19 September, 2020

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Controversies Highlight Need For Greater Mindfulness About Repercussions

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The formulation of the draft 20th Amendment and its unanimous acceptance by the cabinet is indicative of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s dominant role in the government. The unanimous cabinet decision to approve amendment uncritically has paved the way for the political embarrassment the government currently faces with no one prepared to accept responsibility for it. It therefore took more than a week for the government to reach agreement to appoint a committee to review the 20th Amendment after strong opposition criticisms highlighted several problems in the draft law. The president’s role stems from both his track record and popularity with the majority who voted for him and what he stands for. The president is seen not only as a leader who is committed to strengthening the country, but also as a leader who will get things done with firm resolve.

Among those that the president is impressing are sections of the business community especially those who are seeking to be producers rather than traders. They see the president as being willing to cut through bureaucratic hurdles and provide approval for productive enterprises without getting tied down in problems of getting permits and approvals. Obtaining these permits which has proven to be tedious and discouraging in the past due to both inefficiency and attempts by those playing gatekeeper roles to extract bribes. The government’s prioritization of development as the way forward by expending decision making processes, both to improve the living standards of people and to make conflicts less intractable may explain some of its more controversial actions.

The permission given to engage in developmental activities in environmentally protected spaces is an indicator of the privileged position given to the goal of fostering development. The government is trying to promote import-substitution policies as the country is suffering from a foreign currency deficit in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. Large loans taken in the past have to be repaid, foreign remittances from migrant workers has fallen and exports are more difficult with the results that imports need to be curtailed. It will be necessary for the government to be mindful of the inter-connections and the repercussions that can follow. A step by step approach might be preferable in reorienting the economy into one in which domestic production is prioritized as many economic outputs require imported inputs.

Natural Environment 

Two of the main political debates in the country at the present time concern the 20th Amendment and the issue of environmental degradation that is taking place. There is an element of excess in both of these which need to be considered. An example would be the construction of a road in the protected reserve of the Sinharaja forest. The government’s go ahead to develop the road was justified on the basis of impoverished village people asking for a wider road that would ease their burdens of transport and access to the markets outside. However, this same incentive would motivate others with much greater resources to come to that area and make use of the road for their own commercial benefit that could lead to greater deforestation. Environmentalists have complained that the road expansion is already causing many disturbances to the forest including illicit felling, removing soil and dumping it on slopes. An option to have considered would have been the relocation of the village rather than harming the forest.

In the aftermath of the new government coming to power there has been a spate of development activities at the cost of the environment. Lagoons and forest lands are being utilized for development activities in many places. There is a need for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) of these activities. EIA is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, taking into account inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse. In addition, cost-benefit analysis needs to be done that goes beyond mere finances, but also includes social and long term costs and benefits.

A social cost benefit analysis is a method to survey all the impacts caused by a development project or other policy measure. It comprises not just the financial effects such as investment costs, direct benefits like profits and taxes but all the societal effects such as pollution and the impact on the environment. The main aim of a social cost benefit analysis is to attach a price to as many effects as possible in order to uniformly weigh the above-mentioned heterogeneous effects. As a result, these prices reflect the value a society attaches to the caused effects, enabling the decision maker to form an opinion about the net social welfare effects of a project.

Such a social cost-benefit analysis would incorporate factors such as the affinity of high end tourists for Sri Lanka’s natural environment and for ethical development. Due to the three decades of war and the many atrocities that occurred during that period, Sri Lanka has gained an unfavourable international image that was being improved in the aftermath of the end of the war and the commencement of the national reconciliation process. However, the government’s withdrawal in February 2020 from the commitments given to the UN Human Rights Council in October 2015 and the failure to replace them with an indigenous model as promised can continue to jeopardise the country’s international image. There is a need for the government to be mindful of the repercussions of what it is doing. Political leadership involves all round assessments much as a social cost-benefit analysis is needed in development project activities.

