The 1948 Constitution popularly known as the Soulbury Constitution had the basic structure together with all the resemblances and the essential fundamentals of a democracy, such as the supremacy of law, the rule of law, the separation of powers, and the independence of the judiciary, like in all the other Commonwealth countries of the British Empire. It could, therefore, be argued that the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions were promulgated with the impure and sinister ulterior motive to create a rubber stamp parliament and a dominant executive. This no doubt had paved the way gradually for the declining of ethical, moral, social, cultural and democratic standards that existed in the country, its governance and the politics. It had accordingly led to the creation of a despotic constitutional dictator, not answerable to the peoples’ legislature, when the UNP government received 5/6 majority in the House in 1977.
The President is taking great pains now to push through the other important amendments in regard to the election system. The government is also facing considerable opposition in Parliament as regards the setting up of the Constitutional Councils, having enacted the 19th Amendment with greatest difficulty. The question of appointment of CC members have so far been deferred on two occasions in Parliament. As we are aware, almost all the amendments to the Constitution except for 13th, 17th, and 19th had been enacted due to the whims and fancies of the ruling party purely for the purpose of strengthening the executive presidency and for the benefit of the politician in power.
"I also recall that the Supreme Court on a previous occasion ruled that for the increase of Membership in Parliament, a Referendum should be held. I do not, therefore, think that short-sighted uneconomical decisions/policies should be taken to increase the composition without any justification. We should consider increasing powers and strengthen provincial administration in the alternative"
According to Disaster Management Minister A.H.M. Fowzie, the SLFP had made a proposal to increase the number of Members of Parliament from 225 to 255. “It was President Maithripala Sirisena who proposed a number in between 225 as proposed by the Prime Minister and 255 by the SLFP,” he had said. This no doubt is a compromise the President may have worked out in view of the need to push through the 20th amendment, which is another hurdle for the President.
I recall a proposal that had already been approved by the same cabinet of ministers, on a proposal made by the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to appoint 125 members from the first-past-the-post system, 75 from the PR system and 25 members from the national list, without increasing a single member in Parliament.
May I ask, being a responsible citizen, how could the Cabinet of Ministers over rule their own decisions in that fashion and in that speed when important decisions are taken, such as when the composition of the Parliament is considered? I do not think they could run this country to prosperity if they change their decisions/policies over night for personal benefit.
"We need to think of electing good, educated people with managerial skills to legislate the country. Both the President and the Prime Minister have supported the view that the political system needs to be purified. Abraham Lincoln said “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”"
Another UNP Cabinet Minister Kabir Hashim said that the proposal is yet under consideration. I wish to add that the politicians of different colours and communities claim that the increase of the composition has become necessary to safeguard the minority rights etc. If this is the case, the composition of Parliament has been increased more than three hundred percent (in 1972 – 168 members and in 1988 to 225) during the period of Premadasa’s presidency. The reasons given when this increase was proposed - (i) to make use of qualified educated citizens to contribute their knowledge to the development of the country and (ii) to increase representation of minorities through the national list. It is sad the masses have been sadly let down and the successive governments made use of the national list to bring in their political cronies to Parliament.
In order to keep the general public informed, I also consider, it is my duty to briefly state how the Cabinet of Ministers take decisions. The Cabinet proposal/memorandum contains all the relevant files, the subject matter, the points in issue, arguments for and against, and the advantages and the disadvantages of the relevant proposal. I do not think the Cabinet Secretariat had faulted. There will, however, be two Cabinet decisions issued in this connection; one in favour and the other against. This is, no doubt, poor governance.
"May I ask, being a responsible citizen, how could the Cabinet of Ministers over rule their own decisions in that fashion and in that speed when important decisions are taken, such as when the composition of the Parliament is considered? I do not think they could run this country to prosperity if they change their decisions/policies over night for personal benefit"
In an article written by me to the same paper on the 2nd June, I had given sufficient data why the Parliament should not increase its membership. This article was widely debated and discussed, both in the print and electronic media, and according to the feedback I got, the general public is totally against the increase of the composition of the Members of Parliament
Minister Fowzie appears to have stated that President Maithripala Sirisena was of the view that 237 members of Parliament is reasonable. It is also common knowledge that Minister Rauf Hakeem too had commented that minorities are not adequately represented by this proposed system. However, the President, thereafter, had assured and very correctly given an undertaking that he will not leave any room for the minority communities to face any injustice due to the proposed system and that further revisions could be done based on the requirements of minority parties later.
These developments prove how difficult it is for the President and the Prime Minister to satisfy the hunger and the anxieties of lowly politicians, greedy for power. They do not have any consideration at all for the country, its lack of resources and about the hard-pressed people who are already unnecessarily burdened with a large Parliament, a provincial council system and an utterly corrupt local level political machinery.
The general public should urge that no increase should be permitted without any consideration whatsoever to principles of good governance, which the President and the Prime Minister had assured to the people at the last presidential elections.
In this connection, I wish to mention, in India, Vallabhai Patel (1875 – 1950), the Chairman of the Advisory Committee and the most powerful member of the then governing Congress party after Nehru, submitted a report on Minority Rights to Rajendra Prasad, President of the Assembly, and on August 27, 1947, the Assembly convened to discuss the Report. Patel opened the debate by presenting the Advisory Committee’s main recommendations, the report endorsed the creation of joint electorates, (similar to multi-member seats which existed in Sri Lanka in the past) and proportional representation.
Reservations were approved for minorities, as long as the reservations were in proportion to the population of the targeted groups. The principle of common voting and reserved seats in legislative bodies throughout the country was retained despite strong opposition from influential Constituent Assembly Members like Nehru. This is exactly what we should do if we love the country and not the politician. People from all communities in Sri Lanka will be happier, if we are economically and democratically well off. The SLFP proposal is beneficial to the politician alone.
I also recall that the Supreme Court on a previous occasion ruled that for the increase of Membership in Parliament, a Referendum should be held. I do not, therefore, think that short-sighted uneconomical decisions/policies should be taken to increase the composition without any justification. We should consider increasing powers and strengthen provincial administration in the alternative.
If we need to take our country forward; to make our government work better :-
We should re-position and re-define the government system/machinery similar to a business enterprise and be cost effective; be happy with 225 M.Ps (or even less like in Australia)
We should stop bad governance. Country comes first; not the politician
We should re-design our whole system: the organization and the entire service delivery system to the benefit of the general public
Introduce good governance, rule of law and get down to business
In conclusion, we need to think of electing good, educated people with managerial skills to legislate the country. Both the President and the Prime Minister have supported the view that the political system needs to be purified. Abraham Lincoln said “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. We need to act wisely because we pay the price at the end of the day.