Former Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and veteran leader of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) D.E.W. Gunasekara said a few days ago that only a handful of members in the last Parliament were qualified to be called lawmakers.
He listed four qualifications that a Parliamentarian should possess. They are the capability in contributing to law-making, policymaking, monitoring of public financing and representation of people who elect them to the legislature. As a person who vividly showed his capacities in these very four fields during his tenures as a Parliamentarian, Mr Gunasekara revealed some startling truths on the sordid level of the members of the past Parliaments.
There have been members who had not spoken in the House for the five years they had been in the legislature, and some had been so even until they retired from Parliament, according to him. He stated that some of these dumb members had polled the highest number of votes at the elections in which they were returned. Former Chancellor of the Peradeniya University, Prof. M.O.A. de Zoysa once revealed another startling fact about the level of people’s representatives in Sri Lanka. He told the media on March 15, 2017, that 94 MPs of the then Parliament had not passed the GCE Ordinary Level examination.
However, even a driver should have that qualification to be recruited to any public institution. It is true that in a democracy the paper qualifications of a person cannot stand in their way to be elected to Parliament, a Provincial Council or Local Government body. There is a possibility of a person getting their knowledge and skills sharpened by experience, or if he or she is linked to any academic or intellectual field, even without such paper qualifications. Yet, it is a well-known fact that these MPs, who have not gained this lowest paper qualification have not gained such knowledge and skills, either through any association with academics or intellectual activities.
This is not the level of the last Parliament alone. Levels started deteriorating long ago. The current generation is not fortunate enough to listen to speeches of MPs of the calibre of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Dr N.M. Perera, Dr Colvin R. de Silva, J.R. Jayewardene, T.B. Jayah, Pieter Keuneman, S. Nadesan, Sarath Muttettuwegama, Bernard Soysa, Dr S.A. Wickramasinghe, Anura Bandaranaike, M.H.M. Ashraff and so many others.
We may not be able to agree with the political objectives of some of these great personalities. But one cannot deny the rich contribution they made to the Parliamentary debates of their time. The recent debate over the withdrawal of funds from the Consolidated Fund without the approval of Parliament indicates the level to which even the so-called intellectuals of the country have stooped.
The responsibility to elect qualified men and women with high esteem to represent the people lies on the very people. And they could be expected to do so—at least to some extent—if they are properly informed and educated. However, those who are in the higher echelons and those who are in power have the means to control the media that educates and informs the masses. As a result, people are always informed and educated against their interests. A slavish mentality has been built in people so that they would approve the plunder of their wealth by rulers and other politicians. Hence, always there is a possibility of people making blunders in electing their representatives.
Thus Mervyn Silva obtained 150,000 votes from the Gampaha District, actress Upeksha Swarnamali was elected bagging more preferential votes than veteran politician Karu Jayasuriya at the 2010 election. Veteran cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya topped the UPFA candidates list in the Matara District. He was a star on the cricket pitch, but surely not the best politician in Matara District. Out of the 225 elected members of the last Parliament, 102 were from political families whose ancestors of close relatives have also been in the House, as revealed at a forum organised by Verite Research, a Colombo based think-tank which runs Manthri.lk, a website that tracks legislators. It was the people who thought they should elect the sons and daughters of former politicians just because of their relationship to the former politicians.
The National Election Commission (NEC) calls upon the political parties and independent groups in its “Code of Conduct for Political Parties, Independent Groups and Candidates” to “Select candidates based on their past conduct and good behaviour, respect for the law, non-conviction before courts, dedication to serving the society etc.” However, the parties have nominated as candidates, the same men and women who represented the people in the last Parliament, this time as well. Whatever, D.E.W. Gunasekara, Professor de Zoysa and Verite Research may say about the quality of these “lawmakers,” parties and people seem ready to act in this manner for another few decades at least.