By Asoka Seneviratne –
Millions of concerned Sri Lankans are dying for an answer to one simple question. Despite all the talk on media about top level mega corruption, how come not a single elected leader, any of their lackeys or government/corporations top brass ever get indicted, let alone be jailed? How is this simply possible?
This is the most relevant question of our times. All rot starts from here.
Mahinda Rajapaksa bond scam. Ranil/Sirisena bond scam, Hambantota development scam, Greek junk bond scam, highway funding scam, ethanol scam, media men murder and disappearance scam, white van scam, MIG purchase scam, Avon Guard weapons scam, southern expressway scam, airport expressway scam, numerous narcotic scams, sugar scam, palm oil scam, LP gas explosions scam, port city scam, Airbus scam, pre-election bribes by China to Rajapaksa campaign scam, Sirisena pardoning a rich murderer scam, Duminda Silva pardon scam, Drug lords in parliament scam, drug lord on west coast being rescued by a biggest political shot scam, China mega loan scam are some of the more recent ones that come to mind. These mega scams backed by politicos started from JRJ’s time but the number of zeros in the dollar amounts got bigger and bigger. All the while a larger section of the population got poorer and small elite got super wealthy.
Meanwhile some of the most flamboyant cars began to show up on our streets and huge mansions sprung up in a country of a mere $ 82 Billion GDP. Our meagre per Capita runs under $4000 while once impoverished tiny Singapore’s is over $ 90,000.
Worse, the poor migrant workers who flock to Middle East became or largest forex earner, all the while governments have nothing at all to acknowledge their contribution, not even a simple lottery or some form of concession to buy something duty free. Airport customs will jump to check these poor souls for a bag check, all the while the mass smugglers containers get cleared un-hindered at a phone call from a big fat politico.
One family in particular has/had power over much of our national spending over the years but today our national reserves have dwindled down to one or two billion $. That is all we have. We are broke!
The breakdown of the rule of law is possible because we have the silliest of constitutions, where for name sake the three branches of the government are co-equal and independent, while in reality they are mostly one and the same. The executive branch whose cabinet and ministers are comprised of a large number of members from the legislature have the final say of both these branches and the party leader usually is also the President. And now more than ever after 20th Amendment, the executive has the power over the judiciary too for a large part, because he or she has the power of promotions and even firing of judges including the chief justice.
Judges are not free to do their job!
Remember what happened to former CJ Shirani Bandaranayake who crossed paths with Mahinda Rajapaksa? She was taken to the cleaners just for the crime of doing her job of defending the constitution. All of a sudden, they found out she has been committing crimes. How come the police came to know the crimes only after the President fired her? Where was the law enforcement until then? It stinks to high heavens!
The police who investigate the crimes and support the Attorney General to indict criminals too are under the control of the executive branch. Evidence and case files suddenly, magically disappear and in some cases, AG indicts in a technically incorrect manner (to fool all of us) so that the defense attorneys of these crooks can get the cases thrown away. This is how JRJ’s constitution executes justice. Not always judges can be blamed because they need to rule based on evidence.
Billons of people’s money ended up in off shore shelters and nobody has been held accountable. Remember the most recent case of one Nadesan married to a Rajapaksa sheltering a massive $150 million or so. The word was that he showed up at FCID and Gota wanted to appoint a commission to investigate, but today everything has gone below the radar. But instead police is busy chasing after petty and poor village criminals for moonshine.
So whatever happened to Nadesan’s case? How did this man who was in the same car with Ranil heading to Mahinda back in 2015 acquire all this massive wealth? Does the President, Prime Minister or even the Parliament want to know? Why not?
So much so about independent justice system and law enforcement. So much about separation of powers. It is all 100% political.
It is an open secret whether it is SLPP, UNP or SJB they are all a small elite group who scratch each other’s back. They all claim justice to be done when they come to power but nothing happens except photo-ops of suspect politicos walking into FCID to create a semblance of justice.
It is widely believed that JVP might end up as the major winner at the next polls. I have no doubt they will have to assemble a coalition government and once again one of the major parties will have leverage over JVP. One needs 2/3rds to change constitution and one can argue it might happen again as people are dying to change our corrupt mess.
No matter how JVP led coalition might want to slice and dice a new constitution, they need to address the following.
How do we truly separate the three branches of the government, especially the judicial branch so the Rule of Law can be restored? Without this nothing else is going to work.
How do we ensure that the dying angers of the masses are addressed by appropriate legislation? For example, people are mad about duty free car permits sold to the highest bidder or cronies get their mega deals through the politicos. This issue circle back to above; Rule of Law.
Once a new constitution is hopefully enacted, the crooks in the parliament will still fight to maintain status quo that benefits them personally, meaning they will not pass common sense legislation that affects their own purse.
So here is a must-have feature for a new constitution; “A citizens’ initiative.”
A citizens Initiative goes into the ballot box during a general election. To qualify, the initiative (or petition) must muster 20000(for example) public and verified signatures. For example one can start a citizen’s initiative to ban MP’s car permits being sold or an MP who has a criminal history being banned from running for public office. Once passed at a General election, this will become law of the land. Period. The members in the parliament or the president can’t do a darn thing to change it.
When drafting a constitution, we must address all worst case scenarios. It needs parliament, a president or a judge who is corrupt. A citizens Initiative is an indispensable tool to address this when the elected leaders look the other way.
Many countries in the world including the United States, Brazil, Canada, Switzerland, and New Zealand have some form of Citizens Initiatives. One can have a citizens initiative where-in once passed with over 50% vote can go to the legislature to pass if not the President must hold a referendum. Alternately like in some states in the USA, once passed with a 50% plus vote in an election, the initiative automatically becomes law. In Switzerland, they have even direct democracy – an advanced for of citizens’ initiative.
A citizens’ initiative provision will have a direct relationship with our corruption index and resulting prosperity. No question.
Let’s say Today’s JVP comes to power and they straighten up the country. But who is to say tomorrow’s JVP may or may not end up as today’s SLPP, SLFP, UNP and SJB; corrupt? None other than Buddha has said “everything changes”. So why not JVP, tomorrow? Tomorrow’s JVP might well be doing what the other parties have been doing for decades; don’t enact any laws that destroy their status quo and the purse.
Another must-have provision is public hearings by a COPE (or similar) committee. A politico, an Executive branch member or a senior executive appearing in front of a COPE meeting must be televised live, by law. People need to hear what their elected leaders are doing or better, not doing. They will need to explain in public all their crooked deals. This also will be a serious deterrent to corruption. The public is watching!
COPE does not have any punitive powers. They can only recommend. This is total useless exercise and waste of money. It is just window dressing. Imagine COPE finds Nadesan have broken laws and referring it back to President, Parliament or the AG. Nothing is going to happen. The file will be rotting in a drawer.
Once again this circles back to the importance of Rule of Law; an independent law enforcement and judicial system that only reports to the legislature; not the President
We cannot change constitutions every several years. We need to have one smartly drawn one. It is very likely a future JVP lead government might do this. 1978 JRJ constitution laid the foundation that started our rot. It might be JVP that will change it wholesale!
So for God’s sake! Get Citizen’s Initiatives into the constitution. That will be one hell of a safeguard against corrupt crooks running our once prosperous and always beautiful land.