Shiral Laktilake, the Coordinating Secretary of President Maithripala Sirisena, speaks about the current status of the government and why the concept of good governance failed. The excerpts:-
- He should play the role of statesman
- It is not strange that the Rajapaksas are making a comeback
- It was brought for power political game of PM
- 19 Amendment is creating a constitutional crisis
- Common candidate concept will not work
- It has to be undone somewhere
Q You played a role in promoting the concept called ‘Good Governance’ ahead of the 2015 Presidential Elections. As far as the realization of this concept in the actual context, what do you feel now?
That is very normal in any power context. When what you actually thought or conceptualized is transformed into action, there is a possibility of forming gaps. If you look at the pre-2015 period, there was a big demand for these concepts. There was a need for transparency, accountability and the rule of law. If you look at the elections in 1994, 2001, there was a specific need for every election. This time, there was a need created by society in this regard. That happened because of gaps and lacuna created by the then rulers before 2015. We formulated a policy platform as a result.
Literally, people who had bowled and took wickets have not come to the field for batting (cricketing jargon). This is what happened eventually. The people who came into power have never absorbed the values of rule or law, transparency or accountability.
Q Whom do you refer to in this instance?
Even the latest incident (the arrest of President’s Chief of Staff and the Timber Corporation Chairman) speaks of the sad situation in the country. The real people who were instrumental in toppling the previous government along the line of good governance didn’t take over the power.
If you look at the way the Rajapaksa government operated, they had done something. We need not deny that. They won the war. They had brought certain development to the country. We should not negate that aspect
Q What are the other reasons for failure to realize the concept of good governance?
I am not saying it is a total failure. We have failed partially.
Q You are part and parcel of the system. How can you say you were not included in power?
I am to a certain degree, but, only a small cogwheel.
Q Why weren’t others included?
That is because of power. Let’s go to history! After Lasantha Wickramatunga was assassinated, I was with the UNP. I was instrumental in developing this Platform for Freedom. Unfortunately, the way the platform worked was detrimental to the attraction of large masses. They thought they could bank on Geneva proposals (UNHRC resolutions) to create pressure on the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. They never understood that they were alienating the Sinhala nationalist sentiments by doing so. We should never forget that although we are espousing liberal agendas, this country, as a whole, has a certain set of values. These values are sometimes liberal, Marxist, social-democratic and so on. But, all these values are based on some nationalistic feelings. Then only we realized the Platform for Freedom should attract all across the board.
We have studied extensively the Hong Kong law and the Singaporean law. We prepared a proposal and gave it to Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka to put forward as a Cabinet proposal. We do not know what had happened to it. The Cabinet has not followed it up
Hence we created the National Movement for Social Justice, under the patronage of late Ven. Maduluwave Sobhitha Thera. We put forward ten points: Abolition of executive presidency, change of electoral laws and abolition of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution to set up independent commissions among others. There were certain concerted efforts to undermine that. Some people wrote saying that we were trying to create a Buddhist Kumani. We knew that the step was correct politically. Although it is a small platform, it has been able to attract a large segment of society. The UNP had not been able to put pressure on the then government for consecutive years. Numerically, the UNP had 40-45% of supporter base. But, they lacked that 5%. Ven. Sobhitha Thera’s movement was able to attract that 5% under the new concept of common candidate.
Q Some people call the regime change as a victory. Do you genuinely see it as a victory?
In any country, it is an evolution. From time to time, you put forward certain policies. If you look at the way the Rajapaksa government operated, they had done something. We need not deny that. They won the war. They had brought certain development to the country. We should not negate that aspect. They brought infrastructure into the country. They built roads all over the country. Whether the expenditure made on them is proportionate or not is a different matter. They brought infrastructure needed for the development of the country. That is true. But, there was a need for democratization and humanization of society, and respect for the rule of law. All these were the logical next step. That need was understood. It is a victory as a result.
Q Do you think our society has been democratized now?
We won. But, when it came to implementation, there started hiccups in terms of development, democracy and structural development of the country.
For example, we said expenditure on highways was exorbitant. We criticized the Matara-Hambantota stretch of the southern expressway under the Rajapaksa regime. It was Rs.250 billion. Once we came to power, a committee of experts was appointed to look into this. That committee evaluated data and said the road could have been built with Rs.125 billion covering all the aspects - local and international. You know what happened. Our government awarded the contract to the same amount of Rs.250 billion, ignoring the experts’ report. It is a good example of how we have deviated from the values we espoused.
