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qrcode.30141748Former State Minister Prof Rajiva Wijesinha was among the first group of MPs to leave the government along with Maithripala Sirisena when the latter was brought forward as the Opposition’s ‘Common Candidate’ to face Mahinda Rajapaksa at the last presidential election. Though appointed as State Minister of Higher Education under President Sirisena’s government, Prof Wijesinha soon resigned from his portfolio and later chose to sit in the Opposition. In this interview with Udara Soysa, Prof Wijesinha expresses his thoughts on a wide-range of subjects, including the 19th Amendment, Mahinda Rajapaksa and the current political situation.

Q: How do you see the current political realities in the country?

I am deeply worried because the great promise of the Sirisena victory in the January Presidential election is being destroyed. He, and his supporters, pledged several reforms, but implementation of the program was entrusted to the Prime Minister who was only interested in transferring power to himself.

But there are some silver linings in this cloud. The effort to expand and entrench Prime Ministerial powers was defeated, and now the President seems to have made it clear that he wants other pledges also implemented. First electoral reform which is essential given the corrupting effects of the current system, ignored till the UPFA made clear it wanted this pledge also fulfilled. Second the Code of Conduct, forgotten until I started agitating, which led to Rajitha Senaratne reacting positively.

I can only hope that other promises too are kept, in particular strengthening Parliament through amending Standing Orders (which was supposed to be first in line) and also the Freedom of Information Act.

Q: Are you repenting your decision to defect from Rajapakse regime?

Not at all. That government had gone beyond its use by date. Important pledges in its 2010 manifesto were forgotten, as well as Plans that had been approved by Cabinet, on Human Rights and the LLRC. Corruption had increased, and a few individuals around the President were plundering the country and in the process destroying his image. We were thus in grave danger of having the great achievements of the first Rajapaksa government destroyed, not least too because of our self-destructive foreign policy. And the neglect of Reconciliation was also disastrous.

I think therefore that the election of someone who had participated in the achievements (without trying to sabotage them as the opposition had done) but wanted to build on them positively was a good thing. Sadly, in part because many who shared his views did not support him, the victory was hijacked by the Prime Minister who seems determined to destroy the positive achievements of President Rajapaksa.

Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.30091392While Good Governance also must include adequate provision for the security and developmental needs of the governed, the terms is more widely used with reference to what might be termed the moral aspect of government. Having myself supported the candidature of Maithripala Sirisena because of what seemed to me increasing authoritarianism and corruption in the last two years of the previous regime, I am of course particularly concerned with our commitment to get rid of these latter aspects.

Unfortunately we seem to have instead abandoned both ensuring security and promoting development, whilst engaging in corruption and authoritarianism, albeit in more subtle ways. Utter contempt has been shown for Parliament in the last four months, illustrated most obviously by the failure to have meetings of Parliamentary Consultative Committees (the Schedule given me by the Committees Office on May 20th indicated that only four had thus far met, four months exactly after the day on which we had pledged that ‘Oversight Committees will be set up comprising members of Parliament who are not in the Cabinet’.

The Prime Minister had in fact insisted, according to Priyani Wijeyesekera, that proposals about the Oversight Committees he wanted should not be presented until after the 19th Amendment was passed. I suppose he had lost interest in the President’s manifesto when the change he wanted, to commit to handing over powers to the Prime Minister, was omitted. But even so, he should not have allowed the existing Consultative Committee mechanism, which should also be strengthened, to have fallen into abeyance. His lame excuse, when I brought the matter up, was to say that he planned to have a meeting of his own Consultative Committee soon – well over four months after he took office. Read the rest of this entry »

reform agenda 12The Liberal Party was the first to say, more than two decades ago, that the Presidency as constituted by J R Jayewardene had too much power. In particular we felt it was wrong for the President to have total discretion with regard to appointments to important positions responsible for making decisions that affected the country at large.

This was not a popular view, and it was only more than 20 years after the Presidency was introduced that the matter reached boiling point as it were. So in 2001, in the last throes of the government President Kumaratunga had set up a year earlier, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced. But though it was obviously better to have some check on the President, the form this took was confusing, and not in accordance with general political principles.

What it did was set up a body of appointees who had to approve the nominations of the President to individual positions. It also had the unparalleled power of choosing nominees to Commissions, which the President was expected to endorse. This was bizarre, for to confine an elected President in this way, turning him or her into a rubber stamp, is grossly inappropriate. It was not surprising then that President Kumaratunga flatly refused to appoint the Elections Commission that had been selected by the Constitutional Council.

