18 January, 2021

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Selection Criteria For Prospective MPs

By Somapala Gunadheera

Somapala Gunadheera

I wish to draw the attention of all public-spirited citizens to the following extract in the Island Editorial of March 13, under the topic, “Speaker’s plight”,

The most effective way of addressing the problem of the deterioration of political institutions is to end the deplorable practice of nominating unsavoury elements to contest elections, which they win by spending a fraction of their black money to bribe voters. The blame for this sorry state of affairs should be apportioned to all political leaders.

Let the political party leaders be urged to clean up the mess they themselves have created; they ought to introduce selection criteria for candidates in time for the next election instead of beating their chests”.

Some criteria have been laid down in our Constitution on nomination of candidates at Parliamentary elections. Article 90 states, “Every person who is qualified to be an elector shall be qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament unless he is disqualified under the provisions of Article 91. Disqualifications under Article 91 pertain to concurrent nominations, dual citizenship, holding of public office, interests in contracts with the State, bankruptcy and conviction for bribery. Other disqualifications shared by a prospective candidate with the voters pertain to citizenship, age of majority, sanity, imprisonment for specified offences, civic disability and refusal to appear or produce documents before a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry etc.

It is evident that deterioration in politics has raised its ugly head despite the applicability of the above restrictions. Hence the causes for the current mess in politics have to be sought outside those specified already. The task before election reform is to identify the hitherto before unlisted disqualifications that have resulted in the present sorry state of affairs. I wish to place the following areas as a tentative agenda for discussion by public spirited citizens who consider it their duty to cleanse the Augean Stables of local politics.

Age

Every citizen who has attained the age of eighteen years is eligible to be nominated as a candidate at an election. So far we have not come across candidates coming forward to contest an election at that minimum age. But the performance of those close to the bottom-line, both inside and outside Parliament, has left the impression that their services could have been more effective had they been more advanced in age and more experienced in practice.

It would appear that it is even more important to fix a maximum age level for candidates seeking entry to Parliament. The lower limit of the age of a candidate for the Presidency has been fixed 17 years above the minimum. This variation is indicative of the need of maturity on the part of those who wish to play the leading role in the political life in this country. In my own view the ideal minimum age of a prospective MP should be 30. The chances however, are that such an amendment may not be feasible in practice.

Even if an age limit, above the minimum applicable to voters, cannot not be laid down for candidates, it would be wise to fix higher levels for those who are to be entrusted with additional responsibility and power. Now that the minimum age for a candidate for the Presidency has been fixed at 35, it will not be practicable to fix a higher age for a Parliamentarian. By and large, there are two levels of executive power in Parliament, the ministers and their deputies. It is proposed that the age level for the higher grade be fixed at 35 and the deputies’ limit at 30. Performance levels can be optimized if it was possible to increase these limits by another 5 years at least. Fixing a minimum age limit for ministers and deputies would also control the scramble for portfolios, bringing our mammoth Cabinet within civilized standards. At the same time, the move will act as a barricade against greenhorns who aspire to use their connections to handle portfolios in which they are out of depth.

Youth and inexperience are not the only reasons that have downgraded performance in Parliament. While some members are ‘wet behind their ears’, at the other end of the scale are found others who are ‘long in their years’. Politicians are not governed by retirement limits. Most of them keep returning until they are finally thrown out by the electorate. That happens only after the voters reach the end of their tether. In the meantime, public interest does not receive the optimum benefit from the investment of funds to keep such hangers on tottering, while eminently suitable substitutes, fully qualified to replace them, fade away.

It was only the other day that an MP remarked that some members of Parliament need the assistance of their colleagues to reach the seats assigned to them. Accommodating them at the expense of efficiency is unfair by the people. Listening to their trembling voices on the electronic media, one wonders how they could deliver the goods expected of them effectively. Organized employment systems have a set age for retirement. That is but a natural outcome of the basic rules of biological decay. Politics is supposed to be a service rendered to the nation by public-spirited volunteers. If politicians mean well, they owe it to their conscience to quit when they are no longer physically fit to do their job satisfactorily, particularly in the presence of thousands, fiddle fit to take on.

