23 February, 2024


Many Irons in The Fire; President Sirisena Is The Enigma

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Many Irons in The Fire; President Sirisena Is The Enigma: No Easy Walk To The Constitution

There is clarity on what the Steering Committee and six subcommittees would like to see in subsidiary aspects of the constitution, however there is a black-hole in the middle regarding the apex. Subsidiary means Fundamental Rights, Judiciary, Law and Order (police and national security), Public Service, Finance, and believe it or not, there has been unanimity in the Centre-Periphery subcommittee. Hooray, but there is a hole in the hub, a lacuna at the central apex. By apex I mean; will the presidency be executive (if yes, what powers) or ceremonial as in parliamentary systems, what will be the balance between president, cabinet-PM, parliament and provincial governance, and what about a second chamber? The contentious issue underscoring political machinations and cloak and dagger intrigue is: “Will the president be directly elected and retain executive powers, or will the presidency be ceremonial?”

Lankan political opportunism being what it is, the debate has less to do with principles or what is best nationally, but dictated by crass opportunism. The Joint Opposition’s (JO) and to an extent the UNP’s stance is determined by calculations of power play, power grabs and how to undermine the other side. The JO is oblivious to constitutional principles or national problem solving; its concern is how to trash the government. Remember, when Obama said white the Republican controlled Congress said black, and when he said black they said white. I know enough people in the JO to say that this is how it thinks. Few are bothered by rational concerns about executive and ceremonial, the relative merits of degrees of devolution, better budget making procedures, or police reforms– DEW perhaps is the only JO person who may be thinking along fundamental and not opportunist lines. For others, especially SLFP Ministerial detritus hanging on to Sirisena’s chemise, it is all opportunism: Will it be Sirisena – Will it be Ranil – How to pull off a Sirisena-Gota ticket – How to pull down the government, and such like motives.

President Sirisena has been careful. He has not contradicted his election pledge – repeated over Ven. Sobitha’s coffin – that he will preside over the dismantling of an all-powerful the executive. The worry is that he has not told these braying asses to shut up, nor declared he is no fool to commit suicide in a trap honeyed with Gota bait. If Sirisena were to unequivocally reiterate his commitment to abolish the executive presidency, uncertainty around constitution making will vanish. Come on Mr President, what’s holding you back?

So much for skulduggery; let’s move to substantive issues. From people of many political hues and from the media I have come to appreciate what agitates genuine (not opportunistic) minds:-

  1. Will a strong centralised system (say an Executive Presidency with substantial powers) provide a favourable environment for rapid economic growth?
  2. If not, in what ways can the nation’s basic law be tweaked to promote growth?
  3. How much devolution is too much in the sense of being a threat to the territorial integrity?
  4. Haven’t Provincial Councils been a failure for 30 years? What then is the point of devolution?
  5. What are the pros and cons of a second chamber?
  6. What can be done about the deplorable mess in the dispensation of justice where Hamlet’s quip about “the laws delays” has become Lanka’s way of life?
  7. What about social and economic equity? (Inserting social and economic rights in the fundamental rights chapter is only decoration).

I know this is biting off more than can be chewed inside 1500 words. I will employ a tight style and make packed comments for the reader to mull over and unpack. On (a), the answer is No! A muscular executive president is no guarantee, nor necessary for economic speed. The last 30 years in Lanka is counter-example and refutation of that hypothesis. Of course, strong government, of whatever constitutional design, and clear policy are sine qua non. There are many and diverse examples. Deng Xiao Ping (no post), Lee Kwan Yew (PM), Bill Clinton (executive president) and Mahathir (PM) on whose watch nations prospered. The jury is out on Modi, heir to a Westminster tradition, and candidate for membership of this club. Furthermore, argument (a) can be discarded as spurious in the light of our egregious experiences of authoritarianism executive presidents.

