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ht-home-logoThere were many firsts in the election of President Maithripala Sirisena in Sri Lanka: An incumbent president was defeated; parties specifically representing different races and religious groups —  the Jathika Hela Urumaya for the Sinhalese, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress along with the All Ceylon Muslim Congress — came together on a common political platform; corruption was a major issue in the pre-poll campaign; and now a specific timeframe has been set for reforms.

However, the most important responsibility of the new government will be settling the national question. While the country owes him a debt of gratitude for eliminating terrorism from the country, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa did nothing about the commitments he made in 2009 to ensure inclusive peace.

inclusive governanceAs a member of the Liberal Party, I urged Rajapaksa to implement the 13th Amendment, which created Provincial Councils in Sri Lanka, but met with no success. I understand that there could have been problems about some aspects of the amendment but those could have been resolved through discussions.

When we negotiated with the TNA, MA Sumanthiran and I found a solution to what had previously been considered the vexed question of powers over land. We met stakeholders, asked them about their apprehensions and assuaged those fears.

Unfortunately, two members of the government acted in bad faith, one even refusing to fulfil instructions the president gave us to act on what had been agreed with the TNA.

Reaching consensus on these matters is a priority and the new government should set a time table for this. Successive Sri Lankan governments failed because they allowed talks to drag on without any purpose.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa gestures as he disembarks his airplane in Colombo

Mahinda Rajapaksa…a man who took bold decisions to save the country from terrorism has been incapable of taking any decisions at all in recent months to remove the various blights that have hit us

Presidency 29Though I do not in any way regret our decision not to support Mahinda Rajapaksa at the forthcoming Presidential election, I do feel immensely sorry for him. He is neither a fool, nor a villain, so he knows well the mess into which he has got himself. Though he and his advisers will use every trick in the book now to win re-election, and he might even succeed, he knows that the methods he is now using serve only to make crystal clear how very unpopular he has become.

This was not something the Mahinda Rajapaksa who led us to victory over the Tigers deserves. It is quite preposterous that a man who took bold decisions to save the country from terrorism has been incapable of taking any decisions at all in recent months to remove the various blights that have hit us.

Lalith Weeratunge made the excuse for him that the truth was being kept from him. Last March, after I had drawn his attention yet again to the problems that were mounting, he wrote to me that ‘Once I return end of next week, i.e., about March 30, I must meet you to have a frank chat. Little I can do, I will.  Not many speak the truth today and all I hear are blatant lies. However, not many know that I have my ears to the ground; in every district, little groups have been talking to me.  I am sure both of us could bring out the reality.’

lalith-weeratunga-colombotelegraph

Lalith Weeratunge … lack of confidence in his ability to correct things himself, given the much stronger motivations of those who had hijacked both the President and the Presidency.

But we never did get to meet, and time and again he cancelled meetings because he had suddenly to go abroad. In time I stopped regretting this, because it seemed to me that there was little we could do together that Lalith could not do himself, given that he still I think commanded the President’s confidence. But I suppose we have to sympathize with his lack of confidence in his ability to correct things himself, given the much stronger motivations of those who had hijacked both the President and the Presidency. After all he had failed to get the President to correct course when his wife first drew attention to aberrations at the Securities Commission.

Underlying the diffidence however was the belief that the President was not really in danger. I suspect those around him never thought that Ranil Wickremesinghe would not be the main candidate against them, and understandably they thought that Mahinda Rajapaksa would then be a shoo-in for the Presidency. After the Uva election they might have thought twice, but they doubtless assumed they would not find it difficult to construct a pitch, as it were, of their choosing. This would be the past, and the Tigers, and on such a pitch Ranil would flounder – though, to make sure of this, they have got ready vast amounts of propaganda to remind the people of Ranil’s past. The posters I have seen recently with Richard de Zoysa’s picture indicate how far back they were determined to go, but with control of so much of the media, they must have thought they could keep attention during the campaign on Ranil’s weaknesses, rather than the recent failures of governance.

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Rishard Bathiudeen … had they bothered to listen to what he has been saying in Parliament recently they would have realized how deeply upset he was.

