You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Good Governance’ tag.

CaptureThe saddest casualty of the Yahapalanaya government determination to abandon all pretence of promoting democracy, let alone good governance, has been Karu Jayasuriya. I once thought of him as a decent man, weak but never doing dastardly deeds on his own. When he first started abusing the office of Speaker, I made excuses for him, and even wrote to apologize for harsh criticism since I thought he must have been affected by the family bereavement he suffered.

But his latest chicanery has convinced me that he is the worst Speaker this country has had to endure, totally subordinating the Legislature to the Executive with no attention to parliamentary norms. Previously I had thought Bakeer Markar the worst, beginning from the days when he admitted a second member for Kalawana into Parliament. This little trick precipitated a crisis when the Jayawardena government then brought legislation to perpetuate this. The Supreme Court said, obviously, that this required a Referendum, which worried Jayewardena since consulting the country on such a subject was obviously ridiculous.

My father came to the rescue declaring that, if the obnoxious extra member whom Bakeer Markar had brought in by sleight of hand resigned, he would let the matter lapse. Jayewardena told my father that he was required to report any vacancy (for the Elections Commissioner to then work on filling it), the operative word being ‘shall’. My father noted that the operative word was ‘vacancy’ and that, if he thought there was none, he was entitled to keep quiet.

Jayewardena argued that that was going against the Speaker’s decision, but my father said that he was not responsible for the Speaker’s illegal rulings, and he could not be bound by them as opposed to the law. He added that, if a case were brought against his decision, he should be allowed to defend himself, without the Attorney General’s Department confusing matters. Jayewardene was relieved and accepted the advice, and so the additional member for Kalawana lapsed.

This time round, in what is an even worse ruling, Karu also brought in the Attorney General’s Department for good measure. This was I think to obscure his own responsibility for perverting the Constitution and the ruling of the Supreme Court. After all, he needs to consult the Attorney General only about new bills, so indeed what he did was in effect an admission that this was a new bill. Read the rest of this entry »

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CaptureA little learning is a dangerous thing. It is also sad when limited intellect leads to high appointments on the grounds that there will be unthinking support of the appointing authority.

This seems to be the case with the current Attorney General, who seems in a couple of weeks to have completely destroyed the reputation of his Department which had been considerably enhanced by the brilliant cross examination at the Bond Commission by senior officers. What seemed the silencing of the forceful Dappula de Livera, the absence for some time of the incisive Yasantha Kodagoda, suggested that the AG had decided to hold back – and so the leading lights of the UNP have been preserved.

Then the Attorney General went further, in delivering a preposterous opinion regarding the appalling move to postpone elections through introducing amendments to a Bill that was for an entirely different purpose. The amendments were referred to Jayantha Jayasuriya by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, whose reduction to being a mere tool of chicanery is extremely sad. The latter’s behavior in the last couple of years suggests that the excuses he proferred to me, when I tried to make him act on the Good Governance issues in the President’s manifesto, that his hands were tied because he was not trusted by his Leader, now seem rank hypocrisy.

It is strange that he felt a need to refer amendments to the Attorney General, since this is mandatory only for Bills. The reason doubtless was that he realized that this was in fact a new Bill, so he wanted to cover himself. On cue the Attorney General responded with a farrago of nonsense, beginning with citing Erskine May to the effect that ‘As in other matters of order, the admissibility of an amendment can ultimately be decided only by the House itself, there being no authority which can in advance rule an amendment out of order…’ Read the rest of this entry »

Coincidentally, shortly after I began work on suggesting new ways of working in the Public Sector, I was asked to contribute to a workshop on ways in which to develop the capacity of Members of Parliament. This was a request from the Organization of Professional Associations, which I recall contributing significantly to public policy several years ago. It seems recently to have lain relatively dormant, which saddened me, not least because it had a great opportunity in 2015 when a government committed to reforms was elected.

Sadly many of those who genuinely believed in good governance thought they had elected a government committed to this, and relaxed. Before long they realized that good governance was not at all intended by the Prime Minister who was calling the shots. He was more concerned with winning the next General Election, and for that purpose he had to ensure that the President remained a cipher. So the President did nothing constructive in the six months in which he could have asserted himself because of the strong SLFP presence in Parliament.

