16 April, 2024

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The Curse Of JRJ Constitution Continues

By Asoka Seneviratne

Asoka Seneviratne

I have repeatedly been writing about the unprecedented damage the 1978 JRJ constitution has done to SL political culture, the economy and to the country. The 1978 JRJ constitution laid the foundation stone for our eventual ruin. How so? Let me mention a few examples. We read a few days ago the police minister Tiran Alles instructed IGP to investigate the comments made by former president Maithripala Sirisena about the Easter Attacks. It does to show that Alles, a political appointee has power over the entire police force of SL via the IGP. This follows that the police is not independent of political interference.

Remembering that the judges make judicial decisions based on the evidence provided by the police, one can imagine how the political leadership can navigate criminal cases as they please. In other words, while JR Jayewardene used to brag about the separation of powers between executive and the judiciary, he failed to foresee how a “police minister” appointed by the President can negate this vital separation.

Why do  we only see innocent, poor, helpless youth yelling against injustices  being  hauled into police jeeps, while the political big wigs, their henchmen, family members all of whom people widely believe have broken laws, violated the constitution, robbed our wealth are sitting pretty in their mansions still roaming around in luxury SUV’s in our impoverished land?  How come none of these goons are hauled into police jeeps.

Because there is a political cog between the police and the criminals.

How can we not be far from African dictatorships?

Besides why do we need a police minister in the first place? President nominates an IGP candidate who will be  vetted through the constitution council and get appointed even though this process too is tainted as we have witnessed how the Speaker, head of the Constitutional Council, hoodwinked the process with the last IGP case.

If the constitution guarantees the independence of the IGP and leaves him alone subject to parliamentary oversight, he can function as the top cop without the likes of Alles telling him what to do and what not to do. IGP and Attorney General must enjoy constitutionally guaranteed independence so they can live up to their oath to be faithful to the constitution and dispense justice.

Next, our constitution guarantees the right of the people to vote. The right to vote is the most fundamental right of the people, in a democracy. JR, having guaranteed that right, then foolishly went onto leave the power of the election date to the President. Why, when the President himself is an elected member by popular vote?

Why did JR not fix a date for both presidential and parliamentary elections every 5 or 6  years? He could have said the  2nd Tuesday in October will be both parliamentary and Presidential elections. Period!

Had he done that people of SL do not have to wonder about when an election will be held! End of story. Neither the president is able to kick around the date based on political winds.

Next, JR created the curse of provincial councils and local councils creating thousands of locally elected bodies that turned out to a incubator of corruption. He left the power of granting a building permit with the local Pradeshiya Sabha chairmen. Knowing the caliber of people who would occupy these powerful positions, didn’t JR foresee that this was a lottery ticket for them to get rich? Worse, these thousands of council members, their office staff, perks, vehicles etc. are all paid with public money. But do they deliver the services in an efficient manner?

But all our towns are a total chaotic mess anyway! Who is holding these council leaderships accountable? Besides why do we need hundreds of cabinet ministers, state ministers, junior minsters, local council members, provincial council members all paid with peoples’ money to manage a country of 25000 square miles with a GDP of mere $ 85 billion?

Next, JR created the office of a Prime Minister? Once again for what? The public has to maintain these people with bungalows, support staff, security and dozens of vehicles. Once again with our meagre $ 85 B economy where a good 50% can barely afford 3 meals a day. We are an extremely poor nation and simply cannot afford all a meaningless Prime Minister!

Worse, while bragging about the separation of powers and co-equal branches of government between executive, legislative and judicial, he appointed hundreds of ministers from the legislature. If the ministers are a part of the executive branch, how can they function independently in the legislature?

A classic contradiction on separation of powers remembering that the President’s power is checked by the legislature is by having the power of the purse. It should be clear by now why our presidents appoint hundred of ministers. They are all being bribed with people’s money. Any one of them crossing the line of Presidents request for money or to pass a bill, will be kicked out of the ministry the next day.

