Something’s is not right in the Sri Lankan Legislature!

The_Sri_Lanka_Parliament_BuildingSri Lankan Legislature is filled with many deceptive lawmakers from all round the island nation representing various political parties; includes many previous regime ministers entering through the misused national list, after they were rejected by the people in the 2015 General Election.  It resulted in the assembly that began following the Wind of Change to encounter many rough weathers, mostly caused by corrupt law makers and their outside backers that had many times stunned the President and embarrassed the Premier of the Unity Government in the past three years. Yet after each weather window, these leaders with the help of some able and reliable ministers in government managed to move the country slowly forward through the wreckage left behind by the previous regime. Considering the fact these two leaders are neither specially gifted nor dropped from heavens by the Gods, but did hold responsible positions in the legislature prior to 2015 and had witnessed helplessly over a decade every event or non-event of the dictatorship regime that ruined the country. With the country in heavy debts and time running out for the assembly the Unity Government had to deal with natural disasters and many global calamities occurring in the past three years that has make the population poorer. Though the lawmakers were distracted many times by the frolics of the previous regime members attempting to defeat, the government has kept working to put the economy back on track and meet the many promises made to the people and to the international communities, with limited success. While the number of people facing difficulties to make ends meet is on the increase with the advent of the depreciation of the Sri Lankan Rupee; yet the failure of the legislators to shed their political differences away to guide the government to work for the betterment of the people is a clear sign that something’s is not right in the Sri Lankan Legislature!

Fact that Sri Lankans are enjoying far greater personal freedom today, than before the 2015 Wind of Change is no indication that all communities are well, for there are many pockets of areas in particular in the previous war zone, where people are struggling to make ends meet as the gap is widening between the income from exports and cost of imports. In this backdrop when the Office for Reparations bill was passed, the voting figures showed that most of the law makers, includes many in the government had shirked their responsibility to take a stand on an issue of greatest importance to the national reconciliation process is a clear sign that something’s is not right in the Sri Lankan Legislature.

Further, when the 2019 Appropriation Bill was presented in the legislature, it was observed that the security forces were given increased budgetary allocation for maintenance is another clear sign that something’s is not right in the legislature that keep voting for it each year, that includes the law makers representing the people in the previous war zone for whom it gives no assurance to their dignity or self-respect. As the security forces with their own mindset and a new form of democracy in practice operating its own business activities to meet its new challenge of transforming from a wartime to a peacetime force;  powered by many profit-making ventures harnessing its manpower and resource capacity to perform on a competitive basis and provide a good service is involved in almost all the services and professions in the country, in itself is disadvantageous to many thousand new businesses started by civilian entrepreneurs.

Sadly another clear sign that something’s is not right in the legislature was seen after the 2015 General Election, when the Unity Government leaders appointed defeated buddies as ministers that pushed aside elected members of the winning side, only to give a top heavy government to make good governance impossible. These legislators did not drop from the sky, excluding a few new arrivals others were basically from the same pool in parliament that had in many ways tolerated and even supported all the devious activities that took place during the period of the disposed regime from whom they did gain many years of benefits; perhaps with the then prevailing dictatorship rule could not have done anything better.

As these ministers collectively are not equipped to make difficult decisions, consult political parties not represented in government to compromise on many issues; result in the issues being left unattended or the ministers got into a mess that their leaders had to mediate to force a solution. This impacted on economic and ethnic issues that had to be settled for good governance. In the three years, other than few ministers, the rest are yet to demonstrate their ability to make bold, difficult choices to put right the calamity caused by the ethnic disharmony that has existed for decades. Thus preventing the leaders to heave off the die-hard previous regime members in the legislature, who are seeking to derail the progress they make on economic, social, and ethnic issues.

These awful politicians collectively have created a system to maintain the status quo, a system to ensure their own survival and the promised good governance remains a dream for the people. To make matters worse the corrupt activities that were in abundance prior to 2015 Wind of Change still continues, perhaps at a slower phase after the change of government. The Unity Government’s failure to curb this trend made the people unhappy on what it had collectively achieved in the three years and to express their dissatisfaction many refrained from voting at the LG Polls concluded early this year for the candidates representing the government and political parties supporting it from the opposition. The expression of displeasure from the people served as a wakeup call for the Unity Government was a positive aspect of the poll results. Even though it was not intended as a support for the disposed regime members in opposition, the results delighted them for many who voted in 2015 general elections refrained from voting to effectively increase opposition to the government.

