24 June, 2024

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Do Sri Lankan Politicians Need Educational Qualifications?

By Vipula Wanigasekera

Dr. Vipula Wanigasekera

This is probably an extension to the articles published under the title ‘The Right To Information Act & The Educational Qualifications of MPs’ by the Economist DNR Samaranayaka and the story under ‘Parliament Writes To MPs Under RTI To Get Educational Qualifications But No Response!’, both in 2021.

In an article on the Politics and Education website, Pawan Singh went into the contentious issue of educational qualifications among politicians, drawing parallels with the Indian political landscape. The essence of his piece, titled ‘The Debate Over Educational Qualification for Politicians in India,’ underscores a contradiction.

Advocators argue that higher education equips politicians with indispensable skills for effective governance, encompassing analytical skills and proficient communication. Conversely, opponents believe that educational prerequisites may inadvertently exclude deserving candidates  from marginalized backgrounds and caution against over-reliance on degrees, pointing to instances of corruption among educated politicians.

A middle ground emerges, with suggestions for a minimum educational threshold complemented by considerations of experience and character, thus ensuring capable leadership while upholding inclusivity in the political sphere.

How does this work in Sri Lankan politics? According to a report from a News First staff writer last year, the Parliament had maintained that educational qualifications were not prerequisites for MPs, citing constitutional provisions. As per the website, 17 MPs failed to submit their qualifications, with the highest educational qualification of 6 MPs being the Ordinary Level examination. 52 MPs have mentioned GCE A/L as their highest educational qualification, but this number cannot be verified as some have mentioned “up to A/L”. 23 MPs have listed Diplomas, while 70 have said that they are either undergraduates or have graduated with Bachelor’s degrees. 15 parliamentarians have mentioned Doctorates as their highest educational qualification.

Sri Lankan political leaders in the last 2 decades seem to have sought some unwritten ‘skills’ from their nominees. Recalling historical precedents prior to 80s, the significance of eloquence in oratory, exemplified by figures like the late SWRD, Dharmasiri Senanayake, Stanley Thilakaratne, R Premadasa contributed immensely to party’s growth, though late Wijeweera could not capitalize on this due to lack of patience.

The essence of these skills has now shifted. They have descended to such depths where empty rhetoric accompanied by loud noise is considered a qualification for selecting candidates. The ability to speak at full volume, making personal remarks and resorting to sarcasm combined with filth, has undeniably become a criterion.

Then came integrity. Can anyone with absolute honesty survive in politics in Sri Lanka like whether it is practically possible for a Minister in the Sri Lankan cabinet to completely stop corruption within that Ministry? Can all the members declare their wealth and then have them audited to verify such information? If not, it may  imply the extent to which corruption is prevalent.

Prominence in the electorate, with the ability to exert power over police and  public officials etc., was another factor considered valuable by leaders for their nominees. Many examples exist like making a school principal kneel down, questioning an environmental officer whether one can ‘eat oxygen’ or having an orchestrated guard of honor by the security guards of a SOE.  A good percentage of masses does not perceive such actions as disqualifications.

Another significant factor is the social mindset. When politicians amass wealth, it often becomes a qualification for them to continue contesting elections. Wealth, displayed through mansions, numerous vehicles of prestigious brands, and assets overseas, tends to command social respect, contrasting with the value placed on simplicity in developed nations. Once a Sri Lankan minister used an Indian Ambassador car to set a trend,  lost the following election because the people cannot recognize Ministers unless they travel in BMV, Mercs and now SUVs with an entourage of security vehicles carrying  guns.

A requirement of a bachelor’s degree or a professional qualification can at least eliminate a fair  percentage of thugs, gangsters, and criminals from being selected as candidates and certainly into the national list, the latest being the recent court order details of which are known. Future leaders must start somewhere in that respect and start bringing integrity among future law makers.

We can only hope that the electorate’s judgement in this year’s elections will prioritize credibility in rhetoric over poor psyche of measuring politicians. Simultaneously, the emergence of spontaneous public movements, a recent phenomenon in the country, underscores the significance of this year’s election which seems to be causing anxiety among longstanding politicians.

*Writer is a former Diplomat, Head of tourism and currently a lecturer for ECU

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    Author:
    “A requirement of a bachelor’s degree or a professional qualification can at least eliminate a fair percentage of thugs, gangsters, and criminals from being selected as candidates and certainly into the national list….”

    But not all people without those qualifications are criminals, thugs, etc., so this requirement would disqualify those who do not possess such qualifications but would make capable and honest politicians.