The essence of JRJ constitution was the creation of an all-powerful President. He passionately believed by having a power executive, the government would be stable unlike in the Westminster model.

But his left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. His all-powerful executive presidency with only name sake checks and balances and practically no separation of powers.

The next generation of leaders could not wait to abuse this power. They and their foot soldiers of both parties robbed our treasury, sold our profitable state businesses, borrowed like drunken soldiers, and built gigantic white elephants with borrowed billion, pocketed their cut, and allowed the country to go to hell.

And then the very same leaders preach to the people to tighten their belts, while none of them lift a finger to do the same. Remember Ranil recently asked for another Rs 200 million over and above the budget to accommodate his foreign travel?

Anura Kumara Dissanayake will have to sort out this mess. I hope AKD and his team are up to this mammoth challenge. The sooner he spells of his policies and agenda in detail, the better off for those  of us who do not eat grass!

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Latest comments

  • 4
    4

    In Sri Lanka, politicians have converted the constitutions into Bulletins. Finally, as a result of the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord, the 13th Amendment was introduced to stop making further Bulletins and now the Politicians are dancing here and there to abolish the 13th Amendment. Thanks to G.Parthasarathy.

  • 4
    8

    Agree…
    .
    Except when the author says: “It does to show that Alles,…”
    .
    May be he meant “It goes to show…”?
    .
    The ruin that the country is in is due to long standing issues, hence the call for ‘a systems change’, how ill defined it may be, that is what is required from any potential leadership and I don’t believe letting the very architects and beneficiaries of this corrupt ‘system’ to prevail further is going to be helpful towards any change.
    .
    A fresh batch of leaders no matter how inexperienced they are is a welcome opition. In fact it is their inexperience that makes them qualified for the job!
    .

  • 10
    0

    “Besides why do we need hundreds of cabinet ministers, state ministers, junior minsters, local council members, provincial council members all paid with peoples’ money to manage a country of 25000 square miles with a GDP of mere $ 85 billion?”
    For the same reason that there are a million or so government employees, plus 300,000 in the security forces , mostly from one particular community. Those who call for “system change” never talk about these things. This is the real reason for our disastrous position.

    • 11
      1

      OC, absolutely right. Lanka is small, but every thing else is ballooned and over sized , including govt, cabinet, parliament, govt employees, govt agencies, military . . . . . . . Most are political favors / appointments, shams based on 75 years of empty political agendas. What is needed is in scarcity, health and education among other essential services. Bankrupt Lankan government is our largest employer ???

      • 10
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        Chiv,
        A good look at the names of senior officials / officers (all available on the Internet) tells the story.
        Some “system change ” advocates actually want more of the same.

    • 10
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      OC & Chiv, when government employment is the dream of far too many citizens, these government jobs filled without much due for meritocracy do serve to secure voter loyalty.

      I wonder along which party line most lies the loyalty of the military folk.

      • 1
        0

        S
        Recruitment to the armed forces was not a very attractive proposition fr the duration of the war. a few may have been motivated to ‘save the country’. But to most it was the only secure job (but without guarantee of safety) that was before them.
        Except for higher positions, they did not have t g behind a politician to get the job.
        Soldiers have political views that also get shaped in course of their career.
        There are personal factors that emerge too.
        Frankly, one can be anything other than a Tamil or Muslim nationalist.

  • 3
    1

    ” We read a few days ago the police minister Tiran Alles instructed IGP to investigate the comments made by former president Maithripala Sirisena about the Easter Attacks.”

    Not only the police minister Tiran alles but also many other including former President Mahinda Rajapakasa, Opposition leader Sajith, JVP, Tamil parties all asked to investigate the comments made by Sirisena and court ordered to investigate it and police took statement from Sirisena. Based on the earlier investigation only Sirisena was punished by the Courts to pay compensation for not taking action on Inidian threat about bombing. But we all know that former President was not the real culprit who master mind the bombing. We simply assumed that all master minds are sucide bombers.Unfortunately, our intelligence service or investigations could not come to any other conclusions. Even if Sirisena told the truth about who was the master mind they will completely ignore it or it could be interpreted as a mentally ill statement. This is the status of our country. Truth will be murdered.