That complacence explains the fact that they were quite prepared to not just forget but even to actively alienate Muslim voters. It seems to have come as a shock to government that even Rishard Bathiudeen was preparing to cross over to the common opposition. But had they bothered to listen to what he has been saying in Parliament recently they would have realized how deeply upset he was. The desperate measures they have had to engage in to keep him and his party, carrots and sticks extending even to getting rid of faithful old Mr Azwer from Parliament, indicate they understand how important such voters are. But though they might paper over the façade, a moment’s thought should make them realize that, given the manner in which the Muslims have been treated, there is no way anyone in the community can support the President and succeed in any future election. Indeed I suspect that even Faizer Mustapha will have to move, given that his efforts to control the BBS rally in Aluthgama were treated with contempt, a fact known to the entire Muslim community, even if the President were deceived about it. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.26604602Nearly two months back the Liberal Party wrote to the President urging that he not hold elections in haste, and indicating that he should proceed first with the various reforms he had pledged. We got an acknowledgment, but not a response, though I suspect a call from a close relation urging that I support the President was a consequence of the letter. The refusal to consider issues seriously, while simply providing assurances that things will improve, is not however something that can be accepted ad nauseam. Indeed, while in India I was told by a political scientist who had been fully supportive of our destruction of the Tigers in Sri Lanka, that the President, having promised the Indians that he would implement the 13th Amendment, was heard to say as they were leaving that he had fooled them again.

I refused to believe this, and argued that the President would not have behaved like that. My own view is that he is generally sincere in the commitments he makes, and he did his best on various occasions to promote the LLRC. But unfortunately he imagines he is weaker than he is, and gives in to pressures from others, all of whom have their own agendas. So, following his commitment to the Indians, he did nothing when that was repudiated by a spokesman, and he did not bother when G L Peiris did not respond to a request for clarification sent by the Indian Prime Minister. As Lalith Weeratunge said with regard to the clear commitment to change the Chief Secretary of the Northern Province, he could do nothing because his hands were tied – but this was probably not, initially at any rate, by the President.

It is this failure to move straight, despite what I continue to believe are admirable political instincts, that led the Liberal Party last week to confirm its earlier decision and support Maithripala Sirisena. Though it is argued that the Sirisena candidacy is the result of a foreign conspiracy, it is in fact a continuation of the present regime that will lead to increasing interference in our affairs by the more prejudiced elements in the international community.

And we now have hardly any defences against such incursions that are based on rationality. I think the recent removal of Chris Nonis, following his able defence of the country when dealing with the international media, suggests that those close to the President are determined to destroy our defences. In some cases this may be due simply to jealousy, but I suspect this was stirred up for ulterior motives, the same motives that led to the dismissal of Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayakam.

Underlying all this is the absence of a coherent strategy. Tamara Kunanayakam relates how Sajin Vas Gunawardena had said that the government had no strategy when she asked what was the strategy to deal with the draft resolution against Sri Lanka that the Americans were preparing way back in September. Her staff had told her that this had been shared with Kshenuka Seneviratne on her private email address, but not communicated to Colombo.

Instead of looking into that aberration, the Ministry however was annoyed with Tamara for having found it out, and did not want to think about the matter. It was the President who had told Tamara to come to Colombo to discuss the matter, and been very clear in his instructions, to the effect that Tamara should not negotiate with the Americans, but should instead rally support amongst our usual allies. This Tamara did, and as had happened in 2007, when the British Ambassador had to allow the resolution he had tabled in 2006 to lapse, the American resolution, which the Canadians had tried to bring forward, was not moved.

But before that the Ministry had tried to prevent Tamara seeing the President, and had indeed ordered the Secretary to put her on a flight before the scheduled breakfast meeting with the President. Fortunately the Secretary then, Karunasena Amunugama, was a practical man, and when he found the ticket could not be changed, he had allowed Tamara to stay on. But contrary to the very clear instructions the President had given, which were in line with the strategy we had employed between 2007 and 2009 to defend our interests, Sajin had simply scoffed and said we had no strategy because the President changed it all the time. Read the rest of this entry »

qrcode.26350621 (1)විධායක ජනාධිපති සතු බලය අසීමාන්තික බව බොහොසෙයින්ම පිළිගත් කරුණක්. එහෙයින් පොදු අපේක්ෂකයා සඳහා වර්තමානයේ සහයෝගය දෙන්නන් ප්‍රතිඥා දෙනවා මෙම බලය ඌනනය කිරීමට. කෙසේනමුත් මෙම බලය ඌනනය කිරීමේ ක්‍රියාවලියේදී, ඔවුන් මූලික දේශපාලන ප්‍රතිපත්ති පිලිබඳ අවධානය යොමුකළ යුතුයි, එනම් විශේෂයෙන්ම බල වියෝජනය නම් භාෂිතය කෙරෙහි.

