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Executive presidency: Remedy is not in abolishing but strengthening it by an apex body

By Dr. M.A. Mahamed Saleem and Arjuna Hulugalle

Which of the two elections will take place immediately in Sri Lanka is now known to all but, under what conditions the former Chief of Defense Staff has agreed to be a candidate is an enigma and a high stake point for bookies to make a quick buck? Although the Presidential term does not finish until Nov 2011 speculations of an early election sent panic waves to all those who are outside the UPFA governing coalition. Mahinda Rajapakse’s common touch with the people and his personal popularity following defeat of terrorism that plagued this country for three decades had given him an advantage for a second term.

Thus, the opposition forces have gone on a crusade to form an alliance with the sole objective of defeating him at the next Presidential elections. Recognizing deficiency to find a matching candidate within their ranks, a political alliance has been cobbled together calling it UNF to entice retired General Sarath Fonseka to contest on their behalf.

An inclusive Apex Body

This article is not to debate whether such a contest is healthy or not or to guess who among the two heavy weights who concluded the war will occupy the Presidential seat. At the present juncture, the people of this country should not be asked just to pick one and dump the rest but, urged to suggest a way for bringing together the contestants and mobilizing their experience and their resources to be of service to the country and save it from the chaos and ruin, as persistent disunity will lead us to that inevitable situation. The present structure of the executive Presidency has some advantages but the concentration of too much power in a single person has its down side as human frailties can take control when exercising its powers and those outside the presidential orbit feel marginalized.

We believe that the remedy is not in the abolition of the Executive Presidency but in strengthening it by an Apex Body composed of three members – inclusive of the ones placed second and third in the Presidential race if they have polled a minimum of 15 % of the total vote count. If none qualifies with 15% requirement the lead winner in the Presidential race should request two parties (other than the party or coalition of parties he represents) that had polled higher number of votes in the election of the sitting Parliament to nominate one representative to the Apex body.

The country belongs to all

The origins of the glaring shortcomings in the country such as corruption and disunity point to the faulty political structure and the politicians. The responsibility of blame for the continuous endorsement of this state of affairs without a vehement protest or an attempt at changing the structures has to be placed on the voters. For six decades the UNP and the SLFP have alternated and ruled this country but they have failed to reduce the ethnic and other divisions and allowed them to fester to the point of hatred and violence seeking a division of the country. Although prime perpetrators of violence have been eliminated, the hegemonic and discriminatory postures which this system nurtures especially in the context of making the Tamils and the Muslims have the perception of being deprived of equal rights by the numerically larger community has not been adequately addressed. This is essential to make all citizens of the country have trust and confidence in each other and accept the culture that the country belongs to all.

With the war over and the country having the opportunity for a great future, this is not the time for another period of acrimony and tension. The people of this country can not continue being pawns in power games. The political culture of winner takes all and loser nothing only leads to a course of dissent and disruption of every nation-building programme by the loser. The winner then spends considerable unproductive energy and resources to neutralize opposition attacks. The new political Agenda has to reconcile this divergence.
Creating a positive synergy

Policy lines of UNP have been pro-urban and pro-business community. The SLFP is perceived to be pro-rural and more caring for the poor and the working class. The country therefore needs a new political structure to capture the different party strengths to derive maximum benefit. To minimize inter-party rivalries and contribute to national reconciliation we recommend the formation of a Supreme Apex Council that includes "the second winner" and the "third winner" (call them members of the Supreme Council or Vice Presidents etc) without casting them out as the losers with less value for the country. This will be the synergy that the nation is looking for collective decision making.

Correcting faulty structures

Sixty years of faulty governance has brought with it developmental disparity at various levels. Over the years, Sri Lanka has lost respect in the international arena and has gained the reputation as being corrupt and bankrupt with increasing level of poverty and dependency on external assistance. Over concentration of amenities and development have centered in urban areas and neglected rural areas. Constant urban inflow of people and net outflow from rural areas has created many social classes which have become the breeding ground for inter- and intra-ethnic tensions and civil unrest. Sri Lanka has fallen short in meeting its food and energy needs. The confidence of the youth has to be reinstated that they have a future and can make a decent living without having to move out of their home bases. To achieve this, people will have to be provided with an environment in which they can take control of their destinies by looking after their immediate localities, and this needs to become the basic development unit to rebuild this country. Everyone recognises that the political structures need change. This has triggered several debates for constitutional reforms and an ongoing deliberation through the APRC and other Commissions. However, there seems no agreement among the legislators on any of the issues. While this is going on, an arrangement has to be formulated at the very earliest, which will give the people of this country a greater and more visible role to govern themselves. This in itself will bring about a momentum for positive change.

