By Kumar David –
KK, I won’t tell you his real name, is good natured and a reliable friend (I have suffered him from schooldays) but he is also regarded as a pain in the butt because of the chaotic, topsy-turvy, upside-down emails of epic length he inflicts on his friends. If you learn Greek or Sanskrit or whatever, and if you have the everlasting patience to decipher, they do often address important issues. Two big issues that have been KK’s bee-in-the-bonnet for many years are telecommunications tariffs and systems, and the one which I intend to bring to your notice today, the need to reform the judicial and regulatory systems in Sri Lanka.
One of the advantages of election season is that candidates, corrupt and untruthful or decent and serious, are hungry to Hoover up anything they can chuck into their election manifestos. No matter, it’s an opportunity for me to push ideas into the public domain and the public is hungry to learn. This explains the timing of the topic of today’s column. The following has been extracted from one of KK’s recent mails and rendered into readable English. It draws attention to two issues of cardinal significance and Sri Lankan society will make little progress towards good governance without sorting them out.
Hamlet thought self-slaughter (suicide) better than “the laws delays and insolence of office”. Every citizen has at some time in life, or more than once, been subject to insufferable judicial delays, witnessed the systems incorrigible inefficiency, torn his hair out at the absurdity of its processes, and seen the powerful and the rich get away scot free while the hungry urchin who steals a loaf of bread has his right hand chopped off, literally in some Islamic states. Also, retired US judge F. Molloy accuses lawyers and judges of colluding to rip-off hapless clients. The most common quip in America is that the best lawyer is a dead lawyer.
There are two ways to circumvent some of these problems, appointment of lay-judges and use of technology. A lay judge or assessor is a person with expertise in other fields who sits with the judges, or assists without sitting on the bench. The inclusion of subject expertise has expedited processes and improved the quality of judgements. The system is used in Japan, Germany, Finland, Austria, Norway and Finland. I have heard about something like this in China but am not sure. That technology can improve and expedite the judicial process is not something I need to expand on. It is obvious to every reader. Those drafting programmes for presidential candidates should include this in their lists of promises even if, as usual, nothing is done eventually!
The final matter that KK draws attention is that there are dozens of Regulators in the country, nearly all useless or worse – they actually do harm. This is not what in India is called ‘licence raj’ or the inability to get anything done because of bottlenecks; this is about bodies such as the Telecoms Regulator, the Electricity & Electricity Regulator and dozens of others which are sinecures for Chairmen and Board Members, jobs for the boys and corrupt to boot. These agencies need to be abolished or completely restructured.