By Basil Fernando –
A powerful myth prevailed in Sri Lanka throughout the past has been that there is a centralization of power in the current Constitution and what is needed is the decentralization of power. Here what is meant by the centre of power is that all the powers have been vested in the Executive President. But a centre of power does not mean such a situation. Under the executive presidential system currently operative in Sri Lanka, what has really happened is that the power has become disorganized and begun to manifest itself in the form of a series of major conflicts at the highest levels of governance. The executive president is not just the final arbiter of the state rule; he has become the mediator of every problem from their beginning to the end. This situation has led to a great confusion in the power of all the Ministers, MPs and the bureaucracy working in the centre of power. Thus, the emergence of the executive presidential system as a method that renders the centre of power inactive has primarily caused the collapse of the existing management system of the country and the spread of inefficiency to every nook and corner of the state administration.
There is a prime need in Sri Lanka to initiate a very clear public dialogue throughout the country on what is meant by centralization of power in the context of steering the a state mechanism. A power centre is an entity by which the entire fabric of the state machinery of the country is held together with each component of it resting on the strength of the other. Accordingly, in essence, a power centre is a conglomeration of collective social relations. So much so, the power centre is meant to exercise the entirety of power to coordinate all the elements involved in the exercise of power, promote collective cooperation that should exist among them, and direct them as one single force for the pursuit of various objectives.
If anyone working in power centres feels that he lacks the power, will not be able to perform with concentration required for the functioning of that power centre. At this stage, it is important to find out for what purposes that all those who exercise power with concentration and cohesive manner should work collectively.
First and foremost, the primary task of the power centre would be to reach a consensus in regard to the objectives they should use their power for, and the policies required to be adopted to achieve those objectives. Formulation of policies and implementation of those policies based on various practical actions constitute the main responsibility of the Power Centres of the Government.
The biggest criticism against the current executive system in Sri Lanka is that it lacks an in-depth understanding of the specific objectives of it; and on the other hand, it does not formulate policies to achieve the desired goals. Accordingly, there is a tendency for changing the policies from time to time, and so much so, whatever the executive president thinks good for the country today, to be declared as a policy, on the following day and thereafter to refer them for budgetary provisions and then to take practical action to implement them on ad-hoc manner. Invariably, this tendency has created an extremely unstable situation in the country.
Policy making is a collective exercise that involves the participation of different people. Having an in-depth dialogue with the people must be the first and foremost condition in formulating proper policies. This is because the policies formulated by the government are meant to fulfil the needs of the people and the people themselves are the most powerful source to determine the policies they actually need. After that, the most important part of this process is accomplished by the public sector, which does the necessary practical work. The connection between policy making and research work constitutes a key element of the concept of the implementation of power that has emerged in modern times. This involves that the methodology used to achieve the desired goals are based on the findings of research work, and follow up the progress adopting highly scientific, objective and intelligent approaches in resolving the problems that may arise in implementing them.
Such a process existed to a certain extent before 1972. Accordingly, the government officials in the key sectors of the state, used to gather information relevant to each sector and, with the assistance of their respective experts, proposed a set of policies to be implemented by the government. Those proposals were debated and discussed by the experts in other areas within the respective power centres. The consensus that emerged through this process eventually became the government policy, and the practical steps taken to implement those policies became the procedure of the government.
Thus, when a state functions this way, there is a space for new ideas to develop over time, logically and practically. Consequently, there grows some consistency and continuity in the policies adopted and the implementation of them. The policies do not change frequently as one policy today and another tomorrow.
When different changes do occur in the country, the necessity may arise that the policies that have been developed up to that point have to be adjusted to suit the changing circumstances, but there won’t be completely new policies being adopted or put into practice solely on account of the changes that have occurred from time to time. Thus, the power centre becomes a truly vibrant, intelligent and active entity that controls the life of the country by developing and implementing unitary action programs in the society as a whole. One of the most important functions of the power centre is the financial control. Assigning one person to spend money on various things at his will is an extremely unwise course of action. Since the exercise of all powers is carried through the financial provisions, it must be monitored constantly, collectively and in a very responsible manner based on professional decisions. The ruler does not command these divisions. What he does is to serve as a symbol of consensus on monetary policy, and make it feasible by giving his final verdict for its implementation. Therefore, the co-operation of the state authorities with regard to financial matters becomes an essential condition of a power centre.
The process began in 1978 by giving all the powers to one person has added an absurd feature to the system of governance. It is definitely an absurd feature. This absurdity cannot be ascribed to one person or different persons. It must be perceived as a situation created by the systematic breakdown of the way the power centre works.
Disintegration of the centre of power
During the last few decades the power centre of Sri Lanka has disintegrated. What is meant here by the power centre needs to be explained. The power centre means the development and implementation of a standard process on how all sectors of the country should operate cohesively. The first step of this process would be to communicate the basic objectives of the country very clearly; formulate the state policies based on those objectives; and make them explicitly public; and then to plan the course of action to be taken to achieve those policies; then the allocation and preparation of financial provisions required for the implementation of the plans; then implementing the plans and overseeing the proper functioning of them .These include the main activities of the state, which are to be managed by the government. Also, the term ‘rule’ implies the proper conduct and maintenance of the entirety of the power centre.
All functions mentioned in the paragraph above involve a process that requires group action; they cannot be performed by a single person. There are many persons involved officially in the above activities of the government. Among them are the political authorities who represent the executive, and above all, all the top officials of the civil service who are constantly engaged in this process, all those who have the expertise and experience to advise on that process, and all the officers who are in charge of directing all relevant institutions and corporations particularly those who are responsible for managing the country’s financial system. Thus the power centre of the government functions through a broad coordination of all those who are responsible for fulfilling all above tasks. So in essence, this is a process being implemented by a whole team.