By S. Sivathasan –
A state and a government of worth, place little value on the size of its legislature or the magnitude of its cabinet. The quality of governance and the health of the economy are determined by criteria other than these two. Judged by any standard, no country has ever shown a relationship between representational strength and political stability, economic growth or social peace. Why is Sri Lanka hankering after an increase to 235 or 237 or 255? Is it that a few more heads will make a difference to the wisdom deficit of 225? Why this insatiable appetite for more and more and yet more from independence to now?
Some of the countries which have caught people’s attention may be examined to see whether those societies put their legislatures in perpetual expansion mode to arrive at their current position.
USA – The most powerful democracy in the world, having several firsts to her credit governed in1815 with 183 Representatives. In 1913 there were 435 members. In 2015 governance is with 435 members in the House of Representatives. There are 100 Senators besides. The two Houses exercise checks and balances. Presidential system one would say. But so was Sri Lanka from 1978 to January 2015. The latter had none of these oversights or restraints. In U S there has been no change in the size of her legislature for the last 102 years. The genius of the people made the difference. Ethnic diversity made the country strong.
Sri Lanka purchased a US dollar at Rs.5 in 1975. Today she buys at 27 times the price. This speaks for the weakness of the currency, a good index of the health of the economy. The collective wisdom of 225 legislators brought this about. Now they seek more of the same to redress the deficiency.
Singapore – Miniscule geographically with a population of a fourth of Sri Lanka’s has been the cynosure of the world ever since her independence 50 years back. Her economy is mightily strong and the citizens are among the wealthiest. She grew from third world to first in less than 30 years. The stature of those in governance and the quality of successive governments accounted for her success. Never did she place reliance in a bloated parliament.
Even as late as 1975, Sri Lanka purchased one Singapore $ at 1 rupee. Today the price is Rs. 99.00. Did Singapore achieve this level by increasing the size of her legislature? In the first election after independence she had 58 members in 1968. Now there are 99 members. A limited and compact House always provided the catchment for ideal minister selection. A contented electorate awarded power to the same party for 50 years.
Malaysia – The astonishing growth and change of her landscape have been there for more than 50 years for all to see. Statistics support the remarkable changes. To quote just one, Ceylon and Malaysia had the same level of tourist arrivals in early sixties at around 25,000. In 2014, Sri Lanka had 1.527 million tourists and 1.274 million in the previous year. In 2013 Malaysia had 25.720 million, a 20 fold increase.
In the writer’s view Sri Lanka has a wealth of tourist attractions and an immeasurable potential for diversification of the product. Malaysia presents more developed tourism products through human intervention and capital infusion. More importantly the government took concerted and sustained efforts for decades on end. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed’s vision and dynamism contributed much to Malaysia’s exponential tourism growth.
In Sri Lanka how many of the legislators are knowledgeable on tourism? How many spearheaded or supported growth? In half a century, how many have presented worthwhile analyses in parliament to persuade the government to change course and make a difference?
Malaysia maintained the size of her Parliament at the static level of 222 for over 50 years. She has been prudent enough to expand everything else of which the economy was the principal motor. Never was there a thought of expanding the legislature. Malaysia never saw any wisdom in a phantom.
UK – In the 19th and 20th centuries she had an enviable record of achievement. The largest empire in history with the widest geographical spread had several attributes to her credit. The elan vital of her people account for much. She did not count the size of her legislature as one among them. House of Commons had 558 members in 1800 and 650 in 2015.
The Mother of Parliaments grew this way. The child in Sri Lanka opted for obesity and is unable to move itself. Even after having been taught by the Mother, the child learned little.
Japan – Post war development of Japan was phenomenal. It captured the imagination of the world for several decades from 1948. From the first year of elections after the war, she had the desired number of legislators. In 2014, the House had 485 members for a population of 127 million.
If the people were under-represented, did it prevent them from creating an economic miracle? Till two years ago Japan was the second largest economy. Has Sri Lanka created a single developmental miracle with half the number of Japan’s parliamentarians for a sixth of her population?
