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UPFA/SLFP can’t eat the cake and have it too!

1 September 2015 03:31 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Addressing the annual economic forum organised by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce during the first week of August, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe stressed that the country has to move to the next generation of reforms, liberalising factor… reduce state controls, etc. Quote: “Our goal is to provide one million well-paid jobs in five years. Our economic plan is to focus on a knowledge-based economy centred on the highly competitive social market economy.” -Economic Summit proceedings 2015. It was earlier reported that the government will pursue a social market economy.


Holding the exchange rate and increasing exports
The social market economy is a form of market capitalism combined with a social policy favouring social insurance and is sometimes classified as a coordinated market economy. Some authors use the term social capitalism with roughly the same meaning as social market economy. Germany is a social market economy. The state guarantees the free play of entrepreneurial forces, while at the same time endeavouring to maintain the social balance. The partnership of trade unions and the Employers’ Federation is enshrined through a properly drawn up conflict resolution mechanism as outlined in the collective labour bargaining process. The basic law guarantees employers and trade unions independence in negotiating wages and they accordingly have the right themselves to select the working conditions and other terms and conditions.

In Sri Lanka, this aspect is sadly missing, especially in the wage negotiation process for plantation workers. Like all industrialized nations, since 2006-8 Germany has been affected by the global banking, economic and financial market crisis, which was triggered by speculation on the real estate market in the United States. German Federal Government put together two rescue packages for the banks worth billions and for businesses, introduced extensive economy stimulus packages. They, unlike other European countries, have been able to overcome the economic and financial crisis.

In Sri Lanka, how long can the government continue to provide subsidies such as fertiliser, guaranteed prices for paddy, tea, rubber, etc.?  How long can the Treasury maintain the government budget deficit above 5-6 percent and at the same time hold the exchange rate by releasing foreign exchange reserves? It is inevitable that the government resorts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural borrowing facility to overcome the Balance of Payments (BoP) deficit at least till foreign direct investments (FDIs) start flowing. This reminds me the popular puzzling proverb that you can’t eat your cake and have it too. In German, “You can’t dance at two weddings.”


Machiavelli’s ‘Prince’
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jared Diamond was recently asked by The New York Times, which book he would require President Obama to read if he could. His answer was Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’, written 500 years ago. ‘The Prince’ is a political treatise by the Italian diplomat, historian and political theorist Machiavelli.

Machiavelli took it for granted that would-be leaders naturally aim at glory or honour. He encouraged ambition. According to Machiavelli, the two most essential foundations for any state, whether old or new, are sound laws and strong military forces. A self-sufficient prince is one who can meet any enemy on the battlefield. Diamond said that what continues to make ‘The Prince’ compelling reading for today’s political leaders is Machiavelli’s insistence “that we are not helpless at the hands of bad luck”.

During the United National Party (UNP) government from 77 till end-90s, the opponents were criticizing President Jayawardena and his overall governance style that he was an ardent follower of the principles and practice of Machiavelli’s  ‘Prince’. Same criticism was levelled against the manner in which former President Mahinda Rajapaksa was handling the government during the last five years. The criticism was how the then government took away the civic rights of the main political opponents and using his own constitution to extend the Parliament in 1982 through a referendum, which can be seen by innocent citizens as a democratic feature. The opponents were accusing both Jayawardena and Rajapaksa administrations breaching public trust and accords, human rights violations, deterioration of the rule of law, etc. Both were accused of tampering the 1978 Constitution by introducing a number of amendments such as the 13th and 18th Amendments.


Leader of the Opposition from the government
It is likely that the UNP together with the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and a few other political parties in Parliament will obtain the parliamentary approval during the first week to form a National Government. It is also reported that the president has already been empowered by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Central Committee to nominate the leader of the Opposition from a UPFA-elected Member of Parliament (MP) for the next Parliament. The government would be a National Government formed under the definition of Article 46(4) of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to enable them to increase the Cabinet of Ministries beyond 30 as stipulated under Article 46.

Isn’t it unethical to appoint a member from the UPFA as the leader of the Opposition whilst the UPFA functioning as a constituent party in the National Government simultaneously? It may be bad in law also. According to Machiavelli’s ‘Prince’ of course, the relative strength of the Prince’s party can be assured by sabotaging the opposition parties. “Public proclamations for opposition candidates will be tolerated, but other ways have been found to paralyze opposition efforts.” -Machiavelli’s Prince.

