2 December, 2023

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A Bankrupt Country Craves For Urgent ‘System Changes’

By Bernard Fernando

Bernard Fernando

‘’Change is the law of life. Those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future’’ ~ John F. Kennedy

Ever since Sri Lanka (SL) became a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by United Nations in 1948, our political and Civil democrats including Pundits and Academics joined the rest of the world adding 2 adjectives to the word ‘Elections’ and constantly agitated for ‘Free and Fair Elections’ whenever ‘Elections’ are called. This phrase was based on article 21 (3) of the Declaration which reads as follows.

‘’The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of Government; this Will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” 

It may be assumed that the words ‘Free and Fair’ were substitutes for the words ‘Universal’, ‘Genuine’ and ‘equal suffrage’  used in  article 21 above. Recently, a US Senator too specifically urged SL Govt. to hold ‘Free and Fair Elections’!

However, the sad irony we face today in SL is, the relentless clamour to hold ‘Run-of-the-Mill’ ‘Elections’ by the so called democratic politicians, blinded by power hunger and political expediency very well knowing that our existing Electoral systems  are flawed and not genuinely ‘Free and Fair’. In the melee, a coterie of political Pundits, Academics and NGOs too have jumped on to the ‘band wagon’ (for reasons best known to them!) hot on the heels of the ‘Historic and peaceful Aragalaya’ that desperately upstaged the dire need for ‘System changes’ in our defective and unproductive Electoral and Political Administration systems through slogans such as ‘Ditch the 225’ and ‘Gota Go Home’. All of them very well knew that such slogans of the ‘Aragalaya’ were triggered by the underlying undemocratic and unproductive 04 tiered Political administration structure replete with Nepotism and corruption instead of meritocracy, that led to a politicised, inefficient public service too, over the last several decades.

At least now, if our intelligentsia who joined the political ‘Band wagon’ stop barking at the wrong tree and start to clamour by pen for ‘system changes’ that ensure a genuine ‘Free and Fair’ Electoral system, the country-wide sovereign voters could be assured of ‘equality of vote’ asserting ‘Sri Lankan ness’ and advent of best ‘Fit & Proper’ ‘Country first- Political Professionals’ to represent them when they face the next Election. It will surely lead to achievement of the real objectives of the Parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Govt. portending a much better future for the Country.

In the above context, the rationale for crucial ‘system changes’ can be tracked down to the following considerations.

Rationale for crucial ‘System Changes’ in SL’s political landscape

1. ‘System changes’ and ‘Paradigm shifts’ are overwhelmingly essential for a Nation that has declared Bankruptcy.

2. The ‘Historic, peaceful Aragalaya’ that shook the world, leveraged on long overdue ‘System changes’ that are vital to keep step with the rapidly changing times and comply with the needs of the new generation with their desperate concern for ‘Genuinely Free and Fair Elections’ that guarantee Equality of vote asserting ‘Sri Lankan ness’ and the quality of individuals who can deputise for sovereign voters to achieve the respective institutional objectives under a meaningful ‘Representative Democracy’.

3. Integrating ‘Sri Lankan ness’ with the Electoral /Political Administration System is essential to catalyze the National reconciliation process. 

4.Objective changes in Public and Political Administration systems are hall marks of any vibrant and progressive society.

Key actions that stem from such ‘system changes’ 

Arising from the above, it is necessary to spell out the key actions to meet the aspirations of the principal stake holders. viz.the sovereign voters in SL.

1. Rationalising the top and bottom layers of the existing 4 tiered Political Administration structure.

2. Amending and refining the ‘Electoral systems’ to ensure ‘Genuine Free & Fair Elections’

3. Re-engineering and rationalising the Public Service Administration Structure.

4. Reforming biased Media Culture to reflect a staunchly independent, ‘Country first’ outlook.  

5. Infusing appropriate Work ethics, Discipline, Technology and methods for Productivity enhancement of SL’s workforce.

6. Instilling ‘Country first’ attitude among the Human capital involved in above areas plus Schools and Universities.    

In view of space constraints, the scope of this article is confined to 1 and 2 above.