Instead, as he said when I complained about the first breach of his manifesto, he had left those matters to Ranil and Chandrika. He advised me to speak to them, but I said I would do nothing of the sort. I had come out in support of him, and I did not think I had any reason to appeal to two people who had shown themselves failures when they had had power. Read the rest of this entry »

In the more than a month that passed two years ago between my resigning as State Minister of Higher Education and crossing over to the opposition, I realized how utterly Ranil despised the concepts of good governance that had been a cornerstone of President Sirisena’s manifesto. The failure to amend Standing Orders as promised, the omission of Ministry Secretaries from the purview of the Public Service Commission, the frivolous way in which the Cabinet was appointed and functions distributed, all indicated that he thought it best to muddle along, so long as he was doing the muddling.

But the concepts he brought to bear were also deeply destructive, as I saw in particular with regard to the issue that prompted my resignation. Both he and Kabir Hashim lied like Trojans throughout the problem period, but I detected a difference in the way they thought truth of little importance. Hashim tended to lie about the future, in that he obviously thought any commitment he made a trifling matter, and did nothing to live up to promises (or perhaps he believed that commitments were not promises, and what had to be honoured was the sort of commitment made in the course of bargaining to Rauff Hakeem and Rishard Bathiudeen to win them over, as declared by the leader of his party).

With regard to what happened however I think he was more reliable than Ranil. Hashim told me on several occasions that he had asked the UGC Chairman to resign because of pressures he could not withstand (though here too his letter contained an untruth in that he claimed he made the request on the instructions of the President, which the President denied absolutely).

That there were pressures I knew because I had been sent the minutes of the meeting with FUTA conducted by the Prime Minister, which made it clear that Ranil would do what FUTA wanted. This I should note was in the honeymoon period with Ranjith Devasiri, who was thereafter sacked himself from the Board of the NIE (though to his credit it should be said that that apparently was because he was trying, albeit in his usual blundering way where his personal interests are not involved, to limit abuses there).

Ranil however lied in telling me that the dismissal was nothing to do with pressures, it was in accordance with a principal he claimed he had laid down, that all appointees should accept their appointments from the government in power. What this meant was that he was determined that all those in authority should see themselves as political creatures. Indeed he went so far as to say that, after the UGC was got rid of, I could reappoint whom I wanted (though Hashim I think it was introduced the limitation that I should make these appointments from lists in the Prime Minister’s office). What was important was that those in positions of authority should owe their position to this government rather than the previous one. Read the rest of this entry »

  1. You were one of the few MP’s who   crossed over with Mr. Maithripala Sirisena  in  November 2014. You supported him at the January 2015 Presidential poll. He was elected president and you were made a state minister. Subsequently you resigned from that Govt but remained supportive of President Sirisena. However after the August 2015 Parliament elections you were not appointed a national list MP. Why  do you think that happened and where does it leave you now?

I suspect I fell victim to the internal warfare between supporters of President Sirisena and President Rajapaksa. I took seriously the President’s decision to give his predecessor nomination, since that was the best way of promoting a SLFP / UPFA victory, and ensuring indeed that the party was not decimated.

But those around the President panicked him with stories of what a Rajapaksa led SLFP victory would mean for him, while in turn this was fueled by the latter’s supporters claiming that they would be revenged on the President if they won. Neither side took note of the reality that the party was not likely to win an absolute majority, and that even if it did, there were enough solid supporters of the President to ensure that the Prime Minister would be someone he chose (though it would of course have had to be with his predecessor’s support).

As a result the President played games with the Secretaries of the parties, and sadly the UPFA allowed this to happen. The claim was that he had to be absolutely sure of the allegiance of any National List nominees, and those who were currying favour – none of whom had dared to speak out when the Sirisena campaign was launched – doubtless told him I could not be relied on, even though I had been told that he had wanted me on the National List, and he should have known better. But in any case the UNP had been allowed a significant plurality, which is why this is not really a genuine coalition, but one dominated by the UNP. Perhaps that is just as well, since it is more likely that President Sirisena, if he really believes in the manifesto on which he won the election, will realize that that cannot be fulfilled by a UNP government as constituted at present.

 

  1. When you became State minister of Higher Education in President Sirisena’s Govt much was expected of you as you had wide knowledge and experience in that sphere. Yet due to differences with the  cabinet minister and also the Prime minister you resigned within 5 weeks. What  led to your resignation?  Has the passage of time made you  regret the decision?

Read the rest of this entry »

My comments on the ridiculous expansion of the Cabinet were carried in the Leader today, expressively edited by the sensible Camela Nathaniel. Ironically they were juxtaposed with those of Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, who was initially responsible for the unwarranted interference by the Prime Minister in my work which led to my resignation. But I don’t suppose he can understand his role in ensuring that the only voice able to challenge the hardline UNP leadership on its own terms was removed.

