By Rajiva Wijesingha –
It is with great sadness that I speak today, for the first time as a Member of the Opposition. Last year I recall a member of the Government saying in a Committee that there was no need for an Opposition when members like me were present. He was being critical, but I am proud of my constant quest for reform, in line with the basic principles of Liberalism.
But it is very sad to have helped to have a government elected for the purpose of Reform, and to find no interest in promoting the changes we need to strengthen Accountability, Transparency and Responsiveness to the needs of the people.
I can sympathize with the argument that we need more money, but we must also show that we are cutting down on waste. We must show that we are using money to enrich the people, not to win elections. We must make it clear that this government is interested in development activity, not simply in transferring powers from the President to the Prime Minister and then rushing for an election before the main promises in the manifesto have been fulfilled.
Mr Speaker, money is needed to carry on the business of government, but at present no one knows whose business is what. We promised a Cabinet determined on a scientific basis, but instead we combined Fisheries with District Secretariats, Highways with Higher Education, Economic Affairs with Cultural Affairs and Children and Youth. And then we change things round, but fail to allocate responsibilities to Ministers for over a fortnight. How can you ask Parliament to allow you to raise even more money, when no one has any idea who will be responsible for expenditure and for productive outcomes?
This is not a new phenomenon. Two months after the election, we had a Gazette transferring the Consumer Affairs Authority and the Cooperative Wholesale from the Ministry of Food Security to the Ministry of Industry and Trade. This may have been part of the horsedealing the Prime Minister engaged in, as he explained to those who had supported the present President and were astonished at the failure to adhere to the highest standards of financial integrity in constituting the Cabinet. But when the government seems actively to create room for suspicion, people may wonder whether we are opposed only to excessive corruption, and the Prime Minister believes corruption of a mild sort is acceptable.
The current and past Chairman of the UNP noted, when I referred to corruption in the Ministry of Defence during the last UNP government, and hoped this would not be repeated, that I should not have blamed the Minister, it was someone else who was responsible. But active connivance in corruption, defending the indefensible, is as bad as stealing public money oneself. And it is worse when the government was elected specifically on a pledge of good governance.
Mr Speaker, in those distant days when I was a Minister, and thought this government was serious, I sent the Minister for Good Governance some suggestions on how we could promote this. They combined aspects of the Code of Conduct which we seem to have forgotten about totally. I will take the liberty of tabling three of the papers, on Preventing Corruption, on Limiting the use of the Executive for Political Purposes, and on Removing Politics from Recruitment. I hope there is some interest in this in my friends on that side of the house who I think were sincere in their commitment to Reform, and did not simply want to take over the spoon and help themselves as the last UNP leader who was Head of the Executive declared. If that is all this government is about, Mr Speaker, we must oppose this attempt to obtain yet more money, with no clear agenda to provide the people with value for the money they will in the end have to pay.
Simple regulations to promote Good Governance
A – Preventing Corruption
- The Assets Declarations of Ministers, Parliamentarians, Provincial Councillors and those heading government institutions that have entered into contracts of above a particular value should be made public. They should be uploaded on institutional websites within two weeks of laws / regulations to such effect being introduced.
I am aware that there may be some diffidence about this inasmuch as some
Members of the government may not have declared their assets as required. The law/regulation should specify that no action will be taken with regard to such, provided the declaration is made available to be made public at the due date. They will also be requested to make declarations for each of the last five years.
- A Commission should be empowered to go into these Declarations, and institute investigations if the assets of any individual have grown disproportionately in the last five years.
The Thai concept of people being ‘unusually rich’ could be brought into play. The Public should be invited to provide information if there is reason to suspect inaccuracies in the declaration of assets. Such information should be investigated, with provision that assets not declared may be frozen, and confiscated if legitimate acquisition cannot be proved
- Individuals who hand over assets which they cannot prove were legitimately acquired may be given an amnesty, on condition of taking no part in public life for a specific period.
It could be argued that this is a form of impunity, but we should not engage in what could be perceived as witch hunts. Regaining for the country anything that has been plundered, and debarring further such activities for a fixed period, should be enough.
- Any information provided by the public about inflated tenders, undue costs for contracts with national and international suppliers, acceptance of shoddy construction work or equipment supplied, should be investigated. Individuals handing over assets obtained improperly through such instances may be given an amnesty, on condition of taking no part in public life.
I would urge in particular that attention be paid to the information supplied by Mr Kodituwakku, formerly of the Customs, who had to flee the country because of threats against him arising from his outstanding integrity and efficiency.
- Officials who felt obliged to acquiesce in abuses should be given impunity for the provision of information with regard to such matters. Provision should be made for such information to be given in confidence.
B – Removing politics from recruitment
- All government institutions should have clear criteria with regard to recruitment, and such recruitment should be the responsibility of state officials, not politicians.
- All Ministries should have an Appeals Board to deal with allegations of unfairness in recruitment, to all institutions under the purview of the Ministry.
- Ministries should not issue lists of individuals from which recruitment is to be done.
- Politicians wishing to recommend individuals for employment should do so on the basis of qualifications and suitability. They should not mention loyalty to party as a qualification. Recommendations should be addressed to the appointing authority.
- Politicians and others who feel there was unfairness in recruitment procedures or decisions may bring these to the attention of the Minister, with a copy of the appeal to the Appeals Board.
- Ministers should not make recommendations for jobs which are within any institution under their purview. In case of alleged injustice, they should forward appeals to the appointing authority or the Appeals Board, and request a prompt report and remedial action if appropriate.
- Making appointments to boards or other bodies directly under the purview of the Minister should be in accordance with clear criteria. Where the Minister has discretionary powers, he should make clear the reasons for appointments where public funds are involved.
C – Limiting use of the Executive for political purposes
- 1. Members of the Executive shall not use their offices or the equipment and services they are given for electoral purposes
- 2. The personal staff of Ministers shall be limited to only such numbers as are essential for the fulfilment of their executive responsibilities. All such staff will be required to provide monthly reports on their productivity to the Secretary of the Ministry which pays their salaries.
- 3. However, given the personal and political needs of all Parliamentarians, their personal staff may be increased as follows –
- 2 coordinating secretaries instead of 1
- 1 research officer as now
- 1 private secretary as now
- 2 drivers instead of 1
- 1 office aide as now 1
- This gives them a total of 7 instead of 5.
- They should also be given a vehicle for their use. This should take the place of the permits which are now readily abused.
4. The personal staff of Ministers should be reduced as follows, and they must all be expected to report to work in the Ministry unless the Minister had given them leave, as informed to the Secretary
- 1 private secretary as now
- 1 coordinating secretary instead of 2
- 1 public relations secretary
- No media secretary, the work should be done by the Ministry media personnel, who should be selected in accordance with clear criteria
- 2 drivers, without provision for a driver for a back up vehicle. If needed, such a driver should be taken from the Ministry pool.
- 1 office aide instead of 2, since the Ministry staff can be allocated if needed.
- 2 management assistants instead of 5. At least one of those should be functional in the Official Language which is not that of the Minister. Any further assistance may be provided by regular Ministry staff.
- This gives them a total of 8 instead of 13.
- The Minister should have at most 2 vehicles. Personal staff should have at most 2 vehicles rather than the 5 that are now available.
- The qualifications of all personal staff paid by government Ministries should be made known to the public, along with the responsibilities entrusted to them.
*Text of the speech Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha delivered yesterday