    For an aspiring political candidate, what is more important than paper qualifications is the possession–in addition to sound moral character–of knowledge that would enable him to effectively function as a politician. A doctor may know how to treat patients and an engineer how to build a bridge but what do they know about running a country?

    I would suggest conducting a basic to intermediate level test for all aspiring political candidates covering at least the following subjects:

    Sri Lankan law
    Local and international affairs,
    Sri Lankan and world political history (esp. modern)
    Economics.

    Obtaining at least 60 marks (out of 100) for each subject should be compulsory prior to accepting their nominations.

    • 1
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      Agree sir, Valid point

      • 3
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        There is no validity in either yours or his.
        If voters are educated, the Q of contestants is immaterial.
        Qualifications do not measure character.

        • 1
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          Not directly applicable to Sri Lanka. We have educated but irrational lot

    • 1
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      Dear Leonard,
      .
      You can argue till the cows come home, but it will never be possible to subject nominees at any election to a knowledge test, or stipulate any educational qualification. It’s not worth commenting further on this.
      .
      However, it could certainly be made compulsory for them to disclose their assets, etc, and impose severe punishments on those who make false declarations. How will the State know that lies have been told? By encouraging (even cash rewards informants, whose identity will not be divulged.)
      .
      The sole qualification to be an MP is that they have persuaded a substantial number of voters to cast ballots for them. We will get the legislators that we deserve. However, it will be possible to stipulate that those who have been sentenced by a Court are not eligible to be elected. That is objective, but it must be granted by me that “interested parties” can get individuals to be manipulated out. That has happened in the Maldives, and in Pakistan, and will always be a possibility.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe

    • 0
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      Further to my above comment, conducting such a knowledge test as have suggested for aspiring political candidates would also address the author’s concern: reducing the number of potential “thugs” and “criminals” entering Parliament. For how many thugs and criminals have the intellectual ability and discipline even to prepare and sit for such a test, let alone pass it?

      • 0
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        Correction: “such a knowledge test as I have suggested….”

  • 2
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    Educational statistics of MP, quite interesting with 6 having only an education up to O/L, 17 failing to disclose, implying having none, & 15 with doctorates (any honorary doctorates?). So, it would be nice to know a list of who has what.

    University students are expected to read widely (hence the term ‘reading’ for a Degree) & in the process, broadening the mind even outside the curriculum & learning other skills like time management &.critical thinking, not to mention ethics & moral standards. Such an education obviously would be useful in governing a state, particularly, when faced with planing & decision making. However, it is the responsibility of any credible party to nominate suitable candidates, not the village thug or the crony in gratitude for past favors or propping up the party finances. The average voter is also to be blamed for blindly voting for the party & not the person, or taken up by nationalistic rhetoric & all political parties have been happy to play to the gallery.
    Cont.

    • 2
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      Cont.
      In UK, there are no ‘career’ politicians. The majority have university education & a career outside politics before becoming MPs. Their CVs are verified & in the public domain, election expenditure is capped & has to be disclosed. It is considered an honour to serve the country, therefore, MPs have no special privileges or perks, no body guards or cars. The media constantly sniffs out for corruption, abuse of privileges & mismanagement. Many politicians had to step down for relative minor offenses like fiddling the expenses or avoiding a speeding fine.

      Now that we are all aware we are up shit creek thanks to yob politicians, I hope voters will now demand disclosure of wealth (tax returns) & a track record indicating suitability from all hopeful candidates, so that thugs, criminals & murderers are not allowed in to Parliament.

      • 1
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        Unfortunately the media is also commercialized and are in the hands of business people who nurture the politicians so it is a vicious cycle. Thank you for your comment

      • 1
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        :In Germany even a baker is over qualified and politicians would not be elected if they are not universitiy degree holders.

        I know this is not the case in UK. One of our colelagues worked in some NHS hospitals in UK, according to him, almsot everyone easily become a manager in UK unlike the case in Germany. Even garbage collectors in Germany are well trained and be qualified in their vocational trainngs.

      • 0
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        Dear Raj-UK,
        .
        Your observations here are sound. Political parties ought to nominate suitable candidates; not much can be done if they don’t.
        .
        However, there can bee rules, strictly enforced by those administering the country to get politicians breaking rules (usually determined by stipulating the magnitude of the sentence) to to be removed. The judiciary has to go in to the justification for removing politicians. There can be corruption in implementing all this. There is no solution, except that with rigorous implementation, fewer persons would think it worth cheating.

