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Are we a country without ethics, a moral code and shame?


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IGP Pujith Jayasundera and former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando appearing before the Parliamentary Select Committee last week. Who is to believe in whom in Sri Lanka today? The IGP has made serious accusations about the President. The former Defence Secretary has also made startling revelations about the dysfunctional nature of our security structure and its operations – Pix by Shehan Gunasekara

 

The saying ‘dogs may bark but the caravan moves on’ is found in many languages from the Middle East to India. In Turkish and Azerbaijani, it rhymes [it ürür, kervan yürür (in Turkish), and it hürər, karvan keçər (in Azerbaijani)], suggesting that of Turkic languages may be the origin. Some scholars claim that the proverb is originally Arabic.

However, the caravan of democracy in Sri Lanka will not move unless the credibility of the democratic system is restored. In its present form, it might even be better if it does not move although one is not sure about an alternative.  



Who is to believe in whom in Sri Lanka today? The IGP has made serious accusations about the President. Prior to that Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka made a comment that the issue of Muslim extremism had been brought before the National Security Council on more than 15 occasions in the presence of the President and that no action had been taken. Other senior intelligence officers have also stated that the President was informed about the situation in the country long before the Easter attack. In spite of all this, the President has stuck to his guns saying he was not informed. Who is lying here?

 

Dysfunctional security

The former Defence Secretary has also made startling revelations about the dysfunctional nature of our security structure and its operations. However much the Government has been dysfunctional for the last few years, at least one would have expected the country’s leadership to set aside their squabbling and keep security of the country above political differences and jockeying for power. 

 

However much the Government has been dysfunctional for the last few years, at least one would have expected the country’s leadership to set aside their squabbling and keep security of the country above political differences and jockeying for power

 

The Prime Minister has complained that he was not invited to the Security Council since October last year. Those who know him will know that he does not wait for invitations if he wants to be somewhere. In any event till October, he attended Security Council meetings and therefore he was present on the more than 15 occasions that Field Marshall Fonseka mentioned and when other security information was provided to the Security Council. Can we believe he too did not know anything about this impending danger? Who is lying here?

The former Defence Secretary has also revealed that the Prime Minister had convened some Security Council meetings and that there has been another committee called the Security Committee.

For heaven’s sake, how dare these leaders forsake the security of the country because of their personal and political differences?

 

Spectacle of inaction

Then we see the spectacle of inaction on the part of the Government to take any action against Minister Bathiudeen and Governors Sally and Hizbullah against whom allegations of complicity through association with the extremist elements were made.

This inaction leads to Venerable Rathana engaging in a fast on to death in Kandy and the blow hot, blow cold Ven. Gnanasara sitting beside Ven. Rathana and calling on everyone to rally round the cause espoused by Ven. Rathana. 

Ven. Rathana gives up his fast when the two Governors resign and when he was given an assurance that the Prime Minister will make a decision about Minister Bathiudeen. 

The Muslim ministers, deputies and State ministers then issue a collective resignation until an enquiry could be held forgetting that this is what should have happened in the first place. Not the intent of mass resignation, but the enquiry.

Ven. Gnanasara then changes his tune and attacks Ven. Rathana although the latter had only demanded the resignation of the Minister and the two Governors. 

The Mahanayake Theros then wake up and issues a statement urging the Muslim ministers not to resign. To the best of the writer’s knowledge, formal letters of resignation have not been handed over as yet. 

 

Can we believe or have trust in the President, the Prime Minister, the Parliament or the Maha Nayakes? We are led to believe by the President and the PM that life is back to normal. If by normal they mean, we are back to deceit, unethical behaviour, immorality and lack of leadership, yes, then we are back to normalcy. In fact in this sense we were always normal as we have been living in this muck for a long time

 

In spite of the absence of any leadership qualities and a proven disaster as President, the SLFP Parliamentarians shamelessly request the President to contest the presidency again. Why are they trying to commit hara kiri?

What a joke. What la la land are we in?

Can we believe or have trust in the President, the Prime Minister, the Parliament or the Maha Nayakes? We are led to believe by the President and the PM that life is back to normal. If by normal they mean, we are back to deceit, unethical behaviour, immorality and lack of leadership, yes, then we are back to normalcy. In fact in this sense we were always normal as we have been living in this muck for a long time. 

Our parliamentarians cannot go any further thinking their caravan can go on despite the many voices now openly saying they have been taken for a ride for nearly five years. Professor Sarath Wijesuriya, one of the architects of the Yahapalanaya advent, publicly apologised for the mistake he made and the role he played in helping to elect this Government.