There are provisions that can be incorporated in a constitution to push the economy and give it direction. Since domestic capital in Lanka is weak in promoting growth, purposeful steps are needed (our capitalism has been seeni bole all its life). Yes, a constitution is not a set of policy measures nor is it to be confused with enabling legislation, but it can provide supportive structures. One step is greater devolution of responsibility for regional development to Provincial Councils. Another is constitutional recognition of planning bodies including those envisaged in the Development (Special Provisions) Bill of 26 November 2016. A third essential is dirigisme clauses, making it incumbent on the state to intervene, direct and take responsibility for the economy. That’s enough for (b); actually there is a lot of meat here to think over.

Item (c) on my list seems to be a tricky but is not. The panic is in the febrile imagination of folks who see a Tiger behind every shrub. To begin with the seven provinces outside the North and East are not candidates for the remotest secessionist suspicion. There is no mood among Tamils for war, for Eelam, or for Greater Eelam with Tamil Nadu or some other godforsaken hole in the Far East, a nightmare giving racists palpitations. This is true recent scattered incidents notwithstanding. The security and intelligence systems and structures now in place are overwhelming; it is their excesses, not devolution that is a problem. Devolution of administration and subsidiary legislative authority is possible without worry about territorial integrity. But there is no rationality under the sun that will sooth a paranoid mind; so forget about winning dyed in the wool chauvinists to the cause of devolution.

The experience of thirty years of Provincial Council administration is negative. Much less has been achieved to improve provinces than expected. PCs have been repositories of self-serving sleaze and graft. True, this is a generalisation, but readers can think over whether it is fair. The biggest flop has been Wigneswaran and the NPC. I hailed the arrival of W and NPC as an example others could follow of how a proactive and motivated administration could use devolution to achieve great things. Now I have egg on my face. Little of significance has been achieved; the budget is unspent; hardly any statutes enacted; all the while the Chief Minister in engaged in political kavaddi dancing to the tune of some who lead him by the nose. Differences on ethnic issues aside, has not the NPC failed to use available powers to materially benefit of the denizens of the province?

Still, I urge more not less devolution there is no alternative. It is impossible to claw back power to the centre; it goes against the spirit of the times globally and locally. And it is true that there are real constraints inhibiting PCs; restraints on raising money, excessive gubernatorial power, a concurrent list whereby the centre usurps control, and low public esteem of PCs. We should go the whole hog, expand scope and finances of provincial and local bodies, put responsibility on their heads in the eyes of the people, and tell the public to lynch the blighters if they don’t measure up.

This “Aanduwa didn’t do this and aanduwa didn’t do that” game is passé. Old top-down state configurations have corroded. People are fed up with governments of all hues leading to Trump like flare-ups. The old style format doesn’t work anymore. The option is to pass the buck to the people and let them look after themselves; more has to be done lower down the devolution spiral. Grass-roots leaders can be hanged if things go awry while they had funds and power. The Centre-Periphery subcommittee report is half-way along these lines. That’s all the space I can spare for item (d).

I am giving (e) and (g) a miss to focus on something (f) avoids; the monstrous ‘laws delays” issue. Let me begin anecdotally. KK Gunewardene and I go back a long time, 65 years to Upper Third at St Thomas, through Engineering Faculty, into working life and abroad as students. He was the first Director General of Telecoms and also drafted the Telecoms Act. I was his best-man; our families were friends, now in retirement we are frequently in touch. However, I deserve a gold medal for putting up with his interminable grumbling and snivelling. The point this is leading to is that KK’s burning passion in recent times is an obsession with delays, hold-ups, obstructions and postponements in the court system. He is an expert; he whinges that a backlog of 700,000 cases has piled up in the courts island-wide, some for two and three decades. There are land cases where grandson is heir to grandfather’s plaint!

Vulpine lawyers “get a date”, after that another date, and date after date. Each time they pocket a fee. Magistrates and judges yawn through files. The poorer the client, the more he is cheated. No amount of pleading with the profession has been of any use. PCs, QCs, LLBs and BLLs, waffle and shuffle. All society knows; though there is much rant and commotion about political crooks, this gross injustice is swept under the carpet. Don’t say this is not a constitutional matter; what blithering use is a constitution if it does not address pressing problems. So tell me, what is the citizenry to do?