It was only the other day that a Sri Lankan settled in New Zealand had made the following comment quoting a news item in the NZ Herald of the 15th March. “The very popular Prime Minister John Key, has resigned after serving almost three terms, as he wants fresh air to enter the legislature for good governance. He will resign as a Member of Parliament next week and retire with his head held high. Neither he, nor others, consider Parliament as a place for employment or that they should stay there for all time. As the news item spells it out, many Parliamentarians will not seek re-election having served the people. They did not serve themselves, nor bleed the country. They enjoy no pensions”. One wonders as to how many coconuts we would have to break to achieve that ideal in this country.

Education

Education is another area for which parameters have not been prescribed statutorily with the result that we are saddled with many MPs who have not been able go beyond middle school. This is a shocking state of affairs in a country in which a person is called upon to pass the O level to join the public service as a minor employee. Even developing countries in the third world have fixed education levels for their politicians. In Uganda, presidential candidates must have a minimum formal education of A-level or its equivalent. In Kenya, a person must hold a post-secondary school qualification to be nominated as a candidate for election, and a person must possess a University degree to be nominated for important posts such as President or Vice-President.

However fixing educational qualifications for legislators is not a universal practice. It is said that there are even illiterate members in Indian legislatures. Leading Commonwealth countries like the UK, Canada and Australia have not fixed education levels for their legislatures. Judging from the general level of education and awareness in those countries, fixing such limits may not be a real need in them. But in a country like ours where the masses are making phenomenal advances in the acquisition of knowledge, fixing a minimum level of education for legislatures should lead to social advancement, keeping out the undereducated scum living by their wits. Such a prescription would keep the privileged ill-informed out of the scene and bring forward the enlightened downtrodden to the fore, creating a vibrant knowledge economy and a balanced society.

Control of finance

As the Island Editor has aptly pointed out elections are won by spending a fraction of the black money that some candidates possess to bribe voters. There are statutory restrictions on limits of expenditure that can be incurred by a candidate but the posters on every lamppost in the electorate, canvassing microphones blaring into midnight, unlimited entertainment of supporters with food and drink, bear witness to the fact that those restrictions are observed in the breach. Money that passes underhand as bribes to voters is a well-known secret that the regulations fail to detect or prevent. These loopholes prove that the existing legislation on election expenses is woefully inadequate to suppress corruption and the Election Commission should lose no time in closing up the existing loopholes effectively with fool proof criteria.

Yet another malfunctioning tool for controlling corruption and malpractice at elections is the prescription calling for declaration of assets by candidates. Although this has the potential to minimize corruption at the polls, lackadaisical administration of the rule enables the corrupt to get into the assembly that is responsible for eliminating corruption. Declining nominations to those who fail to declare their assets, close supervision on failures to file regular declarations and filing false documents, prescribing expulsion as punishment for offences under this head would go a long way to make Parliament the Temple of Truth that it is expected to be.

The above items are by no means an exhaustive list of measures that have to be taken to make politics a clean game. As remarked at the outset, they are only a tentative list that those interested in legislative reform can expand and build on. These precautions ought to have been taken soon after we won independence 69 years ago. If our leaders had the vision and the courage to take them in due time, we would be living in a model Democracy today. Their failure has left us languishing in a third world country, closer to the bottom end of corruption.

It is up to all parties devoted to uplifting the motherland to come together to help in formulating and implementing policies that would pull her out of the quagmire of political corruption. That is not a task confined to the organizations assigned by law to be responsible for election control. Voluntary institutions committed to this cause, including the NGOs and INGOs concerned, have a significant role to play here. The ongoing activities aimed at amending or drafting the Constitution has provided a golden opportunity to include the fundamental requirements of Democratic governance in our basic law. If that opening is not missed in writing the basic criteria for nominations into our Constitution,, the resulting political climate will soon put us among the leading Democracies in the rising world.

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    Good presentation of the current situation. Unless as a country we do something now, the situation may worsen in the years to come where educated, decent people will find it difficult to enter politics.

  • 3
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    There are many more matters to be addressed via the constitution before we talk about age..

    1 defeated candidates cannot come through the national list
    2 no family members to be employed unless the position has been advertised and selected on merit
    3 should retire when reaching the age of 80
    4 assets should be declared by all MPs and available for public scrutiny
    5 atleast 3 passes at ALs
    6 cannot hold dual citizenship by any MP

    • 2
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      Jagath Fernando

      I may add, should have an IQ on the 90th percentile, or an IQ level of 100.

      Currently there are t many idiots and crooks in the Sri Lanka Parliament..

  • 1
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    Turkey is not going to vote for X’mas !

    Bar a handful, there will not be a many politicians (President downwards to local government) left to contest.

