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Good Governance 1I am worried that the commitment of this government to Good Governance is being forgotten in the midst of the various other concerns we have to deal with. But I believe that addressing this issue promptly and effectively will help us also to approach other problems more sensibly.

Since I began work, I have addressed a number of letters on the matter to Karu Jayasuriya since he has been appointed Minister for Good Governance. He is a politician for whom I have the highest regard, and I think he will do a great job, but I believe he should be made aware that this is an area about which the people are deeply worried.

He replied to one of my letters, registering the need to get rid of politicization of everything, to say that this was part of the culture and it would be difficult to make a change. But I pointed out that we must make a start. I think there needs to be greater discussion though of the manner in which the change should be made, and so I have begun this column in the hope that it will provoke debate and discussion.

I will post these articles on my Facebook but I hope others will do the same on theirs, with amendments and changes to popularize their ideas too. In addition I would encourage everyone to write direct to Mr Jayasuriya, so as to strengthen his hand to effect changes.

In particular he must start immediately to draft a Code of Conduct for those who are supposed to serve the public, and who receive public funds. This was promised in the manifesto, and it is a great pity that the public do not know what is being done about it.

I have told the UGC to draft a Code for academics and administrators in academia, and they gave me a first draft but I found it woefully inadequate. If I am still involved and can get the UGC to function again, I will suggest that the next draft be put on their website for discussion. They have already, as I requested, put on their website the criteria for appointment to Councils.

The Committee on Public Enterprises had instructed some time back that this be done, but there was a delay. On my first day in office I inquired what had happened, and was told there was a draft. That did not seem good enough to me, and I told them that, since they had had sufficient notice, I expected a final draft within a week. That was forthcoming, and the Eastern University Council was appointed accordingly. Those appointments seem to have been welcomed, though I also realized there still needs to be fine tuning. It would be useful if those interested checked on those guidelines and commented, so that we can have an even better set of requirements to put into the act when it is being prepared. Read the rest of this entry »

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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 »

download (2)The request to write an article on US Policy towards Sri Lanka in 2008/2009 came at a timely moment, for I had been reflecting in some anguish on the crisis that the Sri Lankan government is now facing. I believe that this crisis is of the government’s own creation, but at the same time I believe that its root causes lie in US policy towards us during the period noted.

Nishan de Mel of Verite Research, one of the organizations now favoured by the Americans to promote change, accused me recently of being too indulgent to the Sri Lankan government. I can understand his criticism, though there is a difference between understanding some phenomenon and seeking to justify it. My point is that, without understanding what is going on, the reasons for what a perceptive Indian journalist has described as the ‘collective feeling that the Sri Lankan State and Government are either unable or unwilling’ to protect Muslims from the current spate of attacks, we will not be able to find solutions.

Nishan might have felt however that I was working on the principle that to understand everything is to forgive everything. But that only makes sense if corrective action has been taken, ie if the perpetrator of wrongs has made it clear that these will be stopped and atoned for. Sadly, after the recent incidents at Aluthgama, I fear the time and space for changing course are running out. But even if we can do nothing but watch the current government moving on a course of self-destruction, it is worth looking at the causes and hoping that history will not repeat itself at some future stage

My contention is that the appalling behavior of the government at present springs from insecurity. That insecurity has led it to believe that it can rely only on extremist votes and extremist politicians. Thus the unhappiness of the vast majority of the senior SLFP leadership, and their willingness to engage in political reform that promotes pluralism, are ignored in the belief that victory at elections can only be secured if what is perceived as a fundamentalist and fundamental Sinhala Buddhist base is appeased.

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There are two reasons why I find ridiculous the constant assertion that the Executive Presidency must be abolished. This was made most recently by the most prominent member of the Human Rights Commission, who claimed that it was the root cause of all our problems. But I do not think that he, or all the others who parrot panaceas, have thought about what will replace it.

And the problem with such panaceas is that no effort is made to actually make the current situation better, as for instance the Human Rights Commission could do in its own area of responsibility, by taking forward the Bill of Rights. There is an excellent draft, which we managed to get done before the Ministry of Human Rights was abolished. But the Minister did not agree that it should be put forward, given the then concentration on elections, and since then it has languished. I suspect I am the only who who has even reminded the President of its existence, and the fact that it was prepared in fulfilment of a pledge in the 2005 Mahinda Chintanaya. His answer was that he did not agree with everything there, but the simple solution, to admit those elements, was obviously not thought satisfactory.

With regard to the Presidency, it is assumed that we can go back straight away to the Westminster system. But the Westminster system demands a functioning Parliament, and with the complete dysfunctionality of the current Parliament, we will have even greater chaos if it had supreme power. Even now, Parliament does not fulfil the role laid down for it in our Presidential constitution, which is one reason why the Executive has nothing to check it.

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කරු ජයසුරිය

Since the announcement of possible changes in the UNP, there has been a plethora of attacks on Karu Jayasuriya. Many of them accuse him of ingratitude in that he seems to be challenging someone who had been enormously kind to him. The argument is that Ranil Wickremesinghe made him Deputy Leader of the Party once, and then again made him Deputy Leader, and this means he should be eternally grateful.

Interestingly enough, the criticisms come not only from those elements in the UNP that support Wickremesinghe’s continuing leadership of the party, but from people in government. I suspect this indicates that such people are nervous that the removal of Wickremesinghe will lead to a resurgence in UNP fortunes. That may well happen, but I believe that there will also benefits to the country.

Before arguing that point, I should address some of the inconsistencies in the argument of those who accuse Jayasuriya of ingratitude. In the first place, he was not initially made Deputy Leader of the UNP out of love and affection. He was given the position, which was created by constitutional change, when he had to give up the position of Chairman of the Party, since Wickremesinghe had decided that that position, as well as that of General Secretary, should be held by people not in Parliament.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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