary for all those in public office, and one of the first things I did when I was a Minister was to ask the UGC for a draft. I got one, but that concentrated on their professional duties, whereas the spirit of our campaign demanded a moral aspect too – for instance precluding those in authority being responsible for the appointments of immediate family, or bestowing benefits upon them. This had been a major problem all round under the last government, not just in the university sector, but also in general. And obviously the present government suffers from what I would term this amoral tendency, if what happened with regard to the Central Bank bonds is anything to go by.
No one else seemed to be concerned about this matter. Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa has completely ignored the excellent draft prepared by Nagananda Kodituwakku about ensuring that the judiciary is made more accountable – through self regulation I should add, since this should not be the business of the executive or the legislature – to those who need its services. And though Karu Jayasuriya has responded to my suggestions, he seems diffident, and claims it is difficult to change the existing political culture. My point was that that was what we were elected for.
Sadly, though when I brought the matter up at the Government Parliamentary Group meeting, a sub-committee was set up, the matter was not even minuted in the record of proceedings. Priority was given instead to ways of providing Members of Parliament with vehicles, and giving appointments to party supporters. And though Karu did call a meeting of the sub-committee, no one else bothered to turn up, except a charming Professor who seemed committed, but has failed to follow up with any substantial action.
My greatest disappointment however was with Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who it seems had been entrusted with preparing a draft by the National Advisory Council. That is the way Ranil has played the game, dividing up functions and grabbing the most important for himself and loyal Jayampathy. What he was not concerned about he left to others, and I assume he thought such matters could be allowed to lapse. Certainly Priyani Wijeyesekera, who had been asked to prepare suggestions with regard to what are termed Sectoral Committees (another set of institutions when Consultative Committees could do the job themselves) obediently kept her proposals from the Standing Orders Committee on the grounds that Ranil had told her to wait until the 19th Amendment had been passed.
But Anura Kumara had it seemed done his job, and I must apologize to him for having thought he had fallen asleep. He told me that he had submitted a draft a couple of months back. However the National Advisory Committee does not it seems meet regularly, and he had no idea what was being done about his draft. And I fear that he has been too diffident to push it, which is understandable given the general composition of that Committee, where he probably does not feel at ease.
The Code of Conduct should aim at three different objectives. The first, and the most obvious to pursue, is eliminating corruption. This requires transparency and accountability with regard to both appointments and expenditure. This indeed should be legally required, and I have written to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, after the draft Freedom of Information Act was sent to us, to suggest that we should include in the public
- ‘the Declarations of Assets of Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Secretaries of Ministries, Chairs of Public Authorities and all officials responsible for contracts or expenditure over the value of Rs 1 million. Such Declarations should be posted electronically. Gifts over the value of Rs 500,000 received by such individuals should also be recorded. ‘
I have also suggested transparency with regard to the
- ‘qualifications and job descriptions’
Of employees above a certain level. Certainly this should be the case with regard to all appointments within the discretion of Ministers. I had asked that this provision be included in the criteria for the appointment of University Councils, and was horrified to find that the present government seemed to be entrenching the practice of using these to provide positions of authority for their supporters.
Secondly we should prevent executive positions being used for politics. Unfortunately most politicians see ministerial office as adding to their campaigning capacities. It might be difficult to eliminate this, but we ought to try. Certainly I think Karu ought, if he is serious about Good Governance, issue a circular to indicate that
- Members of the Executive shall not use their offices or the equipment and services they are given for electoral purposes
Finally we should ensure responsiveness to the public. At present there are no systems in the administration to ensure follow up or to make consultation meaningful. The former President’s commitment to introduce Jana Sabha to give the people a voice was forgotten, and in its place they had massive meetings that served a political purpose, with suggestions from the grass roots forgotten as soon as they were made.
I believe therefore that we need to update Administrative Regulations to provide that minutes of all meetings where the public are involved should be systematically maintained, and
- shared with the next level up of government. Responses must be conveyed to participants
In addition to clear responses with regard to public consultations, the public must be treated with respect even on an individual basis. I believe Mr Jayasuriya should ensure that
- All government officials must understand the need to respond promptly to requests from the people. They must also ensure that records are kept. Telephone commitments should be kept to a minimum, since these can be forgotten. Officers who delegate tasks must ensure that these are performed promptly.
We had discussed all this at the Consultative Committee for Public Administration Reforms, but I suspect the records of what was decided must be forgotten now, with the sweeping changes with regard to Ministries. And since the Consultative Committees hardly meet, there is little chance of ensuring that Parliament can make inputs into the reforms we were pledged to introduce.