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Latest comments

  • 3

    The great majority inhabitant population who are the Sinhala Buddhists and Sinhala Catholics wouldn’t worry about the Tigers behind even every tree, as long as they are confined to the North and the East.

    They only worry they have is how this new Batalanada Constitution going to give them a fair go?.

    If what the the Yahapalanya has done so far is a guide , then our great majority aren’t happy.

    Private schools ,

    Private universities,

    Private health care,Private Hospitals

    Private Transport,

    Exclusive Housing built by Foreigners mainly Indians,

    Free land Distribution to Yahapalana friends from Overseas, providing Tax heavens, and Tax exemptions,

    Bullshit promises about building Factories.

    Slugging the locals with VAT to pay for them,

    Downgrading Buddhism,

    Promoting Homosexuality,

    Last but not least, the mother of all corruption which has made Billionaires out of pro LTTE Diaspora,

    And Millionaires in the UNP Minister Circle, are the great achievements of Yahapalanaya so far, which are on display , which even a high school kid can observe and understand.

    With this devolution, Two provinces are exclusively for Tamils and Muslims ?.

    Do the rest have to accommodate the Tamils and the Muslims who are already there?.

    Do the Sinhala Buddhists and Sinhala catholics need or want Seven Alibabas with all those powers to government land and police and everything else to look after them and their progeny, when even One Alibaba has become an unbearable burden?.

  • 1

    “Private schools , Private universities”

    No More standardization, No more Kanangra destruction to Tamils. No more PhDs for local criminals on War Crime, Genocide”.

    “promises about building Factories.”

    No more free Biryani, No more free arrack, No more rice from Moon, No more Asia Miracle rockets to moon, No Royals to Moon.

    (Sumane what happened to that Tamil guy who started a company in the last government to send rockets to deport the Old Royals one after another in the space. I did not hear anything about him after Yahapalanaya came to power. Did he ran to Singapore or still around there?)

    • 0

      Mally mate,

      Batalnada Ranil is still distributing Biryani & Gal big time.

      Didn’t you see the Yahapalana suckers doing Samba & Ramba opposite the stage , while UNP Thambi Kabir was ridiculing the e Nugegoda inhabitatnts for attending the JO meet.

      Anyway Anuradhapura is logistically the right place for Malik Samre to keep the costs down;

      With Puttalam and Trincomalee are just under an hour away , no problem with getting the Dalit Tamils and Mattayas. ( poor Muslims ) to listen to Kabir , samare and even Batalanada himself.

      Bodhi Sira must have chipped in with a few Sinhala Dalits too, who are bonded labour to Rice Mafia in Pollonnaruwa.

      Could that Tamil you are referring to is Diaspora Selva who took that 250 Acres in Kurunagala?.

      Or is it Galleon Ravi equivalent Lokuvithane who is looking after Mahinde’s money?.

      Or is he our Native Vedda who has changed the name by deed?.

  • 0

    Kumar David Is writing BS.

    He says, NPC has become a farce. After that, he says, even then, I recommonds to increase Power devolution.

    See how stupid and dub this engineering professor talk. HE does his dumbest things by trying to become an Economist and here a political expert, Political strategist ?

    See it below.

    The biggest flop has been Wigneswaran and the NPC. I hailed the arrival of W and NPC as an example others could follow of how a proactive and motivated administration could use devolution to achieve great things. Now I have egg on my face. Little of significance has been achieved;

    • 0

      “The experience of thirty years of Provincial Council administration is negative. Much less has been achieved to improve provinces than expected. PCs have been repositories of self-serving sleaze and graft.

      7 PCs have 30 years of history. NPC and CV have three years of history. 13A was brought to uplift war ravaged North East. 13A ravaged North-East.

