Comments /943 Views / Thursday, 12 January 2017 00:00
By Lacille de Silva
A former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke had said: “The world will not wait for us”. Yet, our institutions are weak, imperfect and badly managed. The staff is poorly motivated. They are continuously underpaid, less trained and therefore incompetent. Good governance had taken a back seat. Nothing moves in the right direction. Countrymen face deprivation, suffer injustices and discrimination. A majority have lost faith in the leaders. Corruption and abuse of power have become a way of life.
In Canada, integrity is considered important for parliamentarians. They are required by law to “maintain public confidence and trust in the integrity of parliamentarians” and to “place the public interest ahead of private interest”. The UN insists that democratic institutions need to be strengthened to achieve sustainable development.
Our politicos during the last few decades, having captured power, have deceived the masses and abused powers to advance their narrow interests. They have ensured that the laws and institutions established for the prevention of corruption are muzzled. They have engaged themselves in egregious levels of corruption. They have diverted State funds for personal benefit and outwitted the donors.
Kofi Annan had said: “Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable development.” It is only in a democracy that people can be empowered to demand and shape better policies, express grievances, seek justice from abuse and hold leaders to account.
However, they do not promote building partnerships with civil society. They disregard the welfare of citizens. They have failed to implement policies to achieve economic growth and development. It is most opportune to make a sincere effort to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in all projects, programs, institutions etc., while striving hard to strengthen the culture of democracy between the rulers and the ruled.
The failure to establish good governance would not enable us to strengthen democratic institutions, ensure efficient service delivery to the citizens, establishing rule of law and strengthening of anti-corruption network in the country.
In the Millennium Declaration at the UN, world leaders including Sri Lanka affirmed their commitment to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law and to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms including the right to development. Furthermore, it had resolved that “Good governance is essential to the realisation of all human rights, including the elimination of poverty and ensure satisfactory livelihood for all.”
The President had emphasised the need to put “the country and the people first”. Shouldn’t all the politicians resolve firmly to fulfil the noble goal? The President while addressing the nation said that they are not masters and that they are the servants. How many of our politicians think similarly? They have even forgotten that the people are their paymasters.
The President in an interview also said that the prefix “His Excellency “should not be used. He added that he be referred to as “Mr. Sirisena”. He announced that he will also not use the presidential houses including the one in Colombo and that he had also revoked the order placed by the previous regime to purchase an aircraft for presidential visits overseas. As the saying goes: “Humility is royalty without a crown.” Could we expect that from parliamentarians too? Don’t they like flamboyance at State expense?
Why are the greedy parliamentarians asking for more and more hungrily, that they need additional perks and benefits to ‘serve the country’? Shouldn’t we now start searching for more capable, witty, genuine law-makers, who could think “the country and the people come first”? Can’t we find better people to do more for less?
A Sri Lankan who had been resident in Australia for nearly three decades told me: “The first task of the PM, who had been the Leader of the Opposition for many years, should be to make sure citizens’ lives are improved daily, because if citizens do not see improvements, their enthusiasm for supporting the Government vanes.” He added: “The citizens are involved to strengthen democracies. In Australia, the Government prefers involving people to help make it work better.” In short, he said: “The Australian system ensures giving voice to the voiceless.”
Improving the quality of governance
Improving the quality of governance, with pragmatic leadership, rule of law and an effective bureaucracy, without excluding the citizen are the imperatives at present. Parliamentary committees such as Standing Orders (SO), Privileges, Parliamentary Business, etc. came under me nearly three decades ago. I am therefore personally aware that the question of opening numerous committees to the public had been an intense debate in most of these committees all throughout.
The proposals to amend the SOs had been always discussed and dilly-dallied. We should now devise stringent mechanisms to ensure that they are made accountable when they use public resources in irregular and unacceptable manner.
The lack of accountability has led to gross abuse of public resources. There must also be new laws to strengthen the right of the citizens to hold their representatives accountable case they do not deliver the promises made and if they do not govern the country well. The country should be free of domination by a few political families. Room should be provided for discussions based on what is good for the people and the country. These are challenges that need to be addressed if the Government need people’s support and approval.
