Our Constitution Requires Commitment To Democratic And Not Military Governance

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By Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala and Professor Savitri Goonesekere

Prof. Savitri Goonesekere and Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala

Some time ago the Friday forum held a press conference on issues of public concern relating to what we considered a crisis in the education sector in Sri Lanka. We also referred to the trade union action by FUTA, and the urgency of resolving the dispute through a negotiated settlement based on consultation with all the relevant stake holders.

The FUTA trade union action has continued for almost 3 months and virtually paralysed the state universities. The failure of the traditional agencies and individuals within the university system such as the UGC and Vice Chancellors to facilitate a negotiated settlement between university staff unions and the government has led to the involvement of third parties – most recently Hon Minister Basil Rajapaksa. Students, parents and the public hoped that his involvement would ensure an early resolution of the outstanding issues. This has not happened. There seems to be apathy within government and an inclination to ignore the FUTA trade union action, in the belief that striking academic staff will eventually return to work. There is also a growing campaign of vilification of FUTA leaders in the state media, and an effort to create an impression among the public that this trade union action is an anti-government project by a radical and fringe group of academics in the university system.

We urge the government not to disregard what is clearly a strong campaign of trade union action, that has growing support from the academic community. Religious dignitaries have also expressed their concern and offered to negotiate a settlement. FUTA’s trade union action is not merely a campaign to increase staff salaries. It has raised critically important issues that must be addressed by the government in the interests of the higher education sector and the state university system. If the issues are not resolved, students and parents will be faced with a situation where the universities will be compelled to function without the best teachers and researchers, or a disgruntled and frustrated community of academic staff who cannot possibly contribute to strengthening the teaching and learning environment within these institutions. FUTA’s campaign on allocation of adequate resources and strengthening university autonomy and institutional structures and administrative procedures is both relevant and timely. These matters must be addressed if the state university system in this country is to survive and develop further.
The Friday forum in a spirit of constructive engagement would like to highlight what we consider practical measures that can be adopted so as to arrive at a consensus. Academics must be persuaded

through consensus building to resolve this dispute and recommence academic activities in the universities in the interest of their students and the public.

1. Resource Allocation
We hope that FUTA will be flexible in regard to its demand for an immediate allocation of 6% of GDP for education. The government on its part should put forward a plan that will incorporate commitments on progressively increased resources, with a time frame and specific goals and targets.

2. Staff Salaries
The issue of salaries should be determined having regard to the Jiffry / Ranasinghe report. The late Professor Jiffry was a former Dean and Deputy Chairman of the UGC, and at the time of his death a member of the LLRC. Having been senior academic administrators, Professors Jiffry and Malik Ranasinghe were aware of the need to balance pressures faced by government in the allocation of financial resources, and the need to provide adequate support for universities to retain qualified staff.

3. University Autonomy
There are several issues relating to university autonomy that can be resolved immediately.

(a) Appointment of Vice Chancellors and Deans

S.34(1)(a) of the Universities Act 1978 as amended 1985 clarifies that the UGC must recommend to the president the person to be appointed as Vice Chancellor from the panel of 3 names recommended by the Council of a University. The Chairman UGC has stated that the names of all three Council nominees are sent to the President, who then makes the selection and decides whom to appoint as Vice Chancellor. We wish to point out that such a procedure is a violation of the Universities Act.

The inadequacies of the current procedures on appointment of Vice Chancellors have been highlighted repeatedly in discussions on reforms to the Universities Act. A draft Act forwarded by the National Education Commission to the previous government proposed a new procedure that would enable the governing body of universities to adopt the practice accepted in most other countries including in our region and select their Vice Chancellor. Many universities today do not advertise the post but identify candidates through search committees of the governing authorities of universities. Given the limitations of the current procedures it is important to ensure that the best possible Council nominees with the confidence of the university community are nominated as candidates for the post. We suggest that Senates nominate a pool of five candidates to the Council through the Senate representatives in the Council. The

Council should as in the past choose the panel of three names by consensus rather than secret ballot. No Vice Chancellor or Dean should be permitted to hold office in violation of statutory provisions because of external pressure.