Venerable Athuraliye Rathana, another supporter, too publicly echoed similar sentiments. His onetime comrade in arms, Minister Mangala Samaraweera, now refers to Ven. Rathana as the MP in yellow robes.

 

Failure to deliver

The issue is not about the regime change in 2015 as many who worked for that did so with very good intentions and with much hope. The issue is the failure of the Yahapalanaya leadership to deliver what they promised. They have operated without any moral or ethical standards and in the eyes of many, performed far worse than the regime they changed.

Those who knew about the capabilities of the two leaders who led Yahapalanaya knew what would befall the country and how they would be undermined by the two incapable, ineffective leaders who led, or rather misled them. 

Despite the urge to write more about these two leaders and their failures, the writer will pen something down for others to ponder in regard the future of democracy and the parliamentary system in Sri Lanka. 

To say that the parliamentarians and the parliamentary system today is derided and virtually spat upon is an understatement like no other. 

People probably have more confidence in donkeys than the MPs in the current Parliament of course with some exceptions. Whether it is right or wrong, many amongst the general public would hand over the government to the former President and current Opposition Leader on a platter and beg forgiveness for ousting him. If it were to happen, the two current leaders of the country would be responsible for this elevation.

However, despite its charismatic leader, the issue here is whether a return of the former regime will change anything as regards the perception many have about the Parliamentary system and the quality and credibility of the Parliamentarians. 

 

The issue is not about the regime change in 2015 as many who worked for that did so with very good intentions and with much hope. The issue is the failure of the Yahapalanaya leadership to deliver what they promised. They have operated without any moral or ethical standards and in the eyes of many, performed far worse than the regime they changed

 

People voted to change the previous regime as they wished to change the shadow of authoritarianism, corruption and the perception of criminality associated with some members of the regime that seemed to follow the regime.

Now, people have realised that none of those expectations have materialised and that the situation has got worse. This writer nor any other need to tell the public that things are worse in Sri Lanka today than they were on 8 January 2015. They know it’s far worse. They can see it, feel it and hear it. They live it.

Given this perilous situation, electing another president or a set of parliamentarians, even a set of decent ones, will not resurrect even a modicum of respect for the presidency, the prime ministership nor the parliamentary system.

 

Accountable change

The only way to at least attempt to renew some degree of confidence in the system, both the presidency, the prime ministership and the Parliament, and the quality of parliamentarians, would be if aspirants and indeed those who elect aspirants, demonstrate change. Not just change, but accountable change.

One avenue would be for the aspirants to the highest position in the country to present to the public a legally enforceable code of conduct (if such a thing is possible) that he/she will abide by should that person be elected to the high office. The code of conduct should be a contract with the people of the country, and if any member of the public could demonstrate beyond doubt that the contract has been violated, the president should resign or subject himself/herself to impeachment proceedings. While the president may be supported by one or more political parties, he should not belong to any political party once elected to office

The second important change the leaders from the highest position must demonstrate is public knowledge of their wealth and the wealth of their immediate family, meaning the spouse, children and their spouses/partners (if they are married or have partners). Thereafter they should include in their contracts that their wealth statements will be made public on an annual basis.

The third change is the curtailing of their ostentation at public expense. Ministers and MPs should have official vehicles that are standardised and limited to a maximum CIF value of not more than $ 30,000. No minister or MP should be allocated more than two vehicles. No minister or MP should be given a security detail. If these and similar measures discourage any trash wanting to become overnight millionaires, so be it. That will be very good for the country. 

At least it will draw people who are genuinely interested in serving the country to come forward to serve people.

The fourth change is that if an MP is elected from one political party and they cross the floor to vote with another party, they resign their seats and re-contest if they wish to return to Parliament

The fifth change is that the country should not have religious or ethnic based political parties. Religion and ethnicity is a personal matter and should not be a vehicle for governance via the Parliament. 

The sixth change is that all aspirants from the highest position downwards should during the course of the current Parliament pass a Constitutional change reducing the size of the National Parliament to say 150 members, and 20 ministers and a total ministry not exceeding 50. Provincial councils should be strengthened with administration devolved with some exceptions like defence, income tax, national finance, land, foreign affairs and home affairs.

The seventh change is to establish, within 60 days of forming the next Parliament, a permanent Independent Commission against Corruption with judicial powers to convict those found guilty of corrupt activities. The immunity currently granted to the President that he/she will be above the law when in office should be rescinded.

No doubt many other changes may be needed to restore confidence in the presidency, the prime ministership and the Parliament. However, one could make a start with what has been proposed.

If such changes are not done, it will not be long before the Parliament ceases to exist and governance is taken over by others with a new model that is not democratic. The relatively short tryst with democracy would then be a historical record for the Mahavamsa.


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