Parliament is the bedrock institution in our democratic system, which should play a critical role to promote democracy and good governance, while ensuring a government by the people and for the people
Undue dominance exercised by the Executive President over the Parliament for several decades has been a serious drawback in Sri Lanka. The Opposition too has been weakened and rendered ineffective by the President. Furthermore, the enthusiasm to learn parliamentary practice and procedure of parliamentarians and lack of knowledge have also been a major cause for the deterioration of standards both in Parliament and the country.
The elected representatives have deliriously failed to bear in mind that they are duty bound to perform the task of representing the people, (representative function), execute far-reaching duties and responsibilities in legislation (legislative function), and to oversee Government control (control function).
They have failed to give good leadership to formulate development policies as an efficient, responsible, open and accountable Parliament, while engaging more closely with citizens, and local authorities in shaping, preparing and implementing and monitoring development policies and plans at local provincial and national level in a transparent, citizen-centric and people friendly manner.
Parliament is the bedrock institution in our democratic system, which should play a critical role to promote democracy and good governance, while ensuring a government by the people and for the people. Having defeated the former regime in 2015, the present Government has failed to consolidate the agenda of strengthening the institutions and the democratisation process. The massive defeat at the Local Government elections leave no room for them to revive the program. Yahapalana team did not foresee that the political winds change in Sri Lanka!
Major issues before the country
- Severe economic, political, cultural, religious and other issues;
- Building long-term peace, harmony and unity;
- Weak, unresponsive, self-seeking undemocratic rule;
- Inability to conform to the pledged reformist agenda or aversion to make the change;
- Absence of intellectual ability to review progress on a daily basis on governance issues;
- Current politicians are the root cause of undemocratic weak governance and citizens do not trust the State;
- Successive governments have overlooked the need to find out the reasons why youth engage in numerous crimes;
- Mismanagement, abuse of power, flawed decisions and political leadership errors;
- Citizens are silent observers of ruin and destruction, when in fact they should be active participants of governance activities;
- 43% of the population live below poverty line;
- Judiciary needs to be made totally independent, citizen- centric; overcome delays; zero tolerance for corruption;
- Pervasive corruption, ethnic/religious issues, flawed institutions, growth of criminal violence, rising population, poverty, illiteracy, deteriorating rule of law, under-world, drugs, declining national and per capita levels;
- Failure to strengthen devolution meaningfully in an effective, prudent and people friendly manner;
- Undemocratic policies, which had triggered state structure to decay and destruction and bad governance;
- Plundering resources, structural deficiencies, weakening of the state foundation, failure to cope up with internal challenges, economy structurally weak to withstand the challenges of nation-building;
- Ever increasing poverty level with a deepened debt crisis, poor economic policies, debilitated state capacity, over-spending for luxury vehicles, unnecessary expenditure for state functions, which should be totally banned and thereby pushing the country into a legacy of further confusion;
- Destruction of forest reserves, illegal sand mining/earth and destruction of natural resources
- Lack of common bonds between different communities;
- The need to give protection and incentives to local industrialists (including declining industrialists) to invest in real and human capital to develop new capabilities and skills;
- Deter unfair competition – dumping by foreign firms at prices below cost and save jobs;
- Help and save environment;
- Self-sufficiency in rice and other food stuffs as a sensible economic strategy and avoid over-reliance on imports given the risks of global downturns
- Being an important arm of the State, does not promote democracy and good governance;
- Failed to establish the necessary checks and balances, develop norms and standards for democratic people-friendly governance;
- Does not acknowledge the fact that the Parliament derives its powers directly from the consent of the people, expressed through periodic elections: thereby failed to enforce the ‘will of the people’;
- Does not express people’s voice in making Government decisions and people are therefore unhappy that their aspirations have been disregarded by their elected representatives;
- Elected representatives have failed to maintain integrity, ethics, morality and win public confidence;
- Failed to place public interest and the country ahead of their personal interest;
- Enacting Laws/debating national issues/checking the activities to make the government accountable does not happen;
- Does not help to identify problems and policy challenges to overcome bureaucratic inertia;
- Being the only State institution that could hold the President to account by way of an impeachment, the ‘trustees’ themselves together had disregarded the ‘will of the people’ for private gain and had paved the way for ‘bad governance’;
- Needs vast improvements in the legislative process,
oversight functions, for budgetary and financial control, committees, overall efficiency and effectiveness of entire parliamentary process;
