The current scenario in Sri Lanka is that its two major political parties are gearing up for the 2020 General Election, before saving the country, that is still struggling to recover fully from the dark era, caused by a derailed justice system facing undue delays in taking up cases against powerful personalities. When any such suspects gets taken into custody by the authorities no matter for what criminal activity; based on how powerfully they are placed in society or whom they know in the power circle are released from custody after receiving special treatments during their brief stay in detention a facility not offered to any ordinary suspects. This has ruined any hopes people had in the Unity Government to realise good governance in the battered country before its term runs out in eighteen months. Best option now left for the Unity Government is to introduce a New Constitution without Executive Presidency and Provincial Councils and putting the justice system back on track to curb corrupt practices in the country before their term expires ahead of the General Election for people to vote right for a new government to take the country to prosperity.
Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) at the time of independence in 1948, had a centrally managed two level parliamentary system was handed over to the elite rulers by the British, with a specially devised constitution fit for the multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities living in the island nation, without providing foremost place to any of the languages or religions of the natives, to succeed under strict guidelines to the public officials. Where a single layer of elected local officials per electorate had access to the public without the many layers interference as at present within a district due to the introduction of a half backed provincial council system that nobody wanted. It was an apprehensive package for the majority community thrust on by the rulers to the minority communities who demanded self-rule. It was not well designed and was a failure from the very start and still not mended to satisfy anyone.
Whereas earlier with transparency the requirements of the public was communicated to the Parliament in turn; as the electoral system ensured a representative per electorate to communicate with the central government that allowed a free flow of accurate information between each electorate and the center. Furthermore, with an electoral system the right person was elected to represent the voters in parliament and was answerable to that particular voter base from the electorate. It in turn paved the way for educated, dedicated, intelligent public officials to apply for positions in the government service who with their expert knowledge guided the elected officials to take the country forward. Thus, any ruler with right policies could have managed to serve within the law of the land, taking in to consideration the varying requirements of the dry zone and wetlands or catering to the both the minority and the majority communities. Also at independence with only a population of 7 million, the country had a sustainable economy, though it imported about half its requirements of rice and much of its other essential foods.
It is indeed a shame that the ruling class at the time of independence dominated by the majority community failed to accept the basic truth that British ruled the whole country as a single nation that was divided into provinces and districts of multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities. Instead with the hope that it would give them continuous ruling power the rulers opted to rule outside the constitution to serve their own population as set out in the famous Kandyan Convention of 1815 and as the rulers did prior to the arrival of the European many centuries ago. Though the British arrived in the island to exploit the country for their own benefit, than for the love of the natives there were many kingdoms in the country; yet in return there is no denying that they educated the natives and introduced them to a system of administration to adopt a democratic system of governance and left after handing back a unified country with a sustainable agriculture based economy.
Sadly, the local elite as rulers began systematically discriminate other communities, ignoring the specially prepared constitution by the British at the time the country gained in 1948. It explains how one of the most prosperous country in South East Asia lost its Paradise status and become a third world country, due to economic bungling by nationalising prosperous local assets since 1957, that forced many foreign businesses to move out of the country. In 1972 the rulers introduced a new constitution and the country was officially called “the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka” that incorporated provisions giving “Buddhism the Foremost Place” making it unchallengeable with the “Sinhala Only” already introduced violating the earlier 1948 constitution. Thus due to mismanagement by political forces in the country, countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea, who were behind the resourceful Ceylon in the 1950s and 1960s overtook the Republic of Sri Lanka by 1977.
Then came the draconian Executive Presidency system in 1978 giving all powers to the President to change the character of the Parliament based on the British Westminster democracy, founded on the ancient Magna Carter concept of “no one is above the Law” including the highest office in the land. With the President serving as both head of state and head of government that created an elected presidency with a longer term and independence from Parliament. The President was the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and head of the cabinet of ministers with powers to dissolve parliament and the Prime Minister serving as the deputy to the President and successor. The economic reforms introduced since saw the country witness profound and irreversible economic changes, transformed from a predominantly agricultural to a more diversified being overtaken by industrial and services sectors. This open economic policy saw rural population moving into overcrowd the urban areas that had insufficient infrastructure facilities, while the people left in rural areas were driven to poverty and the country saw rapid increase in corrupt practices adopted by people for survival. This led to uprisings from the people was oppressed by the state as the Executive Presidency gradually deteriorating to dictatorship; downright tragic was the three decades long civil war that served misery on the people to say the least undermining their liberty and freedom.
Today with a population of 21 million Sri Lanka’s character has altered significantly is more industrial than agricultural with manufactured goods dominating exports; raw materials and capital goods for industries account for a larger share of imports than food and other consumer imports with the affluent few enjoying far better social amenities than seven decades ago. But in reality as said many times in Northern Breeze, the elite leaders failed to capitalise and missed many opportunities to retain the lead position held by Ceylon as a successful nation in the region. The country lost its sound economic position in the region resulting from poor governance and the rulers found it difficult to gain lost grounds. Successive rulers with greed for power continued to serve their own group in the community and to achieve it ventures into new forms of governance. While much more people in particular in rural areas struggle to live with high rates of diseases associated with poverty and poor living conditions persist and their quality of health and educational services leaves much to be desired. There are also significant regional disparities more visible in the north-east region most affected by the conflict and urban rural differences, could have been much better if there was more rapid economic growth. Mainly prevented by frog in the well attitude of the rulers, who forgot to rule the whole country, as they concentrated their efforts to retain power than developing the country that has a subsistence economy in a normal year able to reach self-sufficiency in its staple food rice.