මෙය සම්බන්ධ වෙනවා රජයේ අනෙකුත් ආයතනවල බලයන් ගොඩනැගීම පිළිබඳව. එතුලින් විධායකය පාලනයකට යටත්කළ හැකියි. එවැනි ආයතන නම්, රජයේ ව්‍යවස්ථාදායක බලය නියෝජනය කරන පාර්ලිමේන්තුව හා අධිකරණ බලය ක්‍රියාවට නංවන අධිකරණයි. මීට අමතරව අපට අවශ්‍ය වනවා ජනමාධ්‍ය වගේම ජනතා සේවය ශක්තිමත් කිරීමට. මෙය විධායකයේ කාර්යභාරය සඳහා ක්‍රියා කරනවා නමුත්  එය ක්‍රියාකළ යුත්තේ ප්‍රතිපත්තිය මතයි එනම්  උත්තරීතර  ව්‍යවස්ථාවලිය සහ නිතිය අනුව  මිස එක් කාලසිමවකදී බලය ක්‍රියාවට නංවන තනි පුද්ගලයන්ගේ උපදෙස් අනුව නොවෙයි.

ඉතා හොදින් තෙරුම්ගතයුතු කරුණක් නම්, පොදු අපේක්ෂකයා සඳහා කරන මෙම සියලු කටයුතු නැවත වෙස්මිනිස්ට්ටර් ක්‍රමය සඳහා අනුගත වීමට ප්‍රමාණවත් නොවන බවයි. මේ සියල්ලට පසු අපි දන්නවා 1970 සහ 1977 බලයට පත්වූ රජයන් දෙකම වෙස්මිනිස්ට්ටර් ක්‍රමය යටතේ සිමා ඉක්මවීම් සඳහා යොමුවු බව. එකල තිබු ප්‍රශ්නය නම්, පාර්ලිමේන්තුව උත්තරීතරය යන මතයයි. එමෙන්ම විධායකය විසින් පාර්ලිමේන්තුව පාලනයට නතු කර තිබීමයි.

විධායකය ව්‍යවස්ථාදායකයේ පාලනයට නතුබව සුරක්ෂිතකිරීම සඳහා කඩිනමින් වැඩපිළිවෙල 5ක් ක්‍රියාත්මක කලයුතුයි.

  1. පැහැදිලිව තේරුම්ගත හැකි පළමුවැන්න නම්, තනතුරුවලට පත්කිරීම් සිදුකිරීම සඳහා ජනපතිවරයා සතු අත්තනෝමතික බලය සිමා කිරීමයි. මේ පිලිබඳ උපදෙස් දීම සඳහා මණ්ඩලයක් තිබිය යුතුයි. තවද, මෑත කාලින අත්දැකිම් පෙන්වා දි තිබෙනවා මහජනයාට ද  එම කමිටුවේ තීරණ පිලිබඳ පැහැදිළි හේතුසාධක  ඉදිරිපත් කිරීමට අවස්ථාව සැලසෙන පරිදි එහි විධිවිධාන සකස් විය යුතු බව. එය තෝරාගත් සාමාජිකයින්ගෙන් එනම්, විධායකයට අයත් නොවන පාර්ශවයන්ගෙන් සමන්විත නම්, එයට නිශේධ බලයද තිබිය යුතුයි.
  1. කැබිනට් මණ්ඩලයේ ප්‍රමාණයන් සඳහාද සීමාවන් තිබිය යුතුයි. (මම යෝජනා කරනවා උපරිමය 25ක් වියයුතු බවට එනමුත් ඊලග මැතිවරණය තෙක් මෙම ප්‍රමාණය තවත් 10ක් දක්වා ඉහල නැංවූවද ගැටලුවක් නැත). මෙය අතවශ්‍යයි මන්ද එය පුර්වලක්ෂණය කරාවී සරල උපක්‍රමයක් වන, වඩ වඩා පිරිස් විධායක අංශයට එකතුකරගනිමින් විධායකයේ ප්‍රධානියා ව්‍යවස්ථාදායකය පාලනය කිරිම.
  1. නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව සහ නීති කෙටුම්පත් දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව අධිකරණ අමාත්‍යාංශය යටතේ ක්‍රියාත්මක විය යුතු අතර අධිකරණ අමාත්‍යවරයා ඡන්ද පිලිබඳ වූ දේශපාලනයට මැදිහත් නොවිය යුතුයි යන විශේෂ නියමය සහිතවද විය යුතුයි. අතීතයේදී ඔහු පත් වූයේ උත්තරීතර මන්ත්‍රණ සභාව තුලින් වුවද වර්තමානයේදී ජාතික ලැයිස්තුවෙන් එන සාමාජිකයකු වීම ද යෝග්‍යයි. කෙසේනමුත්, ශ්‍රේෂ්ථාධිකරණය අධිකරණ අමාත්‍යංශය යටතේ නොතිබිය යුතුයි.
  1. අමාත්‍යාංශ ලේකම්වරුන් පත්කළ යුත්තේ කැබිනට් මණ්ඩලය විසින් හෝ ජනාධිපතිවරයා විසින් හෝ නොව රාජ්‍ය සේවා කොමිසම විසිනි.
  1. පාර්ලිමේන්තු පළාත් සභා සහ පළාත් පාලන මැතිවරණයන් විධායකයේ අභිමතයට අනුකුලව නොව  නිශ්චිත කාල වකවානු තුල පැවැත්විය යුතුය.

