20 July, 2024

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Opportunities For System Change Open Up

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The demand for “system change” that was a key slogan of the Aragalaya protest movement two years ago is necessarily multi-faceted. It consists of a wide array of subjects including bringing back stolen assets, punishment for the perpetrators and putting an end to corruption. The present reality is still distant from this vision of a new social order that the protest movement had, and continues to have. No stolen assets are yet recovered either locally or internationally, though the government is formulating a new Proceeds of Crime law. Those whose property was set on fire in the last stages of the Aragalaya, before President Ranil Wickremesinghe was able to clamp down on that, are still claiming compensation. Government officials to whom they make their claims confide that the claims made by them are much more than what was lost. So the old order continues to prevail.

The government under President Wickremesinghe has passed a record number of new laws, or revising laws. Government leaders claim that some 75 new laws have been passed in the past two years. The government is passing new laws with regard to the economy. One is to draft a new Economic Transformation Bill. In the meantime, the passage of the Electricity law has paved the way for a huge wind power project with the negotiated tariff to be fixed at USD 8.26 cents per kilowatt-hour for a period of 20 years when the Environmental Impact Assessment is based on a cost of USD 4.6 cents, and the cost in India is USD 3.5 cents potentially causing considerable financial loss to Sri Lanka and a long term burden on consumers.

In a recent speech the president said, “Corruption has been a significant issue in Sri Lanka, and everyone talks about how to address it. No one tells us how to catch them. That’s the problem. So my government has come to an agreement and discussed the matter with the IMF. We also required their help, and we brought the governance diagnostic report. Many laws have to be passed. One has been passed, the Anti-Corruption Act. The second one, proceeds of crime legislation, is now being drafted to be sent to Parliament.” The challenge will, as always, be to implement these laws and for that there needs to be political leadership from the highest level. Implementation of the IMF’s Governance Diagnostic would provide a way forward to reduce corruption, but the government has so far prioritized other areas for reform rather than this.

Second Opportunity

The second aspect of system change that was sought during the Aragalaya protest was the demand to send home the president, prime minister, government and indeed all 225 members of parliament who were described as failures and even worse as rogues. In effect what was being demanded was a fresh set of elections to vote into office a new leadership to take over the government. The initial attempts to cope with the protest movement included proposals to form a national government by bringing in members of opposition political parties and civil society leaders (such as from the Bar Association) into it and holding elections within six months or when the economic situation had stabilized. However, after the election of President Wickremesinghe through a vote in parliament, this option was taken off the table, negotiations ceased and it was ignored.

During the initial period of the new presidency there was hope of a return to economic normalcy and the restoration of people’s economic wellbeing. The swift ending of lengthy lines in front of petrol stations and gas outlets and the restocking of foodstuffs in the supermarkets fueled the hope that prices would come down to reasonable levels. The government was able to use this opportunity to make the argument that it would prioritise expenditure on the revival of the economy. It uses this to cancel the local government elections that had fallen due even to the extent of not paying heed to a supreme court ruling that the money to conduct the elections should not be withheld. There was little or no public protest as many people seemed to agree with the government that due to the economic collapse it was not the time for elections.

Two years later this same argument of protecting the economy by not having elections does not have similar traction. With presidential elections due in less than four months, there is a strong sense in the country that the most important aspect of system change is now within reach. The opportunity is soon coming in which the choice of who is to lead the country can be made. In this context, the posturing by government leaders about a referendum to postpone elections for two years or that there is a constitutional loophole that will permit the government to stay an extra year even without a referendum is like dynamite. Any move to delay elections can have far reaching consequences. Such moves may generate opposition that the national security laws will not suffice to keep system change at bay.

Third Opportunity

The third aspect of system change is one that has receded from the centre of attention in most of the country but is still very important in the north and east of the country and to the international human rights community. The economic collapse took place during the period of governance of the most nationalist leaders who used ethnic nationalism to the utmost. As a result, Sri Lanka is presently witnessing a positive transformation of electoral politics in relation to its long standing ethnic conflict. The notion that the country required a “system change” was promoted by the student-led protest movement that publicly eschewed racism and upheld the rights of equal citizenship in their slogans. The youth addressed the ethnic conflict that has been a persistent feature of Sri Lanka since its independence and before there was any economic crisis.