    They are all inherently corrupt.

  • 4
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    Timely. Why not strip managerial roles from politicians as well. Such powers should not be changed at the whims and fancies of politicians. Why not have a disciplined statutory body to do the managerial role of each ministry? Ravi K has vested interests, then why PM has appointed him as FM? The leaders are at fault. First they must clean themselves.

  • 0
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    There is money to make by being an MP; and even more by becoming minister.
    Parliamentary politics is thus an investment.
    The one with means wins because campaigns are based on publicity as well as bribes of all manner.

    How do we break the link between money and parliamentary membership?
    There are systems that have as long as they lasted achieved something in this direction.

    As for education, we place too much emphasis on book learning.
    Academic qualifications have little bearing on managing matters. People learn much more outside classrooms than inside.
    What matters is wisdom more than intelligence more than learning.

    • 3
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      Hello SJ, Let us look at it deep.

      Academic qualifications may have only little bearing on managing matters.
      However, academic qualification is the foundation that adds strength. So, when you define education as book learning, you only speak for a few and not for all educated.

      People learn much more outside classrooms than inside. Granted. But, one must not forget that what is learned inside the classroom is that which makes you ‘understand’ what you learn outside.

      In Sri Lanka, as at present, much more than what it used to be, politics is an investment. True. But, that aberration that ought to be arrested. It is education that could help.

      In progressive countries there is no link between money and parliamentary membership. Ceylon was once among those nations. The slide to the current investment outlook is very unfortunate. It has to be reversed quick.

      Wisdom, looked at closely, is nothing but the soundness of an action or decision. Such decisions stem from the right application of knowledge. That takes us right back to Education.

  • 2
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    In addition to all the Qualifications that GS has listed, Candidates should be asked to declare their Assets and most importantly, their Policies for improving Conditions in their Chosen their Electorate.

  • 3
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    Voter Education is the only way to clean up the corruption that is entrenched in Political Culture in Sri Lanka today.

    Citizens should set up websites which list the clean candidate and the ones who should be rejected based on their reputation, education qualifications and criminal records and ASSETS Declarations.

    Expecting bond scam Ranil and Sira who brought in all the SLFP rejects via the National list into the Diyawenna Parliament of Corrupt morons is a joke!

    Hopefully Mahinda Jarapassa and his corrupt sons and siblings will be behind bars for Financial Crimes against people of Lanka by next election.

    • 2
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      S.Modaya :-
      Years ago when we were at school, we studed a subject called Civics. This Subject, taught us Youngsters, how Democracy Works, and what Elected Politicians of a Government were expected to do for ‘The People’!

      Does this subject appear in today’s Curriculum?

      It now looks as if the Schools teach Kids how to make Money quickly, by becoming Politicians!!

  • 2
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    It is reported that 94 MPs have not passed the O Levels and that only 25 are graduates, among 225 legislators.

    A minimum educational level is necessary to be a legislator – at least an O Level pass in six subjects.
    This minimum is required to be a public servant.
    Else, how can they understand the constitution and the Laws of the Land.

    Such an educational level must be made necessary by law for anyone seeking elective office.

  • 0
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    The latest strategy proved very successful at the last General Election was to send more of the nominated candidates to “Remand Custody” so that they will get the highest number of votes to enter Parliament. The people love to vote them. The voters from Ratnapura have sent that message to the rest of the country. So, one of the most required eligibility is to name the candidates who are already faced with Court action and in remand custody and also who are likely to be arrested and remanded. Our President has already set that as an example by appointing the “His worship the Mayor named “Sellan Pistola Mayor” (Toy Pistol Mayor) and the attacker of that “Street Drama” group who supported him at the last Presidential Election and awaiting Court action to the positions of Electoral Organizers. Shouldn’t we not follow the example of the First Citizen of the country.?

  • 1
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    Mr Gunadheera’s call for ‘Selection Criteria For Prospective MPs’ has not come too soon. It is time the people of Sri Lanka demanded that competent & educated people are nominated by the political parties, instead of yobs & the village thugs. Of course there are professionals in the cabinet, several with doctorates, & if I remember correctly, the Finance Minister had apparently boasted that he is the highest qualified person ever to hold that position but sadly, they have yet to prove their integrity & for upholding the professional code of conduct expected of them, by which, I mean conflict of interest & misuse of power.

