The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) decided recently to silence its own voice. What follows, for the purposes of record, is a brief summary of what CIMOGG endeavoured to do during the sixteen plus years of its existence.
CIMOGG was formed in 2002 by a group of persons who had held high office in the public and private sectors. Even a listing of its better known members would be too long for a newspaper article but it may be mentioned that Walter Ladduwahetty (Secretary/Justice), James H. Lanerolle (Civil Servant) and Dr. Shelton Wanasinghe (Civil Servant) served as its Presidents. Among its Honorary Secretaries were General Gerry de Silva (Army Commander), Dr C.T. Jansz (Commissioner of Prisons) and W.B.A. Jayasekera (President, OPA).
CIMOGG was probably the first organization to incorporate the term “good governance” in its name. In 2005, the full name of CIMOGG was translated into Sinhala as Yahapaalana Sandhahaavana Puravesi Vyaapaaraya and into Tamil as Nallaatchikkaana Prajaigal Munnani.
Two basic principles of operation were agreed on . One was that CIMOGG would be politically independent and, therefore, free to criticize the government, the opposition or even the public. The second principle that was adopted was that CIMOGG should only be financed by voluntary, unsolicited contributions from its own members.
Two basic principles of operation were agreed on . One was that CIMOGG would be politically independent and, therefore, free to criticize the government, the opposition or even the public. The second principle that was adopted was that CIMOGG should only be financed by voluntary, unsolicited contributions from its own members. Factually, over the past 16 years, no extraneous local or foreign funding was received by CIMOGG other than small donations from fewer than a dozen well-wishers.
CIMOGG started its programme of work, inter alia, with some Public Interest Litigation (PIL) initiatives handled “pro deo” by Attorney-at-Law Elmore Perera (EP), retired Surveyor- General. Among the more significant of the petitions filed was one in the Appeal Court (AC) against the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) for appointing AC judges without consulting the Constitutional Council (CC) and a second one in the Supreme Court (SC) against MR for appointing two SC judges, again without consulting the CC. The first one was dismissed by AC President K. Sripavan on the grounds that MR enjoyed “blanket immunity”, a position that we did not agree with even then. As for the SC petition, the story of how it was treated has been described in fair detail by the writer in a talk delivered to the Cancer Society on February 23, 2017 (www.cimogg-srilanka.org).
EP’s work was brought to a harsh halt in 2006/2007 by the then Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva (SNS), who had issued a “Rule” on EP, in some other connection, for “not being obedient” to the Supreme Court. The highly respected H.L.de Silva PC prayed that the matter should be dealt with in accordance with the Supreme Court’s current rules for disciplining Attorneys-at-Law. However, SNS insisted on following his own unwritten definitions and rules, and suspended EP’s licence to appear in Court for a total period of eight years and 10 months. Following this development, CIMOGG was compelled to end its PIL efforts and, instead, try to build public opinion against poor governance and violations of the Rule of Law by concentrating on writing articles to the newspapers on allied subjects.
It was only a few English-language newspapers that published CIMOGG’s articles. Sinhala- language newspapers to which translations of the original English articles were taken by hand or sent by post were not willing to publish even one of them, apparently because of their fear of what the government of the time might do to them, as dozens of journalists and their families had learnt to their cost. No attempt was made by CIMOGG to get Tamil newspapers to publish its articles because it was credibly assumed that they would be even more afraid than their Sinhala counterparts as to what would happen to them if they crossed the then regime.
Later, in 2012, CIMOGG went to some trouble and expense to publish in book form (Good Governance and the Rule of Law) a collection of its first 100 English language newspaper articles. Although the books were priced in the bookshops at much less than the cost of production, only a handful were sold. A few months later, a book containing about 110 translated articles in the Sinhala-language (Neethiya saha Yahapaalanaya Rajakaravamu) was also published but it attracted even less interest than the English original.
During the last Presidential Election campaign, that the word Yahapaalanaya came into wide use to describe the kind of governance promised for the country by the group that was headed by the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera.
In 2004/2005, CIMOGG had presented to the Dinesh Gunawardene Committee for Constitutional Reform the details of an electoral system that would empower citizens at the periphery, at the Centre, and those in-between, to play a significant role in governing their own areas. However, beyond giving the CIMOGG delegation a token hearing, the Committee did not show any further interest. Later, in 2015/2016, the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms collected public views but, instead of these being transparently accepted or rejected, six or so Parliamentary sub-committees were appointed to work in secrecy on various aspects of the Constitution.
One may deduce that the above-mentioned “circuses” to ascertain the people’s views were really disguised public relations exercises intended to mislead citizens into thinking that their suggestions would be taken into account. Once the “circuses” had served their propaganda purposes, it was plain sailing to fashion a Constitution that would increase the power of Parliament and enhance the privileges and perquisites of MPs. Even though all MPs declare their unbounded love for Mother Lanka, their inputs to Constitution-writing have always been to include provisions that would effectively increase their direct and hidden earnings.