(b) Appointment of members of the Council

S.44 of the Universities Act as amended in 1985 states that the non-university members of a Council “shall be appointed by the Commission from among persons who have rendered distinguished service in educational professional commercial industrial scientific or administrative spheres” the UGC should therefore develop guidelines in consultation with university Senates to ensure that only persons who have achieved recognition and eminence in these fields are appointed to Councils. Such guidelines can prevent the appointment of persons without suitable qualifications and experience to the governing bodies of universities. Information on the qualification and experience of Council members should be provided on all university websites and be available for public scrutiny.

(c) Aptitude Test

S. 46 (1) of the Universities Act clarifies that the Senate “Shall be the academic authority of the University” S.15 (vii) and 15 (v) of the Act give the UGC the power to select students for admission to Universities, and to determine in consultation with the Council, the governing authority, the courses to be offered and the degrees to be awarded. S.15(x) (c) as amended in 1985 states that the UGC can determine the subjects or disciplines of study to be provided or taught in universities. It is therefore clear that the academic requirements for a particular course, such as an aptitude test must be determined by the Senate as the “academic authority”, recognized by the Act.

If abuses are alleged in regard to the administration of the aptitude test, these allegations should be referred to the University Councils and Senates for investigation, and remedial action. S.15 (xii) of the Act as amended in 1985 gives the UGC the authority “to investigate into matters relating to academic administration and take remedial action”, but the UGC is also required to consult the Senate and Council and respect their powers under the Act. Clearly the UGC and or the Ministry has no authority to unilaterally eliminate the requirement of an aptitude test for students seeking to follow courses such as Architecture, Design or Aesthetic Studies. Aptitude tests are a recognized method for determining whether students have the capacity to follow a professional course.

(d) UGC Circular No.991 of 6/08/2012 on appointments of university staff and Other Circulars.

During our representatives meeting with the Honorable Minister of Higher Education they referred to the importance of the UGC withdrawing a recent circular under which two UGC nominees will be appointed to all selection committees, and also have a veto power in the selections. Circular No. 991 states that “In order to regularize selections of university staff, “at least one member of the two UGC nominees who participate in the relevant selection committees should agree with the selection” and that “in case both members are not in agreement with the selection, such appointment should not be recommended by the selection committee”. The exercise of a veto power on appointments by either one or both UGC nominees is an unprecedental erosion of a Universities autonomy and independence in selecting staff for appointment to these institutions.
S. 15(ix) of the Act as amended in 1985 only gives the UGC the power to formulate schemes of recruitment and procedures for appointment of the staff, and determine the grades of staff and the numbers comprising each grade.

The exercise of a veto power by UGC nominees in selections of university staff amounts to interference with the actual selections and is contrary to the statutory powers given to the Council as the governing authority, and the Senate as the academic authority of the university. Currently these bodies nominate members to selection committees and the selection must be approved only by the Council of the University.
It is critically important that the UGC avoids promulgating ad hoc circulars that do not conform to the concept of university autonomy incorporated in the Act and in the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court. A transparent consultative process which permits the academic community to express their views can help to ensure respect for university autonomy. Such a consultative process that referred matters to university Senates and Councils was adopted in the past when major policy changes were contemplated by the UGC.

4. Leadership Training Programme
We raised our concerns in regard to this programme and appreciate the concern to provide a “life skills” programme for students with a component of physical training and social skills, given the varying facilities available to students in secondary schools. However a military orientation in a leadership programme is in conflict with the environment of teaching and learning in universities. Such institution must create an ethos of intellectual curiously and freedom rather than military regimentation. We therefore repeat our request that the programme is conducted by universities as part of their orientation course for new students, on University Campuses. These courses can be held as they often are, before

senior students commence their study programmes. Alternatively the course could be conducted district wise in secondary schools with the best facilities for conducting an orientation programme that focuses on physical training and life skills, but without the involvement of the military. The suggestion in some quarters that the military has contributed to efficiency in the delivery of services in education in Pakistan, and that this experience should be replicated, is hardly relevant for Sri Lanka, as we seek to reform our education system.