20th Amendment 

A similar approach is needed in the case of the controversy that has erupted over the 20th Amendment. This constitutional amendment has been put on hold with a government appointed committee to go into it and propose further amendments. The main feature of this proposed law is to transfer power away from other institutions and place it with the presidency. Both parliament and the judiciary which, together with the executive, form the three great branches of government, will become subordinate to the presidency if the 20th Amendment is passed into law in its current form. The question is the degree to which the strengthening of the presidency is appropriate in the context of constitutional governance.

The protests against the 20th Amendment have grown stronger with the passage of just a week. Initially it was only the opposition parties that objected to it and raised their voice against it. But now even sections of the government and state apparatus have become emboldened to speak against the proposed law. The Sri Lanka Audit Inspectors’ Association has sent a letter to the president stating that the proposed 20th Amendment will harm the independence of the Auditor General and the scope of public audit, and also to the mechanism for the exercise of public financial control. They have pointed out that several government departments and some 120 State-owned companies will be exempt from centralized government audit under the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Objections have also begun to be voiced by government parliamentarians themselves. The 20th Amendment gives the president the power to dissolve parliament after a year of its election and to sack the prime minister and any minister at any time and appoint others in their place. This may not be a problem at the present time when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s own elder brother is the prime minister. But this can become a problem in the future when different individuals are in those important positions. For longer term democracy and political stability different arms of the government should not be subservient to the other but have their values and powers intact for a better governance. The key factor to keep in mind is that politics and development are not only about going from one point to another in a straight line or in the shortest possible time. There is a need for greater mindfulness about possible repercussions and assess whether the overall cost-benefit analysis is positive.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    4

    Less than a year has lapsed this autocratic draconian government that’s being led by a ruthless Idi Amin/Saddam Hussain/Mohamed Gaddafi and the present president of Egypt along with a few African dictators the rogue Kalla kallathoni of a war criminal a rogue one time coward pussy carrying humbug of a so-called panty wearing soldier is now attempting to make the 20th amendment to be powerful and water tight that his extended family will continue to rule forever.
    \
    It is great that within his own SLPP the rank and file have begun to have shivers running down their normally spine less bodies and have begun to object in fear of losing their powerful perks attained by resorting to illegal means.?
    \
    To me Lanka is a beggars colony where 99.3% of the masses living are penniless peasants who at this time just do not know where their next meal or a drink of water is coming from.?
    \
    The wealth is held by 0.7% of the rest which includes part of my relatives.
    \
    Lanka is a nation where raw materials have to be imported to keep their economy grinding on but sadly do not have the foreign exchange available to meet the costs of importation.

    • 6
      3

      They have had to cease the importation of much needed drugs, finished garments motor vehicles and many an other products due to lack of foreign and local currency.
      =
      Next will be the importation of essential foodstuffs raw materials badly needed to keep the wheels of the econony rolling.
      =
      Sad sorry made a shitty isle by the rajapuka’s Lanka will have no other choice but to revert bask to a pre 1977 socialist era where one to travel abroad had to obtain pre-paid tickets from abroad then go to the Central Bank with the proof of intended travel and obtain a permit for 3 pounds 10 pence British currency which at time came to 51.00 SL rupees.
      =
      It’s now a DOOMED beyond any form redemption and the crafty criminal bogus rajapuka infidels have to be gotten rid of and a true democratic leadership acceptable to overses governments/lenders be brought in to get rid of this hell of a mess created by these uncouth unsavoury money greedy buggers.

      • 4
        8

        rj1952,
        “hell of a mess created by these uncouth unsavoury money greedy buggers.”

        Are you talking about Ranil and his ‘Royal Gang’ who robbed Central Bank twice soon after they crept into Parliament thanks to Gamarala?

  • 5
    3

    Appointing committee to study and recommend any change is an eye wash.most members are only interested in making sure there place in the cabinet or state minister post rather than thinking about 19th or 20th amendment.they will act like deaf and blind in front of GOTHAPAYA unless some one like MAHINDA supporting from behind to make sure of his power to remain as it is per 19TH amendment.once the 20th is passed parliament will be like galleface green only MPS to relax and enjoy the perks come alone with that without any power even to transfer a police officer.all MRS hands and mouth will be shut and if they talk out of way they will end up no where.future of parliament will be borella kanatha-good luck to every body who must get ready for a pilgrimage to god katharagama.

