27 May, 2022

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Options For Interim Govt. To Overcome The Crisis

By Sunil J. Wimalawansa –

Prof Sunil J. Wimalawansa

Part 9: Sri Lanka—Changing Pillows to Cure Headaches: Options for Interim Govt. to Overcome the Crisis

Although over 90% of the public (including 80% of their own supporters) want the immediate resignation of both the president and the prime minister, they continue to refuse. Since the constitution changes made in 1977, there has been no provision to remove the president by public force or politicians, but voluntary resignations are open. While the current constitution prevents the public from removing a president (or a prime minister), holding the country to (impending) bankruptcy might force them out, especially since none of the parliamentarians has any solution to the fiscal crisis.

What options do the president/parliament have to resolve the current crises

There are constitutional provisions within the parliamentary procedures to remove a president. These need to be based on grave misconducts, a gross violation of the constitution, physical or mental incapacitation, etc. Nevertheless, finalising this process takes months. However, the country is in turmoil and virtual bankruptcy, so there is no luxury of time to waste. Each week’s delay in resolving the political (and the economic) issue will affect the country terribly, for which the current parliamentarians are fully accountable. Passing a no-confidence motion in the parliament would only facilitate dissolving the parliament, not removing the president: the same, perhaps intensified mismanagement will continue.

Practical alternatives

From the assertive point of view, options are (A) the president and/or the prime minister both resign, but after appointing an interim president, who will then appoint a small, temporary cabinet, as we discussed previously, (B) the president dissolving the parliament under the current constitution and call for a new election (but the country does not have funds for a general election), and (C) initiate open discussions with non-political party representatives/leaders from community groups, to come up with an agreeable solution to the current political stalemate and mending disaster. Since the governing political party and the opposition(s) have engaged in dishonest practices and faulty business and politics for decades, they are untrustworthy. So, people will not rely on them to take the right actions.

Under these circumstances, there are two options available, (A) appoint an interim president and twelve members temporary cabinet to resolve financial and most urgent issues over the next few months, or (B) the public representatives negotiate with the administration on the way out of the crisis. The latter opens the door for the president’s team to have a path to exit, honest negotiations with the non-political public representatives to agree to a definitive way to hand over the power and implement interim economic solutions.

It also allows a referendum to replace the current constitution and, most importantly, abolish the executive presidency. Sri Lanka does not need any president (as in the UK) or an old-fashion governor. Meanwhile, an interim team must diligently work to reverse the financial crisis and turnround the fiscal deficit. The latter can be achieved in less than one year, and then have the general election under the new constitution with a total of 60 members of parliament, including 12 ministers (no deputy ministers); all without privileges, special protection teams or entourage. This will discourage those dishonest folks from contesting to make money.

What can the interim president do?

The interim administration’s functions are likely to last for several months. There are two plausible scenarios available for the interim president. The first is for him to appoint a multi-party “twelve-member” temporary cabinet from the current parliamentarians. Besides, appoint a twelve-member independent non-political advisory council of subject matter experts for each ministry. However, with the infighting of parliamentarians and parties, this will be an inefficient and relatively expensive venture.

The second option is for the interim president to appoint twelve-member, non-political experts heading ministries and departments. This could be done with minstrel/departmental secretaries on the government payroll instead of Politian in the interim cabinet. As with option one, this approach should also have an independent, twelve-member non-political expertise advisory panel for advice and oversight of secretaries. President should authorise them to work diligently in absentia without any interference from former ministers.

Currently, no helpful contributions are coming out of the majority of 225 members of the parliament: they are only creating distractions. Therefore, the presence of any current member of parliament is not helpful for the interim administration to accomplish its goals through the needed hard decisions that are crucial for the country to come out of the chaos. In either of these scenarios, the parliament should be dissolved. The author looks at common-sense approaches, so the comments are not necessarily based on the constitution.

Other options

Following the 2019 presidential election, there were approximately ten months without ministers and a functioning government: indeed, secretaries ran the government better than ministers did. Many of these permanent secretaries are well experienced and knowledgeable of the subject. They must be empowered and made accountable (and replaced if they are dysfunctional) for managing ministries during this interim period without additional compensation or perks.

Thus, there is no reason why the interim president cannot repeat this option described above, which would be better for the country and make it easier to achieve the needed goals at a significantly lower cost. In addition, this option is significantly cheaper and more effective than working with unacquainted and greedy ministers with severe conflicts of interest. They are “talking heads” who prevent taking beneficial actions for the country.

Another way to avoid political muddle is to appoint a credible parliamentarian with charisma or the Chief Justice capable of making right, hard and firm decisions for the country’s benefit as the interim president. An example is enforcing critical austerity measures to reduce expenses and increase productivity and export.

Then appoint patriotic, scholarly, credible, honest twelve-member technical experts as an interim cabinet (instead of politicians or secretaries) from the public to resolve current financial crises. While this could be a cost-effective option, it is unpractical because of the constitutional limitation. In either case, re-establishing a credible governing/political system would facilitate obtaining funds from IMF to overcome the current financial crisis.

Old tactics are remerging

The Sri Lankan government is now playing with the fire in sheer desperation, as shown by the emergency declaration today (5/6/22). It is a dangerous game of (ab)using the police and military to assault the innocent, unarmed public to protect their sins. In addition, it is also attempting to create phoney ethnic and religious troubles in certain high-tensed localities as an excuse to authorise the army to crush the current legitimate public uprising. The government is also attempting to use the “divide and rule “technique that they have successfully used.

Conclusion

In resolving the current socio-economic crisis in Sri Lanka, a major structural transformation of socio-economic and political reform is crucial. Continuation of the same failed government and the opposition policies, patching up and amending the constitution, bluffing the country, etc., will not work without serious structural reforms.

*The next article will discuss the responsibilities of the interim government, the lack of law and order and the needed cost-saving measures.

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