The year 2015 will go into history as a relatively significant year to all Sri Lankans for good reasons. It was because President Maithripala Sirisena used strategy initially to topple the former Government and he has now securely established a two thirds majority in Parliament, through an unprecedented UNP/SLFP coalition.
The President openly announced that the Prime Minister would be Ranil Wickremesinghe in his Government during the Presidential election campaign. This is because the former needed a PM who would undertake to run the Government on his behalf with the enactment of the 19th Amendment. The President voluntarily agreed to shred his powers and has already strengthened the PM to the status that prevailed prior to the period - 1978 Constitution. Both the President and PM were fully and well aware that they needed each other to take the country forward. The need of the hour.
The Prime Minister has openly come out that he means business. During the course of a seminar conducted for the benefit of newly elected parliamentarians, the PM has spelt out precisely what he expects from the legislators in the new Parliament. What the PM seriously meant was that the representatives elected by the people should be competent and dedicated to perform their onerous duties single-minded with commitment and concentration in their specialized mission. Could this become a reality?
The PM knowing the culture that existed in Sri Lanka for several decades briefly added “MPs have been elected to Parliament to represent the people and have constitutional responsibilities to legislate and oversee the Government, and if they need to attend weddings and funerals they should remain in provincial and local bodies.”
Let me mention whether the majority of our newly-elected MPs have taken the trouble to absorb what was discussed at the seminar held in Parliament shortly. It is indeed sad a few had opted to keep away. A few more had taken a good nap while listening to the speech. Renowned speakers specialized in the relevant field, from overseas too, had been engaged to speak on parliamentary practice and procedure and other pertinent subjects. It was even more disheartening that they were very keen to ask questions mostly about the perks and benefits they could enjoy as parliamentarians. As expected, there has been a very few questions raised with regard to the need to increasing performances of their functions with efficiency and effectiveness, by a handful.
"What the PM seriously meant was that the representatives elected by the people should be competent and dedicated to perform their onerous duties single-minded with commitment and concentration in their specialized mission"
This is exactly why the prevailing situation could aggravate if this goes unchecked as was in the past. MR Government developed the road network and other infrastructure at an exorbitant cost. The war which lasted for 30 years was ended by the MR regime – a unique achievement for them. They failed to look at macroeconomic stability, create an enabling business environment, provide access to voice and social protection, promote the Rule of Law, Good Governance and many more. Policy makers of the MR regime overlooked creation of avenues of employment, extension of working lives for the aging population, their needs and tackling youth employment. The majority of the educated masses, therefore, in Colombo and major cities refused to accept that MR regime was on the right track. It was no doubt that widespread culture of impunity did the damage to it.
A considerable number of people who voted in support of the former regime did not simply comprehend the implications of corruption, fraud, inefficiency and abuse of power. The innocent villager does not understand that corruption is a serious threat to the eradication of poverty and particularly rule of law. Poor become poorer. It jeopardizes the fair distribution of resources and undermines fundamental democratic values and institutions. It impedes social, economic, and political development and human rights.
"The new Parliament should introduce new measures etc. to combat corruption, fraud effectively, they should also take steps for alleviation of poverty"
Policy makers failed to tackle challenges such as: Should Sri Lanka give priority for beautifying cities first without concentrating on development strategies, industrialization and sustainable economic growth and development or should they create more and more employment by fostering entrepreneurship, without taking meaningful steps to raise living standards? “Jobs are the best insurance against poverty and vulnerability” says Kaushik Basu, a World Bank Chief Economist and Vice President.
It must also not to be forgotten that during the former regime too there were various forms of crime – organized crimes, kidnappings, white van abductions, attacks on media institutions and killing such personnel, drug trafficking, money laundering and various financial crimes. It was disturbing the trend that existed, alarmingly lacking integrity, transparency and accountability in the political and administrative system. There was no doubt a direct finger was pointing at politicians at all levels. This necessitates the present Parliament to strengthen the fundamental requirements to build up trust, credibility and authority of Government which would eventually establish the Rule of Law and Good Governance – a modern vibrant democracy.
Parliamentarians have been entrusted with a variety of functions for the purpose of fulfilling their role constitutionally to the people. It is a place for political, and often confrontational, debate. It is also a place, where at the end of the day; national policies are forged and conflicts in society are resolved through dialog and compromise.
The Westminster-styled Parliamentary system has been under severe pressure since the creation of the Executive Presidency (1978) in Sri Lanka. The existence of a devalued Parliament, poor parliamentary oversight, political interference and politicization have caused irreparable damage to the public sector institutions and the politician. In order for the newly-elected Parliamentarians to fulfil these functions efficiently, the newly-elected MPs themselves should now promote and foster integrity, confidence and legitimacy. It may also be necessary that the newly- elected MPs themselves could draw up and implement a Code of Ethics/Conduct, including adherence to the existing laws pertaining to declaration of asset and conflict of interest legislation acts etc.
In a democracy, through an election (the cleanest election held after decades), the voters get involved in governing the country by electing the representatives they like to the Parliament in order to represent the 23 million constituents. They should remember they represent all men, women and children of Sri Lanka, regardless of the fact whether they are rich or poor.
It may, therefore, be pertinent to mention that the Opposition members too should play their role to voice their views on the management of public affairs, including denouncing corruption, fraud, inefficiency in the public sector and probing or initiating investigations into alleged cases of corruption.They should also come up with transparent and stringent mechanisms thereby promoting integrity, transparency and accountability and good governance in the public sector. The new Parliament should not only introduce new measures etc. to combat corruption, fraud effectively, they should also take steps for alleviation of poverty – a moral imperative, and promoting shared prosperity to be sustainable across generations while safeguarding and promoting environmental, social and fiscal sustainability.
We also need to secure the long-term future of our country and its resources for future generations. It may also be appropriate if we could ensure that the size of economic debt to be transferred to the future generation is also minimized.
I must point out that the present Government should not increase perks and benefits of the MPs more and more at the cost of the general public. They should instead take steps to curtail unnecessary Government expenditure to the minimum by reducing waste and corruption. They should think of sustainable economic growth and development - “A good job can change a person’s life, and can transform entire societies. Governments need to move jobs to centre stage to promote prosperity and fight poverty” says World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. We should also set-up target dates for improving the internationally established measure of the proportion of people living on less than $ 1.25 a day.
I have no doubt that the President and the Prime Minister will instead take steps to ending poverty and promoting shared prosperity - ensure continuous supply of non-monetary dimensions of welfare including education, health, nutrition, and access to essential infrastructure, as well as about enhancing voice and participation of all segments of society in economic, social and political spheres.
A global opinion poll in 2008 found that 85 percent of people believed that the ‘will of the people should be the basis of the authority of Government.” Reaching these targets – an ambitious endeavor – will only be possible if only the representatives elected by the people could truthfully embark upon Good Governance effectively while causing institutional and social policy changes for the purpose. We must also remember the fact that there are 455 provincial councillors and 4,486 local government members too in addition to the 225 parliamentarians. We should not simply allow to duplicate or even permit waste of tax payers’ money if the country needs to go forward.