  • 8
    2

    This is a Government that has failed miserably to seek and understand the “PRIORITIES” needed for the country and the people. The “Team” that got into power is much “Directional” in promoting and establishing its “Personal Agenda” placing emphasis and hanging on to the “2/3rd” majority to steamroll over any other options available for the welfare of the country and common good of the people. The “20A” hurridly gazetted as having “Unanimously” agreed upon by the Cabinet is a case in point. When criticism started rolling in, everyone supposed to have been in charge of the very start of drafting it ran away from the responsibility and had the “Courage” and “audacity” to “DENY” publicly even not knowing who did it. The other joke was the appointment of a committee to “STUDY” it after having the approval and full blessings of the Cabinet headed by the President. What a set of “CLOWNS” the “People” have elected and entrusted with the task of Governing the country? What more can we expect from this “TEAM”?

    • 6
      3

      Dear SIMON,
      :
      What else we expected – we all thought that people would see it right. But people were misled as no times in the past.
      Today, they do lot more harm to the very same people, that brought them back to power.

  • 7
    1

    There is a new confusion.
    The question is
    Who Drafted the 20A ?
    is it a single person or a committee.
    if so who appointed the committee/person.

    Apparently no one knows!
    or
    No one is owning up

    • 7
      1

      ….to add

      it was passed by the cabinet without a single member of the cabinet reading it !!!!

    • 6
      0

      Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. Someone whispered to me that the draft was done by the minister of justice, who is now feeling cornered and a little scared at being scape-goated.

      Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, no?

    • 3
      3

      “The question is Who Drafted the 20A ? “
      Other than few legally meaningful words, it is the sole responsibility of Royal family. Other wise not any Modaya, whether Ali Sabre or ISIS, would have donated his head for fault of plucking a Royal Family member’s authority and assigning to another one. Remember, no other ministers even dared to say thing on that, not even Rear Admirable Veera Kutty, which the only one opposed & voted against 19A. The new story of changing also coming from the family within. But if this changing goes wrong, the fault of changing the suggestion will be put on Ganapathipllai and hanged in Bohambara. .

    • 1
      0

      Isn’t this hilarious?

      Why are people asking questions? Can they not fathom that this is another manifestation of a divine conception (oops, I meant constitution)!!

      I hear Mahinda Mama is livid. After all is his efforts that got the pohottuwa their close to 2/3, no? So now he has got nothing in return from chooti malli, whose strategic skills are no better than a gnat’s, and typifies a bull in a china shop……

      Here’s video of the deniers all. Notice how they are all sh*tt*ng themselves silly: https://twitter.com/AriffShihab/status/1305607955467960320?s=20

  • 3
    1

    The circus of amending constitution with 20A is intended to pull wool on major issues like resolution 30/1, economy, ever limping Covid-19, stranded ME East Workers…….. Other than two out of 10 members, all other members to CC, which has responsibility of high power appointments, including Supreme Court justices, AG & IGP are appointed by EP and PM. EP & PM are brothers. Six members in parliament are immediate Family members. 107 government institutions are coming under their control. King, without minding 19A’s restriction, is holding defense and another ministry under him. Like previous term, up to 80% for the budgetary control is under the Royal family’s hand. An overhaul or brand new constitution is in proposal. For all other immediate emergencies, the Slap Party has 2/3 in parliament so anything can be passed in parliament without delay. 20A is mainly a repeal of 19A, which was brought in for power balance between the branches. So there is no immediate use of 20A for president other than it is breaking the power balance and infringing the people sovereignty. 20A is not delivering anything the family could not achieve as working as unity. Further, 20A can break Royal family unity can bring a similar like New King-Ranil situation in future.