Previous proposals by the writer on Electoral/ Political Administration reforms

It is pertinent to keep the readers in context by chronologically recalling the submission of a holistic package of Electoral Reforms/System changes by the writer to the relevant Authorities/Organisations over the years as follows.

1. Lal Wijenayake Public Committee on new Constitution – 2016 -January.

2. NEC Chairman and senior officers- PP presentation – 2017 -July

3. ‘Legal Experts Committee’ to draft a new   Constitution – 2020 – Nov

4. Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms – 2021 – June

5. Chairman-NEC – 2021 – March/April

6. Commissioner General of Elections -2021 – June/July

7. PAFFREL/CMEV/CaFFe – 2020/2021

8. Feature articles and letters to the Editor in the Press – 1997 – to date.

The outcome so far has been no less than an acknowledgement of receipt without any further ado !

Recently proposed ‘System changes’ to rationalize the Political Administration system

1. A Method to rationalise corrupt and unproductive LG Tier to achieve its real objective 

As far back as in April 1997 The writer proposed a simple alternative based on ‘Grama Rajya’ concept to rationalise the bottom layer of the Political Administration system through an article to the press titled ‘An alternate system to local Govt. Elections’. As usual it fell on deaf ears of the authorities. 

As the rates/Tax paying citizens are now fed up with the existing politicised Local Govt.Administration where political bias, corruption, arrogance and self-aggrandizement are the hall marks, they desperately look forward for  ‘System changes’ to ensure; 

1. Real needs of the specific locality are identified and resolved under an intensive approach.

2. Real objectives of Local Govt. Machinery are met.

3. Impartiality sans any political bias or corruption is sustained.

4. Simplicity of the system in keeping with SL’s size.

5. Cost effectiveness of the system is pursued diligently.

Independent ‘Jana Sabhas’

With the upcoming establishment of ‘Jana Sabhas’ proposed by the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ),to create a sustainable Nation through an advanced participatory Democracy, the writer proposed a simple  method to depoliticise LG machinery and integrate it with the Divisional Secretary Divisions (DSD).

Since legal recognition for ‘Jana Sabhas’ (JS) at ‘Grama Niladhari Division’(GND) level, is nearing completion, independent candidates  can be nominated by ‘Jana Sabhas’ in each of the (GND) and the next depoliticized LG Election can be conducted using the following methodology.

1. At the next LG election, allow each JS to nominate 03 honest, impartial and socially acceptable candidates (01 Male, 01 Female and 01 youth – below 35 years of age) with high integrity residing in the GND, so that the highest vote receiver shall become the JS representative for the GND taking up their JS recommendations and issues with LG authorities at ‘Pradeshiya Sabha’/Urban Council/Municipal Council level and at Divisional Secretary Division (DSD) level. 

2. To avoid wasteful costs and administrative bottlenecks, each Divisional Secretary should be empowered to conduct the Election using the officers in his/her DSD in the presence of polling agents from each JS in the Division.

3. The Office bearers at ‘Pradeshiya Sabha’, Urban and Municipal Council level can be elected from among JS Representatives by vote.

4. The 14,000 strong JS Representatives will surely make the LG machinery more objective, meaningful and effective than the existing politically biased and corrupt LG system. They may be paid a monthly allowance that ensures a lesser total outlay compared to that of the existing Politicised members.

5. These Representatives will eventually graduate as proven Provincial Councillors and MPs by becoming members of political parties of their choice with ‘Country first’ attitude.

6. If the next Delimitation exercise will take a long time, we suggest that the existing GND and DSD boundaries be considered for the next LG Election.

2. A Summary of other related system changes 

1. Abolish ‘Mixed Member Voting’ (MMV), ‘Preference voting’ and ‘Cross over’ mechanisms  to pave the way for election of wise and genuine ‘Country first- Political Professionals’ from ‘District wise Merit lists’ of Parties selected through a robust, standardised procedure subject to minimum eligibility criteria and a structured interview mechanism with a standardized marking system laid down by the National Election Commission. (Writer has already spelt out the methodology in articles to the Press) This is a fundamental ‘system change’ sought by the peaceful youth of ‘Aragalaya’.

