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How do we move forward with a National Government?

17 November 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The formation of a National Government was on the cards for Sri Lanka ever since the Presidential elections were held. It was clear that neither the SLFP/UPFA nor the UNP/UNFGG were to get a clear majority. Sri Lanka is at a crucial juncture to make this National Government work effectively. But of course this is a first time for everyone including those who were elected. So how do we move forward?


Real  Meaning of the Results
I feel that many have not understood the real meaning behind the results. The UNP thinks that they have won, while the UPFA thinks that they have lost. But both parties have mistaken. A vast majority of people have unequivocally declared that, according to them, no single party could be relied upon to govern the country. This is the change and reality that all elected MPs must be forced to understand.

Some SLFP members want to sit in the Opposition against the “change”, they are wrong. They need to change them and try this new ‘National Government’ model, but try they must with commitment, wholeheartedly.


Next step
This concept is new, and many MPs elected have no clue about their role, hence the importance of the steps to be taken.

1.We must instruct the media that this is a UNP-SLFP government and no one should be above the other or below. Public must be made aware that this is a National Government, and the best solution in the current context.

2.Ministers and Deputy Ministers from different parties must be instructed to work in unity. 

3.As the President has reiterated, political victimization should not take place. For decades such acts have divided people. This must stop forthwith.

4.Ministers, Dy. Ministers and MPs should refrain from making derogatory statements against each other.


What is Good Governance?
Although the term ‘Good Governance’ became very popular during the Presidential Election, no one seems to know what it really stands for, some of the fundamental features of “ moving towards “good governance are:

1 Employment should not be based on party politics. Jobs should be given to suitable candidates following due process.

2 n the recent years, we saw that car permits were given to anyone and everyone. I propose that the issuance of car permits should be gazetted and the process should be transparent.

3 Government banks must gazette writing-off large loans. Decisions taken by their Boards must receive Cabinet approval.

4 Similarly, government lands should not be given to anyone without being gazetted ensuring transparency and the Right to Information.

5 Banks should not grant loans on the instruction or coercion of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and MPs.

6 When it comes to granting of government contracts, under no circumstances should elected representatives be allowed to have any direct or indirect involvement.

7 The introduction of the Right to Information Act without delay.


How do we run a National Government?
Both the UNP and the UPFA have a duty to bring the people together. The contest was closely fought that people are baffled to see their politicians dining together. The voters feel betrayed as they continue their party politics in social media.

People also feel betrayed that those who were defeated were taken back to Parliament on the National List. Corrupt politicians were rejected and people seek justice on many things, such as corruption, murders, disappearances and other crimes. 

While open and impartial processes need to move on to address these without political interference, continual communication to the public through the elected members is vital for people to understand the meaning of a National Government.


A Strong Opposition
For all democracies to function, a strong Opposition is mandatory. In the last administration the Opposition was weakened and we saw the results of that. 
Perhaps under a National Government we will not have a traditional Opposition but we can propose to have a pressure group within these two parties who will be the strong Opposition. In the 1990s, the Mulberry Group was such a pressure group, and having served as a Mulberry Member, I can vouch for its effectiveness. 

Now, once again this is a new concept for many to fathom, but I think that if members are committed, such a group can be created within the SLFP/ UNP parliamentarians. But of course, such a group should not rock the boat, but be effective in keeping the government on track. 


Business as usual in Parliament?
In this unique situation, I feel that unless we change the standing orders, the day’s proceedings are not going to be any different than what we have seen in the past. Usually, proposals are tabled, questions are asked, debates take place and adjournment motions are brought.  This has to change because the previous Parliaments have failed in bringing change through the existing proceedings.

I am sure that both the President and the PM would agree that we need external groups to bring issues into Parliament for discussion and debate. Then proper Acts and Amendments to Acts can be passed in Parliament. The pressure group, professionals and civil society representatives can be in these groups. 


