By R.M.B Senanayake –
What is the greatest obstacle confronting the new Government in enacting good policy? In my opinion it is the review of the working of the Provincial Councils. Ranil was the first and only political leader to realize the implications of the Provincial Councils for the South. Won’t the devolution of power to the Provincial Councils render redundant a large National Parliament and a large central government? Can the southern politicians be entrusted with more power? Can they be expected to act in a civilized law abiding manner to provide a civilized civil administration? The present behavior of the Southern Provincial Council Members casts grave doubts about it? I am not even sure hat the present generation of Tamil politicians will act in a civilized manner ensuring a just and fair civil administration in the North. They must prove themselves as law abiding citizens committed to the national state. The educated Tamils of the past have largely gone to the West. But the Northern Provincial Council may have to be tried out with the limited functions and powers they have been entrusted with already. The obstacles in their path have to be removed by replacing the Governor and bringing the staff under the Chief Minister for dual control is anathema to good public administration. The right of the IDPs to return to their lands is recognized by the United Nations and will have to be implemented. The military in the North must be scaled down but trust must be built up by the Tamil politicians that they have given up demand for Eelam and accepted the national state. For a start the military should be debarred from intervening in civilian activities and confined to barracks. As for police powers for a start only Tamil speaking policemen should be deployed in he North. Even in the UK there are village policemen who are no part of a centralized police service. As Dr Frank Silva has pointed out the single centralized police service was only introduced by the British colonial ruler in 1865. Perhaps a separate rural police service may be recruited locally but they may be part of the central government and not of the Provincial Council.
The PCs are required to resolve the Tamil minority problem. The Muslims of the East want a separate kachcheri in Kalmunai or Akkaraipattu which will deal with them in Tamil and eliminate the costs of their travel and say in Amparai where the language of administration is Sinhala. There is nothing wrong in the demand and should be conceded. Remember there were only 9 Kachcheris during earlier British rule.. Then kachcheris were set up for Districts for the convenience of the people. The Muslim demand for a kachcheri cannot be called a demand for a separate state as misinterpreted by the Sinhala Buddhist extremists. As for the PCs in the Sinhala speaking South, Ranil suggested asymmetric devolution. He will have to explain the concept to the leaders of the other Sinhalese political parties and obtain consensus to what he has in mind. The P.C politicians have shown themselves quite unworthy of power for they seem to be plain thugs and criminals. If they are to be given the same powers under the 13th Amendment then the national Parliament will have to shrink to about 100 MPs the most.. The Executive of the Central Government would also have to shrink. This issue should deserve the attention of Ranil on a priority basis. The Northern P.C has been stymied by a Governor who is exercising the powers conferred on him by the Provincial Councils Act which go beyond those of the 13th Amendment. The 13th Amendment would have to be made operative and the powers of the Governor under the Provincial Councils Act should be amended. A clarification is also necessary between the powers of the Governor and the Chief Minister.
Financial Accountability of the Ministers
Another priority is to pass the new draft Audit Act and the draft Public Finance Bill which were prepared with UN assistance. We cannot hold Ministers financially responsible as long as we go by the Financial Regulations where the power is given only to the Secretaries ( they were to be Permanent Secretaries). This model no longer operates because Ministers want to exercise financial powers. Let them have them but hold them accountable for there cannot be power without responsibility in good governance. That is what is necessary. Hardworking taxpayers never cease being ripped off by wasteful and fraudulent government spending and regulation. Unlike what happens in the private sector, people in government rarely go to jail or are even fired for financial misconduct. The government requires financial and senior officers of companies to sign off on the accuracy of their financial statements in order to protect stockholders. Company officers are subject to civil and criminal penalties, including jail time for misstatements, and their names are released to the press. The Ministers should be required to sign the financial statements to be published and tabled in Parliament. The COPE and COPA should be empowered to summon the Ministers for they must take the responsibility for the exercise of financial powers directly or indirectly. There is no point in holding officials responsible when the real power is exercised by the Ministers. The Parliamentary Procedures law or Standing Regulations should be amended to summon any public persons elected or appointed on tenure, before these financial review bodies. Parliament must have the power to impeach any Minister guilty of financial irregularity in addition to being charged under the criminal law in the case of fraud. The U.S Constitution gives the power to Congress to impeach any person holding public office whether he has been elected or appointed on tenure. Similar provision is required to haul Ministers and Secretaries before Parliament and impeach those found guilty of financial malpractice. It is the lack of financial accountability of the Executive to Parliament that led to the former President treating public funds as his personal funds. This must be stopped and abolishing the Executive Presidency alone is not enough to do so. The President or the Prime Minister must be accountable to Parliament. Hiding under Cabinet responsibility will not be acceptable. The Cabinet is a collective deliberative body to decide on new policies and not an executive body to cover up for financial malpractices and fraud. The Minister responsible should be accountable and he should not be permitted to take cover under Cabinet decisions to evade responsibility..
The Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act also needs to be amended also to allow for greater public access to the hearings of COPE and COPA. Their proceedings should be open to the press and the public for the public have a right to know about the financial irregularities committed by Ministers or officials as in the case of companies where Accounts are table and approved at Annual General Meetings of shareholders. Similar provision is required to haul Ministers and Secretaries before Parliament and impeach those found guilty of financial malpractice. It is the lack of financial accountability of the Executive to Parliament that has led to the President treating public funds as his personal funds. This must be stopped and abolishing the Executive Presidency alone is not enough to do so. The President or the Prime Minister must be accountable to Parliament. Hiding under Cabinet responsibility will not do. The Cabinet is a collective deliberative body to decide on new policies and not an executive body to cover up for financial malpractices and fraud. The Minister responsible should be accountable and he should not be permitted to take cover under Cabinet decisions to evade responsibility. Should the Inland Revenue not disclose the names of persons who have committed tax frauds?
The new draft Audit Act to enhance protection for the Auditor General in the performance of his duties should be revived and passed. The practice of appointing “an acting Auditor General and keeping acting and hence beholden to the Executive President is a wrongful even unconstitutional practice for it undermines the independence of the Auditor General who is acting for he would not like to offend the President to whom he owes his confirmation. The Auditor General should be appointed y a Special Committee of Parliament and not the President.
New Growth model
We also need a new growth model. When China wanted to launch its export growth strategy it set up several Free Trade Zones and invited foreign companies to set up there and export to their home countries. Most of the exports of China are carried out by them and not by the State owned enterprises. We should finalize the Free Trade pacts with China and India and ask investors from both countries to invest and export to their home countries without any taxes. Export supply is short and hence free import and export should be permitted along with the freedom to bring in foreign labor on contract.We have to liberalize by doing away with all restrictive regulations and allow any foreign investor to come in with only a requirement for registering with the Central Bank to ensure they have the right to repatriate their investments and profits from them.