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qrcode.26312344First published 18 Nov 2014

My mother, had she lived, would have been 89 today. Mahinda Rajapaksa is 69, and today is also the 9th anniversary of his election to the Presidency. Given that the Constitution prescribes 6 year terms, it seems absurd that he is thinking of cutting short his Presidency yet again, and submitting himself for election for the third time. Given how exhausted he was during the Uva Campaign, it is worrying that he keeps going on and on with such campaigns, without reflecting on how much time he has spent in the last nine years in electioneering, time that could have been spent better in actually governing the country.

Indeed Sri Lanka now seems to have turned into a sort of Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, with everyone getting up and changing their seats whenever the mood takes them. Such practices reduce considerably the time for reflection, and in the case of politicians the planning and monitoring that is essential if they are to be taken seriously. The last time I spoke to the President about reforms, he told me that it was time now to concentrate on elections. But given the frenetic timetable he sets – or which is set for him by his advisers – it has become clear that there will probably never be time to think about the reforms the country needs.

The Left parties had suggested to him that he should not think of elections now, since he has two years more to go, and Parliament too can go on for over 18 months. They asked the Liberal Party too to support this stand, and we decided at our last Executive Committee meeting that we should urge constitutional and structural reforms. Unfortunately, given domination of government policy by a few confidantes of the President, nothing has been done about many of the good ideas the President had, since they do not relate to the concerns of the dominant minority.

Thus nothing has been done about Local Government Reform, save for reform of the electoral system, a good idea in itself had it not been accompanied by foolish details which meant it had again to be amended – after having been first withdrawn and then hastily reintroduced and passed. Meanwhile the act to give greater responsibility to local authorities languishes, as does the proposed Universities Act. The new Education Act, a draft of which was ready way back in 2010, is also on the back burner, while electoral reform for Parliament and for Provincial Councils, even more urgently needed than for Local Government bodies, seems to have been forgotten.

Indeed the current approach of government seems to be to compound the waste that our electoral system necessarily involves. One amongst many of its principal drawbacks is internal competition. This means candidates have to have limitless resources, given that they are competing against everyone on their party list for preferences – hence the waste and environmental damage caused by millions of posters, with the concomitant alcoholism and violence that the pasting of posters in competition with others gives rise to.

As though to promote waste, government has now devised a method of giving control of massive amounts of money to those who will have to face a Parliamentary election. Given that in recent times, and blatantly so in Uva, handouts have been considered the best way to win elections, we can expect massive expenditure, some of it derived from the two extra decentralized budgets that have been given to some government MPs – extending in some cases to over 600 million rupees.

Does the President not realize the waste that this approach to politics engenders, and the costs that will have to be met by future generations? Read the rest of this entry »

downloadSeveral papers, though interestingly enough not all, carried accounts last week of the failure of Vasantha Senanayake to propose the Constitutional Amendment that stood in his name on the Order Paper of Parliament on September 25th. It was not however registered that he had not withdrawn the motion, which was to introduce statutory limitations on numbers in the Cabinet. He merely postponed it, while meanwhile requesting government to set up a Committee to go into that and other constitutional amendments he had proposed.

It seemed to me a pity that he had not gone ahead with the motion, not least because of the enthusiasm with which government members had greeted it on the day. One government MP came up to congratulate him, and was deeply disappointed to be told that he would not be proposing it that day. Even more surprisingly, a Cabinet Minister, albeit a particularly honest and honourable one, told me it was a very good idea. And the enthusiasm of the opposition also took the form of recognition of their own inadequacies, for Ravi Karunanayake, who had proposed something of the sort through a Private Members Motion, granted that it was much more effective to put forward a Bill.

Ravi indeed has contributed to the contumely in which Private Members Motions are held, by proposing hundreds of varying importance, which has contributed to Fridays becoming a day to avoid Parliament. And it is a mark of the lack of awareness about Parliamentary practice in those who pass for senior Parliamentarians that it was a first time member who registered the importance of putting forward a Bill, instead of adding through a Motion to the tedium of Fridays. That day in Parliament is now largely the preserve of Ravi and of his great rival Buddhika Pathirana, along with legions of the dead (obituaries being the other main subject of discussion on Fridays, apart from the motions of the dynamic duo).

