By Asoka Seneviratne –
A land where a 45-year political hack who not only lost his seat at the elections but his entire party being appointed the executive head of a broken, bankrupt nation by the very crooks who ruined it! A land that was proud of being the more prosperous of the few in South Asia not so long ago is now classed as a failed and bankrupt nation.
A land where people has gotten poorer to the rock bottom and any anger they display at the main Street is crushed with water cannons and tear gas. A land where screaming hungry can land you in jail. Land where politicians and henchmen violate laws wholesale, but none are even indicted. A land where those who looted are in parliament and taxes are raised to eye brows to cover the losses.
A land where a former President personally had flown in and chased away the narco police when a drug lord parliamentarian’ s house was raided. A land where an honest parliamentarian was jailed just for merely calling some judges “rogues”. Where equal justice under the law is a mirage. A land where a former President plead 8 years ago pre-election that central bank robbers would be prosecuted to the fullest, but none are in jail. A land where a powerful Finance Minister who was charged in this crime lived in a Rs.1.2 million free rental given by one of the accused of the CB robbery was later exonerated and went underground. This man used to run around in a motor bike back in the 80’s but got fabulously wealthy later on in politics. He was unheard of when RW lost elections in 2019 but now that his boss in the President he has started to lecture the public of much needed reforms!
A land where10th trade used car salesman in USA was appointed chairman of the Porst and later Petroleum by his famous younger brother under Sira/RW and both happened to be million-dollar money making enterprises. This is extremely common and hence all our government run businesses are in millions dollar losses while kith and kin rake up those million to their pockets. So today Ranil Rajapaksa wants to sell them! Why not recover the loot ?
A land where mainstream media proudly displays large hauls of smuggled narcotics but no one ever knows what happens to these narcotics nor the country sees anybody found guilty or jailed.
A land where a former president cut sugar taxes by Rs 49.875 a kilo and allowed his political financier to overnight profit Rs 15 billion and hit another 15 billion to the public while denying the treasury of the same Rs 15 billion that went to the business buddy. No charges were filed. A land where an idiotic president cut taxes to the tune of Rs 650 billion while not figuring out how to pay for it! So on and on…
A land where last week a former justice minister and the current foreign minister openly declared in parliament that pretty much all of them had dirt in their closets. A dignified implication that they were all corrupt at various degrees. And last week also in parliament, Prime Minister Gunawardena was screaming at the opposition leader Premadasa not to demean the respect of the parliament! Gunawardeneamust be living in ether! What parliament respect is he talking about? The house of the most hated and ridiculed group at the Bogambara house? Has he not been listening to the screams of anger against all of them to the point that Ranil is scared to hold local elections, the most fundamental ingredient in a democracy?
The whole justice system stinks to high heavens! Rule od law is the pre-requisite for civilized living and economic progress. Our beloved land has none, and JRJ was the architect of this hole.
Coming back to my heading… Let me explain why I called JR’s constitution horrible. He famously bragged about the creation of 3-independent co-equal branches of the government; executive, legislative, and judicial that would be the basis of the checks and balances. The goal was that each branch will check each other to create a clean and uncorrupt system.
The executive power is checked by the parliament with its power of the purse. The justice system checks the action of the executive and the parliament to ensure their action is legal. Yes, this concept has worked specially in the USA that is the longest representative Democracy with an actual written constitution. Each branch checkmates the other to ensure clean administration.
Yes American Democracy too is somewhat tainted by big money but dozens of high powered politicians from all branches of government has been thrown in jail when laws were broken including from the Executive branch. And the last President is facing dozens of federal and state prosecutions. Far cry from SL where no politician or a goon of worth has ever being jailed.
But going back to JRJ constitution, see where JRJ blundered. He appointed members of his cabinet – Executive branch-from the parliament. By this simple misstep, he violated the separation of powers between the executive and legislature. By appointing hundreds of ministers of varying grades, he bribed them with public money. There goes JRJ”s separation of powers between these two branches
Then his constitution called for a Minister of Police in charge of police. Also provided for an IGP appointed by the President. So Police minister gets control of the police who provides evidence to courts and to AG. AG too is appointed by the President who decides what goes to trial. So the posts of all three key members who gets the justice system rolling is under the control of President all the while the parliament who is supposed to check the President is also in his/her pockets.
One might say the AG and IGP are vetted though the constitution council after 19th A. But the system is so designed that the President has indirect control of the CC decisions. It is all a joke!
Added to that bis another hole. The party leader becomes the President, so any member of the party who crosses the President’s path does so in peril to his political future. He will never represent the party in his seat-ever. JRJ could have easily addressed this by having a Primaries system like in the USA, but his design was to give a huge amount of power to the President. He proudly claimed that his President is only incapable of changing the sex of a human!
JRJ could have required that the key public positions would be vetted via open public hearings televised live with the participation of eminent public members (cannot entrust to MPs as they are already compromised) so the process would be somewhat transparent to say the least.
Evidence of criminal cases disappearing or AG withdrawing cases. Either way dispensing of justice is compromised. It is a simple mirage!
Countless are the cases of high-profile corruption day in and day out. None of them end up courts. None of the culprits who broke the law and stole nation’s wealth are jailed even for a day. Mainstream corrupt media shows high profile crooks walking into CID or CCID but that is simply a photo op to fool the masses. Poor of the poor with a few ounces of dope, a policeman who took a tiny bribe or a villager who stole something not only end up in jail but displayed by corrupt media to fool the masses that wheels of justice are in full play.
Not only this, selected Ranil use his police force to stifle any and all public dissent who are simply screaming hungry. Drug lords and those who give them political cover to them continue to live on.
Non existing Separation is powers leading to no checks and balances is the culprit.
All this ugliness can be attributed to a very poorly done JRJ constitution. One thing for sure. JRJ was right. He created a near monarch!
Frequently we hear calls for the abolition of the executive presidency and revert to the Westminster model. It is like changing the pillow for headache. No matter what system, unless a robust system of checks and balances are enshrined, either system will lead to corruption abuse of power.
When former US president George W Bush after leaving office was asked if anything surprised him at the White House, his response was “how little power he had “as president. That is because the power was divided co-equally between the two other branches. Ministers were not MP’s. That is what JRJ bragged about. That was the ultimate lie. His left hand did not know what the right was doing!
In 1977 JRJ won a mammoth 2/3rd victory. He was invincible. Nobody would question his wisdom. They say in a roomful of blind men, one eyed man was king. Such was JRJ who got his ill designed blueprint for the nation passed.
Since then, our political culture started going downhill until one corrupt and money-hungry family rose to the top. They used the immense power JRJ presented coupled with the war victory to rob, mismanage, and borrow the country into the ditch. As if that was not enough damage, they appointed an unelected political hack to the top job. Thanks to JRJ, he could run till mid-2024.
Why didn’t JRJ mandate that any vacancy to the Presidency due death or abandonment should be filled only for a period of 3 or 6 month until an election would be held? That was the icing on the cake for this man’s lack of wisdom.
Let’s pray for a new and smartly done constitution in 2024.The need of the hour is not more suppressive laws, anti- corruption laws (wink wink), more select committees, cabinet shuffles etc. Is there anybody who gives an iota of respect these laws and committees? Until we clean up our democracy and political culture, no worthwhile investor will invest in SL. Until we get large scale investments, our economy will suffer hitting poorest the most!
All major political parties have contributed to our current crisis. People have lost faith of the President and the parliament. Almost none of them can be trusted. They look after each other.
A smartly crafted new constitution is a must but Executive presidency must stay.