CIMOGG consistently proposed that the most reliable way to improve governance would be for knowledgeable citizens to collectively work out a people-oriented Constitution from first principles such a Constitution would undoubtedly have fewer MPs but they would be much better qualified, with specialized knowledge and experience, and be committed to attending Parliament religiously. They would, of course, be paid generously and be expected to deliver value for money. One of the primary objectives of a Constitution would be to create a clear Sri Lankan identity. To achieve this, the Constitution would have to be strictly secular and contain comprehensive provisions to encourage citizens to think as Sri Lankans first. Needless to say, politicians who win seats by playing the “race card” and “religious card” will fight tooth and nail against such a positive Constitution. CIMOGG; therefore, drafted a Constitution on its own incorporating a few new concepts but the difficulty most people have in “thinking outside the box” has prevented it from being considered in depth.
Having been forced, in recent years, to come to the conclusion that the majority of adult Sri Lankans are mentally lazy and unwilling to make any serious effort to work for better governance, CIMOGG decided that, in the long-term at least, it would be more rewarding for Sri Lanka’s future to inculcate concepts of good social responsibility in children of various age groups, from five years upwards. Efforts were made to try to get at least one TV station to include messages, cartoons and stories into existing children’s programmes so as to promote behaviour that would make at least the next generation of citizens more responsible and less destructive than the present one. However, the few experts that CIMOGG consulted regarding this project asserted quite emphatically that our TV media (including the State-owned ones) are interested only in programmes that will earn money for them and would do nothing in the public interest. Hence, this proposal had to be put on the back shelf.
It is necessary to recall that it was only in the latter half of 2014, during the last Presidential Election campaign, that the word Yahapaalanaya came into wide use to describe the kind of governance promised for the country by the group that was headed by the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera. Over the past four years, there have been a few important gains - enhanced media freedom, the abandonment of the “white van” culture, the Right to Information Act, the (much-criticised) 19th Amendment and, above all, the liberation of the judiciary from most of the unhealthy pressures imposed on it earlier.
Looking at the negatives, among the worst achievements of Maithripala Sirisena (MS) were his “sacking” of Ms Dilrukshie Wickremasinghe from the CIABOC where she was doing a very impressive job. He went on a lot of expensive tours abroad with family and friends that did not, to our knowledge, bring any economic benefits to Sri Lanka. He dissolved the rightful government unconstitutionally on October 26, and continued with many acts that have done immense harm to Sri Lanka economically and have gravely injured its international standing. Moreover, with the Police under his wing, all investigations regarding certain big crimes committed prior to 2015 seem to have been put on hold.
As for Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW), he cannot pretend that he did nothing wrong in appointing a non-national to be the Governor of the Central Bank by referring to the appointment of John Exter as the first Governor. He cannot remain silent on why he did not ask for the resignation of Arjuna Mahendran (AM) even after many credible accusations were made against AM. Whilst Ravi Karunanayake (RK) is credited with having financed the UNP very heavily and having the “pull” to get huge crowds of supporters together, the unpalatable fact is that he suffers from so incredible a loss of memory about his financial affairs that no fair-minded citizen will believe in the truth of anything he says, which is hardly a good position for any public figure to be in. As a consequence of RW trying to repay RK, his own standing in the public’s eye has been affected very adversely without in any way enhancing RK’s. Furthermore, RW is held in low regard by many citizens because of his inability to “retire” the loyal old UNPers and introduce the young, dynamic blood that the public want to see in charge of important-Ministries. His dilemma is to show his gratitude to those who have helped him without making them part of his Ministerial team. If RK and the older UNPers would think of the country first and graciously make way for younger party members, public faith in the UNP has every chance of being restored to a higher level.
The people have been particularly disillusioned because both MS and RW have failed to deliver on the promises made by them in the name of the Yahapaalanaya, especially the firm undertakings to get rid of the abominable Executive Presidency, the dangers of which came to be highlighted so frighteningly on October 26. The investigation and prosecution of crimes of corruption, waste on a gigantic scale, barefaced robbery, nepotism, arson, violence of every kind, kidnapping and murder committed by their political rivals appear to have been deliberately slowed down for fairly obvious reasons. In short, those who voted for MS and, by implication, for RW, in January 2015 have been greatly disappointed. Although these two leaders have done some good things, their attachment to Yahapaalanaya has proved to be minimal. Unfortunately, CIMOGG has got a bad name for no reason other than that many people are under the impression that CIMOGG is an adjunct of the MS-RW government! It also became progressively clear that CIMOGG’s failure to make a conspicuous impact to secure good governance resulted in its own members becoming discouraged to the point of withdrawing from regular participation in its activities. In the light of these facts, the only option left to CIMOGG was self-obliteration, a painful decision that it decided to take on December 19.