I myself feel that the Parliamentary Council set up under the 18th Amendment was more in accordance with political practice internationally, though unfortunately it did not have veto power. Still, had the Council actually ever met, it could have fulfilled a public purpose in that it could have put in writing objections to nominees of the President. After all in a classic Westminster system, a Head of State who is not elected by the people will not turn down a nominee of an elected Prime Minister. But the Prime Minister is careful to select appropriate people, since a delay, or a simple suggestion that he reconsider, would immeasurably reduce the moral authority of the nominee. In recent years a polite but detailed account of why Mohan Pieris was inappropriate, with for instance the arguments so clearly presented by Nagananda Kodituwakku, would have made it difficult for President Rajapaksa to persist with the nomination. Read the rest of this entry »

reform agenda 11The saddest victim of the Ranil Wickremesinghe style of politics has been the Cabinet. There was a pledge in the President’s manifesto to begin with a Cabinet of 25 members. This was expanded to 28, and the pledge that the Cabinet would consist of representatives of all political parties was ignored. I did point this out to the President, and mentioned that Mr Radhakrishnan too had been a victim of this breach of promise.

However I said I would get down to work, and I did so. A further shock awaited, when Kabir Hashim was made Cabinet Minister of Highways and Higher Education and Investment Promotion, but being naïve I believed him when he said he would not interfere. But given the opportunities for patronage, which seems the principal thrust of the UNP led government, he did of course interfere, and was even able to justify the efforts of his personal staff to take possession of extra vehicles as soon as I returned them.

But leaving aside the question of numbers, and the perks that go with the positions, more worrying is the absence of coherent thought in determining the constitution of the Cabinet. Kabir’s is by no means the maddest Ministry. My own favourite is Home Affairs and Fisheries, whereby in addition to his fishing responsibilities Joseph Michael Perera has to look after District and Divisional Secretariats too. Obviously, given his decision making capacities, Karu Jayasuriya, though made Minister of Public Administration, could not be trusted to play ball with regard to appointments to the largest segment of senior public servants. So, as one District Secretary put it, they were summoned to the presence of the Prime Minister’s Secretary and scolded and said they would be transferred. And of course the decisions in this regard are not make by Joseph Michael, who is clueless about the personnel involved, but by the Prime Minister and his merry band.

Perhaps in pursuit of equity, I should note that Joseph Michael has just lost responsibility for the Registration of Persons Act which, two months after the government took office, has been handed over to John Amaratunga and his Ministry of Public Order, Disaster Management and Christian Affairs. In the same Gazette, Navin Dissanayake’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports loses the National Crafts Council which is given to Rishard Bathiudeen’s Ministry of Industry and Commerce. Rishard also gets the Consumer Affairs Authority, which he may well handle with the aplomb shown by Johnston Fernando. The Ministry of Food Security is the loser, as also of the CWE and Sathosa, which are admirably suited perhaps to Rishard’s skills, given what this government seems determined to promote.

Akila Viraj, it seems has lost the National Education Commission, though where this has gone is not clear. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.29654080One of the biggest problems Sri Lanka faces is the absence of consultation between political parties. The manner in which the Reform Agenda of the President was nearly destroyed because of a failure to see it as a national need is typical of what is wrong. The Prime Minister decided that this was an enterprise for which the UNP had to get the credit, and accordingly he worked only with his chosen acolytes. Though lip service was paid to consultation, through what was termed the National Executive Council, this was set up in a very haphazard fashion, and had no plan of work, nor regular meetings.

So the 19th Amendment emerged, like Athene from the head of Zeus, from the team that Ranil had asked as early as November to prepare a Bill to transfer power from the President to the Prime Minister. Jayampathy Wickremaratne revealed this early in our discussions about the manifesto, and though he took the point that publication of such a Bill during the campaign would play straight into Mahinda Rajapaksa’s hands, he did not accept the further point that such a procedure would be unfair. It was wrong to ask the people to vote for one person in order to give power to another, but Jayampathy was so enamoured by then of the Wickremesinghe agenda, that he simply bided his time and then produced his draft.

The result was that what should have been a process conducted with goodwill on all sides turned acrimonious. Other aspects of the manifesto that seemed equally important to other parties were ignored. Though perhaps Ranil Wickremesinghe was only concerned with what was of immediate importance to him, and thought other things could be dealt with later, the impression he created was that he was simply not interested in strengthening Parliament (through amending the Standing Orders) or introducing a Code of Conduct, or Electoral Reform.

 

Perhaps he cannot be blamed, given the confrontational view of politics that has developed in the last half century and more. The problem I think started with the manner in which Mrs Bandaranaike’s government was defeated in 1964, which involved bribery on a scale that would now seem ludicrous. But even so, the Parliament elected in 1965 seemed remarkably civilized, and legislation did seem to involve consultation and consensus. Indeed, though I still regret the manner in which the opposition campaigned against Dudley Senanayake’s attempt to introduce District Councils, that measure lost largely because of the internal opposition to devolution in his party.

