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Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

On the votes of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs

In the Committee Stage of the Budget, December 9th 2013


I am honoured to speak on the votes of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, which deals with perhaps the most important subject we need to consider. I say this because, while the development programme government has put in place with regard to infrastructure is vital, it will serve no purpose unless we also concentrate on human development. In this regard we need to ensure that our children are in full enjoyment of all their rights, and that we also empower them so that any violations are minimized.

It is equally important, Mr Speaker, to ensure that women are not only protected, but also empowered. For this purpose we must put in place coherent mechanisms that can identify shortcomings and address them promptly and systematically. Above all we must move from simply reacting to problems, but rather anticipate potential problems and avoid them – a strategy, I should add, that would hold us in good stead with regard also to international relations as well as domestic politics.

With regard to Women and Children, I am happy to say that we have an active Ministry that is able to conceptualize and initiate new measures. Chief amongst these is the establishment of Women and Children’s Units in every Divisional Secretariat. If I might say so, this Ministry has been the first to recognize the importance of the Division, which is the first active interface between government and people. Indeed this Ministry has also recognized the importance of the Grama Niladhari Division, which is the first actual interface, though it is for the raising of issues rather than solving them. I should add that it would make sense to set in place, even in GN Divisions, consultative mechanisms to resolve simple problems. However it the Division that is the first level at which more important decisions can be taken, and where the front line officers of various government institutions can meet to discuss problems and plan responses – and where they can discuss trends that will help them to anticipate problems and avoid them.

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Visual QR Code Picture QR CodeSpeech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

At the debate on the Second Report

Of the Committee on Public Enterprises

October 10th 2013

Hon Chair

The publication of this Second Report of the Committee on Public Enterprises is a momentous occasion, because it exemplifies how Parliamentary Standing Committees should conduct themselves in a manner that has not been apparent in Parliament for 30 years. All credit should go to the Chairman of COPE, and the three chairs of COPE Sub-Committees, a Minister, a Junior Minister and the most responsible and respected member of the main Opposition Party, for ensuring that we covered almost all institutions coming under the purview of COPE.

When, Hon Chair, as a new Member of Parliament, I expressed astonishment at the fact that previously COPE had only looked at a modicum of the institutions it had to consider, and suggested that we work through sub-committees, one of the more experienced Opposition members of COPE objected vehemently. But the Chairman upheld the suggestion, and I am happy to say that that Member acknowledged the benefit of that very simple idea.

Another area where I was able to innovate was in insisting that a deadline be given to institutions asked to provide reports. Previously, those institutions that were asked to respond but failed to do so were forgotten until the next time they were summoned, which was often years later. Fortunately we now follow up, though not as assiduously as I would wish.

This is a pity, but we must appreciate that the COPE office is badly staffed and, having got used to the lack of energy of the Committee in earlier incarnations, is hard pressed to satisfy our needs. However I must pay tribute to the staff who have managed as best possible under difficult circumstances, and produced this thorough report.

The manner in which COPE works is a tribute to the skill of the Chair in ensuring a spirit of collegiality. Government and Opposition members work well together, and are also much more polite to administrative officials, who have in turn expressed appreciation of the manner in which we question them, and try to advise rather than blame.  Read the rest of this entry »

7th Parliament




Issued on Thursday, August 08, 2013



P. 194/’13

The Hon. Rajiva Wijesinha,—Amendment of the Standing Orders of Parliament,—

That this Parliament resolves in terms of the Standing Order No. 134, following

amendments of the Standing Orders of Parliament be referred to the Committee on

Standing Orders:—

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Sri Lanka Parliament(This was not delivered as there wouldn’t be time for me to speak, but this is what I would have said).

Both this resolution, Mr Speaker, and the manner in which it has been pursued, make very clear the need for radical reform. We have long known that we have an illogical Constitution that confuses all sorts of political principles. Sadly we have not taken seriously the crying need to change it wholesale, not simply engage in piecemeal reforms.