Our Constitution requires commitment to democratic and not military governance.
Jayantha Dhanapala and Professor Savitri Goonesekere

On behalf of Friday Forum, the Group of Concerned Citizens

 

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17 Responses to Our Constitution Requires Commitment To Democratic And Not Military Governance

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    This statement needs to be translated into Sinhala. Nalin de Silvas are basically brainwashing Sinhala people’s minds by propagating racist, anti-intellectual ideas. They say that there is no crisis in education, and the FUTA struggle is a conspiracy by pro-LTTE West- yes the West to where de Silva sent his children for higher education and good life. He further says that MR who did not kneel down to America, will not give in to FUTA. Sensible people like Prof. Goonesekara and Mr. Dhanapala MUST write regularly in Sinhala. FOOTNOTE for the international readers: The last name De Silva is not Portuguese but a pure Sinhala Buddhist name. The man who has that name is the ‘purest’ Sinhala Buddhist person after the Buddha.

    Wasantha
    October 7, 2012 at 2:25 am
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      CORRECTLY EXPLAINED ; The last name De Silva is not Portuguese but a pure Sinhala Buddhist name. The man who has that name is the ‘purest’ Sinhala Buddhist person after the Buddha. TO BE ADDED THEY ARE THE OFFICIAL PROTECTORS AND GUARDIANS [CARDBOARD HEROS ] OF BUDDHISM.

      JULAAMPITYE AMARAYA
      October 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm
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        This is news to me. I had always assumed thatn de Silva was direct descendant of the Portuguese conqurors of Ceylon.Thanks for this clarification.

        karl singham
        October 10, 2012 at 2:35 am
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    Not only our Constitution that requires commitment to Democratic Governance and not Military Dictatorship, but All Democracies should. For that matter, ours is a written Constitution and the non Compliance and violations are many. Imagine what it would been, if it was Unwritten? The main reason for this chaos, violation and non compliance of Constitutions is the facility provided through Democracies for the Corrupt, Uneducated and the Murderous in society, from among the ordinary masses to get elected over the Educated, Honest, Principled lot to Govern. So is it any wonder, let alone ours but any Democracy surviving under this set up, where the Corrupt, Dishonest and the Murderous are at the helm of Governance and the poor masses are at the mercy for those elected Sevants of the Masses. Take Sri Lanka as a classic case in point. First we had Honest, Educated, Cultured wealthy who spent their own money coming forward to Govern under the United National Party. The Government of the day had representation of all Communities, hence it’s name. Then the ROT set in and today the Corrupt, Dishonest, Uneducated and the Murderous are in Governance, flouting all norms and violating and denying Democracy to the masses. This deterioration and decadence has occurred right under the very noses of all of us, where we have for personal gain have supported various individuals and Political hues over the deserving to be elected very often for self recognition, financial and material gain. The UNP without exemption had to rely on the riff raff in society as Premadasa crowd to retain power. This enabled the riff raff in society to secure power of governance through the UNP, using the so called democratic means to destroy the very Democracy the masses were bestowed by the British. Today the rest of the riff raff on the otherside of the devide has taken over the reins of governance and are destroying the balance Democracy left. Is this not our truthfull position, without bias? The Intelligentia like this Friday Forum and the rest, are now plodding to find a way out to salvage the country and the society. The issue and dilema facing all these individuals is WHO? and HOW? It is no secret that the majority in society seeing the present Lawless situation and the Waste and Theft of Public Funds are yearning to have a Leader to address the issues mentioned above. Is it not then, the top Priority to find a person who is educated, not qualified through the back door, a synthetic educated and an Honest and a Cultured person as the Leader? Forget all Political Differences, tap your conscience and seek, as of Common Interest, do we not have such a Leader in Politics today? WE HAVE, BUT SOME ARE BLIND NOT TO SEE. He has been falsely tainted so much by his own Party by those who have crossed over to the Corrupt Government of MR and are enjoying perks at public expense and the naive public have no qualms about it. Yet they see some ‘Unseen Fault’ in this individual, otherwise HE can and HE will deliver without favour, this Nation to rid Corruption, Waste and establish Law and Order. Further we can establish under him, a System to prevent the Riff Raff from entering politics with guide lines for those wanting to take to Public Office with certain standards, without allowing Political Parties to field candidates with aliases as, ‘Chandi Malli’, ‘Kalu Malli’, ‘Mara Sira’ etc. He is the Last of the Mohicans. He is none other than RANIL WICKREMASINGHE. Therefore if we are genuine in our desire to Save this Country from this Corrupt Rogues, this Frday Forum and all concerned have to unite under his Leadership as otherwise there is no other alternative. If not it is not RW who is the loser, but us the general public of this country. I always believe a Known Devil is better than an unknown Angel.

