President Sirisena needs to be resolute

"Compassion" for scoundrels and dearth of grit are not good signs



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by Kumar David


Maithripala Sirisena’s victory was time for good cheer and his 100-day Work Plan occasion for exhilaration; two big steps forward. I certainly am no silly idealist who imagines that all 100 steps can be achieved in full, but if important matters are addressed to satisfaction President Sirisena will go down as the president who navigated the greatest achievements in the shortest time. It would be churlish to pick holes within a week of his taking office unless the matters are serious, but one of the two items I have in mind is much discussed in the media already. That is how was Basil able to abscond despite President and Eng. Patali Ranawaka’s assurances that big crooks will be brought to justice and not permitted to flee?


Basil walked through Katunayake without let or hindrance; obviously there was no order in place to prevent escape. How many million dollars were in his baggage - I think nothing was checked? There is no point picking on, or pinning the blame on low level officials; Basil could not have scooted without a Presidential nod. There are two explanations. As they were buddies in the Rajapaksa cabal for a decade a degree of personal friendship may have grown, so the President may have found it squeamish to take an old buddy into preventive custody. The other possibility is that the powers that be, not just the President, thought it less messy to let the scumbag get away than endure a lengthy and embarrassing trial. Either way so serious a misstep, so early in the day, will embarrass not the President’s opponents but those who placed their trust in him.


The other regrettable matter is the choice of Ministry Secretaries. The new Defence Secretary MUD Basnayake raised eyebrows when, according to the Colombo Gazette, he commented on assuming duty: "I wish to pay a special word of thanks to my predecessor with whom I spoke over the phone before I assumed duties". Was it really so necessary to say this about an alleged rights violator, BBS guru and a person who is not untainted by the Bacillus of graft? According Lanka WebNews, "Maithripala Sirisena appointed P.B. Abeykoon, one of the most corrupt persons in the Rajapaksa regime, as his secretary. Abeykoon is respondent to charges of election malpractices according to the UNP. In an ITN interview during the elections he asked voters to vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa". Colombo Telegraph says "Media Ministry Secretary Karunarathna Paranavitharana received lucrative positions in the previous administration due to his political manoeuvring". These concerns and the objections in the previous paragraph are voiced in a constructive spirit since the public must be an eternal vigilante.


The dark and hideous experience of the Rajapaksa years has quite rightly made everyone very sensitive; some of these allegations are false or exaggerated, but what the hell! Can’t President Sirisena do better than provoking concern during his very first week in office? Even Pope Francis interwove "justice with reconciliation" since this Argentine Bishop knows better than anyone else that Christ’s message forgiveness is inseparable from sincere repentance and genuine contrition.


The crucial aspects of the


100-day programme


Having got these gripes off my chest let me turn to the pleasant task of summarising some important pledges in President Sirisena’s Work Programme. I have collated from different sections but first let me say that Sirisena has returned to the original pledge in the Memorandum of Understanding to abolish, not just tinker with the Executive Presidential System – excellent! As a newly elected President Mr Sirisena is entitled to our trust and I intend to take him at his word.


Wednesday January 21


The process will begin of abolishing the authoritarian executive presidential system and replacing it with an executive of a Cabinet of Ministers responsible to Parliament, and of repealing the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with legislation to establish strengthened and independent institutions, including a Judicial Services Commission, a Police Commission, a Public Service Commission, an Elections Commission, a Commission against Bribery and Corruption and a Human Rights Commission. This will be through a 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which will be presented to Parliament and passed as swiftly as possible.


Wednesday January 28


An all party committee will be set up to put forward proposals to replace the current Preference Vote system and replace it with a Mixed Electoral System that ensures representation of individual Members for Parliamentary Constituencies, with mechanisms for proportionality.


Tuesday March 17


Amendments to change the system of elections will be placed before Parliament and passed as swiftly as possible


April 2015


Monday April 20


A Parliamentary system will be put in place instead of the Executive Presidential system.


Thursday April 23


Parliament will be dissolved and free and fair elections held under a caretaker government.


