By Sunil J. Wimalawansa –
Part 20: Sri Lanka—Changing Pillows to Cure Headaches: Preventing Crooks from Entering the Parliament
Sri Lanka is a rich country; only most of the economically “people” are poor. The current system prevents the middle-class and the underprivileged from escaping the poverty trap. Politicians have no incentives to break this vicious cycle. They are happy when people struggle to live and remain poor, partly because it is easier to fool them all the time to get votes: how they behave in the parliament is a vivid example of their priorities.
The dependency on unnecessary loans and the resultant failure to pay back, causing dollar shortage—fuel, gas, food, medicine, crisis, and maintaining an over-blown and unnecessarily expensive government on printed money is not sustainable. The dependent-mentality of leading politicians to garner commissions from unnecessary projects associated with loans, knowingly pushing the country to bankruptcy, disregarding the consequences to the public is a crime. Their willful negligence prevents the country from escaping poverty and breaking the vicious negative cycle.
Steps should be taken to stop crooks from coming to power
The current Constitution has become worthless, tainted with fatal amendments; it is beyond repair with fiddling. It needs to be replaced by a new Constitution without loopholes to prevent politicians and administrators from pilfering funds and resources. Besides, as described below, there must be set time limits for politicians to serve in a position and stipulate minimum qualifications necessary to contest elections. Some of these are discussed briefly in the following sections.
Mandatory Asset Declaration: The abolition of perks through the new constitution (to implement, starting with an interim constitution) and mandatory declaration of assets at the time of nominations would minimise crooks from entering politics. Including the Parliament, Provincial councils, and Municipalities. Once elected, they should be mandated to an annual declaration of all assets; then, the Inland Revenue Services department should keep a tag on these. This would stop the current trend of corruptive motives that would save the country from further disasters.
Declarations of all assets when submitting nominations for election under the “mandatory” rules must be scrutinised and validated by an independent commission. Those submissions must be considered legally binding. In addition to a stipulated monetary penalty for lying, falsifiers must be penalised by jail sentences. Mandatory declaration of assets will deter politicians from pilfering funds and stealing national assets: as they will be aware that they will get caught and penalised, including jail time.
Criminal records: Besides, the new Constitution must have a section to ban those with criminal records from contesting any election permanently. These measures will automatically prevent crooks and criminals from contesting elections and (weed them off) and becoming elected officials. Once perks and pilferage are removed, crooks will not be incentivised to be in politics.
Legal-binding declaration of assets: All senior government appointments, politicians, administrators, and advisors must declare their assets and income sources for the previous five years and the current upon entering politics and, if elected, annually. An independent counsel must vet these asset declarations to certify that there are no conflicts of interest and that candidates are qualified to perform intended jobs without conflicts and nepotism.
Inland revenue departments must be empowered to collect data based on annual declarations from all elected members AND government servants. The latter should expand to business persons, especially those who manage their business with cash (such as lawyers, doctors, and tuition masters), their families, and entities/companies that do business with the government. This would also make it feasible to assure them to pay their due shares of income taxes.
They must be made accountable for their declared assets and income sources. If undeclared assets found after the initial legal declaration, these assets should be automatically become government properties and impose additional legal penalties. What is mentioned above is the norm in most democratic, industrialised countries—time to introduce this good habit to Sri Lanka via the new Constitution.
Getting rid of perks and abuse of powers by politicians and administrators
Removing ALL perks given to politicians, police, military, and government administrators must be a crucial part of the new constitution. This is the most effective way to prevent destructive elements from entering politics and engaging in corruption in elected governments. They only want to get elected because of the exceptional perks they get and open doors to abuse power and embezzle resources (and to get rid of court cases against them). Without adhering to the above impediments, crooks have too many incentives and cravings to get elected to the parliament, provincial, and municipal councils.
Conflicts of interest of politicians and administrators
As with all western democratic countries, it is crucial to make it illegal for politicians and their immediate family members to do business with the government, directly or via a company they own fully or partially. This clause ensures that there are no financial or other conflicts of interest between themselves and their immediate family members, reference to government contracts and other businesses.
Minimum standards for acceptable nomination
Under the current Constitution, the barrier to entering politics in Sri Lanka is too low (in fact, none). Tightening the criteria as discussed above, in conjunction with lack of a criminal record, graduating from a minimum of a four-year university degree, and ministers to have a minimum of a master’s degree in the subject of their appointment are essential.
Competence certification: Every profession other than politics had to have certification and regular renewal. It is time to consider applying the same to politics, starting with a minimum of graduating from a university (having a recognised university degree) and completing a two-year course in politics, diplomacy, or social sciences.
Minimum education requirement: It must be mandated that ministers have a minimum of a master’s degree in the relevant subject (e.g., finance, agriculture, irrigation, education, health, etc.). In the new Constitution, these must accomplish without any option for grandfather exceptions.
Therefore, everyone elected under the new Constitution will fulfil the criteria mentioned above, and the dead-wood will remain at home. With that, there is no possibility of known crooks, the greedy, and criminals entering the parliament and elected councils. Most importantly, it will narrow the pool of candidates, allow patriots, and encourage genuine persons who put the country first to enter politics.
The lack of penalisations for misconduct
Instead of sending them to jail, the current system incentivises every level of criminals and law-breakers to thrive in the country. The current corrupt system, lack of law and order, and the stolen independence from the judiciary through the 20th amendment allow law-breakers to thrive, be rewarded, and get promoted to higher positions. As the country witnessed over the past year, convicted criminals were illegally pardoned, released from jail by the president, and appointed into higher governmental positions.
In addition, government positions were wrongfully provided to them with exceptionally high salaries, pensions and gratuities that are not provided to ordinary government servants when they retire or to the public. In addition, the executive branch not only manipulated the system to bring unelected public and/or dual citizens into the parliament unconstitutionally but also appointed them as ministers and the prime minister, tremendously losing international reputation as a democratic country.
Besides the financial crisis and associated lack of essential amenities, such a terrible mess described above is happening only in Sri Lanka—currently run by uninformed clowns who have no feeling of the reality of people’s suffering. They happily change their political party affiliations based on how many inducements they get [e.g., money (unofficial bribes) or ministerial positions or a prime minister] even though they are unsuitable and unqualified to hold such positions. Sri Lanka has become a classic lawless society with ministers with criminal records, which worsened following the enactment of the 20th amendment. It is time to reverse the trend and the situation.