The 1970 election however put paid to hopes of consensus building. Perhaps traumatized by the 1971 insurrection, the United Front government pushed through its new constitution without sufficient consultation. It did however go through the motions, of setting up a Constituent Assembly, but internal problems in the UNP prevented a principled response, which might have led to more productive discussion. In turn, in 1978, helped by the rout of the SLFP, J R Jayewardene virtually ramrodded his new constitution through, ignoring the very sensible strictures of experts such as N M Perera.

 

The massive majority he enjoyed, and the carrots he provided his MPs with, led to a breakdown in the Committee system. I was astonished, when I got into Parliament, to find that Committees did not meet regularly, and when they did, they took no notice of what they were supposed to discuss according to the Standing Orders. The business they transacted was about the particular problems of individual MPs. The idea that they should consider policy and examine expenditure seemed incomprehensible to my colleagues. One could not however blame them, since the electoral system J R had instituted meant that they had to devote all their energies to popularizing themselves. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.29127961April 22nd 2015
The Secretary General

Parliament
Dear Secretary General

I have now had a chance to go through the consolidated version of the draft 19th Amendment, which was given to us by the Hon Prime Minister yesterday. The amendments he has included, which will I presume be introduced at the Committee Stage, assuage some of my worries but others remain.

I would therefore like to propose the following amendments at the Committee Stage. These are a consolidated version of what I have sent before, omitting those concerns that have been already addressed. The bold numbers are those in the draft amendment, numbers not highlighted are the relevant section in the Constitution. The highlighted and italicized section below any proposed amendment gives the reason for such amendment.

I hope this schedule can be made available to all Members on the day the debate begins, and that sufficient time will be given to present them when amendments are taken up.

Yours sincerely

Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

I would like to propose the following amendments to the clauses as numbered below of the proposed Bill to amend the Constitution, in the latest version issued in Parliament on April 21st 2015, but dated March 16th 2015. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.29033155April 10th 2015

 

 

The Secretary General

Parliament

 

Dear Secretary General

 

Further to the amendments I have already proposed to the draft 19th amendment to the Constitution as it was gazetted, I wish to also propose the following amendments at the Committee Stage –

 

  1. Delete Sections 95 to 99 of the Constitution and replace with

 

95 (i) Within one week of Sections 95 following being amended, the President shall establish a Delimitation Commission ….(as in current 95). The Commission shall be required to present its Report within three months of its being appointed.

(Current 95 (2) to remain)

 

96 (1) The Delimitation Commission shall divide Sri Lanka into 150 constituencies so that the population of Sri Lanka shall be divided equitably between those 150 constituencies, with the variation between the constituency having the largest number of voters and that having the smallest number not exceeding 10%.

(Clauses (5) and (6) of the current Constitution shall remain as (2) and (3)

 

97    The President shall by Proclamation publish the names and boundaries of the constituencies, which shall be the basis of elections to Parliament at the next ensuing General Election.

 

98 (1) At General Elections, each voter shall be entitled to cast two separate votes. One shall be for an individual, chosen from amongst those nominated for the constituency in which such voter is entitled to vote. The second shall be for a political party, from a list of those registered political parties that are contesting that election. Political parties will be deemed to be contesting the election if they have nominated candidates for at least 5 constituencies.

 

In addition to candidates nominated for constituencies, each Party contesting the election shall be entitled to nominate on a National List 10 candidates who are distinguished for service in any two of the following areas – Administration, Business Enterprises, Cultural Activities, Education, Social Service. Each Party, in presenting its National List to the Elections Commissioner shall indicate the qualifications of each candidate on that list.

 

(2) Each constituency will return as the representative of that constituency the individual who received the most votes cast within that constituency.

 

(3) One hundred more members will be returned to Parliament on the basis of the second party vote, such that the final composition of Parliament shall reflect proportionately the votes cast for each such Party.

 

(4) Each party shall be told the number of seats to which it is entitled based on the votes cast for such parties.

 

(5) All candidates elected under 98 (2) shall be seated in Parliament. For any vacancies that remain in the entitlement made under 98 (4), each party may nominate upto half the number of seats it is entitled to from the National List, to the maximum of 10. The remaining vacancies shall be filled by those candidates contesting individual constituencies on behalf of the Party who received the highest percentage of votes in the individual vote.

 

  1. (1) Current 99 (13) (a) save that the section from ‘Or independent group’ to ‘Parliament’ should be deleted.