China – With the largest population in the world, China provides representation for 1.355 billion citizens through the National Peoples’ Congress (NPC) of 2987 members in 2013. It works out to one member for 453,000 citizens. The Presidium is a 178 member body. China has surged forward as the second largest economy with an incredible number of firsts on the global scale. Her economy is poised to be first in 15 years or less. With far greater representation, what has Sri Lanka done which China has failed or omitted to do?
It is patriotic fervor, sacrifice, vision, and dedication of a committed leadership that make a people go forward as did China. Never ever proliferating parliamentary strength and pampering them with perks for opulent living. Nehru said India did not fight hard like the Chinese. SWRD said only turkeys in the backyards of Galle Face Hotel shed blood for Ceylon’s independence. In 1980 when Malaysian MPs asked for more of perks, Mahathir saying he would make it less cut down their golf mornings.
India – India with a population of 1.236 billion has 543 members in parliament. In the Lok Sabha, one member represents 2. 276 million people. In Sri Lanka 1 member is for 100,000 people. Has the thin spread of MPs in India prevented her growth? At Purchasing Power Parity, her economy is 4th and Sri Lanka’s is 63rd in world comparison. Has Sri Lanka achieved anything more worthwhile with a closer surveillance of the country and her people by her MPs?
Tamil Nadu – One of the foremost states of India, economically, agriculturally, industrially, educationally and in Quality of Life Index, is twice the land size of Sri Lanka and has more than thrice the population. All these are achieved with 234 members in the Legislative Assembly. They are no better than their SL compatriots.
Then what explains the difference? Administration held together by the ‘steel frame’ – IAS, dynamic private sector, proactive banking network, ever vigilant media, expanding university system, continuing invitation for foreign investment and a host of other positive policies, programmes and gestures. In contrast to Sri Lanka, the legislature in relation to population is kept at less than a third. Results are enormous.
How much of scholarly contribution are the citizens of Sri Lanka able to obtain from the speeches and writings of their MPs? Do Ministers set the tone in character, conduct and moral rectitude for MPs to emulate and citizenry to follow? Do they live by the prefix Honourable? To great thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, the highest obligation that men of learning owe, is to the state. The best service they can render to the state is as lawmakers. Therefore a citizen having entered the sanctum of Parliament takes up his primary duty as a legislator. Is this the hallowed idea that is at the fount of a Sri Lankan MP’s obligation to State and Citizen? Decidedly not. If this be so, multiplying numbers multiplies only misery and does nothing besides. So why on earth should there be any thought of an increase? Reducing 225 to 200 will be fine. A further reduction to 150 is an ideal that would proclaim the maturity of the body politic.
Marshalling all energy to consolidate the state, strengthening its structures in both public and private domains, uniting a fractured polity, bringing contentment in the present and inspiring hope for the future are among the foremost responsibilities of an emergent people. Ceylon displayed no seriousness in any of these endeavours. On whom were the responsibilities cast? On the government. Who are the government? Successive cabinets drawn from parliaments, which in turn were thrown up by at least three generations of the citizenry. What did they do?
Each year an MP is loaded with a ton of printed government literature for examination ranging from study in clinical detail to analysis, to selective reading to at least leafing through. These are essential to get a feel of the way the government is moving, how the country is regressing and how other nations are progressing. To the citizen how many MPs have given evidence of familiarity with these documents? Have they used ‘Parliamentary Questions’ as in the House of Commons to keep the government on its toes?
For almost 40 years successive governments have boasted that self-sufficiency in rice was round the corner. But as the country knows, it is not anywhere round. Imports have been without a break from 1948. Worst of all, billions are allocated for irrigation schemes when lakhs of acres are allowed to lie fallow. Do MPs care? Does the opposition pillory the government on this? Then why should the numbers be raised?
At the beginning itself foreign reserves assiduously built up before independence were dissipated. Losing no time, citizenship laws were framed for forcible repatriation of latter day Tamils. Language laws fissured society as no other policy ever did. Pogroms, insurgency, civil war and forced emigration followed. Economic ruin, social disintegration and political turmoil were the result. All these while the parliamentarians smugly sat for decades on end. What obligation have a people to foster this breed? Society has faith only in a freshly turned out breed imbued with a mission. Compactness should supersede numbers and quality should supplant the mediocre.
Political leadership has an onerous duty and a sacred obligation to set things right.