I read with interest Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe’s ‘Suggestions for improving the quality of our legislators’ presented at an OPA seminar. He has very appropriately placed ‘Change of Electoral system’ on the top of his list of suggestions. However, he has chosen to confine his discourse to improving the quality of the Legislators or the 225 parliamentarians who constitute the top layer or the ‘Board of Directors’ of a country having a Decentralised Political administration pyramid.
Parliamentarians still remain demi-gods of the public
Overt attention to parliamentarians
It’s regrettable to recall that despite the decentralisation of our political administration system as far back as in 1987 through Provincial Councils (PCs) and Pradeshiya Sabahs (PSs), the parliamentarians still remain demi-gods of the public. The latter together with media are responsible for this state of affairs. As mentioned by the learned Professor, the legislators or Law makers should play a well-defined role assigned to them. Sadly, for the past 30 years, no sincere effort has been made by the top to redefine the roles of the respective layers in the administration pyramid ostensibly due to the compelling greed of parliamentarians to retain their ‘Preference vote’ base. The question is, why should the taxpayer be burdened with to perpetuate a “so called” Decentralised political administration system where the MPs at the top have clearly usurped the role of Provincial Councilors and local Govt. politicians to safe guard their ‘Peference Vote’ base?
As a remedy to this sad and unfortunate situation and at a time when Electoral reforms are on the clipboard,I wish to reiterate below, the relevant points of my package of recommendations on Electoral reforms presented to the Public Committee on Constitutional reforms -2016, Additional Secretary to the Office of the Constitutional Assembly-2017 and the Chairman of the Election Commission-2017, who by the way, graciously gave me an opportunity to make a presentation to him and his senior officers.
1) Given a decentralized Political Administration system of Governance, it is imperative to rationalize the no. of MPs (225) after a proper work-study by subject experts, based on well-defined Objectives and Role responsibilities. Given the enormous direct expenditure alone borne on maintaining the legislature, by way of salaries, allowances and other perks, the existing number of 225 MPs is an unproductive assemblage for Sri Lanka.
2) In accordance with the recommendations of the aforesaid Work-study, lay down new role responsibilities and limits for the respective layers in the Pyramid viz.the Parliament, PCs and PSs. The streamlining of the role-responsibilities and powers of MPs in favour of the peripheral PCs and PSs would no doubt justify a huge reduction in high- cost luxury Vehicles and Transport needs of MPs.
3) With the abolition of the ‘Preference Voting (PV) system, the need for national level MPs to collect preference votes will not arise. Therefore, why should they be allocated with ‘Decentralized funds’ to develop electorates? On the contrary, they can recommend supplementary allocations and release of decentralized funds from the national budget to the lower layers of Provincial Councils (PC) and Pradeshiya Sabhas (PS) and monitor usage of funds through the existing District Development Committees.
4) PSs on the other hand should be depoliticized allowing the people to elect the most acceptable/respectable individuals with high integrity in the locality to act as their independent local agents. Such people surely can be groomed to enter the Parliament. But, as if to add insult to injury, it is learnt that, with the proposed increased percentages for women and youth representation in local Govt. bodies, the number of politicians would be increased by another 2000! Is it fair to expect the tax payers to bear this enormous additional cost burden while getting exposed to increased levels of bribery and corruption infused by local politicians? It is noteworthy that all PSs are presently running without the company of local Govt. politicians!
5) Reforms needed for the General Election Process to improve quality of Legislators With the abolition of the ‘Preference-Voting’ system, the sole responsibility of selecting and enlisting politically professional nominees in merit order should devolve on the respective Parties/Alliances and not on the voter. How can we stupidly assume that 13.0 Mln voters island wide are the best selectors of the cream of 225 political professionals who occupy the top layer of the pyramid? (According to Oxford Dictionary, a professional is a paid person who possesses the required academic qualifications and/or skill and experience to perform his given responsibility or assignment.) Why hide the fact that our voter decisions are mostly based on petty and sometimes illegitimate favours extended by money throwing politicians with their ill-gotten wealth? Therefore, a step to compel the respective parties to field their best district-wise teams in merit order will be a boon to Prof. Rajiva’s effort at improving the quality of our legislators. Presently, this list is furnished in alphabetical order to cover 196 seats. The real objective of the ‘National list ‘(29) too can be achieved by including those nominations also in the district lists so that there will be one master- nomination list of political professionals by each Party/Alliance appearing separately under 22 Districts. As mentioned by the learned Prof. this was the original mechanism laid down under JR‘s Constitution till it got subverted by the present ‘Preference’ voting method which added insult to injury.
6) Since the ‘Election Manifesto’ becomes a critical document for voter decision, it has to be made a legally enforceable document to prevent Political parties hoodwinking the voters with false and unachievable promises. Further, it will produce a ‘five year action plan’ document for the quality legislators in the Parliament.
The question is, why should the taxpayer be burdened with to perpetuate a “so called” Decentralised political Administration system where the MPs at the top have clearly usurped the role of Provincial Councilors and local Govt.
For some power-hungry, egoistic and corrupt Politicians, for whom the Country ranks below Self and Party, the above measures elicit a ‘Paradigm –Shift’ in their attitudes and approach. I should mention in the same coin that our public too has to be adequately educated by the media on these reforms to the electoral system. It will be seen that all the aforesaid measures if implemented in an un-biased, correct spirit, will reduce unnecessary waste of money, time, material and energy of our human resource leading to increases in productivity and economic growth. Such change of heart through a ‘Positive thinking ‘ culture only, could allow our country to develop in harmony without ‘Confrontational Politics’ and ‘Stability issues’ in a rapidly changing world. This model can be applied to Provincial Council elections too with suitable modifications.
Finally, I reiterate that 90% of the issues ailing the existing electoral system will disappear by simply abolishing the already optional PV system through an amendment to the relevant law.
It should be stressed in the same vein that under a complex ‘Mixed Voting’ system (Presently practiced only in some 30 countries out of 213 countries), all the above benefits and productive measures will come to zero, as it will bring back the element of ‘Preference vote’ (though on a lesser scale) restoring all the ills of the PV system.