 

(b) Where the seat of a Member of Parliament elected on the individual vote to a constituency becomes vacant, a bye-election shall be held for that constituency, with each voter being entitled to one individual vote.

 

(c) Where the seat of a Member of Parliament elected by means of the Party Vote becomes vacant, the political party to which such member belonged shall be entitled to fill that seat, either through nomination of a candidate on its National List, or through the next candidate of those who contested individual constituencies on behalf of the Party who received the highest percentage of votes in the individual vote.

 

Renumber Clause 104 as 104 (1) and add

 

104 (2) If the Proclamation under 97 shall not have been made at the time of the next General Election, the Elections Commissioner shall hold such election on the system described above, subject to the proviso that, instead of the 150 constituencies envisaged, he shall proceed on the basis of the current 160

Constituencies. There shall then be only 90 seats available to be apportioned under 98 (3).

104 (3) If any party received more seats on the basis of the constituency vote that it is entitled to under 98 (3), it may retain such seats for the duration of that Parliament, and Parliament shall during such period consist of 250 members plus such overhang.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

19thAI was most disturbed that the proposed 19th amendment does not seem to take seriously the commitment in the President’s election manifesto to ensure the independence of the Public Service. Two dangerous provisions remain from the past.

The first is that Ministry Secretaries shall be appointed by the President (though, according to the amendment introduced in the Supreme Court, only on the advice of the Prime Minister). The second is that all Ministry Secretaries vacate office when a new government is formed.

Both these are contrary to practice in other countries with a Westminster style Cabinet system of government. Since this matter has been decided on without sufficient consultation, or understanding of the principles involved in ensuring that Public Servants serve the public rather than the Executive, I have proposed an amendment to the Constitution. This has now been gazetted I attach a copy of the Gazette of March 27th, and would be most grateful if you could raise the issue and promote support for this initiative.

The change from what used to be Permanent Secretaries was introduced when Sri Lanka had a Statist concept of government. But while governments that are elected are entitled to expect that Public Servants act in accordance with the policies of the government, this must also be in terms of law and regulations.

It is also important to ensure continuity, and help new ministers find their feet, by receiving briefs with regard to the policies and activities of the Ministry they are taking over. Simply establishing independent Commissions to recommend appointments will not help if the most senior members of the Public Service, and the Chief Accounting Officers of Ministries, are not appointed by the Commissions. The present draft 19th Amendment keeps them beholden to the government in power for their positions.

English

 

 

Sinhala

 

 

Tamil

 

One of the saddest aspects of the political culture we have developed over the years is the total rejection of continuity, a simple necessity if a country is to move forward smoothly. The present government seems to have rejected this principle completely, in the manner in which it has replaced personnel wholesale. Though it has shown some understanding of the need for experience, it has displayed this by calling back into harness ancient figures from the past.

Mr Paskaralingam being brought back as an Adviser is perhaps the most ludicrous example of this, though he was an efficient Secretary, in Education in the seventies and then to Prime Minister and then President Premadasa in the eighties. But he will be 80 next year and, though he had some experience of Sri Lanka the last time Ranil Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister, he is no longer in a position to know how and through whom to make things move. Then Mr Bradman Weerakoon, who is 84, is an adviser to the Minister of Resettlement, a field in which perhaps he is thought to have experience. He was Commissioner General for Essential Services for a year after the ethnic riots of 1983, before heading back to London.

Comparatively younger, being only in his mid-seventies, is Wickrema Weerasooria who, in addition to advising the President on Banking and Finance and Racial Harmony and Media Freedom, is now also a member of the University Grants Commission. Unlike the other two, he was not a career Civil Servant, but a political appointee in the Jayewardene administration. He served as Secretary to the Ministry of Plan Implementation until 1986, but presumably did not contribute to the increasing problems with regard to Racial Harmony and Media Freedom in those days. He was recycled during the last Wicrkemesinghe Administration, to work with Kabir Hashim’s Ministry of Tertiary Education and Training as well as the Central Bank.

It is perhaps understandable though that this represents continuity for a Wickremesinghe administration. Sadly there was no effort to engage with leading figures in the last administration, many of whom are capable Civil Servants who only need liberation from the politicized approach of several administrations. That has to be done through structural reforms.

Though the Rajapaksa government took this politicization to unparalleled heights, it has been going on for ages. The Jayewardene government began the process of giving enormous powers to political appointees and advisers, Weerasooria, Rakhita Wickramanayake at Air Lanka, Stanley Kalpage at the UGC, Nimal Karunatilleke at the SLBC, and of course Ravi Jayawardene, who set up the Special Task Force. Bu, the culture had been sanctified as it were by the previous government, which had abolished the concept of Permanent Secretaries and handed over those appointments to the Cabinet. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2019
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