Will Jumbo Cabinet Be Another Nail In Government Coffin?

by Camelia Nathaniel
The government’s move to increase the number of cabinet ministers has come under fire from many quarters. On April six, President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a new state minister and two deputy ministers, increasing the total number of ministers and deputy ministers to 92.  Badulla District United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Lakshman Seneviratne was appointed State Minister of Science, Technology and Research while UPFA Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara and UNP Kalutara District MP Palitha Thewarapperuma were appointed as deputy ministers.

At a press briefing held in Colombo last week, JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva said they were totally against the latest appointments. The former regime, Silva said, had maintained a cabinet exceeding 100 members and it was pathetic to see the present government too following the same bad policies. Silva said there was no scientific or logical basis for appointing these ministers. Citing the example of MP Thewarapperuma who represents the Kalutara district in the south, Silva said there was no logical reason for appointing him to develop the Wayamba Province. According to Silva the only reason these appointments were made was to strengthen the President’s power.

President Maithripala Sirisena is facing a split in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and according to Silva he is trying to assert his power in the party by doling out ministerial appointments.

Already the coalition national government of Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has faced criticism and there is some suspicion that the coalition may be in trouble. The UNP rode on the back of Maithripala and vice versa and now Maithripala may be worried, it is surmised, that the UNP is trying to take over. The UNP on the other hand is trying to strengthen its position in the coalition by holding onto the key positions in the government. Although the two main parties decided to come together in a bid to save the country from the tyrannical Rajapaksa regime, these same two parties are now engaged in a power struggle to establish supremacy over each other. Generally a single, more powerful party can shape the policies of the coalition disproportionately. Advocates of proportional representation suggest that a coalition government leads to more consensus-based politics, in that a government comprising differing parties (often based on different ideologies) would need to concur in regard to governmental policy. Another stated advantage is that a coalition government better reflects the popular opinion of the electorate within a country.

Prone to disharmony

However those who disapprove of coalition governments believe that such governments have a tendency to be fractious and prone to disharmony. This is because coalitions would necessarily include different parties with differing beliefs and who, therefore, may not always agree on the correct path for governmental policy.

Commenting on the current status of the national government of Sri Lanka and its waning promises, veteran politician and writer Professor Rajiva Wijesinha said it was sad that the number of ministers was increasing apace, because that destroyed the idea of governance, let alone good governance.

Pledges Ignored

“The President’s manifesto pledged that ‘the number, composition and nature of the Cabinet of Ministers would be determined on a scientific basis’ but as I noticed last year, I was about the only person interested in the manifesto,” Wijesinha said.

The short manifesto pledged a Cabinet of 25 which was ignored too, the number increasing dramatically when SLFP members who had not supported the President were brought in – none of the senior leadership, though, which has contributed to the continuing suspicions of and about the President.

Then, when the 19th amendment was brought, though the idea of statutory limits was introduced, there was a proviso that, in the event of a National Government, the number could be increased. That was destructive, because it implied that a National Government was essentially about jobs for the boys, he added.

According to Professor Wijesinha, when the 19th Amendment was put to the house, some of those now in the Joint Opposition objected to the special clause about possible expansion in the case of a National Government after the next election, but their remedy was to make that exception valid in perpetuity. “I proposed dropping the exception, but that amendment was not taken up, and there was no effort to define the term National Government.” 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 »

qrcode.29996919In the last few articles in this series, I intend to look at essential aspects of government that are not normally considered under the term Good Governance. That is generally associated with form, namely accountability and transparency and the entrenchment of procedures that prevent arbitrary and inequitable decisions.

But the substance of government is also vital, and we must recognize that the people who choose governments are generally more concerned with performance rather than process. I shall therefore examine the basic requirements with regard to performance on which governments are generally judged. But before that I would like to look at an area that covers both aspects.

I refer to responsiveness. Governments must respond to needs, and that is why they also need mechanisms whereby those needs can be expressed. The substance of the responses will be the object of judgment, but the selection of areas for action is also of close concern to the governed.

Sometimes however the area for action is selected by outside forces, albeit in the context of local needs. In this context I would like today to look at a field in which it seems that government has absolutely ignored the need to respond, which I fear can have adverse consequences for this country and its people.

I refer to the Report of Pablo de Grieff, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on issues concerned with Reconciliation, who visited Sri Lanka recently. He had issued what seemed a very helpful report following his visit, but this seems to have been forgotten in the drama over the 19th Amendment. We should however realize that swift action on the issues he has discussed is also essential if Sri Lanka is to overcome the problems of the past.

