High were the hopes and expectations when more than 6.2 million people, in what was widely seen as a silent and peaceful revolution, elected to office on January 8, 2015, the rainbow coalition led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Soon after his dramatic election, which many saw as a virtual miracle President Sirisena swore in United National Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister though the UNP at that time held only about 40 of the 225 seats in Parliament. Till the general elections on August 17, 2015 it was a tough battle for survival but the President and the Prime Minister recorded a historic success when they got a unanimous vote for the landmark 19th Amendment to the Constitution. This changed the structure and image of the administration to pave the way for good governance, democracy and social justice which were the main pledges of the ‘rainbow coalition’. It also helped Sri Lanka to restore its image in the international community.
The 19th Amendment overturned former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s authoritarian 18th Amendment whereby he had usurped virtually unlimited powers for himself and gave him the privilege of going on for an unlimited number of terms. It is hilarious and ridiculous to see former ministers and MPs who were scared to even open their mouths against the dictatorial 18th Amendment now complaining about the lack of good governance, transparency and accountability.
In the 19th Amendment, President Sirisena took a sacrificial step that no other Executive President had taken, nowhere in the democratic world. He willingly and voluntarily let go of most of his powers to restore the delicate and important balance among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of good governance. The 19th Amendment also made provision for the appointment of an independent, all party constitutional council which is functioning effectively. Also functioning well are the independent commissions for the Police, the Judicial and Public Services, the Independent Elections Commission and the Human Rights Commission. Critics say there is little use in having an independent elections commission when elections to provincial and local councils are being delayed.
Government leaders say the delimitation committee had asked for more time till last month to carve out the new electorates and wards. But even last week when the committee handed over the Report, the Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha refused to accept it on the basis that all committee members had not signed it. The committee members are scheduled to meet the Prime Minister on Monday and we hope a solution will be worked out and elections held within the next few months.
Joint opposition critics loyal to the former president say that elections were deliberately delayed because the Sri Lanka Freedom Party is split down the middle and President Sirisena fears the SLFP may not fare well at the polls. In any event let the people decide.
After the August 2015 general elections, the UNP and the SLFP for the first time since independence decided to work together in a national government to consolidate good governance, democracy, social justice, transparency and accountability. Most analysts say much has being achieved and that the national government has come a long way but much more needs to be achieved and there is still a long way to go.
Criticism is focused mainly on what people see as the long and undue delays in probing and prosecuting the former regimes’ VIPs who were allegedly responsible for the massive plunder of public funds through bribery and kick backs, corruption and mega frauds. Government leaders say, with some validity, that in most mega frauds the racketeers also work out a cover up process. This appears to be the case where the former regimes’ racketeers are alleged to have hidden billions of dollars in secret bank accounts overseas or in offshore bank accounts in Panama and elsewhere.
Police detectives and Attorney General’s Department officials say the difficulty in obtaining documentary proof is the main reason for the delays because in a court of law allegations need to be proved beyond any reasonable doubt. National Government leaders have promised that despite these difficulties legal action will be expedited, the racketeers involved prosecuted and most importantly the plundered billions of dollars will be returned to the public coffers.
The National Government begins its third and vital year tomorrow with the spotlight on its sustainable economic development strategy, reconciliation and unity among people of all religions and races. We hope it will not be just a promise-making but a promise-keeping year with ministers and MPs committed to work sincerely and sacrificially for the people while their lifestyles are simple and humble without wasteful expenditure or extravagance.