  • 2
    2

    Rushing to pass 20 A create a suspicions if the government is trying to achieve some safeguard before the September, 2020 & March 2021 UNHRC sitting. In March 2018 Jehan PHD & Tilak Marapana went to Geneva with an idea of withdrawing from UNHRC, but failed. In 2020 March, Communist Denesh went to Geneva and withdrew only from UNHRC resolution 30/1. September sitting of UNHRC has started. Lankawe’s representation has not been a point of talk in Colombo Media so far. In this September, nothing is listed as any major obligation for Lankawe. Last March, after five years in an agreement with UNHRC, Lankawe tore off one more Banda-Chelva pact i.e. Resolution 30/1. Though America is no longer in UNHRC, there is no change in American position on 30/1, which was brought to UNHRC by America; at least nothing externally visible. Ranil, probably one of only few democratic politicians in Lankawe, used the Proposal of Secret Solution to hedge against implementing Resolution 30/1. He voluntary resigned in November 2019, one year earlier than his term, dropping everything in the middle of negotiations and escaped from his accountability for failing Resolution 30/1.

  • 3
    1

    UNHRC’s initiation in the 21 century’s biggest massacre & genocide will have to come a dead end, if the International Community is not ready to take a different turn from which it has been taking from the time (May, 2009), when former UN SC Ban Ki Moon visited to Colombo and made an observation of Mullaithivu as a carnage that he never saw earlier in his life and he very softly and nicely implored & persuaded Old King to start a procedure to address responsibility and accountability for war & civilians death. A joint statement was released in a Colombo Press conference, in this respect, by Old King & former UNSG. After that, in addition to local LLRC commission report, UN & UNHRC appointed three commissions and found out 42 most senior officials of current government were involved in War Crime. Some these officials are barred from visiting to Western Democracies for their involvements in War Crime. From May 2009, out of the six resolutions passed in UNHRC, co-signing with Lankawe government, none has been implemented by Lankawe governments. A “National Action Plan to address the war atrocities was developed and distributed by earlier Chitanta government. Hakeem went with a copy of this to Washington and assured to MR. Clinton, that time State Secretary that the government was planning to implement it in five years.

  • 2
    1

    Lankawe promised 57 items in human rights & Humanitarian issue, to fulfill in exchange of EU giving GSP+ for Lankawe. Lankawe didn’t fulfill even one. Special talk was repealing the MMDA. Earlier, EU, which suspended GSP+ for Royal government, astonishingly this time has extended the GSP+ until 2016, unconditionally, did not show any interest in rectifying the human right violations on Lankawe Governments. Now, UN officials are talking about the expelling Muslims from North also. But, so far no International action on estimated 100,000 of missing persons, whose relatives are demonstrating passing 400 days. No International Institution or any internationally influential country has taken any action on Lankawe government’s negligence.
    Last 65 years have proved that Lankawe writes pacts only to invite the enemy closely, acquaint & study the SWOT on the enemy in that contemporary situation. Then it clears the enemy by best way to sending it out of the door.
    The Tamil National parties agree on word that situation is further slipping so they need to unify to press IC for any constructive solution. So far in action, they end in further splits. Especially the main Party TNA which should have led others is setting example to all to internal quarrel, division and destruction.

  • 1
    1

    Who drafter 13A?

    LTTE.

    That is one main reason it has to be removed.

  • 1
    0

    There is no great urgency to change the constitution. We can take time to change it gradually. The 19th Amendment has good provisions that should be kept for smooth functioning of Law and order. We need Judiciary that is independent of manipulations of the Politicians. What is the point of having Judiciary if they have to agree to whatever suggested by the Government. The Parliament too should have the power to keep a CHECK on the ALL powerful President. Independent Constitution Council to appoint senior Government jobs is essential to appoint people with right calibre and honesty. An Independent Audit Commission is needed to keep a tab on the expenses incurred in the agencies run by the Government. Freedom of speech/media AND Human Rights of the minorities should be guaranteed in the new constitution

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