    gamini
    October 7, 2012 at 4:17 am
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      the top Priority to find a person who is educated, not qualified through the back door, a synthetic educated and an Honest and a Cultured person as the Leader? MAY I PROPOSE ONE OF BOSSES NAME?. I FEEL SHY. OUR SMALL BOSS, NA NA NA NAMAL RA RA RAAAAAAAAA.

      JULAAMPITYE AMARAYA
      October 7, 2012 at 4:08 pm
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        Julaampitye Amaraya, Sorry your proposal is thrown out, as he is the second in line of synthetic products this country has produced after the father being the first.

        gamini
        October 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm
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      To me,as one who extremely against the current rulers, there is no suitable candidates right at the moment to lead the country. Oppotition leader Ranil though he is respectful person but has failed to work with lanken kind of idiots in and out of the parliament. But I do agree with the point Known Devil is better than an unknown Angel.

      Sam
      October 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm
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        Sam no offence meant. It is easy to dispense individuals like bad coins. The problem is finding Good and Honest ones. In that context, RW stands out from the rest as chalk and cheese. Is his quality of Honesty and Commitment to uphold Dignity and Discipline alone sufficient to take over, an otherwise corrupt, uneducated, lawless, murderous lot in the seat of governance? RW has proved himself as someone acceptable to the entire world body as a Leader without human prompters. I believe we have to give the Devil his due for us the General Public, the majority to enjoy the freedoms of True Democracy. Therefore the fault in the system is not RW’s but ours, being swayed by empty rhetoric.

        gamini
        October 8, 2012 at 1:32 am
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    Is it really in the interest of the uneducated uncultured family regime for Sri Lankan universities to turn out well educated possible future leaders?

    janaka
    October 7, 2012 at 5:22 am
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    The so-called intelligentsia within the Regime must take the blame for mis-governance in the likes of GL-Dayan-Rajiva-Kohnon-Rohana etc, who at every turn have kept praising and encouraging the Regime even where the Friday Forum said otherwise. So why blame the uneducateed voter.

    punchinilame
    October 7, 2012 at 11:53 am
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    After the end of war in 2009 May counrty and nation of Sri lankan left behind a unified as it had not been for centuries under the colonial rule of our Island.Indeed most vestige of LTTE terrorim of the originial anarchist-outfit eliminited.And its clearing away the underbrush for New Refom never intended by Previous regimaes of Sri lanka.If Sri Lankan remain united and emerges as twenty-first -century as developieng country MR may hold for many Sri lankans the ambiguous yet respsect role in Sri lankan history after Kotta Era. Two strands of policy had been compting with each other through the trubulance of MR rule. There is the developeing of reform thurst that saw Sri lankan as a moral and political force,insisting on dispensing its unique ancient civilization precept by example to an developing world. Our eduaction and economy developement was the GEO-POLITICAL Sri Lnaka cooly assessing treand and progress them to its own advantage.And after indepandeace Sri lanka seeking allaince or colalitions for the first time Natioanl forces in its modern histoty ,but also the one defiantly challeinging by the developed capitalist world. Last thirty yeras war, Two insurgencies, raitos against Tamils and constitual maneuvered, Parlimatry Electroial system undermine by JRJ-UNP hostile-politics, Sri Lanka had survied WARS, TERRORISM -SEPERATISM OF TENSIONS,and doubts while its infulance grew, and its end END OF CONFLICT OF WAR OF SEPARTAISM an EMERGING COUNRTY OF SRI LANKA under the leadership of MR ruling Party as stable government. End of war 2009 May we sought self-orinted but knew,that inspriration is not enough,and so we need devoted our eneigies to more democratic educatinoal, social and economy reform in Sri Lanka.

