By Asoka Seneviratne –
In my recent article titled how JRJ Constitution and 20th A Continue to rot Sri Lanka, I attempted to highlight that a good constitution must have vital built in checks and balances. These are essential to ensure the executive cannot carry out certain functions without the legislative branch approval. Additionally an independent judiciary will stop any illegal acts by the president or even parliament by way of unconstitutional laws being passed. A member of the public can file suit.
In Sri Lanka President needs to reach out to parliament to sanction funds for his or her programs that includes all expenditure for his ministries and subsequent agencies, corporation etc. Also the President has to seek parliamentary approval for his legislative agenda. In essence the parliament can tie the president’s hand with these checks.
JRJ and 20 the A, circumvented these vital checks by allowing president to have mammoth cabinets, members of which come from the parliament. This negated the independence of parliamentary oversight over executive functions at a huge cost again to SL public.
To further dilute this vital check, the president who usually is also the leader of the party decides who runs for seats in the electorate. This gives him or her again control over their parliamentary vote. Also the JRJ and 20th A allowed the president to bring in his buddies, financiers, family members, bootleggers etc. To parliament.
All these complicated checks over the executive power makes managing a country difficult under a democracy hence why Obama called democracy a complicated process. In the name of expedience, you take the checks and balances away; one could end up exactly like where SL is today; broken and desperate! Decisions were taken unitarily, not though a filtering process like by the parliament.
Our current constitution also does not allow holding to fire those who run executive branch agencies like the ministers, chairman of government owned businesses and agencies. In other words there is no oversight over the executive branch day to day functions by the parliament- the people’s assembly. The president does what he decides with no oversight as all chips are in his or her favor. A key ingredient for corruption.
Our current constitution also does not allow vetting through the parliament of those holding high public office, including the ministers. The president has total authority to appoint whomever he or she likes. That could potentially include convicted murderers, convicted or known criminals, drug lords, family (or girlfriend’s family) members, total mutts, or even his or her domestic aid. Suffice me to say there could be domestic aids that are more educated, dignified or legally cleaner than some we have now. Far cry from what was promised by the current president running up to last elections.
20th A was so tilted in favor of executive power; current president was able to appoint his non-elected blood brother Basil to a defacto cabinet position. How many times we have seen him sitting next to president or heading a high level meetings usually chaired by a cabinet minister. Basil yielded executive power purely through nepotism. Not that he brings proven corporate experience or anything. These are all direct result of a bad constitution, what else?
So as it could be getting clearer by now, the constitution has serious flaws. The parliament while on the book is a co- equal and potentially adversarial branch has become a rubber stamp.
This brings us to our massive debt crisis. It is exactly due to this serious lack of parliamentary oversight that MR was able to launch his greedy sovereign bond auctions departing from the previous practices borrowing from global lending agencies. Lending agencies have strings attached. UNP’s Ranil followed through quickly and his Central bank buddies ended up robbing huge. None was brought to justice and once again empty promises given by the current president at elections turned out to be just what they are – empty promises.
Hopefully a curious mind can now see how all this debt crisis ties back to the lack of checks and balances of the JRJ Constitution and 20th A.
Monkeys, dictators, dangerous minds, crooks, low lives, 8th graders can all potentially become a president. But a smart constitution will stop him or her from taking our once well managed, relatively prosperous and most beautiful country to the CLEANERS!
Let’s get a new and a smart constitution first. Those noble and patriotic leaders we often yearn for …. They are only as good as our constitution. Power should be checked. Period!