The three leading candidates in the upcoming October presidential election who are fiercely competing on other grounds are able to demonstrate a common commitment to the 13th Amendment and the devolution of power to the provinces. This marks a significant departure from the past when ethnic nationalism was often exploited to incite violence and garner votes. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has pledged his support for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment while in Jaffna, while NPP candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake has also committed to working with the provincial council system also in Jaffna and most recently in London. President Wickremesinghe, notably consistent on this issue, advocated for the devolution of police and land powers shortly after assuming office.

Achieving a bipartisan and multi-party consensus on resolving the ethnic conflict has historically been a challenge for Sri Lanka. Previous government leaders who struck agreements with Tamil representatives failed to fulfill their promises due to opposition from political rivals who manipulated ethnic nationalist fears. Civil society too has a critical role in fostering a national consensus for a political settlement. A recent initiative of sections of the Buddhist monks and Tamil Diaspora have yielded the “Himalaya Declaration” which could supplement the “Jaffna Declarations” of the presidential hopefuls. This would enable the new administration to concentrate on stabilizing the economic crisis, enhancing social safety nets, unlocking the country’s growth potential, and addressing governance and corruption issues. The coming opportunities for system change need to be seized.

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    Author says system change is multifaceted. This needs to be taken note of by those aspiring candidates to follow very carefully without being trapped by the last set of leaders who are desperate about clinging to what they have already tasted and greedily wanting more. This must end so that the cheated citizens do not start a more advanced second aragalaya to get rid of existing leaders and replace with honest, mature governing. In that context, it is wise for aspiring leaders to make a unified attempt by cancelling the presidency and the rest in turn lead the parliamentary government. We have no superheroes or gods, only greedy robbers and a few with common sense about what they have to leave behind at death. Hence the call to wisely merge and unify.

  • 7
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    “Achieving a bipartisan and multi-party consensus on resolving the ethnic conflict has historically been a challenge for Sri Lanka.”
    Mr. President RW,
    Now, SJB and NPP openly support for full implementation of 13th amendment. You are ready to do that. 134 members of current parliament elected you and they give full support to you. What is the delay? You can do that within a week before election. Can you do it as a executive President?

    • 6
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      ‘full implementation of 13th amendment.’
      .
      It will never happen under any party, you should have realised that by now.

      • 4
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        “It will never happen under any party, you should have realised that by now.”
        There is nothing called never happen? Many thought never happen that Gota will be chased away from Country with two years. Did you think ever Ranil become President? Did you ever thought you will be in a bankrupt country begging for food and medicine from Tamil Nadu?

        • 3
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          ‘There is nothing called never happen’
          .
          There is plenty that can never happen. Tamil Eelam for example. Or the LTTE beating the ‘fourth largest army in the world’.
          .
          But I agree, some unexpected things do occur. VP running away and not biting his cyanide capsule for example.

          • 4
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            Svension,
            You could not deny or digest what happened to your Buddhist fundamentalist leader Gota?

  • 4
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    Dear Jehan,
    .
    The majority of citizens are probably pretty fed up with all the crazy political developments that are taking place.
    .
    The few who are attempting to keep track of what is happening have far too much on our plates. Whilst typing this, I have Eran Wickremaratne talking five hours ago on YouTube (the time now being 12:44 – Lankan time, of course.):
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHzwoKOuSSg
    .
    This is going to be 27 minutes in Sinhala; I have heard, at this point, to 16 minutes. For the most significant detail for me, see something like 4’35”. Eran says that what is most important are the socio- political developments. You can’t get down to discussing Economic affairs until you solve the social problems. In other words, AKD was right when he said the Presidential candidates ought to start the discussion.
    .
    That programme is still going on, but let me submit this now.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V) of 51B, Golf Links Road, Bandarawela, Sri Lanka

  • 5
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    Only a clean sweep of the present set of rotters can bring about even a glimmer of hope for a System Change.
    .

