By Basil Fernando –
President JR Jayewardene, continuing the modifications to the Constitution started by the coalition Government which came to power in 1970, changed the whole structure of the Sri Lankan Constitution. This aspect has been discussed over and over again by many persons making it unnecessary to handle it here. What needs to be asked is: what was the philosophy behind these modifications? Was there a grand political scheme of development for the country? Was it either from the point of view of economic development or social development? And lastly, was it at least in technical development allowing the country to catch up with what was happening in the world at that time?
As an example, what was the benefit that was envisaged for the country by adopting this model? Did it look at the Executive Presidential System changing the balance of power notion contained in the separation of powers? Why was the Parliament one that is completely subservient to the President? And finally, why was the power of Judicial Review removed, leaving the issues of legality and Laws to be decided purely by the Executive? The same could be asked about many other changes which were brought about via the Constitution and some of the amendments.
Jayewardene often attempted to create the impression that he was following the Singapore model. Was the grand political scheme behind the Singapore structure of the governance of Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yu, also followed in Sri Lanka? The grand scheme of Lee Kwan Yu was to develop Singapore into a modern city which would be equal to other metropolitan cities in the world. By the end of his life he claimed that he had achieved this. One of his books was entitled From the Third World to the First. Here, we do not have to examine whether the claim is well-founded or not. What is important is that Lee Kwan Yu in fact had this grand scheme.
One of his oft-spoken repeated themes was that of a city which has absorbed the benefits of software. Thus, in his grand scheme, the adoption of the latest communication and information technology to reorganize the workings of the State, received prime consideration. Vast amounts of money were invested in this scheme. In this aspect it could be said that Singapore could achieve the goal of becoming a modernized city in terms of modern communication and information technology. Behind the pursuit of the software strategy was the idea of the development of an efficient operating system in the country. The State bureaucracy had to conform to the standards required for a speedy, high quality and efficient delivery of services. Many strategies were adopted for the purpose of achieving this type of efficiency.
In fact, the criticism against Lee Kwan Yew was that he overdid social controls by laying down extremely high standards enforced through sanctions. Not only were the sanctions imposed by Law but they were similarly imposed by an efficient, law-enforcement system. Even such practical issues, as keeping the city clean and educating the older generation of Chinese and Malays in the modern use of facilities, was done in a very onerous manner. At issue was ensuring that efficiency continued as a major concern in his strategy.
To achieve that objective it was essential to eliminate corruption. Thus, strong steps were taken. They were on one hand the Law and on the other hand the bureaucracy salary increments at all levels. Thus, the objective of elimination of corruption in the normal delivery of services could be achieved. The elimination of corruption is one of the cornerstones for attracting investments. Lee Kwan Yew understood that if he wanted other countries to come and invest in Singapore, it was essential that they maintain qualities and standards that investors expect. After all, the investors were taking a risk by bringing their investment to a different climate.
Lee Kwan Yew clearly understood that investments require credible and reliable systems of dispute settlement. So, no person who came to invest would feel that they could easily be cheated under the prevaling situation. Enormous efforts were made in two areas. Firstly, speed up the judicial process, especially in the area of commercial litigation. Secondly, bring in the highest qualified persons as Judges and arbitrators ensuring that dispute settlement would be fair and speedy. A speedy system of administration of justice is essential in a well-functioning system. Investors will then have the highest confidence in the security and profitability that may come from their investments.
In addition, Lee Kwan Yew understood that a modern transport system is essential for commercially successful enterprises. The transport of various commodities and the facilities needed for the running of various business enterprises requires a speedy and efficient transport system. Delay in this regard means loss of profits. Investors judiciously calculate these matters when they embark on an exercise of transferring their funds for investment into another country. An efficient city culture requires not only efficiency of the State bureaucracy but also of other facilities which guarantee high quality services efficiently run. Singapore developed a highly specialized hospital system. Even the affluent from neighbouring countries chose to go to Singapore for treatment of their health issues. Needless to say, that too brought income to the city state. At the same time, the encouragement of restaurant services, hotel services and other such services essential for those who visit the city be maintained.
This is just a brief account of the grand scheme Lee Kwan Yew pursued. It has been seen for the most part as having a satisfactory degree of success. What was the grand scheme of President Jayewardene in this regard? Mostly there was no such scheme from a national point of the view. There was a great deal of rhetoric about opening up the economy and bringing in investments. But, as measures were not taken to ensure that the words were put into practice, none of these claims were achieved! Perhaps the only really grand scheme of J.R. Jayewardene was his ambition to remain in power for as long as possible. Thus, there was no grand scheme for the nation but there was a grand scheme for the person. He even ordered a referendum to extend the term of Parliament in order to keep a two-thirds majority under his control. His own survival could then be guaranteed. Jayewardene was preoccupied with preventing a vote which could oust him and his party from power or at least diminish the power he had because of the over two-third majority he had won in the 1977 the elections. If there was a grand scheme and if that was in fact defeated due to some reasons, it is easy to go back and examine where the scheme failed. Perhaps attempts could be made to overcome the problems that may have obstructed the achievement of that goal. But, where no scheme existed at all, the legacy it leaves is a nation that lacks an overall political philosophy in running the country.
Unfortunately, that was the legacy JR Jayewardene left his nation. All those who complained about the failure of his scheme, persistently stuck to the same personal scheme that President Jayewardene proffered. It was one devoid of an overall national ambition and a philosophical base.