    N .Wimaladasa
    October 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm
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    It is OK when Tamils were subjected to military Governance state sponsored thug governanace from 1958 to the Northern peninisula which gave rise to LTTE and Pirapaharn, the defender of Tamil rights. When it is applied to south only people wake up. AT that time they enjoyed the patronage of government to become Un diplomats and happy about it wothout poor Tamils beaten up by the state, nopw they are talking

    Raja
    October 7, 2012 at 6:47 pm
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      ‘Tamils’ (here I mean the ‘Tamils’ whom you referred to and not the rest of the Tamil community)were subjected to military governance when ‘Tamils’ threatened the security and integrity of this country. Specially when Tamilnadu being so closed and historically the opportunism of those so called ‘Tamils’, a threat to the country. So you cant blame your fellow countrymen for being loyal to the present government for combating these threats. similarly, JVPiers in couple of occasions threatened the security of this country and in return, a fraction of Sinhalese were subjected to severe military governance. Therefore, this aspect altogether is different from what these eminent writers are reflecting in this article. A strong government which used the military heavily will naturally continue its military thinking even when there is no interventional atmosphere. Here, we have to protest! irrespective of you being a Tamil or not.

      MR
      October 9, 2012 at 3:50 am
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    Since our Indepandance(1948) and change of social forces in 1956 under SWRD new democracy policies, ours had point.This was a Nation theorectially on feasible strategy for the Sri Lanka.We have to have instituion of Capitalist Developemnet in Sri Lanka want to study by own PATH and Model has to learning lessons from past 64 years. The exprinces of Poltiacl Economic and Social progress and its structure and base give us many gudince.All it lacked was our leaders of political parties and political class to CONCEIVE it OR a PUBLIC TO SUPPORT It. The abstract manuipulation was not attinable by ongoing politics in Sri Lanka nor was it desirable.Our Natioan policy can never be bases on seek POWER POLITICS ALONE. If Mahinda Rajapakasa adminisartion and Leading opposition political parties the is serious about economic development ,socail well being Public-education, Public-health of nation they must important it attached to Sri Lankan politics. In pratice Goverenmnt and opposition Parties exchange a GREAT DEAL OF POLICY INFORMATION AND WERE CO-OPREATING IN MANY FIELDS CLEAN GOVERANCE in the ISLAND.But opposition could not abdicate the right to deretrmine the tactis of how to achive its power,for regime change another term of counrty ,it will run for another treason again our nationl soverignty and its DEMOCRATIC ORDER.

    Piyadasa Yalagala
    October 8, 2012 at 8:07 am
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      Editor CT, can any kind soul who have understood N. Wimaladasa’s and Piyadasa Yalagala’s posts above, explain in simple English for the readership to understand what they want to say. Forgive me, I can not understand head nor tail.

      gamini
      October 8, 2012 at 9:43 am
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    Thanks Gamini, I am having the same problem.

    Merril
    October 8, 2012 at 7:43 pm
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    Some one is talking about Democracy which is crap. First, I say, what these two authors say is very relevant. I think FUTA and the GOVT have two ideologies. they need to talk and come into an agreement. that should finalize how we are going to educate the children in the future.

    Jim softy
    October 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm
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