I need not explain the Central Bank issue. Everybody knows it. We have created precedence for those who are in power that you can make money. We never imposed any kind of credible laws to prevent it.
We were instrumental in developing a legal framework for dealing with corruption. We have studied extensively the Hong Kong law and the Singaporean law. We prepared a proposal and gave it to Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka to put forward as a Cabinet proposal. We do not know what had happened to it. The Cabinet has not followed it up.
We established the National Procurement Commission. In order to develop it, we need the National Audit Act. So far we are not in a position to pass that in Parliament. We have not been able to establish proper infrastructure. I am not bothered whether the thieves had been caught or not. Those are short term affairs. By doing so, you bring only the deterrent aspect. Laying the foundation for long term stability is the most important factor.
Q In 2015, you adopted the formula for bringing all the political forces together to unseat the Rajapaksa regime. How applicable will this formula be at the next election?
I do not think so. Now, the common candidate concept will not work. Now, the people think the government is deteriorating. People will ask for a stronger candidate who will be well supported by the parties.
With the 19th Amendment, we see a lot of crises. After 2020, it would aggravate. This Amendment was aimed at empowering the Premier; nobody else. As a result, we see the constitutional crisis evolving. It would reach its apex in 2020
Q Will the parties that were together come under one umbrella once again?
I don’t think so. Numerically one would say they (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) got only 40% at the last election on February 10, whereas we all had got 60%. Practically, it is there. It is not possible to bring them all on one platform in 2020. It would be a competition between two parties as a result.
Q You are an official who is familiar with the establishment. How did this conflict between the President and the Prime Minister evolve?
My frank opinion is the 19th Amendment. Today, constitution-making process takes place within a small circle. People never participated in it. As a result, the Amendment to the Constitution was drafted in order to satisfy the Prime Minister’s power political needs. With the 19th Amendment, we see a lot of crises. After 2020, it would aggravate. This Amendment was aimed at empowering the Premier; nobody else. As a result, we see the constitutional crisis evolving. It would reach its apex in 2020.
Q You mean to say that the 19th Amendment would boomerang one day?
Q Would you think it should be undone?
Somewhere, somebody has to undo it.
Q How hopeful are you of the JVP’s initiative to bring the 20th Amendment to abolish the executive presidency?
It is interesting. Whether the 20th Amendment is good or bad, it does not happen on the principles of constitutional law. It happens on power politics. If you look at the seminar conducted by the Buddhist monks and the press conference called by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara recently, they are now creating a public opinion that we should not allow anyone to abolish the executive presidency. It is handled by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s politics. He thinks the 20th Amendment is brought to prevent him from becoming the President. He is releasing the forces to agitate against the forces.
Q Who will be successful?
I think Gotabhaya will be successful. These monks are creating a moral high ground.
My only worry with the Rajapaksa administration is that they had committed policy blunders. They are coming to power now without a self-criticism. Our society is also going to accept them without a self-criticism
Q This government was a failure during the last three years as some people say. There is a Cabinet reshuffle now. Do you think the journey during the next one and-a-half years would be successful?
After the February 10 election, I named it as crisis without a crisis. Seemingly, it looks calm. But, there is a crisis. Whenever you try to rectify it, you create another crisis. All the decisions taken since February 10 had failed. We said there would be a Cabinet formed on a scientific basis. It has boomeranged now. The coalition government is not going to work. I stress that our President should allow Ranil Wickremesinghe to govern the country with one party. All the SLFPers who want to stay should be allowed to join the UNP. The President should be neutral. He should play the role of statesman.
Q What do you think of the residency of SLPP or the Rajapaksa-led political camp?
It is not a strange affair. If you analyze the world context, the French Revolution happened in the 17th century. After ten years, the same people asked for a dictator. As a result, Napoleon Bonaparte came into power. The same happened in Russia. In Sri Lanka too, it is not bewildering to say that there is a demand. But, the demand is not sufficient to change the government. They have to go a long way. My only worry with the Rajapaksa administration is that they had committed policy blunders. They are coming to power now without a self-criticism. Our society is also going to accept them without a self-criticism.