2. Members  to Provincial Councils (PCs) and National Parliament to be elected purely on District and country-wide ‘ % Representation’ basis respectively, enabling all voters in North, South, East and West to vote for only the party of their choice as ‘True Sri Lankans’ carrying  a ballot paper of ‘equal value ‘untainted by Race, Caste or Religion as proclaimed under UN convention-1948. This is an important pre-requisite for the success of National Reconciliation exercise.

3. Secure Women and Youth representation (20% each) by mandating inclusion of at least 01 woman and 01 Youth (Below 35 years) among every 05 persons in all District/ Electorate nominee lists in merit order. 

4. A “Sustainable ‘Sri Lankan’ Cabinet” to be constituted based on National vote %, so that smaller parties too will be entitled to join the Cabinet. This step will greatly assist in resolving our National Question paving the way for our country to become a model ‘Five-Star’ democracy with ‘Sri Lankans’ as its citizens.

5. Brand the 5 year Party Election manifestos as regulated, prosecutable documents that would primarily determine voter decision.

6. Objectively strengthen PCs and rationalize the role and fringe benefits of MPs.

7. Take cost-effective steps to ensure maximum productivity of the Electoral system. E.g. Hold General and PC Elections and if possible, the relevant Referenda too on the same day after introducing Electronic voting system.

8. Rationalisation of the top tier-Executive Presidency.

Executive Presidency to be abolished with effect from a specified date, through a referendum, (if possible on the same day of the General and PC Elections) and replaced with a Parliament and PC member appointed hybrid Governor General as the Commander- in -chief with usual ceremonial powers plus limited powers to enforce and execute Parliament approved Laws, Programmes, and National and decentralized budgets through Provincial Governors appointed by him/her. The Constitutional Council shall nominate 03 Candidates for the post of Governor General who when elected will report to the Supreme Parliament.

Conclusion

Due to corrupt, unprofessional, parochial and confrontational Party politics, SL has missed several golden opportunities to put it  back on track after overcoming uprisings/disasters such as 1971 Insurrection,1989/90 Insurrection, 2004 Tsunami,  30 year War, 2019 Easter- Carnage, Covid-19. Now, the 2022 ’Aragalaya’ did pave the way for an ‘Interim Multi-party Govt.’which is the ideal body to forge the above ‘System changes’ without leaving room for any single Party/Alliance to take political advantage or score brownie points in the process. At the beginning, it received blessings of the people, all Religious leaders, scholars, BASL and Political Parties. Unfortunately, it has not seen the light of the day yet as the aforesaid collectives have mysteriously given up their struggle towards crucial ‘System changes’.

Therefore, we as citizens with country at heart, re-appeal to the Hon. President, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and the entire Parliament to place the Country first and exercise their political will in unison, irrespective of narrow Party politics, Colour, Creed and Caste, to speedily legalise the above objective ‘System changes’ leading to ‘Genuine Free and Fair  Elections’ and an efficient Political Administration system as suggested above and replace this failed and rotten system of ‘Corrupt and Confrontational’ politics with a ‘Clean and Consensual political culture’.

Only such a paradigm shift combined with corresponding changes in our Media and Peoples’ culture can convince and prevent our frustrated new generation, Professionals and the sovereign voters, from seeking greener pastures. Thereby, our bankrupt Nation can be saved from being thrown to the dust bin of History. If the latest news report that 4 Elections will be held in 2024 is correct, there is more than adequate time to ensure passage of the aforesaid ‘system changes’.

Therefore, let us all unite and make this ‘Cultural Revolution’ etched in golden letters in our History books so that the world at large will not only hasten to pay a glorious tribute to Sri Lanka but also provide us with the much needed economic assistance to redeem our country from its present plight !

“Change is the only constant in life. Thus, if there is a will there is a way too”!

*The writer, a former Deputy General Manager – BOC, can be reached at jbvfernando@yahoo.com

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