    • 1
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      Indeed and that was my point too

    • 1
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      Nationalistic and Buddhist Rhetoric is a guaranteed success in elections as was seen in 2019 and 2020

      • 2
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        I think srilanken issue that they overestimate about their own qualificiations neglecting majority that leave the schooling and further education.
        Lacks of students sit for advanced levels, but not even 20% get though it. All others are not subjected to further trainings, and not even they are treated seriously for their future.. This is not the case in many developed countries where the students fail their advanced level exams.
        At the age of grade 8 or so, some already have the choice to choose if they are to go for further studies upto Univerity level or direct to vocational trainings. There are enough technical colleges for them to get qualified. That way, hospitals, administrative bodies and other institutes arewith equipped with qualified personnel to hold the quality of the job. For exmaple, medical technicians do their jobs to the best in hospitals along with univerisity qualified physicians and surgeons.
        In srialnka, MTA and TA and the likd voacational trainings are there, but hospitals are not well equipped with competent staffers. I notice this oft also in private hospiitals in colombo, most of their nursees and para medics are short of their trainings. This was standing out in covid crisis period more than any times before.

        • 2
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          Vocational training is reckoned inferior by many parents in Sri Lanka. Its an issue with the mind set

          • 0
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            Vipula,
            .
            not only debt restructuing, we need to drastically rebuild the society so that average mind set would be injected with facts.
            False perception and thinking paradigam should be subjected to a shift drastically. Then only can we think of real ” system change”. It is the people that elect their political representatives. With all these being said and done, also yesterday, THERE WERE lots of crowds turned up in the political public rallites of MEDAMULANA beasts that sucked the last blood drop of the poor in this country. That clearly proves the manner how our average thinkers and their psyche work.

  • 1
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    “Do Sri Lankan Politicians Need Educational Qualifications”
    .
    I do not know about educational qualifications but they need to be checked for criminal backgrounds.

    • 0
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      Law enforcement officers have to carry out the orders of the politicians including those who have criminal record

      • 1
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        I thought the job of law enforcement officers is to enforce the law. Investigate wrong doings and produce perpertrators to the judicial system so that justice could be carried out. Not to obey anyones orders. Law enforcement officers should be first trained – on their role, job description, law and how to enforce it, and given the necessary skills and technolgy required to carry out their jobs. Particularly electronic crimes, like violating Information and Communication Technology Law; and Data Protection Laws.

        • 1
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          This is the ideal situation but far from reality in Sri Lanka. The promotions, transfers, foreign training , all determined by the politicians

    • 0
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      True, Ruchira.
      .
      There can be no magic solution.
      .
      However, about educational qualifications, I won’t say that “I do not know”. Not for a moment will I advocate the implementation of such criteria.

  • 0
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    Looks like old codger can’t escape the clutches of Ravi Karunanayake and has to keep parroting here what he dicktates him.
    .
    Old codger has no balls to stand up against Karunanayake the bank robber.
    .
    Not everyone is afraid of the thug in a suit.
    .
    Read for yourselves, resorting to insults to defame those who exposes his wrong doings has been one of Karunanayake’s old tricks.
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/ravi-plays-dirty-and-claims-aloysius-is-anikas-ex-lover/

    • 0
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      Read

  • 1
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    Do Sri Lankan Politicians Need Educational Qualifications? of course they do.Why don’t we scrap the GCE ord level and advanced levels if the sri lankn politicians do not need to have these.

    Also why are politicians allowed to work well after retirement age when the rest of the public service have to retire?What is the service they give that distinguishes them from other public servants.

    ps.if a politician has distinguished themselves like arjuna ranatunge or jayasuriya at the national level or ranjan ramanayaka or geetha in arts then okay because they would not hve had the time to study.

  • 1
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    To serve on the Jury in the UK :

    1 . You should be registered as Parliamentary or Local govt elector .

    2 . Not less than 18 yrs nor more than 75 yrs of age .

    3 . Has been an ordinary resident in the UK for any period of at least 5 yrs
    since attaining the age of 13 .

    4 . Not disqualified from Jury Service .

    This could be taken for a guide as to who elects whom in a Democracy Gifted
    to us by our Former Masters who in my view are , still running the show
    successfully from far away . We got into trouble the day we thought we can
    device a better way but still depend on their blessings . Already enough has been
    done in the name of prosperity by completely upsetting the foundation without
    knowing the consequences . It is a matter of Growing Up with the system that didn’t
    materialise . Democracy does not demand the voter public to memorise the
    constitution in order to keep an eye on their system . It is a matter of trust they must
    be able to rely on and nothing else . This is Exactly the commodity we are in short
    supply or no supply at all .

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