Colombo Telegraph

Three Pillars Of Democracy 

By Upatissa Pethiyagoda

It is said that the edifice of Democracy of the people rests on three pillars – The Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature. For proper functioning, these three should be exclusive and they should not be confrontational but co-active while each retains its integrity and function. The Legislature formulates Laws, the Executive implements them and the Judiciary intervenes when either of the other two is seen to be in default.

It is unfortunate that because of the Head of State being styled “The Executive President”, I tend to believe that there is confusion. Since The President is properly part of the Law making process, he should therefore reside within the Legislature. Since to “execute” means to “do”, ”perform” or “give effect to”, the Executive should properly be what we now term the “Administration”. It would be interesting to see the reaction of the Political Scientists, Constitutional Experts and the like think of this. To me, this is much more than a mere name change.

For one, it emphasizes the equal status of these arms of governance, their need to resist, or respect each other’s integrity, eliminating persistent argument on who is superior to the other. In the worst case, if the Legislature (Parliament through the Speaker) finds itself in conflict with the Judiciary – on whether its pronouncements, are binding on Parliament or not. 

Ever since the Executive Presidency was created by the Constitution of 1978 with sweeping powers, unfettered by legal accountability, a monster was created. Here was an office endowed with extraordinary powers to do all “but create a woman from a man” – as was vividly expressed by the first incumbent. Quite understandably, the official acts of the incumbent were insulated from legal challenge. However, to extend this immunity to cover all acts whether in an official or private capacity, is indefensible. We have not been fortunate enough to have any incumbent who by freedom from blemish, has justified the extraordinary power attached to this post. 

The Executive (The Administration) has been severely debilitated by sustained interference by the Legislature. At Independence in 1948, we had a public service which was the envy of our neighboring states. The services were competent, efficient and incorrupt. They, led by the Civil Service of that time, were fiercely independent and truly a help to the Legislators, who were not always equipped to manage the tasks of day to day governance. The rot started in about 1956, when MP”s started interfering more and more and in about 1960, brashly demolished the standard-bearer the CCS and replaced it with the wider and more malleable SLAS. Today, the Administration is a poor caricature of a distinguished past. It has the character of a subservient, shameless, corrupt and insensitive behemoth. 

While the superior Court judges, by and large have maintained their stature and honour, the accessory structures such as the Police, the Prisons and the Attorney-General have reached dismal depths. The Police for example have been called the most corrupt Department. The Prison service cannot be far behind. The most urgent reforms, if such are honestly desired, must begin with the Administration, which of the three pillars impacts most with citizen needs. The disastrous effects of insular linguistics have very seriously also impacted on the quality of a service which has been denied access to a massive storehouse of information accessible only through competency in a World language.

A subservient and corruptible Public Service is invaluable for crooked Politicians. Although the blame for illegal and dishonest acts are usually laid at the door of political figures, it has to be remembered that embezzlement of any notable size, could not be effected without the complicity or collusion of public officers, who themselves are not averse to skimming off something for themselves. Corruption is a virulent and rapidly spreading contagion – a fact of which we have been made painfully aware of, with each passing day. Apart from the moral dimension, corruption must have disastrous consequences for the economy, because it constitutes an expense without concurrent service.

*Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda – former Ambassador to Italy

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