  • 7
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    “System Change” – What are we talking about? The systems are already in place.

    Then what is wrong? Those on whose hands the systems have to work – The Legislators, The Executives, and the Enforcement Limbs are not geared to work on the systems but constantly look for ways and means of twisting the set systems to personal benefit rather than benefit the general public. This “Element” of twisting, bending, and violating (without shame or fear) has got embedded into our CULTURE of IMPUNITY.

    Yesterday (24-06-18) the President – The First Citizen of the country made a statement in Parliament and said: “THE SUPREME COURT HAS ENGAGED IN JUDICIAL CANNIBALISM”. He got shielded behind “Parliamentary Privileges” and made that statement. If not, he would have faced serious consequences. What if an ordinary citizen said it?

    This “Culture of Impunity” and the “Political Culture” must change in such a way as to FREE the Systems to work in all spheres of Governing, covering the Legislature, the Executive, and Law Enforcement.

    :
    “Supreme Court has engaged in Judicial Cannibalism”.:

    • 3
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      What a country, the president, coming to Parliament, to call Judicial Cannibalism as if the Supreme Court itself is a threat to citizens whose only hope is their legal redress. Is the president being forced to say this by the financial cannibals who want to stay a bit longer at least to rob and steal national wealth and store away in foreign accounts. Where are the leaders who will unify and save this nation and get back the stolen dollars legally without cannibalism.

    • 1
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      Dear Douglas,

      What’s going on? The President had the audacity to expose it? Not only do I respect him for his actions, but his audacity should be respected. Former criminals didn’t have the balls to do the job.They played popular politics by pleasing the gallery.
      .
      I guess you have lived in the motherland all this time. And for some reason you have not had a coma attack in the last few decades. If you or anyone else were to ignore the truth despite knowing all the background information, you would have to be severely depressed.

      I am very concerned about the information the current Minister of Justice rightly gave in the Parliament hall today.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecOJEwIoaAU

      I am by no means a fan of the Minister, but I listened to the credible information he gave in Parliament today.
      Even some judges behave like “average criminals” when it comes to seeking illegal means for their personal gains. In fact, one judge was reportedly caught red-handed misusing illegal power lines to pay his own electricity bills.
      SRILANKA IS THE WONDERLAND FILLED WITH CRIMINALS NO MATTER THEY ARE UNIVERSIITY EDUCATED……..
      .
      LankaScot or the like genuine commenters will have to change his opinion about our motherland. …

      • 1
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        Dear LM: I listened to this speech of the Minister of Justice earlier. Anyway, thank you for giving me the link. I didn’t suffer a “Coma” because I know all these bastards and nothing new or surprises have come my way. I keep awake and know what NEXT is.

        This Minister of Justice has become so brutal to look up and spit without knowing that it would fall all over him. He proves himself that he is a FAILED Minister. To whom is he complaining? He is there to correct the course and serve the people. Without doing that he makes himself a crybaby.

        He has an axe to grind with the Judiciary. Recently he “Conspired” with “Aiyo Sirisena” and got appointed as the Chairman of SLFP even without being a member of the party. Someone went to court and got that appointment suspended. He tried to get that restored three times, but he failed. He even is a person who doesn’t have the morality to refuse to be a Chairman of another political while being elected Parliament from another rival party. Now, such a person talks of “Justice”. My foot!

        So my friend! I know these “Alisandaras” well and will not fall into a “coma” as you wish and pray.

        • 0
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          I continue: In this video link (provided by LM) the Minister of Justice Wijedasa Rajapakse leveled accusations: (1) against a Magistrate who has illegally tapped an electricity connection to avoid payment of electricity bills (2) loss of Rs.20 million worth whisky from the cellar of the courts. (3) Lawyer Mustaffa – a PC is in the habit of “meeting” the judges in their chambers and making them to issue orders. (4) The Secretary of the Judicial Commission influences the decision-making process and he hangs over there for more than 9 years whereas he should be there only for 3 years,

          Question: Why can’t he initiate a Police Investigation and prosecute the culprits? He tabled the inquiry reports. Why can’t the Speaker refer it to the Police to institute legal proceedings and bring the accused to book? Why he is not reporting against PC Mustaffa to the Bar Council and the SC and filing a case against him to strip Mustaffa of his legal status? Remember what happened to Nagananda K.