True, the Unity Government had appointed commissions and many committees to investigate corruption, financial crimes, murder, abduction, torture and yet in this land of corrupt politicians with impunity continue to defy laws and the culprits are yet be punished. With many of the promises that were made just before January 2015 still unattended and others still left incomplete; it seems when the current term ends as on previous occasions, the followers of these parliamentarians will vote them back at the next general election due in 2020 to represent them again in parliament. It includes the fire-raising personalities of the last regime and haulers of blackest wrongdoings seen in the country, now in opposition; who having made an impression at the LG Polls concluded early this year are busy trying by any means to gain the support of the somewhat intelligent, sober stratum of the population to return to power by winning the 2020 general election. To that effect, these leading personalities as agitators will continue to bring forth their liberating and revolutionary feats to nudge in the unmotivated mass into their fold. Once again no doubt at election times, people will witness heightening tensions between ethnic communities with campaign speeches full of imagined threats to the majority community from the minority communities.  These politicians inflate their egos and project themselves as the only leaders who could overcome these threats are successful in diverting the people’s attention from real issues and downplay any positive gains made by the Unity Government.

Earlier the Buddhist majority population under true democracy in due course could have taken Buddhism with ease to prominence; for that reason the first constitution was drafted to include provisions to safeguard the followers of other religions in the country that was multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Unfortunately, the greed rulers in a rush began working outside this constitution and then replaced it with a discriminatory republican constitution that steered the country within a decade to a bloody and cruel civil-war triggering untold hardship to the people and immeasurable destruction ever seen in the modern history of the island. Bitter Truth is even today, in spite of the tragic civil-war most Sri Lankans including those who follow other faiths knowledgeable of Buddha Dharma respect it, as it states the importance of forgiveness and that those who cannot let go of a real wrong against them are unable to free themselves from hate is only harmful to all citizens. Now there is the opportunity for the government, political parties and public and civic institutions that failed in the past to make amends for those failures.  By getting the Office for Reparations into the law, the government of national unity can claim to represent the interests of a multi ethnic and plural nation and time is ripe for the opposition to guide forward this government that continues with its post-war reconciliation process despite strong opposition from nationalists and party political rivals on both sides of the ethnic divide. This was possible because there are still many who follow their religious concepts and to their credit were of one mind to support many ethnic matters even while at loggerheads on most other matters of state.  This alone highlights the value of this Unity Government alliance and the need for it to continue beyond the present term of parliament, perhaps with new leaders; but certainly there is no need for a change of government for it will only delay everything and only prolong the agony of the people.

Regrettably, the previous regime with post-civil war elation was an undisputed power in the country for six negative peace years after the end of the Civil-War in 2009. The silencing the guns of the enemy went to the head of the ruler, who continued using with its blatant aggressions the full strength of the security forces in want of a new enemy, to cover up making profits by their own corrupt activities utilizing the assets of the civilians. Until a rallying point from moderates for greater democracy to improve human rights, where peace and justice would prevail and international laws respected caused the wind of change and the leader of the previous regime came under immense pressure from within and outside the country. It was during this period that the UNHCR campaign for the setting up of a criminal court with international judges to investigate human rights violations during last stage of the war gained momentum and further trade sanctions in the form of removal of GSP+ facilities and the export of fish ban were imposed.

For hatred can, in turn, lead to more widespread suffering, and in turn, more hatred. This is what has happened in this island nation after the civil-war ended in 2015, whereas as Buddhist the previous regime should have given up hatred and forgiven the harm or imagined harm done by others to allow the country to move on and to achieve peace of mind and prosperity for all. Yet these rulers ignored it all due to their lack of conviction or perhaps it was their greed that made them to proceed with their own rehabilitation and rebuilding programme to get richer by utilizing loans from countries like China for its many mega projects.  The involvement of China in an Indian Ocean nation did upset India in particular and many western nations, who assisted the country’s civil societies and the dictatorial regime was disposed by peoples’ vote early 2015 and the Unity Government was formed later that year, who co-sponsored the UNHRC resolution 30/1 with the US was adopted that overlapped undertakings in the EU for Sri Lanka to obtain GSP+ facilities and the lifting of the export of fish ban. But most of the mega projects were left incomplete, while those completed projects ended up as white elephants with the new government inheriting a heavy loan debt to settle. Yet the disposed past leader was not willing to give up easily and the country witnessed in the past three years is a battle of wits inside and outside the legislature with the previous regime deceptive members actively preparing for a confrontation at the 2020 General Election.

True the Unity Government has flaws, so did all the previous governments and to change it as suggested by previous regime lawmakers would only prolong the agony of the people of this little nation that was once a paradise. Instead all actors in the legislature should rise up above their party politics to put right all said wrongs to guide the Unity Government that has restored democracy, rule of law, the independence of judiciary and media to corporate with the investigations in progress to find those responsible for the many past frauds and corrupt activities. Further the Unity Government is progressing in the right direction by constituting the Constitution Council and through it established independent commissions; Office of Missing Persons (OMP), passed Reparations Bill and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance Act; tabled the Counter Terrorism Bill. Yet lot more needs to be accomplished, includes replacing executive presidency with a ceremonial presidency answerable to the legislature; complete the devolution process started in 1987; releasing of all political prisoners; delist excess security personnel to downsize the state tri-forces to peace time levels and complete reforms to increase the export production capacity of the country; otherwise something’s is not right in the Sri Lankan Legislature will continue beyond 2020 for ever!