Some Pointers for You, Mr President Sirisena

Chandra Wickramasinghe

sirisena oathsWith the new political dispensation of President Sirisena and the solemn pledges that have been held out to bring about a transformation of the  political culture that prevailed in the country, by ensuring good governance and the strict enforcement of Law and Order in the country,the citizens of  SL have high expectations that this Regime will live up to their hopes and expectations. In this context,  I  feel it is necessary for the public to have an idea of what the concept of good governance really  denotes. I have no doubt that  President Sirisena is sincere in working towards the realization of the pledges given by him. But one has to realize that the radical transformations envisaged, would necessarily involve corresponding changes in the mind –sets of of the players, both politicians and officials, who have routinely got accustomed to certain patterns of behavior, which may have been advantageous to them over the years and to move away from them now, might spell a somewhat painful adaptation, to a good many of them! But once the policy imperatives are unequivocally laid down  ,the pace would be set,I am sure,  for everyone to comply and conform.  

Basic  Principlesof Good Governance: In modern democracies, the sovereign power of the people is exercised through the three principal arms of Government viz.the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.This is based on the hallowed principle of the separation of powers first expostulated by the French political theorist Montesquieu, as an article of faith of any democratic government worth it’s name.If there is a high concentration of power in one of the principal arms of Govt.,namely the Executive, it would lead to the vitiation of the freedoms and guarantees enshrined in the Constitution resulting in disequilibria in the  fundamental tenets of good governance spelt out above.

The excessive concentration of overriding power and authority in the President under the present Constitution of Sri Lanka was a deliberate contrivance of the first President to stifle the Legislature as well as Judiciary and make these two bulwarks to check unbridled Executive power,,subservient to his authority.The enactment of the 17thA was welcomed by all liberal minded Sri Lankans as it restituted the principle of  the separation of powers raising expectations  thereby of the restoration of the Rule of Law in the country..These expectations were short lived with the enactment of the 18th A  which again made a travesty  of the fundamental  Democratic  principle of the Separation of Powers!  Hence, one of the key priorities of the current Regime, would be to annul this obnoxious amendment and restore the 17th A. with the necessary amendments for its unobstructed implementation,ensuring thereby the re-establishment  of  the fundamental tenet of Democratic governance viz. the Separation of powers..This would  guarantee the observance of the universally accepted fundamentals of Equity ,Justice and fairplay by those entrusted with the governing of the country.

Rule of Law: This is again a necessary prerequisite of  good governance.In Sri Lanka, the existence of Constitutional guarantees and Statutory safeguards of the fundamental rights of citizens have not led to all citizens being treated equally  before the law.Those enjoying positions of power and influence are often perceived to lead a charmed life.Even where they transgress the law of the land, they are often shielded by the lawmakers and the law enforcers to the extent of being let off lightly or at times without having to suffer any punishment at all!.The corruption that pervades law enforcement and the Statutory Institutions available to the public to seek legal redress of their grievances, makes a mockery of  the entire Criminal Justice System.The dilatory Court procedures and the finances required to pursue action in the Courts add to the burdens of the poor who hardly have the resources to eke out a bare day to day existence. All this results in a veritable travesty of justice as people see themselves clearly, as not being equal in the eyes of the law.With no avenues available to seek redress of their grievances through the legal system, people are often driven by sheer desperation to take the law into their hands.The erosion of public confidence in the legal system leads to a rapid deterioration of law and order in the wider society.This inevitably finds expression in increasing levels of corruption and indiscipline in the administrative machinery of government and for this reason,should be taken particular  note of by the current Regime .

The Rule of  Law is indeed  vital to maitain social order and stability and would progressively gain the widest social acceptance by instilling confidence in the people that they would all be treated as being equal in the eyes of the law without any form of discrimination being shown by the authorities.This in turn would facilitate the running of governmental organizations with greater efficiency and a higher sense of dedication to duty.