Gramarajya

Among others the Mahatma Gandhi Centre has been advocating immediate formation of Gramarajya- village self-ruling 9 member council(s). Each of these members elected based on varying developmental interest sectors (IS) – youth, women, food production, services and heritage- will target sector improvements and the accrued benefits will raise living conditions and human welfare around them. The eligible voters in every village will register under anyone of the interest groups and conduct their own elections to elect IS representatives.

There are close to 14,500 geographically demarcated villages in Sri Lanka, and Gramarajya in each of them can be constituted without any extra effort or expense by leaving this exercise to people of the respective village. Once all Gramarajyas are constituted throughout the country, all village councils (Gramarajya) under a Pradeshiya Sabha division can combine and select the interest group representatives to represent them at the Pradeshiya Sabha and the Pradeshiya Sabha within a District can do the same to elect representatives to the District Councils.

National Advisory Commissions

The Districts will have the power to nominate a Chairperson of one of the 20 Advisory National Commissions which will be responsible for development plans for the entire country. Each Commission will have 3 members. Every district will be entitled to nominate 2 members to the Commissions apart from nominating a Chairperson of a Commission.

The elected representatives will be governed by a proviso of Accountability to the electors, and Right of Recall by their respective electors at any time during their tenure for failing to deliver on the mandate accorded to them.
Although notionally this administrative channel is not new the manner of electing representatives and empowerment is new. The Gramarajyas need to be formed immediately and constituting other levels can be gradually introduced over a period. A mandatory amount of funds (computed on a transparent criteria) has to be allocated directly to every administrative body- The Gramarajya, Pradeshiya Sabha and District Council. This structure will enable the legislative and executive functions to be separate, and thus political interference and corruption associated with it can be minimized as one becomes the watch dog of the other.

In the governance system proposed here the Parliament is constituted under the existing constitution or a modified constitution and will be advised by the 20 subject commissions. Correspondingly, there will only be 20 ministries whereby cutting down on the cost and improving work efficiency without functional overlaps between ministries. The function of Parliament will be entirely legislative, and the Members of the Parliament will not be allocated any development funds as practiced today but will have an overseeing role for the implementation of agreed projects through the District Councils. The Supreme Apex Council, although constituted from party strength of the respective candidates, is to function as an impartial body guiding legislation in Parliament on one side and policy execution and implementation through District Councils and the public servants on the other thus, reducing the parliamentary political interference in the executive functions of the various layers of governing bodies.

Real Independence

Many thought that Sri Lanka had at last its real independence on the 18th May 2009, which opened up an opportunity to re-trace the rugged path the country has treaded and remove the impediments that prevented this country from making it home for all its citizens with equal rights and privileges. To achieve this vision it is, however, necessary that the people’s representatives must be those who do not breathe hatred and vengeance but those who unite people and work for the common good of the country. The country therefore has to work towards a strong base at the periphery with the empowerment of the people and a mechanism to share power at the Centre. Thus the exercise of power should not be a prerogative of a few politicians. It must essentially be held in Trust for the People.

Give the people a chance

In the final analysis let us not talk of victors and vanquished, and let us find a way of making everyone a winner in the service of this country. Let us demonstrate this in the immediate challenge ahead of us as we go into the Presidential Elections. Let us make all of them winners, and let the one who secures the highest votes embrace the others in constituting one Apex Body to lead this country. This will then be a true National Partnership. Let this premise be made known in advance by the contestants. People desire unity and peace and they deserve to be given this chance. Let them not suffer political divisiveness anymore.

2 Comments

The proposed system is quite different from the existing, hence implementing this proposal will be a problem. Now that we have a system in place it should be changed by amending the constitution to remove the loopholes and weaknesses which are obvious and evident. First and foremost the powers of the executive must be pruned down. He should not be able to interefere in Parliment or with the Finances of the country. The practice of the President being the Minister of Finance should be prevented as it has given room for widespread abuse and corruption.

Also whereas the President should be the COC of the armed forces, the Police which is a Civil body should come under the Prime Minister and be answerable to Parliment. These are just thoughts which may be difficult to implement. What may be done is that is that the Office of President be separated from Parliment. Also powers should be shared equally between the President and Parliment. Ministers must have the power and ability to function independently for the betterment of the Nation. Too much control is not good for the development of a country. All people including Public Servants must be allowed and given resposibilty to function freely to develop their areas. All stakeholders must be involved in the development process.

The Media must be unshackled and allowed to play the role of whistle blower to expose corruption and nepotism at the highest levels. The Judiciary must be given the independence to dispense Justice and Justice must be available to the poorest and weakest member of society.

Posted by: SriLankan | December 1, 2009 12:32 AM

Srilankan's problem is they never respect constitution what ever may be and even human rights.

Posted by: parathy | December 1, 2009 08:15 AM

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