Several years ago, when the current President came forward with his “Viyathmaga” proposal and wanted to lead this nation, the Friday Forum warned of the inherent risks for our country, in a statement with the above title.
Today we are living this reality.
People from all walks of life are on the streets, despite a curfew, protesting their refusal to tolerate any longer the socio-economic crisis that the country is facing, because of incompetent, corrupt and irresponsible governance and abuse of power. This situation has impacted negatively on the lives, livelihoods and fundamental freedoms of our citizens as never before, and even in the darkest of times. The economy is on the verge of collapse and the nation on the edge of a precipice that will bring us to the status of a bankrupt and failed state without the essential institutions of governance. There is an urgent need for major reforms and institutional arrangements in, among others, the fiscal and monetary spheres. Competent professionals need to be appointed to negotiate with international financial institutions for the restructuring of our foreign debt, and relief to tide us over this national crisis.
We were informed by Mr. Dinesh Gunawardena two days ago, that “the whole cabinet had tendered its resignation to the Prime Minister”. We watched in disbelief as this same person was, among some others, sworn in the next day as Ministers in President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s “new cabinet”. This is no time for the President to be swearing in any ministers, with the same old faces, in the same or different ministries. The public is on the streets, demanding the resignation of the President and his whole cabinet.
But we cannot have a vacuum. Since the Prime Minister cannot succeed to the office of President under our Constitution because of the two-term limit, Parliament must meet immediately and by consensus agree to a suitable person who can succeed to the office of an interim President. Such an interim President must be tasked by Parliament to form an interim all-party national government by consensus, for a limited period of time, until the next General Elections can be held. This is critically important to help manage the current crisis. An all-party consensus must be forged to ensure that an interim government takes on the responsibility of political leadership, and to approve any necessary constitutional amendments to make this happen. No parliamentarian can ever expect to be voted into office if he or she fails the nation in this regard, at this critical time.
A new and small cabinet of key ministers, including in Finance and Foreign Affairs, must be appointed to hold office and give leadership in an interim government. They must be persons of competence and capacity who can be tasked with implementing critical fiscal and monetary policy reforms, debt restructuring and negotiations with international financial institutions. An interim government must also address the vital need to replace officials in the Central Bank, the Attorney General’s Department and the law enforcement agencies, with persons of capacity and personal integrity to help them address the serious trust deficit in regard to management of the economy and the administration of justice. There is a large pool of human resources and expertise in this country that must be harnessed by an interim government at this time to help resolve this deep national crisis.
We as citizens have a right to ask for transparency and leadership, from politicians as well as civil society members and professionals at this time. Together we must save our nation from becoming a failed state.
Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Dr. A.C.Visvalingam, Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Prof. Camena Guneratne, Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Mr. Daneshan Casie Chetty, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Dr. Geedreck Uswatte-Aratchi, Prof. Gananath Obeyesekere, Prof. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Mr. S.C.C.Elankovan, Prof. Deepika Udagama, Ms. Suriya Wickramasinghe, Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna and Ms. Shanthi Dias.
*The Friday Forum is an informal group of concerned citizens pledged to uphold norms of democracy, good governance, rule of law, human rights, media freedom and tolerance in our pluralist society.