    • 2
      1

      ” But we all know that former President was not the real culprit who master mind the bombing. “
      Did the Court rule to that effect?
      H was guilt of serious neglect that caused many avoidable deaths and damage to property.
      Now, five years after the event, he claims in public that he knows who was responsible.
      Is it not a matter that can be ignored?
      Let us help the law take its course.

      • 3
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        “Let us help the law take its course.”

        which law?

    • 2
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      Interesting that Tiran Alles instructing the IGP about a past crime which, if I am not mistaken, considered as done & dusted by the govt. Now, didn’t this same Alles publicly state that he witnessed, in fact, facilitated, Basil to donate a large sum of money to the LTTE, which enabled them to procure boats to fight the SL Navy? I would say that such action is treason but Alles, with all the power he is allowed as Security Minister now, seems to have forgotten all about it. Maybe, he realised that he has also shot him self in the foot by implicating himself as the facilitator. Whatever the reason, Alles is either a traitor to his own country, a shameless money hungry lackey or an opportunistic liar or both. To appoint such a person as a Minister, what a joke. Only in SL….

  • 3
    0

    “The next generation of leaders could not wait to abuse this power.”
    In fact JRJ could not wait.
    Will the author like a list of transgressions?

  • 4
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    Part I
    The 20 paragraph article of the author, some are one line paragraphs, deserve a detailed response. His hope or expectation that AKD will solve the problem for all of us is the same classical mistake we, the voters did in expecting the elected leader to do the needful and for us, the fool of voters be in a slumber, expecting the trustees to discharge the trust honorably. What a mistake! Don’t we forget the 2015 elections in promising the elixir “Yahapalana”? What about the 2019 and 2020 elections? A damp squib. The “Aragalaya” performed in the hope of putting things right from a quagmire only propped up the biggest loser in the elections to become the President of the country, leaving the historians to decide whether it was the most appropriate or inappropriate thing ever done. In fairness to the incumbent President, it must be stated that he was the only one who stood by despite others running away from the country or Colombo and the opposition parties would not want to touch the government with a barge pole, in other words evading responsibility at a time of difficulty. The wanted system change. Aiyo! NO!

  • 4
    0

    Part II
    Dr. Ambedkar of India was congratulated for presenting an excellent draft of the Republican constitution. He was cautious and observed that if ever issues crop up it is not because of the weaknesses in the constitution but because the man is vile. The constitution and the law are the framework and as well as the tools, respectively, in which those who govern are bound and as well as make use of. The underlying principle is the rule of decency which encompasses the rule of law, justice and fair play. Those who can remember will tell us that late JRJ said before the 1977 parliamentary elections for 168 seats that he needs at least 100 seats to form a government (which well more than the majority but not a 2/3 majority) otherwise he would not form a government. In other words, he never expected a 5/6th majority. He feared a lesser number of seats would make the government unstable, thus a bigger number of seats allowing for defections. Had JRJ to live with the 1972 constitution, yet he would implement his other policies. Then is it the constitution or the men leading the government that mattered?

  • 4
    0

    Part III
    With the gain of 5/6th majority JRJ immediately introduced the 2nd amendment to the 1972 constitution (before the 1978 constitution) catapulting himself as the President on 4th of February 1978 with other provisions effectively barring his flock of MPs to cross over. In other words, he quickly sought greater stability for his regime. Even without the 5/6th majority he knew quite a few tricks to run the show with 100 seats. The few controversial things he did, set the tone for others who succeeded him for the “Executive President” to become and “Executioneering President”. The command of his successor to “conclude business” (In Sinhala ඉවරයක් කරලා දාන්න) to the Army chief resulted in the cremation of a living Wijeweera. His famous statement to the then public servants that AR and FR is not there but JR is there (probably uttered as a joke) made them to build the files well after a project is completed. His muttering that Ralph Buultjens is a nuisance in the hearing of another acolyte minister made the latter abduct Buultjens thus preventing him from delivering a memorial lecture. So, is it the constitution or the men that matter?

