By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
The issue at the coming General Election is whether Good Governance will be given priority. Promising of a new constitution to demonstrate good governance would be meaningless, as any new constitutions will have to abide by the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord, unless it is abrogated by both India and Sri Lanka. The purpose of the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord is to promote Provincial Participatory role to encourage good governance and discourage the call for secession.
In a Federal system, each level of government has its own direct relationship with the citizens. Though the power is dispersed, it is the coordination between the Central Government and the Provincial governments that germinates good governance. This symbolizes the protection of pluralism as well as the rights of the individual against an over-powerful government. Good governance marks the beginning of righteousness.
Federalism also protects regional interests to some extent. The benefit of Federalism is that Provinces have their ability to manage and administer the geographical areas. This is been misunderstood by the JVP and other politicians that it would lead to separation and be a threat to National Security. If they realize that making good decisions overtime across a spectrum of economic, social and other areas and exercising power for the benefit of the people and the country (which is good governance), they cannot give valid reasons that Federalism would be a threat to National Security. If one thinks the Provincial participatory role in a positive manner, he will realize that Federalism denotes solidarity. Both Provincial participatory role and good governance are interwoven. The conflict of East-West ideologies prevailing among the politicians should not be an obstacle. What is required is a reform in the political transformation that should address towards democratization and pluralism in the nature of promoting Provincial participatory role.
If they avoid the issue of the Provincial participatory role, it signals that they intend to mislead the public in order to conceal their corruption. This is what happened till to date. Provincial participatory role also can give birth to the granting benefits including pensions to non-government servants. The presence of Provincial governments administering local issues make Nations much easier to manage. In this context, all Provincial governments meet regularly and communicate with one another through formal and/or informal means, i.e. through the departments of inter-governmental affairs, for which there can be a Minister in the Cabinet. This is one way of establishing a confident building measures. In this context, the appreciating factor of Federalism is the recognition of different types of political issues with the creation of regular Departments of inter-governmental affairs, which could be carried out by a Cabinet Minister. But in Sri Lanka, the Central government places restrictions in order to conceal the corruption of the Ministers and their supporters, thus sending a message of good governance in crisis.
Provincial participation has the characteristics of bringing even the rivals of strengthening the unity of the country for which good governance is a must. Transparency is a key element of good governance. Accountability and the rule of law requires openness and good information which allows the administrative sector to verify performance and compliance to law. But this element of transparency has become a question mark during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime.
Since independence, Sri Lanka was unable to rectify after receiving opinions and views from all segments of the society without discrimination. Even after the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord, Sri Lanka was seen unaccountable to all segments of society on account of the clumsy handling of the corrupted politicians. On the contrary, the North East Provinces were demerged posing a question mark on good governance. During the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa poor governance manifested the inability to maintain law and order to control the sporadic eruptions of political instability and violence. As a result it had experienced suspicion from certain segments of the society and caused a negative impact on the economic growth.
If Provincial participatory role is to be given priority for strengthening the democracy, there is no need to have a mega Cabinet. It is sufficient to have not more than 20 Ministers in the Cabinet, when some segment of the society are engaged in illegal activities. The recent deaths of Muslims in Syria raises an issue whether Islamic terrorism had encroached within the Sri Lankan communities. It cannot be forgotten that a Deputy Registrar of Persons was engaged in issuing National Identity Cards some years back as well as the praising of Bin Laden after their Friday prayers by the Islamic communities when the Twin Tower was attacked. As there are reported news items about the families of the deceased which left either for Pakistan or Iraq, the issue is whether the relevant authorities and some politicians are aware of it. This is only a beginning of vulnerable children being at risk of Islamic radicalization and eventually drawn in to terrorism. Terrorism begins with the process of radicalization. One ponders about the good governance if such politicians are given places in the cabinet.
As the economic development was retarded by the corrupt politicians during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime, it is essential is to find out the remedy to improve the economic conditions. As such, it is essential to focus not on the problems, but on the possibilities which would create more opportunities to strengthen Sri Lanka. It is not late for the politicians to reconsider on Federalism which respects the areas of Provincial jurisdiction and sends the signal for the establishment of a formal mechanism for Provincial output into the development of a country. Federalism invites the Provinces to take part in international negotiations. If Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithiripala Sirisena can take a bold step for the establishment of a formal mechanism for Provincial output, Sri Lanka need not worry about sending labourers to Middle-East countries and face tragedies like in the case of Rizana. Briefly Federalism is about collaboration with Provincial Governments. Such Federalism will not only strengthen the good governance but also nullify the call for secessionist movements. It is time for Ranil Wickremesinghe to act as a Statesman and shed all differences and stretch a friendly arm towards C. V. Wigneswaran in the best interests of the country. Even some of the Tamil politicians in the TNA and UNP like Vijayakala Maheswaran should remember that the Parliament is a holy place and not to deviate towards cheap politics as they are not well versed in Provincial Participatory role.
Had due importance been given to the Provincial Governments, it would be clear that transparent decisions-making is a vital element or necessity for exploitation of Provincial natural resources in compliance with the laws of the country. Transparent decisions make help the public to verify performance and encourage private sector for investments which will be beneficial for the country. Transparent decisions-making will deny room for incidents such as an assault on a Tamil engineer who exercised his duty in compliance with engineering standard and the throwing of stones at the Magistrates Court in Mannar by supporters of former Minister Rishard Badurdeen are cases in point.
Canada, USA, India, Switzerland and some other Federal countries have sent the message that the issue of good governance can only be recognized in a federal structure, which ensures the quality life of the citizens. Political leaders in Sri Lanka which practises pluralism, have to realize that it is in Federalism, good governance plays a pivotal role as a determinant factor of the sustainability and strength of democracies. Both Ranil Wickremesinghe and C.V. Wigneswaran have a formidable task of reminding the Sri Lankans that the grant of necessary powers and allocation of adequate funds to the Provinces for exploiting the natural resources have become a must, since Provinces are accountable for their decisions and performances, which would eventually pave way for strengthening of the unity of the country. If powers are given to the Provincial governments they can play a participatory role which again would involve consultation in the development of policies and decisions-making in the best interests of the country. It is this element of Provincial participatory role that encourages both the Central government and the Provincial governments to know about the needs and priorities of the people of the respective Provinces and lead to good governance.
The system of Checks and Balances can be demonstrated through Provincial participatory role. The different levels of Provincial governments and the Central Government can act as a check on one another in the exercise of political authority which is a must in Sri Lanka. This would enable a Federal structure with a more diverse and stable environment for investment and economic development which would provide a new protection of the rights of the individual. Qualified members of the TNA and UNP can discuss on this subject and could arrive at a meaningful conclusion for the benefit of the country, instead giving promises of special programmes for economic development for North and East. This would mark the beginning of good governance.
Both the Sinhalese and Tamil speaking communities should avoid themselves in falling prey to emotional speeches of narrow-minded politicians whose main aim is to be in power and lead a luxurious life. As Federalism leads to a better tomorrow in a multi-racial country, the issue before the Sri Lankans is whether good governance as promoted through Federalism would resolve the conflict through peaceful means, while it is history that Unitary in Sri Lanka resolved issues through coercion of war symbolizing corruption.