The following items should be read in conjunction with these extracts and provide underpinning for the new parliamentary system. If all goes smoothly, and there is no reason it should not, the political system in Lanka will be much improved.


Tuesday January 20


The Standing Orders will be amended and, in terms of Proposal 67/10 now tabled in Parliament, Oversight Committees will be set up comprising members of Parliament who are not in the Cabinet will be established and their Chairmanship will be given to representatives of all Ministers in consultation with the leaders of all parties represented in Parliament.


Wednesday January 21


The process will begin of abolishing the authoritarian executive presidential system and replacing it with an executive of a Cabinet of Ministers responsible to Parliament, and of repealing the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with legislation to establish strengthened and independent institutions, including a Judicial Services Commission, a Police Commission, a Public Service Commission, an Elections Commission, a Commission against Bribery and Corruption and a Human Rights Commission. This will be through a 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which will be presented to Parliament and passed as swiftly as possible.


A second crucial matter is bringing crooks to book. In a letter in the Island (13 January) R. A. Ratwatte well expressed the outrage that people feel when the crooks of the old regime, not the little rogues but the big scoundrels at the top, are allowed to walk away scot free. This is what he had to say. "If all the petty catchers, drug smugglers, rapist and vermin who robbed our country blind and drove self-respecting honourable people who were trying to make an honest living, to despair are allowed walk away, If all those relatives of the Rajapaksas who held down highly paid state jobs and denied qualified people. If those who blatantly abused their positions are not named and shamed and punished, it will constitute blasphemy".


The work programme makes scant reference to bringing crooks to book other than:


"Thursday February 5: Special Commissions will be appointed to investigate allegations of massive corruption in the preceding period


It was neither the high principles of democracy nor the cost of living that turned the tide. It was graft, abuse of power, cronyism, and impunity for corrupt politicos and drug dealers that swelled anti-Rajapaksa sentiment. An anti-corruption drive is crucial and will be credible only if it reaches to the very highest levels of power and cronyism and tackles corruption, impunity, conflicts of interest and influence peddling across the political spectrum. Furthermore with ex-President Rajapaksa now on the rampage stirring the communal cauldron there is no better way to clip his wings than to put him on trial, after investigation and due process, for his alleged crimes, and to let the full facts pour out. The alleged attempt by Rajapaksa and his cronies to engineer a coup at the last moment must also be investigated and criminal charges filed if warranted.


A strange provision


There is however one rather strange provision in the 100-day Work Programme. The April 23 entry which I truncated previously reads in full as follows


Thursday April 23


Parliament will be dissolved and free and fair elections held under a caretaker government. Following that election, the Prime Minister will be appointed from the party getting the highest number of seats at such election, with a Deputy Prime Minister from the party getting the next highest number. A National Government of all parties represented in Parliament will be established to govern for a period of at least two years.


Clearly this provision was drafted by a political novice and if carried into the Constitution would shackle the freedom of the post-election government. In a nutshell I can explain the conundrum as follows: Either Ranil will be Prime Minister and Mahinda his Deputy Prime Minister, or the other way round! I see this as a recipe for gridlock and disaster. It is one thing to encourage a National Government but it is idiotic to prescribe it as a compulsory Constitutional requirement.


Something important to do


A leading Communist Party Trade Unionist who disagreed with the then majority line (probably not a majority any longer) in recent correspondence has raised "The possibility of the formation of a nucleus of an independent force beginning with a discussion of maximum effective implementation of the 100 Day programme. Such a discussion would involve meeting the conspiracies now being hatched by the defeated forces to sabotage progress. In my view the Maithri group is not strong enough to deal with this opposition alone. This is where an independent left force is needed to discharge a responsibility. Since the JVP is showing interest in the implementation of the 100 Day programme (its focus is on the "National Advisory Council") I believe it should be brought in to the nucleus."


This captures the core issue that needs to be urgently addressed at this moment. The problem is the JVP, which though it is taking the correct political line is so high and mighty that it spurns working with or talking to others. Maybe it fears that others may claim a share of the credit. Sigh! Sectarianism comes in various shapes and forms. Anyway let us keep trying.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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