Nowhere is inconsistency more obvious than in the relations between the three traditional branches of government. Underlying this inconsistency is a failure to ensure accountability, despite the claim that power belongs in all instances to the people. The Executive is accountable in that it submits itself to democratic elections every few years, but the period of six years that is prescribed, and the provision, based on Westminster norms, of having an early election, make this accountability less than perfect. And the system of elections we have for the Legislature makes a nonsense of accountability, since that requires a closer relationship between constituencies and their representatives than the preferential vote system makes possible.

With regard to the Judiciary, there is almost no accountability. Over the last year I have tried, in pursuing action on our National Human Rights Action Plan, to suggest that the Judiciary lays down norms with regard to its activities, but replies when received were not positive. The Secretary to the Ministry of Justice got no reply when she suggested that the Chief Justice convene a meeting on sentencing, and the Institute of Human Rights was not allowed to proceed with a training programme on this subject. Given the gross overcrowding in our prisons, the failure of the Judiciary to act as requested is most depressing.

Depressing too is the failure to institute codes of conduct. The report of the PSC suggests, even on the best possible interpretation, indiscretions that should never have been perpetrated. It is true that many have been responsible for such indiscretions, but in the absence of strict guidelines, that are carefully monitored, a culture of propriety is hard to sustain.

I would have hoped that the Judiciary would draw up its own guidelines but, if this does not happen, it will be necessary for Parliament to do this. The judicial power of the people is exercised by Courts set up by Parliament, and therefore it is our responsibility to draw up guidelines for the exercise of such power even while scrupulously refraining from interference in decisions. It is best then if we leave it to the Judiciary to enforce those guidelines, and only ensure careful monitoring through the financial controls exercised by Parliament.

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(This was not delivered and I was told instead that I was expected to speak on Resettlement and on External Affairs. I had however prepared a text, which seems even more relevant now that the ‘Educational Policies and Proposals for General Education in Sri Lanka’, based on what was presented to the Special Parliament Advisory Committee on Education, has been circulated again for comment)

Rajiva Wijesinha

It is not accidental, Mr Speaker, that, following immediately on the items that come directly under His Excellency the President, we move today to the subject of Education. It is perhaps with regard to Education that the Budget Speech of His Excellency introduced the most important innovations in the programme of the government this year, and I am grateful for this opportunity to speak in their favour.

One of the more balanced, if trenchant, critics of the economic policies of this government has mentioned that, while infrastructure development has been impressive, we have not kept pace as regards human resource development. That is vital, if the essentially liberal programme of this government is to be successful. Whilst ensuring that the private sector remains as the engine of growth, and develops its potential, it is also important to ensure that social justice is promoted. For this purpose we must devote more attention to equality of opportunity. A comprehensive human resources development programme is therefore essential, with stress on ensuring equitable provision nationwide.

I think it has been recognized even by critics of the government, Mr Speaker, that it was an inspired decision of the President to create a Ministry of Economic Development, and entrust it to someone with no previous Parliamentary experience, but with a track record of proven practical capacity, as the swift programme of Resettlement in the East and then the North made clear. An Executive Presidency demands technocrats at the helm in areas of urgent concern. Though we suffer from a preposterous constitution, the only one in the world that confuses an Executive Presidential system with the Westminster model of government that abandons even any pretence of the separation of powers, the institution of a Ministry devoted to development has achieved wonders. This was because of the concentration it permitted on results, without the need to work also on parochial political concerns in a particular area.

I had hoped something of the sort would happen with regard to Human Resource Development too, when a Senior Minister of proven competence was assigned responsibility for that subject. Sadly, the capacity to ensure coherent action is not possible with the current administrative structures we have. However the development of a policy document in this regard will I hope lead to more effective action, without the delays and uncertainties that stood in the way, for instance, of rapid implementation of the reforms the Minister of Higher Education so bravely put forward. The failure over several months of the Legal Draughtsman’s Department to finalize the Act that was proposed may yet prove the biggest drawback to the programme of development in which this government has otherwise been so successful.

