By Sunil J. Wimalawansa –
Part 16: Sri Lanka—Changing Pillows to Cure Headaches: Politicians—Constitutional Amendment Mess
This week’s priority for the Members of the Parliament (MPs) is to solve the political crisis by having a multi-party cabinet/government and legislating the modified 21st amendment. This article discusses these aspects.
Defective 20th amendment
The 20th amendment was unnecessarily and inappropriately introduced primarily to strengthen the power of the executive powers of the president and to benefit folks around him/her. Thus, it included dismantling independent Commissions, abolishing audits, weakening the judiciary, illegally removing all lawsuits against them, and loopholes for financial gain. These created an environment conducive to pilfering funds and public resources, selling public assets to profit politicians, removing accountability and transparency, and opening the doors widely for nepotism, financial and other corruption, which they successfully did.
These day-light robberies were approved and done in mid-nights by the leading political party. These led to arising of People’s protests spontaneous (“Aragalaya”- a peacefully organised protest without disruptions or violence or any political backup), which initiated the current political crisis. Besides, the 20th amendment also removed fair governance, independent institutions that audits and oversight the executive and legislative branches of the government, and constitutional safeguards, including compromising the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. Overall, it was a manufactured disaster for the country.
Ironically, some MPs who voted for the 20th amendment are now proposing patch-ups to it. Other than pressure from the president’s secretary and expected personal gains, was there other reasons for those two-thirds of MPs to vote for the 20th amendment? Instead of temporary fixes, the 20th amendment should be revoked in its entirety, together with the 13th amendment. This would allow reactivating the 19th amendment until the new constitution is enacted in the parliament or by a nationwide referendum.
There is nothing good about the 20th amendment initiated by the current president, pushed by his over-rated and conflicted secretary, who has made many blunders. These include but are not limited to inadvertently designing the current economic collapse in Sri Lanka via overriding the central bank’s decisions and unnecessary tax cuts in 2019. If there are any legal reasons that the 20th amendment cannot revoke, then the second-best is to approve a modified version of the 21st amendment as the first step.
20th amendment took away the freedom of expression, liberty, and public safety and created a situation of non-existing law and orders. The abolition of independent Commissions was the worst. It opened doors, exacerbating the pilfering of resources without consequences. It removed the “checks and balances” that the country had over the executive branch and the legislative branch, the parliament. Besides, these sequences allowed systematic attacks by unscrupulous powerful lobbies to discredit Buddhism and its followers using foreign funds unnecessarily. Citizens must reverse this trend. This reminds us that “Big results require big ambitions/steps” [James Champy].
What needs to be done now?
The current main issue is a “political” crisis. Without solving the political crisis and gridlock in the parliament, there is no possibility of solving the financial, food, gas, petrol, or other scarcities. Instead of focussing on the critical issues of political and economic crises, selfish and corrupted MPs were discussing for three days how to get approval billions to compensate for new housing for those MPs who lost due to riots because of their own failures.
Yet again, there is no rationale for the public to fund MPs’ personal property; they must be out of their minds to disregard the current political and economic crises in Sri Lanka. Is compensating for the lost houses of MPs the priority for the country at this stage when people are starving and dying without food and essential medication? Decisions taken by the current parliamentarians are selfish and ridiculous.
Regarding the financial crisis, the IMF and the World Bank categorically stated that they could not assist the country until it established a stable multi-party government and stabilisation the political situation in Sri Lanka. Despite this, no attempt was made to form a multi-party cabinet with ten ministers (no need for deputy OR any other type of ministers, that would only waste more funds) who could do this job effectively. Would re-appointing inefficient crooks and those with criminal records as ministers solve this issue?
What is the priority for the country?
Considering the above, the priority now is to find a better solution to overcome the stalemate in the parliament: solve the political crisis first. Each day’s delay pushes the country over the cliff of bankruptcy and delays possible recovery. The public should not allow them to return home until MPs solve the initial political crises (e.g., by voting for approval of the 21st amendment).
Since currently, there is no possibility of obtaining a two-thirds majority (i.e., 151 votes) in the parliament because of the ruling party; a nationwide referendum or total constitutional change is not feasible. Therefore, for the time being, one must settle on doing what is possible, the right thing for the country. Initiate one affirmative step at a time but a rapid phase. Even though people have the power, MPs of the leading political party prevent what is best for the country and its people.
Importance of the 21st amendment as an alternative to a new constitution
This brings the importance of the 21st amendment that could re-vitalise the 19th amendment. The latter was virtually revoked following the enactment of the dangerous 20th amendment, championed by the current president and his former secretary, made significant negative contributions to Sri Lank and its economy. The latter pushed Sri Lanka into almost a dictatorship with widespread semi-military control and the current economic collapse and social unrest.
21st amendment is still at preliminary stages and yet to be gazette. After multi-party leadership input, the cabinet is expected to discuss this week and the entire parliament membership later this week. Because of the reasons mentioned above, it is crucial to immediately lobby and pressure the cabinet members and all parliamentarians to support and vote for the modified amendment with the following caveats.
It is essential to remove the unnecessary claws included by the minister of justice at the direction of the current president for him to continue maintaining cabinet portfolios. The failure to remove the above claws will bring another unnecessary disaster for the country with erroneous decision making, and the abuse of power will continue. Therefore, the public and the parliamentarians must request and pressure the minister of justice to remove this insane hook from the draft 21st amendment. If this is done and the justice minister can attract 151 votes in the parliament, this amendment to the constitution can be enacted within three weeks.
Despite their beliefs and personal agendas, MPs should not blindly refuse to vote for the 21 amendment, especially if they can get the draft changes. At least the 21st amendment will allow for re-establishing the independence of the judiciary and re-appointing all independent Commissions. However, without modifications, it could become yet another instance of “changing pillows to cure headaches:” there will not be any worthwhile progress.
The government must reduce its expenditure now
Government must reduce expenditure/cost (i.e., money it spends that the treasury does not have) by stopping all wastage and unnecessary projects and expenses and reducing the size (number in payrolls) now.
Each day’s delay will drag the country down the drain and aggravate the social unrest, food and gas crises, and economic calamity. In this series of articles, “changing pillows to cure headaches,” several practical actions were suggested and discussed to overcome the local currency problem within weeks. In contrast, the foreign currency debt will likely take six to nine months to solve. By gazette and implementing new rules promptly for the IRS, in conjunction with dramatically reducing govt costs (e.g., reduction by 30 to 40% with immediate effect), the local currency shortage can be overcome within weeks without further monetising (printing money) and pushing the inflation further.
Suppose the government properly implements most of those suggestions made in this series of articles, then there is no rationale for the Central Bank to continue to print money like a mad machine, escalating inflation, devaluation of the local rupee, increasing the cost of living and harm people. MPs must solve the pollical crises this week.