9-6     Job in Parliament and the introduction of a ‘Report Card’
Parliamentarians should be in Parliament the whole day. Let’s not forget that they have asked for this job. Their role is not attending opening ceremonies, religious events and musical shows, funerals etc., during working hours, but really committing their time to the country. Most only turn up for the sessions in the latter part of the day, often there has been a lack of quorum. Some just sign in and go away. But let’s not forget that the public, that gives them the salary, transport, security, staff, meals and even accommodation. Thus, like any white collar worker, it should be made compulsory for MPs to be in ‘office’. A performance evaluation or a report card for both the MPs and the Government can be introduced to see how effective they are in their ‘job’.

What I would like to stress here is that if we want different results, we must change the process. The previous parliamentary processes did not give us the desired results.  I think it would not be unfair to extend their working hours from 9.00 am to 6.30 pm, given that they earn a pension in such a short span of time.


A Code of Conduct for MPs
The need for a Code of Conduct for MPs is a long overdue. In the recent past, there were many an insult hurled at the President, the Prime Minister and many others on political platforms, television discussions and on media. At a time we saw that the culture of insulting rose to despicable levels where the Secretary General of the UN, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Secretary of State of the USA were insulted by the politicians and the local media alike. And sadly although we had our jest, we also had serious repercussions due to the behaviour of some politicians. This cannot be condoned.

This is only one area, but the use of language, breaking the law, celebrating rape of women, and tying government officers to a tree are some of incidents where the conduct of MPs has been clearly questionable.

Hence, a Code of Conduct for all elected representatives must be introduced and disciplinary inquiries must be carried out when necessary and action should be taken.


A Code of Ethics for the Media 
So many things to be done, but Government intervention is not envisaged, however the Media Institutes themselves need to formulate their “Own Code of Ethics” and move away from the present  “Sensational Reporting” to a much more important relevant area of “Responsible Reporting”.


A Training Institute for Politicians
 In the past few years we saw all sorts of unsavoury characters entering politics. Cricketers, actors/actresses, some siblings and off springs of politicians among them. They had no experience, or qualification to become MPs.  Some MPs have not even read the Parliamentarians’ Handbook let alone the Constitution! They have been sitting in Parliament and never for once opened their mouths to raise an issue on behalf of their constituency. Their role has only been to raise their hand as instructed by the Whip in support of their Government when a vote is taken. At the end of five years, they earn a pension. Sri Lanka seriously lacks a training institute for those who aspire to become politicians. This, I believe, should operated  by the Parliament and should be a learning institute for all elected representatives and all those who aspire to be public representatives.


Where would this Government Go?
There are great expectations for this government. I choose to reflect on a few:
a) The benefits of economic and social development must be shared among the people, and it must reach the poorest of the poor.
b) The poor man should be able to have 3 nutritious meals at a reasonable cost; without nutrition this country cannot move forward.
c) Attention should be given to the poorest GN divisions and they should be raised to acceptable socio-economic levels.
d) Housing for the poor is imperative, “The Government needs to get involved”, this must be done at the GN division level by giving them very low, affordable priced houses. I propose that the private sector be engaged to provide affordable housing for the rest.
e) Sri Lanka has not produced much in the recent past. Thus productivity must go up and the government must intervene to ensure this happens.
f) Serious attention should be given to the disabled and create a society where the disabled people are gainfully employed.
g) The National Government model should be followed at the provincial and local government levels as well, for it to be meaningful.
h)      Serious efforts must be made to bring in much desired Foreign Direct Investment continuously. 


Who can pull this off?
President Sirisena as the Opposition Common Candidate indeed brought the once divided UNP together. His character is such working in harmony is possible at all levels. I believe we have not had an opportunity like this for the major parties to work in harmony. I am not afraid to mention that it is ‘now or never’ because both the President and PM are committed and are honourable people, and we believe that they are the only ones who can pull this off. An effective National Government under their leadership will seal the destiny of our country.
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