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Text of the speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha,  MP on the Votes of the Ministry of Resettlement at the Committee Stage of the Budget Debate – 29 Nov 2012

Mr Speaker, the work of the Ministry of Resettlement is of crucial importance, and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the subject. Sri Lanka has implemented perhaps the most successful programme of Resettlement in the world, and the manner in which we have developed infrastructural facilities for people who were deprived of all development for so long should be presented as a model for other countries in similar situations.

In this context I was saddened by the misleading statements of the member for Jaffna from Colombo who spoke before me, and was clearly more concerned about Colombo issues than Resettlement. I will not say that she misled the House, because I think she has misled herself, but if she visited areas such as Puthukudiyirippu as often as I have done, she would realize that what she had said is nonsense. The PTK schools have been very well equipped, and that at Kachilamadu will benefit from project funding in a way few schools have done. I could only wish that she would use some of her decentralized budget to improve actual education there. I have done this, and vocational training at higher levels will begin soon in a couple of schools in the Mullaitivu District, and I could only wish that Jaffna and Colombo representatives did even half as much for areas that had been so long deprived in the North.

But perhaps I should not blame her for her ignorance of the ground situation. That is a field in which government could have done more. Systematic presentation of what we did, with exposition also of the financial input of the Sri Lanka government, the creative involvement of our armed forces, the excellent coordination of the Governors and the Government Agents in the North and East, should have been highlighted. It is not too late, I hope, to make use of the reporting tool created by the United National Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to record Sri Lankan inputs too. This should be done at Divisional Secretariat level, because that is the unit through which progress can be seen most clearly.

It is also the unit through which we can register clearly what more remains to be done. For this reason our records of the past should be accompanied by informed assessment of the gaps that need to be filled. That is why, Mr Speaker, we need this Ministry to continue with its work, though some have argued that, with Resettlement almost completed, it could be wound up. On the contrary, we must now build on our achievements, and ensure that those who are resettled, and also those who remain to be resettled, are fully empowered to contribute to their own development as well as the development of the country.

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I had been asked to speak on the votes of the Ministry of External Affairs during the Committee Stage of the Budget Debate, but was subsequently told that there was no time for this.  Since I had prepared a text, which I felt discussed urgent issues in the current context, I thought it would be useful to make this available instead of forgetting about the points raised. the current context, Mr Speaker, it is an urgent necessity to register the importance of budgetary provision for our Ministry of External Affairs, and I am honoured to have been asked to speak on this subject. I should add that I am surprised that the opposition has not taken the opportunity of proposing an amendment to increase the amount we should be spending. The General Secretary of the main opposition party noted recently that the failure of the government to rebut formally many allegations made against this country, as well as against the UN officials who helped the Sri Lankan people while we were struggling against terrorism. While his criticism was misplaced, he certainly had a point in that we should be doing better in presenting internationally the actual situation in this country. But instead of engaging in blind condemnation he should help, as some members of his party have done, in subscribing to the excellent memorandum prepared by young Members of Parliament of all parties, to develop a more constructive policy.

The key to such a policy, Mr Speaker, is training, as the President made clear in many parts of his budget presentation. Though specific mention was not made of the need for better training within the Ministry of External Affairs, we must realize the importance of developing coherent policies and youngsters able not only to implement them, but also to explain them. As it is, we seem to be torn between conflicting predilections, as was graphically illustrated when the most successful diplomat of recent years, Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, was attacked in the media after the debacle in Geneva in March this year. The claim then was that the conservative elements in the Ministry of External Affairs were now able to reassert themselves, and carry out the policies of President J R Jayewardene, as against the traditional policies of the party of the current popularly elected President of the country.

What is that traditional policy, and how do we make it clear, not only to the world, but also to officials of the Ministry who are still stuck in the mindset of 1987, that this is what must be promoted? At a recent seminar on Indo-Sri Lankan relations, for which the Adviser to the President on the subject had nominated me, we were reminded by a distinguished Indian scholar of how some Sri Lankans were still obsessed by resentments against India born of the events of 1987, just as there had been Indian bureaucrats obsessed by resentments against China because of the events of 1982. Thus, after the debacle in Geneva, we had attacks on India, with those elements in the Ministry of External Affairs who still hanker after the antics of the eighties trying to prejudice the country against India.