          • 0
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            Part III – Remember, this Rajapakse -the Minister stated in Parliament how one “Manjusri Nissanka” has solicited a “Bribe” of US$ 250 million to cover up the Compensation claim against the “Express Pearl” ship that sank near Galle Face sea? He went to the extent of quoting the “Account” number and the name of the Bank based in the UK. It is in the records of the Hanzaard.

            When the Opposition questioned him, he said: ” I received the information from Susil Premajayantha -the Minister of Education”. Then Susil P said: “I received that information from a caller on my phone”. That was the END of the natter.

            These are the “Bastards” who get shielded behind Parliamentary “Privileges” and try to pose as “Heroes” of the Nation. Their “Stupidity” and “Bravity” could be of immense value to persons of “Rational Thinkers” like Leelage Malli, but sorry not to me. My friend LM: With the above truths, do you think I am in a “Coma”?

  • 3
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    I have always voiced to work according to the prevailing systems and advocated to change the “Culture” of operations by those in charge of execution and immediately get the ball rolling. If not, no new Government is going to get anything done expeditiously and would waste valuable time in drafting new systems. This proposition to change the system is another trap to delay the execution of policy and plan of action promised to the people.

    A good example to say the present system works well is the REJECTION of the extension of service to the Attorney General proposed by the President. The Constitutional Council by majority vote of 5 rejected the extension of AG’s services. It proves my contention that if the people in charge act with honor and dignity, the system will work well.

    • 1
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      Douglas,
      I agree that the political culture should change but I don’t agree that should happen within the same system. Under democratic system unitary system didn’t evolve an unbiased basis of political power. You cannot guarantee that under a unitary system. Why you are reluctant to accept a united system?

      • 1
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        Ajith: Thank you. “Why you are reluctant to accept a united system?”. What do you mean?

        I am speaking of the SYSTEMS that are already in place, under which every Government in power has to abide by and function within the parameters of laid down procedures. For example: Take a look at the number of Bribery cases that were thrown out of court filed by the Bribery Commission mainly due to negligence of the officials. The system says that all the Commissioners must sign the indictments, but the cases have been brought before courts without adhering to that stipulation. As a result, all the accused were discharged. A few weeks back Nivad Cabral who was charged in court was discharged, because a Commissioner who was not in service back-dated and signed the indictment. This is not a SYSTEM FAILURE but a WILFUL manipulation to help the accused.

        This is where the Government of the Political Authority must come in and see that systems are properly executed and those who failed are taken to task.

  • 2
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    Items for my wish list under “System Change”. Not to be taken as exhaustive.
    ~
    Ensure a (largely) corruption-free government, both at the Central Government and Local Government levels.
    ~
    To achieve the above, set up a truly independent anti-corruption unit like the “Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB)” of Singapore – https://tinyurl.com/mtcvw4kx
    ~
    Move to an entirely merit-based professional civil service.
    ~
    Make English the language of administration and also for use in the professions, businesses, and schools as in Singapore (I accept this will be tough to achieve).
    ~
    Declaration: I was fortunate enough to go to an excellent school in Jaffna and then attended the University of Peradeniya. At both institutions, English flourished. Not sure whether this is still the same but I doubt it very much from what I read. I don’t live in Sri Lanka now and I am not a citizen of the country. I was a Sri Lankan citizen when I left the country in 1968 at the young age of 21. I am now 77. I am following the NPP story with keen interest as it unfolds. I am sure of one thing though, Sri Lanka cannot afford to go on the way it has since it became an independent country. Will I live long enough to see a transformed country for the better? I can only but hope!

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