Introduction of the executive presidency was one such venture that caused the central government to become corrupt in due course that resulted in the sluggish and amateurish network of public officials. As the country faced many uprisings and was finally driven to a civil war; there began external interference from friendly nations and due to this external pressure, the rulers were forced to introduce a half-baked Provincial Council system to devolve power, only to cause many over lapping administrations between the center and the provinces. Further the national list of representatives introduced have become a back door for those who loose elections to enter parliament that must be stopped and reverted back to the original intensions or scrapped altogether. For it add to the cost as well causes much ill feelings among legislators in parliament. The whole system is now topsy-turvy with elected officials forgetting their place in society to be a service generator to the public who pay for their services. Instead a band of thugs have found an easy way to end up in parliament in turn, buying votes with threats and black money, making the parliament a market place at most times without consequence and at great cost to the people.
Whereas Sri Lanka could have managed well, even without this provincial council system put in place under pressure and today, the public officials have become the minions of the boorish elected officials both at the center and at the provinces. What is more it failed to meet the aspirations of the minorities for whom the system was intended, but only to be messed up by successive governments. Thus life became difficult for the whole population, including the poor section of the communities as the country disintegrated into smaller groups, each with their own political ideology. Each group tried new ideas to come to power and to retain it took drastic steps, only to make matters worse. Thus in seventy years due to recklessness of the past rulers, the country that was once a Paradise Island got into a bloody mess to say the least. Eliminating Provincial Councils will encourage the demand for progress without this corrupt layer of bureaucracy and gradually allow the public officials to return to their rightful place as public servants with pride in the cultural and religious diversity that is Sri Lanka, without any room for discrimination be it race, religion, caste or language.
At a time when the country is struggling financially, it wise to eliminate these costly layers of bureaucracy created by the introduction of the provincial council system and work with the basic district secretariats. Transparency of information flow and accurate data will ensue in a hierarchy which starts with the public who deserve that stature considering they work hard and pay taxes to run the country, and work through the elected official and the public official to the relevant department and subsequently the policy maker in the center. The elected officials should realise their position is not to bully and dictate, but rather to gather information from the public and public officials who are experts in their relevant field and generate relevant policies with further expert advice.
Winning the war thanks to heavy external assistance in 2009, the previous rulers in the six negative years that followed failed to grasp that absence of war does not guarantee peace; as extra efforts were needed to sustain real peace. It was the civil leaders living in motherland, who on realising that social harmony, realistic policies, economic and social reforms are essential for national unity, forced a change of wind in 2015 to change the rulers. The new rulers in unity government on accepting the challenge soon realised that the pace of economic growth cannot be accelerated adequately until peace is fully achieved and did focus their efforts on reforming political, cultural and social values; done against much mistrust between the two major political parties in alliance, with the antagonised people of north east in distress and the situation exploited to their advantage by the previous rulers in parliament. Unfortunately the corrupt practices of the previous rulers ensured that the Unity Government inherited heavy external debts that had to be settled. Sadly, in addition the two leaders President and the Prime Minister had to face many serious challenges due to corrupt practices involving ministers and others in parliament that surfaced in the early part of the three years period. All of which only delayed the Unity Government consolidating their achievements to make qualitative improvements for the economic development of the country.
According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics consumer price index, experienced an average inflation rate of 3.40% per year from 1948 to 2018, gives a cumulative price change based on USD 100.0 as base in 1948 of USD 939.6 in 2018. Thus any achievements country has had in its 70 years of independence, has been inadequate to resolve pressing social and economic problems of poverty, unemployment and inadequate incomes for a significant proportion of the population. The past lack of rationality in economic policy formulation, ineffectiveness in implementation of economic programmes, excessive opposition to reforms, irresponsible union actions, and indiscipline, deterioration in law and order, weakened public administration and inability to resolve the ethnic crises have all weakened economic progress and many nations that were behind then Ceylon in the 1950s have overtaken now Sri Lanka.
With time running out for the Unity Government, best option left for the President and Prime Minister is introduce the finalised New Constitution in draft stage without the present Executive Presidency system and the eroded Provincial Council System; for both have done more harm than good for the people of this country. Executive powers should be returned back to parliament vested with a cabinet of ministers, limited to fifteen and headed by Prime Minister and with a fair justice system backing the new government to take the country on the correct economic development path, after first arresting all suspected to be responsible for all the corrupt activities of the past decade. If achieved many of the extreme political parties all-round the country would be made redundant and driven to extinctions, enabling the moderate parties to accommodate a system of rule for the whole country, accepting the a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of the country for lasting peace and to create prosperity.