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financial abuseI had intended to start this new series with expanded versions of the brief suggestions I had made during the election campaign. However, having been made a Minister, and found out the ridiculous privileges that Ministers are given, I thought I should start at the beginning and deal with the need for reforms at the very top.

The amount of waste on Ministers alone is appalling. Being a State Minister, with no Cabinet Minister, I had two predecessors, who between them had the use of 8 vehicles. They had 20+ staff in what is termed their private offices, one of these being the wife of the Minister. Five staff members of each private office were provided with vehicles and drivers. In addition the Minister had 8 substitute drivers.

All this nonsense springs from a circular issued by the Secretary to the President on May 14th 2010. I have drawn the attention of Karu Jayasuriya to this, and suggested that he amend it swiftly. He is Minister of Good Governance in addition to Public Administration, and a brief discussion we had after the swearing in of the new Cabinet suggested he is serious.

I was not surprised that he asked for my support in this, because what is clear is the need for better systems, based on clear principles. But I have realized over the years that few other politicians understand about systems and principles. This may help them to be successful politicians, but it means that the consequences of their success are generally disappointing and sometimes disastrous.

So in the last few years I have been disappointed at how few politicians cared about strengthening the Committee system in Parliament. Many of them indeed did not bother to attend, except only to raise one or two parochial points. Hardly ever were principles discussed.

This is clear from the Minutes of Committee meetings, even though these are cursory. Fortunately, following my agitation about the matter, these Minutes are now publicly available, something I am sorry to say no Parliamentarian previously had demanded. Interestingly, one consequence of the Minutes being published is that more people attend Committee meetings. The records of the first couple of months showed that very few people attended. Read the rest of this entry »

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10 Jan 2015The most important issue facing the new President is to restore confidence in the governmental process.

For this purpose it is necessary to establish systems that work according to the Rule of Law, and with full accountability to the people. In this respect it is vital that Parliamentary control of legislation and finances be restored.

This does not mean strengthening an Executive based in Parliament, but rather strengthening Parliament to be an effective check on the Executive. This means strengthening the power of ordinary members of Parliament, both government and opposition.

Measures to ensure this were the principle component of the Standing Order changes I had proposed last year, changes which the Speaker ignored in contravention of the existing Standing Orders. My main purpose was to strengthen Committees of Parliament by streamlining them and ensuring that they were not chaired by members of the Executive. In the case of the Finance Oversight Committees, the PAC and COPE, the chair was to be a member of the opposition.

But ensuring open discussion in committees is not enough. It is also necessary to give them teeth, and for this purpose we should ensure that the Executive either follows their recommendations, or else gives reasons in writing as to why this is not desirable or possible. The same would apply to the petitions committee, the directions of which are now simply flouted by the Executive.

I would take this principle further, to promote consultation as well as accountability at local levels. The Local Government Act should be amended to ensure involvement of People’s Representatives in Committees of Pradeshiya Sabhas and Local Councils. I have already suggested amendments in this regard to the Secretary of the Local Government Ministry who had consulted me about the Act. It will also be necessary to define clearly the areas of responsibility of local government bodies, and to give them powers to work effectively in these areas.

In addition, given the number of administrative decisions made at Divisional Secretariat level, there should be consultation mechanisms at Grama Niladhari level, with mandatory feedback at the decision making level. This is the Divisional Secretariat, and I am glad that Mr Sirisena’s manifesto declares the centrality of this level, and the need to ensure coordination of services. With regard to this I have been working together with several Ministry Secretaries on a UNDP Project to improve delivery of services, and I hope the next government studies the excellent report produced by Asoka Gunawardena and implements its recommendations. Certainly we must get rid of the ridiculous system introduced by Basil Rajapaksa, of handing over development funds to Members of Parliament to spend virtually at will, with no coordination and little reference to the plans of the Line Ministries.

Line Ministries should be strengthened, and this requires reducing the size of the Cabinet in accordance with clear rationales, as pledged in the opposition manifesto. We cannot have many ministries dealing with similar subjects, and we cannot have ministers doing what they want – and in particular accepting unsolicited bids for projects, which has become a feature of the way the present government runs things – without adherence to well developed plans. It is imperative that a Ministry of Policy and Plan Implementation be set up, and given teeth on the lines of the suggestions the Secretary to that Ministry and I forwarded to Mr Lalith Weeratunge at the end of 2009.

I have stressed governance issues, because these seem to me the most important in terms of safeguarding democracy and promoting equitable development. For this purpose it is also essential to pass the proposed Freedom of Information Act, and to give it teeth through ensuring public accountability at all levels of government. In addition I hope we will also introduce the Bill of Rights which was promised in the 2005 Mahinda Chintanaya, and which the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights had got drafted by the end of 2009, but which has since been ignored. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

April 2019
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