All these are needed because transparent decision making could serve as a safeguard against corruption, waste and abuse of power. They should bear in mind the President too acknowledged that the victory saved him from going six feet under. Did most Sri Lankans ask for “a change of pillow to cure a headache”? If the former President had attended to the other priorities, having ended the 30-year war, he could not have been defeated!
We need realistic outcomes. It is important that the present rulers too should remember that unless their mind set is changed and if they too generate negative outcomes (only reward themselves), their days too will be numbered.
Good leadership lacking
Universal adult suffrage had been introduced in 1931, in Sri Lanka, which is unequalled in Asia. Voting age was reduced to 18 in 1959 and this too had been done at least a decade later in several Western countries. Lee Kuan Yew considered Ceylon as a model owing to these achievements in social, political and economic sectors. Prior to 1978 Sri Lanka experienced a change of government at almost every election. This had been turned upside down with the constitutional changes, (so called ‘home-grown’ constitutions) introduced, having repealed the Soulbury Constitution.
Owing to these, increasing ethnic unrest created a sharp decline in ethnic relations and harmony. New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and Sweden have been consistently ranked at the top as the least corrupt countries. Strong commitment towards anti-corruption of political leaders, freedom of the press, openness and effectiveness have been crucial factors towards their success. These issues therefore need to be addressed with an open mind in the interest of all communities.
How did the Sri Lankan Government fall far below expectations? According to the World Bank: “Strong, efficient and transparent government institutions are fundamental to economic growth and social development.” What is the missing ingredient from all the analyses? Good leadership.
Unlike Sri Lanka, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan, China and Thailand have recorded unprecedented growth during the last several decades. China particularly had been successful in achieving double digit growth. Hong Kong and Singapore have achieved per capita incomes well above even European countries.
An economic miracle has transformed their lives thanks to the leaderships they have had in those countries. Economists have opined that their success had been due to the emphasis on education, training, investments, heavy reliance for exports to meet global standards, etc. Why are we called a developing country from time immemorial? Since independence, governments had failed to achieve their multiple goals and have not done what they were supposed to be doing.
Priorities should now be changed and all necessary steps should be taken to improve good governance, with people-oriented programmes. Former Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, another UNP stalwart himself, had said “creating an Executive President by consolidating extensive powers in one individual is disastrous”.
Furthermore, the 1978 Constitution created a weak parliament. Parliamentarians lost the independence they had enjoyed previously under the Donoughmore, Soulbury and 1972 Constitutions. They cannot independently decide even the vote now. They could be thrown out if they disobey the party leadership. Is it happening?
Biased systems and culture of impunity
The confusion JRJ created and how it was further worsened by successive presidents is a depressing story. Biased systems favourable to politicians have caused distorted relations between the State and citizens. It has been reported that the Government incurs heavy expenditure of around 22% of our GDP to maintain an excessive number of ministers, deputies and state, including all their numerous perks, their fleet of super-luxury vehicles, other benefits, etc., unlike in other countries for ostentation. This is a crime. Internationally, this should not exceed 7%. Millions of people thereby have been deprived of schools, roads, hospitals, medicines, etc.
The culture of impunity too has destroyed this country. Corrupt politicians scratch each other’s backs to hold on to power. This is the reason why even the present President howls stating: “Nobody can topple this Government. This Government will go through its full term.”
A UN report says: ‘The people are the owners of government.’ It also says: ‘Parliament should be the true voice of the people. Accountability to people they serve is the basic plank of a democratic system.’ It had added: ‘People have the right to be involved in decision making at all levels and in all dimensions.’ We should now promote governance that is effective, legitimate and responsive to deliver unique benefits to the citizens.
A top civil servant in Australia had said: “We recognise direct participation of citizens to govern Australia well. We ensure greater stability, facilitate people’s wellbeing and manage education, health, environment, energy issues, etc., better with citizen involvement. It is essential to harness the ideas, knowledge, wisdom and skills of the other sectors too, including professionals, leading businessmen, academia, and even voluntary organisations.” He had added “Failure to engage them would lead to waste of public resources, inefficiency and disorder.”
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