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Sadly this government seems as slow about acting on essentials as the last one. The Rapporteur for instance is quite critical of what he calls ‘Overuse of commissions of inquiry leading to a confidence gap’. His general conclusion, that ‘the accumulated result of these efforts has increased mistrust in the Government’s determination to genuinely redress’ violations, is understandable. But we should also register that the Commissions themselves by and large did a good job. It was the failure of government to follow up properly that led to mistrust.

The most obvious example of this is the burying of the Udalagama Commission Report. Given what seemed the determination of the last government to prosecute no one, their failure to act on that Report is understandable. I should add though that I hope that even now the decision makers of that period understand what damage they did to the reputation of the forces by not dealing firmly with aberrations. Given however the very different priorities of this government, its failure to do anything is astonishing.

It was indeed agreed at a meeting of the Government Parliamentary Group that the findings of that Commission should be published, and appropriate action taken, but that decision was not even minuted. The Prime Minister did ask that that omission be corrected, but confessed he had done nothing, and I suspect the matter has not been followed up since. Read the rest of this entry »

Good governance 10When we were discussing electoral reform at a meeting of all parties chaired by the President, I was astonished at the general incapacity or unwillingness to conceptualize. The principal exception to this was the JHU representative, Asoka Abeygunasekera, whose few interventions went straight to the core of the problem.

A week later, at the launch of his book on the last election, I was telling one of the diplomats present about his conceptual capacities when he got up to speak. His main point was the general lack of analysis in addressing problems. I suspect that, like me, he has been sadly disillusioned by the failure of this government to address scientifically the problems it identified during the election campaign, and work systematically to overcome them.

Unfortunately this government, like the last one, seems to avoid thinking and planning, but rather produces ad hoc solutions when problems crop up, with no assessment of long term goals. Its idea of consultation seems to be to leave particular matters to particular individuals, which is why perhaps there has been no progress at all on that most important of commitments, a Code of Conduct. Instead we have concentration by individuals of what they want, which reduces to how they can best enhance their own powers.

All this is accompanied by outbursts that do more damage than the good achieved by positive measures. Ranil Wickremesinghe threatening to shoot Indian fishermen or attacking the Australian government for not following the line of his preferred Westerners with regard to the last government, Mangala Samaraweera defending Kshenuka Seneviratne by accusing Tamara Kunanayagam of speaking in support of the Tigers, Ravi Karunanayake claiming that the business sector had supported the previous government, all show a penchant for scoring debating points without considering the long term interests of the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Good Governance 9Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s defence of his taking a young man with him to New York was entertaining, but it was also very sad. Instead of concentrating on the problem of public funds being spent on private predilections, he engaged in a defence of what he evidently thought was a slur, if not on his character, on that of the young man in question. As a defence to charges he evidently took seriously, even if they had not been articulated, he claimed that the person in question was happily married and had a beautiful daughter.

This seems to imply that, had the youth not been married, or had he been married but childless, there would have been legitimate grounds for worry. But in thus diverting attention to what should be an irrelevancy, the Minister ignored the fundamental problem, which is that public money is spent on private convenience. This should not be acceptable, even when the person involved is a wife (whether with or without beautiful children).

Some years back I realized how absurd the situation was when I criticized the fact that a particular Minister had appointed his wife as his private secretary. The excuse offered was that he could then take her with him when he travelled, and that the cost to the country was less, since they could share a room. I do not suppose that was the reason for my predecessor as Minister of Higher Education appointing his wife to his private staff, or my erstwhile superior Kabir Hashim appointing his brother-in-law to his private staff.

 

Such individuals may be considered dependable – as was Kabir’s sister-in-law when he himself was non Cabinet Minister for Tertiary Education in 2002 (she was certainly honest, for she told me, when I complained about how the then UNP government was giving in to the LTTE at every turn, that they could not back out of the Ceasefire Agreement since that would be electorally disastrous). But the country should not have to pay for individuals a Minister finds dependable, unless they actually fulfil a task the country needs. And certainly the provision that a Minister can take one of his private staff with him when he travels is absurd, unless he can show that some public purpose is fulfilled.

During my brief career as a Minister, I was appalled at the perks that were available. I did not take all these up, and I believe the private staff I appointed did serve a public purpose. I had for instance, as Management assistants, two Tamil translators, in a situation in which the entire Ministry had only two people able to function in Tamil, and they at senior levels so they could not be used for day to day translations. As a result the Ministry website was functional in all three languages, which was I believe almost unique for any Ministry website. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2018
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