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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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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.29716942The 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.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

December 2017
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