Democracy they say is the best form of government. This then goes uncontested. Yet the rise in human fallibility of greed, selfishness, self, centeredness and what not, have undermined its workability making political authority even prefer the state of autocratic rule. As a result the much perfected democratic goals fall by the wayside.
The election pledges given to the masses on good governance is shelved. “Democracy is veiled autocracy,’’ said one of the world’s best philosopher poets Allama Iqbal, a Pakistani. Man’s exposure to material advancement and the upswing in human fallibility run parallel. So a decline in moral existence at all levels let alone governance is to be expected so much so that resourcefulness to implement the elegance contained in democratic values is at a dead end. This affliction is widely prevalent in the Asian region where self-service instead of selfless service dominates the politicians’ minds. Nevertheless the non-secular nature of the Sri Lankan state itself should be a facilitator into curbing the grosser self of greed and self centeredness because the Buddha’s teachings are heard in every house, street corner and state function. If this is an unrealizable objective then that which prevails is merely power oriented political Buddhism and not the pristine teachings of the enlightened one.
If the 17th amendment upheld people’s sovereignty through the theory of checks and balances, its effacement coupled with the 18th Amendment where presidential rule is not time driven enabling the state head to serve unlimited terms, invariably is a denial of people’s sovereignty. Power corrupts and the corruption that follows absolute power for periods unlimited is unimaginable.
The approval of unfair legislative enactments merely on the basis of a two thirds majority that represent the people may not necessarily be to the liking of the people. Times passage reveals corruption increasing in alarming proportions and results in the mismatch between people’s aspirations and those whom they represent.
Truly the people’s representatives are vested with powers to engage in the decision making process and approve legislative enactments. Yet majority based numbers are most unreflective of good governance as evident in what befell the 17th Amendment and the hopelessness of the 18th.
The 17th Amendment’s Constitutional Council in 2002 came closest to righteous rule or Dasa Raja Dharmaya heralded humane governance only to be scrapped by those that saw in it an impediment for self-benefit. A golden era that was prior to the infamous 1972 constitution the independent commissions of police, public service and judiciary were looked forward to once again by an enthusiastic public well-nigh disappointed with the intensity of politicisation. That was not to be.
If constitutional safeguards were to be in the interest of public well-being but detrimental to corrupt governance there could be no better mechanism than the 17th Amendment. The credibility of the Government erodes in the public eye when such constitutional amendments are stifled. That it is being done to conceal corruption is public knowledge. What’s more, the absence of an Anna Hazare fast unto death initiative makes Sri Lanka a country where ‘anything goes’. A gracious Manmohan Singh yielded to Hazare in bringing in the anti-corruption constitutional imperatives the latter demanded for public well-being.
If politicisation results in corrupt governance in the absence of these commissions, the 18th Amendment is a major breakthrough in the continuity of such corruption.
No election could be called free and fair in the absence of an Independent Police Commission. In as much as justice must not only be done but deemed to be done, elections must be held and its results proven credible. The physical act per se is futile when its bona fide remains questionable. Means must justify the end. The 17th Amendment is a means that justify the end which is the sum total of good governance for it assures a qualitative growth in state administration.
For laws to become independently operative devoid of a rubber stamp administration, the independence and sanctity of the governing-tripod namely the judiciary, executive and legislative ought not to be tampered with.
There could be no better way out in the realization of this objective than the hope coming off the 17th amendment’s independent commissions.
The rule of law, accountability and transparency bear testimony to gentlemanly governance. The 17th amendment’s independent commissions are an excellent opportunity for the gentleman politician to display his nobility of character if he has any-gentleman politicians being a defunct entity.
The demand for good governance is non-existent except for a few newspaper articles. Many politicians view this country as their paternal inheritance to be exploited in the way they wish-their siblings so neatly groomed into power to carry on the money spinning exercise. Bribes, tenders, commissions, drug peddling, black marketeering, racketeering, liquor bars for side - kicks, power-centred jingoism, favouritism make up the undeniable thirst for ‘service to the nation’ - a shared commonality of all governments. Yet the 17th amendment to arrest these ills remains anathema for its capacity to eliminate corruption and re-establish the rule of law which in turn would threaten the power deities.
Neighbouring India is miles ahead of Sri Lanka in spreading nonviolent anti-corruption constitutional reforms. The Lokpal Bill is the result of such mass protests. Ram Dev, the former Indian Union Home Secretary initiated the repatriation of black money from Swiss and various other foreign banks. Pranay Nahar went head on collision with the criminalization of politics. This was the result based on his observations of criminals patronising politicians and entering local bodies, state assemblies and parliament. India’s Right to Information Act 2005 helped reveal the corruption of bureaucrats and politicians.
"No election could be called free and fair in the absence of an Independent Police Commission. In as much as justice must not only be done but deemed to be done, elections must be held and its results proven credible"
A dual chambered legislature may have contributed effectively for and against the 17th and 18th Amendments respectively. For example India’s ruling party that dominates the Lok sabha or lower house cannot bulldoze unfair legislation and stand in the way of that which is in public interest - the Rajya Sabha or Upper House being the buffer zone. Sri Lanka is most unfortunate in that a one sided majority in parliament partnered by an overbearing executive presidency and to top it all -- a highly complacent, very docile and inactive civil society has come to stay with the possibility of a dysfunctional democracy and the probability of a ruthless dictatorship.