First things first!

The government is seeking a two-thirds majority to change the basic law of the country. Minister D. E. W. Gunasekara has told BBC that the government intends to 'abolish' or 'reform' the executive presidency, the be-all and end-all of the present Constitution. There has been a great deal of criticism of that institution whose powers have been grossly abused under successive political dispensations. However, it has also stood the country in good stead at times of crises. Therefore, haste must be avoided in either abolishing or tinkering with the Constitution lest the baby should be thrown out with the bath water.

On the other hand, a new Constitution is not something that people have asked for. True, the present Constitution has some draconian features such as the unbridled powers of the executive president who is constitutionally equipped to usurp the powers of Parliament. But people's priorities are different. Now that terrorism is over, they want the government to usher in economic development, bring down the high cost of living, create more jobs, rebuild the war ravaged areas and rehabilitate the victims of war.

The government has hijacked the JVP's slogan. It was the JVP that made the abolition of the executive presidency its main campaign cry at the last presidential election for want of a better alternative. The UNP made common cause with the JVP as that was the only way it could avoid a disastrous defeat. The government is now using the JVP's slogan against the Opposition in a bid to secure a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Ironically, the people rejected that slogan overwhelmingly on January 26.

Before changing the basic law, we believe, the government ought to restore the rule of law on a priority basis. Elections laws are being blatantly flouted. The police are made to look the other way. One may wonder whether it is only the President who enjoys legal immunity. All influential politicians and their cronies are above the law! A constitution change may help clip the president's wings but what about the lesser potentates?

Last week we exposed illegal sand mining in the Kelani Ganga at Peliyagoda between the two bridges. The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GS&MB) and the Coast Conservation Department initially played ping-pong with the issue but yesterday the latter said it had nothing to do with sand mining in that part of the river. GS&MB Chairman Dr. N. P. Wijayananda told this newspaper yesterday that his institution was so understaffed that he was not in a position to launch a probe. We are intrigued! He says he cannot find someone to travel a short distance to Peliyagoda but how come his officers travel overseas in spite of a dearth of personnel? His Director General has just returned from a trip to Austria! Can't the GS&MB chief at least get one of his officers to stop on Kelani Bridge on his or her way to the airport and have a look at sand mining below?

Presidential and former MP Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, who leads the UPFA in the parliamentary race in Gampaha, has promised to make that district Sri Lanka's economic hub. But, unless the government puts an end to illegal sand mining which threatens the two bridges the 'economic hub' might have to be linked to the capital with a ferry!

Thus, it may be seen that what really ails this country is not so much the basic law which, no doubt, has to be rid of its unsalutary features but the non implementation of the ordinary laws.

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