  • 4
    0

    Part IV
    Irrespective of best of constitutions and safeguards, corrupt means can cause a dutybound man go haywire with either fear, favor, ill-will or affection. Let me cite some of the fears expressed in the social media about elections in the election year. Quoting mysterious resignations in the elections commission in the past, it is said how can elections be held on time in the elections if the members of the commission resign from their position? Supposing the coffers of the government go empty can elections be held? Sri Lanka has a record of its judges’ houses getting stoned by goons loyal to the high and mighty. One can say getting your house damaged in that era is a minor punishment compared to being sentenced to the tyre pyre. In such an environment, irrespective of all the guarantees assured by the constitution can there be impartial verdicts? I must say that there were men of integrity in the Ugandan benches during the time of Idi Amin who gave impartial judgements only to disappear the next day as expected. To put a long story short, it is the men that matter and not the constitutions per se.

    • 3
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      Dear Good Sense –

      You make valid points. But let me add a few things for your thought.

      If JRJ 1978 constitution was smart , given all the well known corruption in our political culture and the top civil servants etc., how come not one single politician , a goon or a civil servant, corporation chairmen have been found guilty all these years?
      Just for comparison purpose, research and see how many politicians, top office holders, white house staff , business men have been jailed in USA, Some for life. Even the former President Trump has been indicted with over 90 state and federal charges.

      Imagine MR or one of his goons being indicted even with one charge !!!

      The main difference is the separation of powers along with a smart constitution. Also the very independent media that the founding fathers called the ” de-facto 4th branch of government” empowered with the power of the first amendment – freedom of speech”.

      The media by design is hostile to the government which also checks the government activities.

      Americans can be just corrupt as Sri Lankans but the system is smart of enough to prevent it.

      Compare this to how many brave media men have disappeared and killed after JRJ constitution with nobody found guilty including the Easter bombings.

      Remember ” separation of powers and checks and balances”.

      Finally JRJ constitution was so badly ill designed, even a political reject like RW who lost his entire party last elections was able to become the President from the back door. Remember democracy is supposed to “of, by and for people” .Ranil is not “by” people.

  • 2
    0

    Dear Asoka Seneviratne,
    .
    I read your article fast two days ago; I was impressed by the main point made by you. I delayed writing, but now I find a few problems with your writing!
    .
    I fear that Ranil is going to abuse these Presidential Powers to the maximum extent possible, keep the country guessing, and then try to storm his way into re-election. There is little finality about anything that is written today. For example:
    .
    https://www.dailymirror.lk/breaking-news/SLPP-heading-for-split/108-279817
    .
    Nobody takes responsibility. Given that scenario, I don’t know whether AKD will be able spell out his policies in greater detail.
    .
    Ranil wants only to be re-elected. In the final ten days of the campaign, he will use the little money that the IMF has allowed him, and go for victory. He will claim the economy is sound, grant reckless income increases to the poor, lower living costs by subsidising, etc.
    .
    If elected, he would care little how the country will fare. We have to stop him. That much is clear to me; but how? I’m now as confused as the entire country.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe, (NIC 483111444V) 51B, Golf Links Road, Bandarawela

  • 3
    0

    I am with Asoka on the contents in this essay.
    Every President elected subsequently, CBK, MaRa end even Ranil when he was PM promised to abolish this curse, The Executive Presidency, but ignored it after sitting on that Chair.Actually JRJ tailor-made the present Constitution not for the country but for himself.
    Would Anura.Kumara Dissanayake abolish it if elected.? If he could be explicit on this issue and certain other issues it would help to clear the air…………..

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