Two years after the decisive general elections which led to the two major parties forming a National Unity Government for the first time since independence, we need to impartially and realistically reflect on the positives and the negatives.
Whatever the policy differences, disputes and sometimes heated public criticism, most people believe that in the country’s interest it was a positive move for the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to work together in the government. The MoU, in which former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is known to have played a key role, is due to come up for renewal before September 1. But President Maithripala Sirisena has said the two major parties have till December 31 this year to decide whether the MoU should be renewed for the next three years at least. He says this will give the Government time to approve some important legislation and the 2018 Budget. Prime Minister and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe appears to be keen on the MoU being renewed as are many other UNP front-liners. But some SLFPers have expressed reservations though President Sirisena may eventually have the say and he has repeatedly expressed confidence that the National Unity Government would go on at least till its first term ends. Most people and political observers also expressed this hope because there seems to be no option for the common good of the country.
Among the other major positives is the 19th Constitutional Amendment under which President Sirisena willingly and voluntarily gave up most of his executive powers. As a result we saw the appointment of an independent all-party Constitutional Council which made recommendations on appointments to high posts. Other Commissions were given the independence to
Probably the most important landmark legislation was the enactment of the Right to Information Act and the appointment of an independent Right to Information Commission. We saw the consolidation of the sovereign people’s right to the freedom of information. During the past one and half years hundreds of people have applied to the offices concerned and obtained the information they need while those who could not do so, have successfully appealed to the Commission.
Not only the freedom of information even the freedom of expression has been restored. Since January 8, 2015 there had been no killings, abductions or major attacks on journalists or media institutions though there had been some minor incidents.
President Sirisena has often complained and sometimes hit out strongly that some media institutions are misusing or abusing this freedom.
The draft National Audit Bill was another plus point but it has still not come to Parliament. Our sister paper the Sunday Times reported last week that the draft had been brought before Cabinet 23 times but deferred because various ministers had objected. These objections are believed to be coming mainly from Ministry Secretaries who say they are concerned about the proposed surcharge when they allocate money in emergency situations and do it without going through the proper procedure. We hope the Cabinet will approve this bill soon and it will become law as a means of ensuring accountability and transparency in the use of public funds.
This brings us to some of the main negatives for which the government has come under heavy criticism not only from most people but even from civic action group leaders who had taken the forefront in bringing the so-called rainbow coalition to office. One is the Central Bank’s alleged bond scam, with inquiries still going on. In a TV interview on Wednesday some of the civic action group leaders also expressed concern over the long delays in the inquires and prosecution of cases involving the plunder of billions of dollars, by the former regime’s VIP politicians, top officials and
Various motives have been attributed but the President said recently he would expedite the cases while the Cabinet on Tuesday decided to set up special High Courts or trials-at-bar to conduct daily hearings of such cases. We hope this will happen soon and billions of dollars in public money will be recovered and returned to the people.