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Mr Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak on an Adjourment Motion that seeks to strengthen the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka. This is an admirable aim, and I will give the mover of this motion the benefit of the doubt, and treat that as his principal aim. It would be a pity then if we allowed ourselves to be distracted, in discussing the matter, by efforts to make petty political points, as he seemed to do in his speech, or rather his performance.

Unfortunately much of the text of the motion brought before this House deals with the aftermath of terrorism, and goes against one of the most important principles in the administration of Justice, graphically expressed by Shakespeare in the lines

Earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

This was the principle government decided to adopt in dealing with former combatants. In fact, whereas earlier it had thought three of the seven categories into which former LTTE combatants were divided might be prosecuted, it has released almost all of them. Just a few in the category of the most committed remain in custody, but most of them too will soon be released. And while the majority of these were conscripts, forced to fight, so that the sympathy with which we have dealt with them is understandable, government has also decided to send for rehabilitation rather than prosecution many of those who had been detained on suspicion of terrorism before the conflict concluded. So, while I agree with the Hon TNA member, about the need for quicker resolution of those cases, what has already been done should be recognized. That is why the LLRC Action Plan Task Force should have a website to set down what has been achieved, as well as timelines for further action.

In such a context, to go on and on about extradition with regard to a particular case smacks of cynicism. It betrays an unwillingness to move forward, and suggests a very old fashioned approach to justice.

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The Budget Speech delivered last week, Mr Speaker, lays down a range of imaginative and constructive policies which it is an honour to support. The hallmark of great Liberal governments at a time of social change was the pursuit of reform that promoted opportunities for all, and this is the basic principle behind the proposals laid down in the budget speech. Amongst those of immense importance are the commitment to promote school enrollment amongst low income families and the determination to improve transport facilities for this purpose. Twinning this with mechanisms to ensure connectivity to market places is symptomatic of the understanding that social services must also aim at empowerment, not simply the provision of handouts.

It is also important that health care services be extended. I have noted the comparative excellence of the Ministry of Health in not just restoring, but also improving, services in areas affected by conflict. The concern the budget speech makes clear for expanding such services to areas in need is most welcome, and also the understanding of the need for people participation in improving conditions, as exemplified in the proposal to intensify knowledge sharing programmes on child nutrition. In this regard the development of the dairy industry is a timely step, and I hope the strides made in this regard over the last couple of years will be taken further. The same applies with regard to poultry farming, and recent emphasis on this, and the concerted efforts made through the Divi Neguma initiative, provide a model of policy innovations that have been carried out with practical efficiency.

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Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP in Parliament 

Mr Speaker, it is an honour to speak in this debate on the report of the Committee on Public Enterprises, given how much it has accomplished. Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of its Chairman, the simple but brilliant idea of dividing into sub-committees given the amount of work, and the dedicated commitment of the three chairs of sub-committees, COPE last year was able to cover more ground than any previous Committee. I was reminded, given my idealistic view of Parliaments before 1977 when a sense of public responsibility was paramount, of the incisive work of Bernard Soysa, the then Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, which covered also public enterprises such as have now been hived off to COPE. Bernard Soysa was a Trotskyists, which taken in conjunction with the performance of the current COPE Chair, suggests that the old Marxist parties were strong proponents of Parliamentary responsibility as well as financial probity, however unfortunate their vision of an all-encompassing State was.

That vision, Mr Speaker, continued by President Jayewardene in spite of his claims to have liberalized the economy, lies at the heart of the problems we still face. The combination of a statist vision with the authoritarian practices entrenched by colonialism has led to a situation where the State still provides services in a bureaucratic fashion which others can do better. As a result, what  should be its primary role, of regulation as well as intervention on behalf of those who are disadvantaged and find advancement difficult in a market economy, suffers. Rent seeking replaces concentration on the essential services required to ensure a level playing field. The provision of employment without matching it with productivity destroys the more important goal of ensuring that employment opportunities are generated more widely.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2019
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