The assumption in the press was that Vasantha had been pressed by the UPFA leadership into withdrawing the motion. This had indeed happened earlier, for he had put forward the Bill some months ago, but on that occasion the President had spoken to him and, in talking about his bright future, persuaded him not to put it on the agenda. I suppose it is because I do not have a future that I would have sought some sort of commitment from His Excellency to encourage debate and discussion on the matter, but I can understand someone of Vasantha’s age believing that that would not be the end of the matter. Read the rest of this entry »

Presidency 17Recently, at a Consultative Committee in Parliament, one of my colleagues remarked that there was no need of any opposition given my own contribution. I had been critical but what my colleague, from the Gampaha District, failed to understand was that I had criticized neither policies nor action. What I had been objecting to was a failure of action, and had the gentleman understood how Parliaments should be conducted, he would have realized that I was actually trying to help. Surely it should be the business of politicians supportive of the government to promote action in accordance with productive policies, not to sit back complacently when there is no progress.

The incident occurred at the 17th meeting of the Consultative Committee on Education, when I wondered what had happened about a matter I had raised at the previous meeting, held 3 months earlier (meetings are supposed to happen every month, but this Standing Order, like almost all others, is observed in the breach). In May I had brought up the question of opening computer laboratories which had, in at least two cases I knew of, been completed and equipped, but were awaiting a ceremonial opening.

The Minister had claimed on that occasion that such a ceremony was needed so that the people would know who had gifted the laboratory. But when I pointed out that these were not gifts, but built with the people’s money, he had granted my point. So, to cite the minute, he ‘stated that the Chairman of the Development Committee of the area should be responsible to utilize them and instructed to take immediate action to open them’.

This time it was reported that some laboratories had been opened already, and that many more would soon be opened in the Uva Province. This caused a lot of giggles, but that did not matter so long as the children were now able to use the equipment. But surely it should have struck my colleagues that, even if the priority was to get brownie points from these computers, the sooner they were in use, the better for the politicians too, as well as the children. For obviously the people would know if there were an unnecessary delay – it was parents and teachers who had kept me informed in areas I am familiar with – while there is also a risk of computers deteriorating if not swiftly put into operation. Read the rest of this entry »

A group of young people, including a few politicians, have been working recently on suggestions for Constitutional Reform following the appointment of the Parliamentary Select Committee. The brief of that Committee is wide and, even though efforts were made to hijack it, and turn it into a vehicle to amend the 13th Amendment, the Chairman stood firm and made it clear that the terms of reference as laid down by those who proposed the Committee should stand.

I have no doubt that, despite the omission of perspectives that are more common in the country and in Parliament than extreme views on either side, there are enough persons on the PSC who will ensure that the commitments that country and the President have entered into will be upheld. However I suspect the Committee will deliberate for a very long time, and a lot of problems that it would be very simple to resolve will only get worse.

I welcome therefore what I see as a Youth Initiative, and have been impressed by the systematic way in which they are proceeding. They have used as a basic text a comparison which has been made of the three recent comprehensive proposals for Constitutional Reform that have been published. The first of these – as usual, I am tempted to say – was that of the Liberal Party, and this was followed this year by the proposals of the UNP as also those of a group led by the Rev Omalpe Sobitha.

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Transparency International recently held a workshop on how Parliamentarians could contribute to reducing corruption. Though it was mainly opposition members who attended, government too was represented, in the form of Rev Athureliya Rathana of the JHU, as well as Thilanga Sumathipala, Vidura Wickramanayake and Manusha Nanayakkara, apart from myself.

Much discussion centred around the oversight role of Parliament, following an informative introduction by former Auditor General Mayadunne. He noted that Parliamentary questions should be an important tool of ensuring financial probity, while there were several forms of Committees that could also do much to reduce corruption. Unfortunately, as almost all speakers noted, questions have little impact, since there are innumerable delays in answering most questions of consequence – while even more seriously, the Committee system in Parliament has almost completely collapsed.

We tried to correct the former problem in what proved the abortive attempt by the Committee on Standing Orders to amend them. With the full approval of the Speaker, we planned to introduce a provision that made prompt answers to questions mandatory, with a requirement that the Speaker call on the head of the Executive for remedial action if there were delays. Unfortunately this, like all our other suggestions, fell by the wayside when the Consultant Parliament had hired behaved foolishly, and drew an equally excessive reaction from a member.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2017
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