The proposed National Government will only enable the elected MPs and even defeated candidates to carve out portfolios and privileges in Parliament. It is unethical and bad in law to increase the number of Cabinet ministers beyond the stipulated maximum of 30. Either they must allow the other constituent members of the UPFA to sit in the Opposition and an MP from a new alliance to be formed within the UPFA to become the leader of the Opposition. Ideally the UNP could have got the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and/or Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) as the constituent parties to form the so-called ‘National Government’, thus allowing the UPFA members to be in the Opposition. This is because during the election campaign recently concluded, the UPFA has categorically stated that they would not form a National Government. Therefore, there seems to be no mandate given by the people for the UPFA elected members to support this move.

The concept of sovereignty of the people as stated in the Constitution of 1978 means the authority of the government is created by the consent of the people. The process of forming the National Government is currently being done with a decision enforced on the Central Committee of the SLFP by the Chairman/party leader. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two parties, namely the UNP and SLFP, has already been entered into with the objective of forming a National Government where one can argue whether the SLFP is a recognised political party in Parliament in terms of the Article 46(4) of the 19th Amendment.

It is reported that this proposal would be ratified at the Executive Committee of the UPFA consists of a number of other constituent political parties including some recognised political parties in Parliament such as the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) of Dinesh Gunawardena, National Freedom Front (NFF) headed by Wimal Weerawansa, etc. It is also reported that disciplinary action would be taken if the SLFP MPs just elected do not support and vote for this move at the UPFA committee meeting.

My view is the leader of the Opposition can be from the UPFA only if the National Government does not include the UPFA as a party in terms of Article 46(4) and more specifically, should not include the MPs from the constituent parties of the UPFA. Therefore, the UPFA cannot be included as a party in the proposed National Government to be formed in terms of Article 46(4).

One can argue that this move is against the letter and spirit of Article 3 and 4 of the Constitution. This is because unlike the Indian or U.K. Constitutions, our Constitution vests sovereignty in the people. “…The Members of Parliament hold a mandate and are agents of the People.” These are the extracts of the judgement delivered in 1987 on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution by Justice Wanasundera. Therefore, this act of appointing defeated candidates could be construed as “going against the will of the people” and the mandate given by the voters at the elections just concluded.

Further, the major parties have so far nominated 11 defeated MPs out of a total of 29 positions allocated under the National Lists. These National Lists have previously been gazetted for the benefit of the voters and the defeated candidates’ names were not there in the gazette. The SLFP is the main culprit as they not only nominated seven defeated candidates to Parliament but ignored the views of the other constituent party leaders.


Sovereignty is in people
It is reported that some 50 SLFP MPs (contested under the UPFA), including the defeated candidates came through the National List, have decided to support the National Government concept and accept portfolios. Another section of the UPFA MPs, mainly the members from the other constituent political parties, intend sitting as the ‘Opposition members’ in the next Parliament.

However, the SLFP members stand to lose the party membership as the SLFP party is now in total control of President Sirisena, who happened to be the Leader of the UPFA as well. Isn’t it a violation of the freedom of speech of an elected member (UPFA members) although they are bound by alliance/party rules and regulations? My view therefore, is that the leader of the Opposition can be from the UPFA only if the President, as the Leader of the UPFA, allows the other constituent parties such as the MEP, NFF of Wimal Weerawansa, etc., along with some SLFP MPs to function in the Opposition, in the event they wish to form an alliance in keeping with the mandate given by the people at the elections. In short, the UPFA cannot sit in the Opposition thus, allowing one of its members to assume duties as the leader of the Opposition while being in the National Government, as the Germans say, “You can’t dance at two weddings.”
According to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, the sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes franchise, fundamental rights and the powers of government. It is the legislative power of the people that is exercised by the Parliament. Benjamin Franklin expressed the concept as “….In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns.” Can we have the Opposition members as servants of the rulers?
People’s sovereignty is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution. It is said that the fundamental rights shall be exercised and enjoyed by the people individually and collectively. My view is the proposed National Government that they intend forming between the UNP and UPFA together with a few other parties (where the government appoints, both the leader of the Opposition as well as the Prime Minister) is not properly constituted in terms of Article 46(4) and therefore, it is bad in law. As stated above, the MPs hold a mandate and are agents of the people. What is important here is the power of the people.

(The writer is a Fellow member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka and holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He is currently Director/CEO of a leading Regional Plantation Company in Sri Lanka and can be contacted through jayampathy@bpl.lk)

 
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