- Empower citizens involvement in governance by enhancing people’s participation in a more open, transparent and accessible Parliament and a public service in decision making process;
- Quality of both National/Provincial public services have come down drastically, with a heavily overloaded staff;
- Does not promote and safeguard meritocracy principle in the recruitment, promotion and career management of public servants;
- Professionalism, careerism have been neglected;
- Excessively corrupt and politicised;
- Poor service delivery due to excessive political interference, discrimination, inefficiency and bribery;
- Senior public officers do not have the necessary independence to implement policies to achieve their anticipated goals;
- Public Services Commission has been side lined manipulatively having entrusted constitutional authority to deal with appointments/disciplinary control/promotions of senior public officers vide Article 55 (2) to the Cabinet;
- Appointments of Secretaries to Ministries has been entrusted to the President vide Article 52 (1);
- Need to create a totally independent Public Service Commission (PSC) has been overlooked for several decades, (which is now inferior to the Cabinet of Ministers);
- Public Administration Circular No. 15 of 1990 introduced during the Premadasa government, which had outlined the recruitment/promotions policy in the public sector has been surreptitiously pushed under the carpet to accommodate corrupt politicos;
- Employee/citizen ratio – 1/18 (1990); It had increased to 1/16(2012). This is higher than all our neighbours – India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nepal, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Public Finance Management (PFM)
- There is no credibility in PFM in Sri Lanka;
- Public finances need to be handled with probity and in the public interest;
- Public funds should be used wisely;
- Transparency and value for money
Improvements of standards required in the delivery
of public services
Honesty, Impartiality, Openness, Accountability, Accuracy, Fairness, Integrity, Transparency, Objectivity and Reliability –
- In the spirit of and to the letter of the law;
- In the public interest;
- To high ethical standards;
- While achieving value for money.
Responsibilities of the citizen/Government
In a democracy, the people should also be aware that they have the space to interact , intervene and participate in day-to-day governance issues that affect their lives to ascertain whether public officers are guided by rules and have used resources and authority in a transparent, accountable, effective and an equitable manner to benefit the community.
They must play and active role in a democracy. They should not remain as silent spectators;
Due to lack of oversight, checks and balances, transparency, breakdown of parliamentary system, wasteful spending decisions have resulted in excessive physical deficits and balance of payments crises.
Professor Nicholas Van de Walle, Cornell University, had pointed out that substantial amount of increased aid given to developing countries continuously had prevented suitable reforms leading to economic growth. Under similar circumstances, corrupt leaders, who are rent-seekers had disregarded the need to deal with the challenges of state building. Professor Walle had also argued that continuation of aid could finally end up in state failure.
Youth in Sri Lanka are becoming more and more disgruntled due to drugs, poor education, high rate of unemployment, alcohol and numerous other reasons. Some youth are fighting against the system. It appears they engage themselves in violent activities due to unequal opportunities and deprivation.
Frustration, resulting from the non-delivery of material benefits by successive governments have led youth, including adults, to seek opportunities to acquire wealth and prosperity elsewhere, drug trade, etc. These problems have not been adequately addressed together with the psychological factors involved.
Need to establish a National Commission for Education plus other independent commissions
The first Minister of Education (1931-1947) the late C.W.W. Kannangara’s contribution having laid the foundation for a national system education, which should now be given constitutional recognition, since educational opportunities to people must be strengthened to build a prosperous nation.
The Education Ordinance No. 31 of 1939 – a comprehensive ordinance covering all aspects of education to lay the foundation for a national system of education, introduced purely on the initiative of Dr. Kannangara remains as the basic law of education, embracing primary, secondary and tertiary levels, in Sri Lanka to-date.
His goal was to ensure a genuine democratisation of education through the provision of equal opportunities for all children irrespective of social class, economic condition, religion and ethnicity. He had stressed that a curriculum was needed for every child in the country to develop his “head, heart and hands” and (1) academic knowledge (2) aesthetic values and (3) practical skills.
In conclusion, let me add the country now needs a credible group of truly patriotic, honest, hardworking, dedicated and capable, passionate professionals to craft a political solution urgently, with strategy and determination. Their goal should be to create a robust democracy from a weak democracy. A passively peaceful country to a reconstructed realistic peaceful country.
Moreover, they should create a country where all ethnic communities could live as equals. They should be able to dispel mistrust against each other to enjoy fruits of a successful nation. If so, future Sri Lankans should be provided accessibility to shared political future where equality, justice, peace, harmony, law and order, freedom, meritocracy and unity would ensure growth and development.