      But you or Prof. Kumar can come with your own expectations and priorities, no problem.

      Election manifesto of NPC was obtaining Internal self determination. CV elected to take to international area the Tamils plight.

      For example, like Kathirgamar,for his earning, Swamynathan creating the 8th Sinhala province with his 65,000 new iron houses can not allowed.

  • 2

    The problem lies in the old assumption that getting rid of the executive presidency is panacea to the ills of the country.
    That hope achieved just one thing: an alliance to be rid of Rajapakse. The result was a relief. But not much of it.
    The way the UNP-dominated parliamentary government runs the affairs of the country has made quite a few feel a sense of nostalgia for MR. Short memory perhaps– but politics is full of such.
    RW’s game was not to replace the executive presidency with serious democracy of any kind. It was about transfer of power to the PM.
    MS was a little too clever for RW to know that he would be a puppet president if RW had is way.

    Was either serious about the new constitution? No. Any of their backers? I doubt.
    They were, however, serious about cutting down to size the parliamentary clout of smaller parties (especially the JVP) and of course the national minority parties. Differences were in the detail.
    Much the same applies to the national question.
    Willingly or otherwise both their parties will ruin the economy, although the devices may differ slightly.
    Despite pretenses to the contrary, there is no serious interest in addressing human rights issues, unless people think that seating a few foreign judges as observers in various inquiries will resolve very much.

    What is stake for MS is survival: being RW’s puppet is not a choice and being MR’s is not one either. He is seeking a grassroots power base in the SLFP without which he will be politically isolated. He needs new allies.
    When one gets a clear picture, there is no “enigma”.

    RW has blundered enough, and this may be the chance for MS to distance himself from RW, and be President on his own terms.
    But RW may seek other avenues to gain a fuller grip on power. His options will then be even less ‘democratic’.

    Are we condemned to be ruled under any of the likely options. I hope not.
    It is time that we thought outside the box.

    • 0

      The some notions are not very accurate.
      1. There is no evidence that EP removal promise defeated new King. But there is some for contrary of that.
      2. Further, though a war hero, as not a bigger hero, CC Ponnar did not win. So CC is not the reason Old King lost.
      3. Sirimavo brought rice from moon and defeated Dudley. It is not needed a promise of EP removal to do that; after all he is still a war hero and wanted as their EP by Sinhalese voters. Any undoable promise will do that election winning trick. Further, Sinhala votes get collected for anti-Tamil candidate.
      4. Sampanthar supported CC with the promise of 100 days solution for Tamil National question. Tamil brought CC thinking their problem is going to be solved. That is devolution of power, not EP change in the constitution making.

      It is the Tamils who defeated Old King. Tamils are indifferent to EP removal. Actually it is a loss for them as they will no longer have a say in selecting the countries leader. After January 2015, SLFP, whose candidate was defeated by Tamils, thought for moment to go for EP removal. 19A was consented by New King thinking that he never- ever can become an EP if he contests on SLFP ticket. No Tamils and some Muslims do not vote for SLFP. They are the one defeated Old King. SLFP placing two candidates for EP confused voters. Some UNP Sinhalese only voted for New King. The Sinhalese voted for New King is not the UNP voter base JR depended to create EP and PR parliament system. In his time, total UNP always more than total SLFP. Truth is, Old King was defeated by Tamils.

      The paramount is having the UN electric chair permanently halted.

    • 0

      Constitution making and internal crime investigation are left and right shoulders of the defense to UNHRC war crime investigation.
      Now, corruption investigation is much flashed subject than constitution making.

      Rights issues (internal investigation) gained momentum when EU team showed up with GSP+ audit.

      Constitution making gained prominence by a negotiation went through with America and EU (West) in exchange for pardon at UNHRC.
      The game is like in the Sadu-Kudu, who stretches the hand first out. They both were rounding in the ring scared to touch each other.
      But the constitution making momentum died when Trump won the presidency. Now Yahapalanaya hopes President Trump may cancel the resolution. So, no urgent constitution making is now.
      EU wants to postpone UNHRC report for next March (2018). This will force Yahapalanaya to stretch its hand first.

