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.
Naman / June 25, 2022
I do hope those involve in the making of the NEW CONSTITUTION will include the authors above suggestions. I also feel the selection for joining the Defence forces[P, A, N, & Airforce personells ] are educated cultured/civilised people who will protect the innocent citizens and who will NOT CARRY OUT unlawful acts that the politicians had initiated. We need to weed out SOME from Ministry of Defence ASAP. There is agreat urgency to get Shani Abeysekara , a very good detective + Ranjan Ramnayake released from the prison. We need to apply MERITOCRACY in the Public appointments.
Nathan / June 25, 2022
… The dependent-mentality of leading politicians to garner commissions from unnecessary projects.
This is not a revelation. Only a confirmation of the ‘robbery’ instituted from the time we gained Independence. Any difference, if at all, is the heightened percentage since the advent of the Rajapaksas reign.
I wish to keep silent on the rest of the article, except to recommend that the Educational qualifications be introduced gradually and to implement it step by step, in order to avoid running short of qualified and willing men
Jit / June 25, 2022
“…Preventing Crooks From Entering The Parliament…”
Sunil, that wont happen!!
For, the people who choose them are crooks too!! We need to start from the scratch to educate everyone!!!
bindu / June 26, 2022
Excellent write up. Agree. But so many more checks and balances are needed, until the society is adapted to modernist realities. Honesty and integrity. Most of the politicians belonged to last 50 years or so have been ion their own corrupt businesses at the expense of ordinary poor citizens.
Constitution should be overhauled by an independent body free of any political connections or affiliations. Current version is not worth even to wipe the fingers and throw into bin! In the new version People must at the helm and then legislative, executive, and judiciary.
Once elected nobody should be allowed to flip sides or disown the franchise.
Application form should include the purpose of getting elected.
Age limits must change from minimum 25 years to maximum 70 years.
Get rid of the possibility of back door entrance, like Basil, Ranil (rejected leader and candidate) and New guy Dhammika.
There must be a stronger emphasis on positively and actively serving the people by the judiciary versus current elitism and neglect.
In this process do not try to copy what countries have done but pro-creative.
Ajith / June 26, 2022
It is true that country need to prevent the crooks coming into parliament and strict measures should be taken to make sure they don’t come into parliament. Unfortunately, the Maha Sanga and Buddhist Monks have lot of influence in Sri Lankan politics which is a major barrier in bringing that changes needed to stop the crooks coming into parliament. We cannot under estimate or ignore this factor.
Simon / June 26, 2022
“Preventing The Crooks From Entering Parliament” – A simple solution. The “VOTER” has to be VIGILANT, CIRCUMFECTIOUS, WELL INFORMED, and more than anything else must be INDEPENDENT meaning not to be a “FOLLOWER” of any Politician or Party.
The Sri Lankan “VOTER” is “DISQUALIFIED” in evaluating the above REQUIREMENTS. The BEST example is the election of the present President – Gotabaya Rajapakse by the “6.9 Million” voters and further giving him a “Mandate” in Parliament with a “2/3rd Majority”. Just imagine a “Candidate” who was waiting to be “ARRESTED” and to face “35 Court Cases” being elected by such a historic vote with such a historic “Mandate”. So WHO can prevent “CROOKS” from entering the Parliament? Think of a BETTER answer than all these “LEGAL” requirements.