28 October, 2020

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The Philosophy Behind JR Jayewardene’s Constitutional Project 

By Basil Fernando

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.

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    Now Lets wait for Rajapaksa philosophy , right after elections. Trust me though many had tried copying after JR, this will be of different level and magnitude altogether, which Lankans have never experienced before.

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    his grand scheme did not fail
    nobody developed the country as he did after mrs b messed it up
    it was such a success that everybody followed it

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      nalman, you came from the 10th hell to write this nonsense? Mrs B did a lot for this country which JRJ destroyed.Remember the Fertilizer manufacturing corporation, the paper Mills corporation, the Textile Corporation. If there were shortcomings, they should have beeb improved but not destroyed so that your catchers can sell the lot for scrap.

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    It is amazing how some of the people can fool all of the people all of the time!!! Congratulations.

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    Mr. Basil Fernando: As I understand, for several centuries, we did not have a Baminitiya saaya. Because, we have well established irrigation system. There is no questions about it. Fortunately, ARMY IS REBUILDING it.. We were called the granary of the East. Some how we did not import rice, vegetables or spices except during the war time. British built a railway network to transport production and to transport people all over the country. So, what we need IS UPGRADING THOSE AND EXPANDING THOSE.Instead we are going for COMMIS EARNING PROJECTS.
    JRJ went for Singapore model, that must have been the instruction from USA when he visited there.
    We need TRADE. Instead we have stopped production, manufacturing and exports and are going for a Capitalist system that suits an Industrial country. I here, even money earned by exports do not come back to Sri Lanka and those are stashed there in banks. Probably politicians paying for those money to use their ill gotten money in the stock market. (That is also interesting story as the money markets in the developed has gone bust) . Anyway, We have doubled the imports. Even though the President, just one person changed, It is the same old parliament. Former SLFPers are strong men in the UNP. Former UNPers are strong men in the SLFP even tough they jumped to Pohottuwa fir their personal gains and to save their loots, it us the same. People say UNUTH HORU; MUNUTH HORU. API HIRAWELA. (Simple both groups are thieves and the voter is squeezed in the middle. I here, one wise president will be there after the election. He needs only to save his NO-OWNER VILLA OF 16 ACRES BUILT IN THE MIDDLE OF RAMBUTAN TREES. I hear, that is not the only one.

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    JR was a visionary and political genius. With his open market reforms, he was taking Sri Lanka in the same direction as China. Deng had just opened the Chinese economy to foreign investors in 1978. Of course. Sri Lanka does not have a billion plus population (large labour force) but it could have also been a hub for outsourcing, on a smaller scale than China. The timing was just right, as the next few decades saw rapid advances in automation, increasing the demand for manufacturing – especially of electronic goods – exponentially. Unfortunately, due to Tiger terrorism, JR’s plans were left incomplete. Most of the government’s budget had to be committed towards war, not development. Now we are in a completely different environment. Automation has peaked and any development must take into account the large national debt.

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      That was why he was ordered to invite the IPKF to look like he had the vision. Shortsighted couldnt see far

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      His economic model failed and he created the anti Tamil movement and the attack on the JVP

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        His economic model was a success. Still today, most of the country’s power generation comes from dams built by JR. Unlike Sirima who was a pure socialist, JR favored privatization of key industries. He is also the one who modernized the tourist industry, still one of the important revenue generators for Sri Lanka. JR did not want a fight with Tamils, but Prabhakaran forced his hand by killing 13 soldiers. After this, JR had a plan to crush the Tigers once and for all (Operation Vadaramatchi), but this was interrupted by India. Foreign investment is difficult during war, so the Sri Lankan economy stagnated.

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    Basil

    There is no Constitution in Sri Lanka . A CRIMINAL is at the helm and he has given orders ” only to arrest if you have to using Minimum force and only if your life is threatened.. Just look at Gothas Cousin Weeratunga the Master Mind of the MIG deal. which was a bigger scam than the Bond Scam . He was told to go to by Gothas agents to Dubai . From there he was brought home by CID( I dont know what that means) and then taken straight to hospital no doubt to be used as mitigating circumstances for his release. The limit to justify his release was reduced to below RS 25,000 ( even beggars on the Street wont accept it. ) and released. Gotha was furious why he was detained in the first place. Sri Lanka is a Laughing Stok in the World. Weerathunga isnow FREE MAN just like the biggest THIEF Basil to form another party to swindle.

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    Godfather of corruption should be eliminated from the future governance. Sangha should not sing Hosanas for the corrupt politicians, they must stick to their Spiritual thing.

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    His economic model failed and he created the anti Tamil movement and the attack on the JVP

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    JR thought about only his party and never the country. 1960 July elections is where the UNP got around 30 seats as opposed to the 75 seats won by Mrs. B. Yet the number of votes polled by the two parties were very close. This what prompted him to enact the disastrous proportional representation system where the preferential voting was enacted. This made sure that only thugs and rich businessmen who can spend a fortune on canvassing an entire district are elected to the government. He wanted UNP to come to power by hook or crook. He wants to be the king who extended his term through a dubious referendum. What a power hungry politician! He is the biggest traitor to Sri Lanka and responsible for all the ills of a new constitution

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      Citi Perera, He is the biggest traitor I agree, not only for the ills of the constitution, but the destruction of the nation as a whole.

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