Corruption: We all know that corruption is rife in our society today and has been so for many years. This is basically due to indiscipline, stemming from the lack or sometimes, the complete absence of, responsibility and accountability.When political leaders are corrupt and are allowed to get away with their corrupt activities even after public exposure,can one expect public officials and society itself not to take the cue and refrain from following  suit? When power and authority are abused by those holding the reins of political power to acquire wealth, the signals that are sent down to the lower rungs of officialdom and the society at large, are not missed out by the latter who would, at their respective levels, have little compunction in engaging in corrupt practices to enrich themselves in like manner. It is a chain-reaction extending its corrosive influence with time,to every nook and cranny of society. It enervates and slows down efficiency in the delivery of goods and services to the people by the concerned authorities.At higher levels it results in huge financial losses which a cash strapped country like ours could ill afford.In the public service,things have come to such a sorry pass that there is tacit or one could even say ,active collaboration by members of the public, in their readiness to oil the palm of the corrupt official, in order to  obtain something which they are  ordinarily, and legitimately entitled to receive, as their  due entitlement.  One could hardly blame the members of the public for parting with their money  as any reluctance on their  part to do so, would invariably lead to harassment and delay in getting the  work attended to. Corruption in the country has become so widespread that the public feels almost obliged to give bribes to get even some routine official work done. As someone ironically said, “Corruption is now democratized in Sri Lanka”! If the new dispensation is to address corruption at all levels with a view to reducing it initially and eradicating the scourge eventually,it will have to enforce discipline with a capital ‘D’ and ensure that the culprits are dealt with severely under the Law!

M SIRISENA WAVESThe delivery of  services to the public: The procedures for the delivery of services to the public, should be simplified and made widely known.Tranparency of all transactions with the public and the accountability of the officials responsible for the delivery of services expeditiously, are vital to ensure efficiency and probity. Corrupt officials should be promptly dealt with disciplinarily and the harshest punishments meted out to them.It is imperative that the Rule of Law must prevail, equitably and justly, if President Sirisena’s regime is to move effectively against corruption thereby having a decided impact on this menace.. No quarter should be given to both corrupt officials as well as politicians, notwithstanding the power and authority they wield.

It is indeed heartening to know that an experienced and seasoned politician of the calibre of Mr. Karu Jayasuriya, has been placed in charge of the Public  Services.A heavy responsibilty rests on him to work towards cleansing  the Services of  the  desultory and lackadaisical approach to duty they have got accustomed to in recent times. The new Minister will hopefully turn things  around by strictly enforcing DISCIPLINE  and by stepping up efficiency levels. President Sirisena emphasised these aspects when he addressed the new Secretaries to Ministries the other day. Politcization of the Public Service, that has been the bane of this  country from the time the Service was brought directly under the hegemony of the Cabinet and later the President, should give way to a mutually productive relationship between politicians and officials based on the classical dichotomy differentiating policy and administration, to the extent possible. Ideally, this would mean the Minister concerning himself with policy matters while ensuring that the implementation of such policy is carried out properly, by all officials coming under his purview. The Secretaries in charge of Ministries should be allowed to attend to their legally assigned functions without the Ministers breathing down their necks and ordering them around. The restitution of the17th A, will undoubtedly auger well for a a more meaningful and  productive relationship between politicians and public servants, by freeing the latter from a kind of official servitude due to their  abject  dependency  on the Ministers concerned.

The formulation of sustainable National Policies: National policies relating to the economic, social  and material well being of the people, should be formulated and implemented eschewing narrow political and parochial  interests.They should always be consonant with the larger national interest and the legitimate aspirations of the people as a whole. Such honesty of purpose would certainly enhance the chances of these policies being adopted by the succeeding political dispensations. The pursuit of political expediency on the larger national issues of Language and Education over several decades, has tragically led to the creation and perpetuation of intractable national problems which threaten to erupt in social upheaval and even rend the country asunder!

Good governance – Core Issues: At the heart of good governance would lie the selfless motivations of the elected representatives and their abiding commitment to work for the community and the country. In the current context of things, this would call for a radical attitudinal transformation which is more in the nature of a change of heart than an expected conformity to higher standards of decorum and proper conduct. All this is easier said then done. Human nature being what it is  – unpredictable, self-serving and acquisitive, rather than overly generous and altruistic, self-regulatory mechanisms based on moral compulsions and accepted standards of ethical excellence, are more likely to fail than succeed. The only feasible course of action, if one is to be intensely pragmatic, would be to lay down the required standards by law and regulation and hold the persons accountable for any transgressions by dealing with them with the utmost severity,without fear or favour . It is after all a universally accepted principle that in a democracy no one is above the law. Hence, no one should grudge if laws are made applicable to everyone, irrespective of the position one holds and the power and authority one wields.

With the resolute political will and determination of President Sirisena to establish good governance in the country in the shortest possible time, as a retired Senior  Public Servant, I Wish him All Success in his Worthy Endeavours.



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