      If President Trump not repealing the resolution, If EU success in extending to next march and if Yahapalanaya , under normal circumstances, defying the constitution making, then Yahapalanaya have to invent a new method to dodge the next March too . Else Lankawe may have to face the full brunt of the resolution in next March. If not the war heroes’ safety may be in jeopardy. Denish may threat about an army take over. No Western Investment may possible. EU may delay GSP+, holding on all 58 conditions. China seeing the opportunity may threat to plug more lands for the remaining of the $8 billion.

      West may like GL as new Joint Opposition’s leader, not any one from Old Royals. His Education field an attraction for them. They may bet on him like they bet on Ponnar for EP. If that goes well Yahapalanaya may relax a little bit not worrying about the SLFP split. Old King won’t rest, but would stir more.

  • 4

    Prof. David tries to portrait Prez MY3 as a person who is not clear cut in his behaviour (Enigma). Prez MY3 is another practical politician who now has to survive. On one hand, the arch enemy, the Rajapakses. On the other hand the cold war within the Government. If he retires, he can be hounded out by the rest of the wolves. This problem is further aggravated by the indiscretions of his son, the mismanagement of Telecoms running on overdrafts to the tune of 10 Billion with his brother at the helm etc. Even the then British journalists (BBC) when they portrayed or produced the Yes Minister Series describe a politician’s promise is not generally meant to be implemented, particularly if it acts against the politicians’ interests. [Further refer the famous Novel argument “It is not in MY interest….and I represent the public, so it is not in the public interest”. Equally interesting is the politicians’ logic “ALL cats have four legs. My dog has four legs. Therefore my dog is a cat”.]

    Many a social woe cannot be attributed to Constitutions itself. Infusion of technology can help to reduce the chronic postponements in court cases. Prof David in his own right as a doyen of technology should be able to offer a solution, instead of blasting the legal profession or his lifelong friend for dragging the subject without a limit. The real issue of chronic postponements is the source of enhanced income for the legal fraternity from the society. The remedy is to offer a solution so that same levels of income can still be made without postponing cases.

    “PCs have been repositories of self-serving sleaze and graft” is an over statement. It applies to the Central Government and the Local Government as well.

  • 3

    What can a new constitution accomplish which the present one cannot, if implemented in full?
    Basic human rights are the core of any constitution, but the PTA which is against this concept, still remains though condemned internationally.


    Firstly, let people live without fear of arbitrary arrest to pursue their daily lives.
    The military regime is an anachronism in a country professing Buddhist values, and must be terminated.

  • 0

    My comment is confined to author’s statement of affairs in the Northern Provincial Council in particular, and Provincial Councils in general. The author goes on to say virtually that the hopes he had on its CM were dashed. So were mine. The author dramatizes the performance of the CM in engaged in political kavaddi dancing to the tune of some who lead him by the NOSE. My point is also the same when the author describes “Differences on ethnic issues aside, has not the NPC failed to use available powers to materially benefit of the denizens of the province?”
    Now why is the CM, who was a former SC Judge of no mean repute, behaving like this? The answer is clear now with the intelligence reports stating that the moderate TNA MP Sumanthiran’s life is in danger for his holistic views. Sumanthiran is supposed to be sentenced to death and to be executed by a landmine (TV news reports). Oh! God! Are we getting back to those days and forcing every person of Tamil ethnicity to be anti Sri Lankan?
    Are we to infer that every politician of Tamil ethnicity to engage in political kavaddi dancing to the tune of some who lead them by the NOSES? This becomes clearer when Ms. Maheswaran, the UNP State Minister, recently elevating Prabhakaran to the level of PM. All citizens must be on the watch-out for possible division of the Sri Lankan population on ethnic lines.

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