By Basil Fernando –
The systems of government in Asian countries may broadly be described under the following categories: Democratic – the government structure is based on the liberal democratic structure, and the bureaucracy functions with basic laws and rules that are in conformity with this structure; Militaristic – where the basic structure is based on military command and the bureaucracy also functions under the same rules and command; Socialist – authoritarian, where the system is built in a way that its rules are devised by an authoritarian command and rules of bureaucracy are designed to work under these rules; and a further category is one which was militaristic, socialist or authoritarian but is attempting to make a transfer to the democratic, and the work of the bureaucracy reflects this duality.
The Sri Lankan system after 1978 does not belong to any of these categories – It is a one person system and it is antagonistic to a bureaucracy.
Each of the other systems mentioned above has its own bureaucracy and has a rationality of its own. Each system has continuous rule-bound conduct. Those who come in contact with the system can soon know the rules of the game in living and working within such a system. What might happen or not happen is generally predictable.
There is no such continuous rule bound conduct within the Sri Lankan system. No one knows the rules of the game and what might or might not happen is not predictable. The Executive President (EP) might change any rule any time. For example, terms of Members of Parliament may be extended, say from six years to 12 years, if the EP so wishes. Judgments of courts may or may be obeyed. Rules of recruitment, dismissals in jobs etc. do not exist. Everything depends on the EP’s pleasure.
Under these circumstances, a rational bureaucracy cannot function. This was the problem that was recognized in 2001 by the parliament as whole, and the 17th Amendment to the constitution was an attempt to partially address the problem. However, the EP found that it made the EP’s function difficult and did away with it.
It is this absence of a rational foundation for bureaucracy that has given rise to the EP depending on family. It is not rational rules that the working of the government is based on but blood links. Those who criticize this as nepotism are trying to apply the rules of a democratic system. It is like criticizing a dog for not being a lion.
The failure of all those who oppose the Sri Lankan system is mostly due to the failure to call spade a spade.
The government’s argument in support of the impeachment was that it is right by our constitution. Since this constitution allows the EP to do anything, that argument is valid. The government justifies not providing a proper inquiry to prove any charges against the Chief Justice on the basis that under the 1978 constitution there is no such requirement.
Those who based their criticism on the basis of democracy and the rule of law have no alternative but to work towards the abolition of this constitution and towards establishing a system based on democratic rationality.
Requesting the EP to act democratic is to ask something that the EP cannot do, so long as the system based on the 1978 constitution exists. It is just like asking for the feathers of a tortoise.
A related publication- Gyges’ Ring-1978 Constitution- Available in the internet