    I believe, to be a MP, there should be a minimum level of education & maturity in age but not senile either. Also, their wealth should be disclosed & available for public scrutiny. In UK, the total spending by a candidate at an election is capped & the expenditure has to filed with the Commissioner of Elections. This also extends to all political parties when it comes to spending on a national scale at a General election. Recently the ruling conservative party was fined for not correctly disclosing all expenditure at a few by elections held a couple of months ago & the matter is being further investigated as it is believed the expense limit has been exceeded. SL also need such laws as the expenditure on elections in recent years have been a colossal waste of money, particularly, by the previous regime which, allegedly, was public money.

    We need transparency & the independence of the judiciary, police & the election commission. It is people with broadened minds, aware of the world around, not frogs in a well who would appreciate & strive for good governance. I hope by filtering out undesirables, those who have the capability will be always reminded of the purpose they have been elected for by the people & not be swayed by the rot once in power. Perhaps, by reducing some of the perks, such as, duty free car permits will & a strict code of conduct for parliamentarians will discourage undesirables entering politics.

  • 1
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    This is good for the country’s future politics . firstly the education , deciplean , well mannered and well behaviours as well as the persons wealth means not rich or a millionaire . Then the future politicians wants fall into illegal and corrupt business ma’s laps to full fill their expenditure’s for elections , by doing this, politicians are free to do their genuine clear political work scare free with out under obligations. then no kidnapping no thuggish work , the underworld gangs will vanish and also the crimes will go down . When this system comes to practical , that day onwards will be clear decent politics and the voters has faith on them and nobody has to go behind politicians for political helps , like putting a child to a school , to get a job , gets the roads bridges done and ect…. Then everybody has a peace of mind to live free and happily .

  • 1
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    Sri lanka system is set up for thieves and not for gentlemen/women politicians. See who comes to politics, look like bimbos.

  • 1
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    Comments of GS are vital. To sum up I would briefly suggest that following

    candidates who have served a sentence of 6 months in jail should be disallowed nomination

    Reduce the number of MPP in Prliament .to 150 MPP .Present 225 is too much for a voting population of

    12 million

    Follow the first past the post system and do away with horrible manape

    Let there be strict rules with regard to election expenses and disclose sources derived from

    There shall not be nominated MPP. Instead let there be a
    Senate of distinguished citizens as before

    Any candidate can contest only for two terms

    Limit salaries and allowances that make Parliament job lucrative

    Political parties will not heed these rules . Let the Commissioner of Elections enforce them . Where necessary let him propose amendments to the law

  • 0
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    It is true that the majority of the politicians enacted laws that favour their whims and fancies and they directly interfered with the matters of government servants. On the other hand there were enough public servants to carryout the illegal orders of the corrupt politicians in order to take advantage of carrying out bad decisions . Now majority of the senior government servants and the professionals have become real businessmen and the entire government sector has corrupted in such way that it is difficult to country for a smooth functioning and economic development unless a introduction of rigid tax law to check the individual income and expenditure of entire citizenry of the country which could be transparent to everybody.

  • 0
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    In US, House of representatives consists of large number of professionals such as Lawyers, Certified Public Accountants Surgeons etc. In our country other than lawyers no other professionals represented in parliament. Minimum qualification for a parliamentary candidate must be AL pass.

  • 0
    0

    Mr.D.S.Senanayake,Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranayake and Mr.Premadasa did not have high academic qualifications but their performance as national political leaders were far superior to the Sorbonne qualified Chandrika or the clever lawyer Ranil. Their strength was a deep love for the country and dedication to serve the people. Any intelligent member of Parliament will be able to get a better education in a range of subjects in a short time than the academic knowledge dished out in most of our universities.
    It is not the politicians that should have high academic achievements but the higher levels of public servants.
    We need a professionalized group of high level public servants to be secretaries of ministries, vital institutions and state enterprises.All important tenders should have the approval of a high level committee of Secretaries. (This was the job of the Committee of Development Secretaries at one time in the past)
    The people should decide who should be their representatives. They should have full information of the candidates at the time of voting. For this the bio data and the assets of each candidate must be gazetted.

  • 0
    0

    Pray! Tell me, Sir. Are there any Hon’ble MP-Legislators in our Qasi-Venerable House unable to read and write in any of our 3 languages? We are, of course, aware one of them was ordered to get a Certificate from a psychiatrist confirming the man was sane. Fortunately, for all of us, the man passed the test and remains in the House to date – this time as a Minister of some form.

    Pandaranayagam

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