Wasteful practices inherent to this system should not be legalised
By J.B.V. Fernando
Recently, it was highlighted in the National Press that polls laws were to be amended with the limited objective of relaxing provisions related to campaigning. Our immediate response to this exercise is why not legalise ‘Kasippu’ (Illicit liquor) also at the same time because the police are unable to eradicate the menace? As we know, the existing election laws pertaining to curtailment of propaganda campaigns by candidates are the result of a very democratic and a collective effort by the legislature, mainly to make available a ‘Level playing’ field to the candidates of all parties irrespective of their varying financial capabilities to meet enormous propaganda costs. In addition, they were aimed at reducing environmental pollution (Through poster and polythene campaigns) and dispensing with highly unproductive and wasteful expenditures running into billions of rupees merely to litter the roads and road-sides. The funds for these campaigns are often raised by resorting to illegal and unethical practices and money laundering. Furthermore, these election laws were intended to control fierce election rivalries and fisti-cuffs arising from ‘Manapa Poreys’ sometimes leading to loss of life and limb. Thus, it is needless to state that the inconvenience caused to the day today activities of the civic conscious, peaceful and the disciplined public by election propaganda is highly unwarranted! Isn’t ‘Prevention better than cure’? In developed countries, the general public does not attach undue importance to election propaganda. The information they get through mass media (Print and Electronic) is considered sufficient for their decision making. If Sri Lanka has achieved universal ‘middle income’ status, should we be resorting to ‘Might is Right’ tactics in election propaganda?
BACKGROUND TO THE PROBLEM
Now I wish to deal explicitly as to why these unwarranted happenings should take place despite the political evolution of this country. As we know, up to the 1989 Parliamentary elections, the MP of the Electorate was the sole political representative to whom the people in a locality could go, to resolve their problems under the ‘First –past-the-post’ system. Thereafter, with the advent of the Proportional Representation (PR) system the same role was to be played by the District MP from the ‘Party list’. But, since some politicians argued to their advantage that people still wanted to have a person known to them in the District, the Preferential Voting (PV) system was annexed to the PR system. After the advent of the decentralised Provincial Councils (PCs) and Pradeshiya Sabas (PSs) under the 13th amendment, the PV system for Parliamentary elections should have been abolished as a logical corollary. It didn’t happen. As a result, the MPs who were compelled to protect and boost their own preferential vote base at general elections, selfishly and jealously retained with them some powers and financial votes allocated to PCs.
Thus, while we still see the MP of the district rushing to declare open local facilities such as roads, bus stands, public lavatories, libraries, culverts and what not, the innocent public also continue to parade to their District MP to obtain favours and solutions to their problems! We know that the MP of a district cannot be contacted easily as he has to reside closer to the parliament in order to attend its sessions as required of him. When people cannot meet the MP they criticise the system.
Some people even do not know or for that matter do not want to know that there are PC, MC, UC or PS members residing in their locality to whom they can easily address their problems. Sadly, their demy-God is still the MP or the President! The question also arises as to why people still continue to pay homage to or go behind politicians for every petty thing including personal favours! Of course, given the general behaviour of our civil society, the public service and our protracted system for legal redress, it sounds reasonable for voters to approach political authorities to obtain ‘quick-fixes’ for injustices perpetrated on them or to get bureaucratic bottlenecks cleared. If our Judiciary, Public service and the decentralised administrative machinery perform efficiently and honestly, the need to approach MPs will hardly arise. This is where the real remedy to the problem lies!
SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM
Paradigm shift in mindset through public awareness
Be that as it may, what should we do to correct this unfortunate misconception that only MPs can deliver the goods to the people? In our view, it is high time that both the Public and the Politicians are made to fully understand the role responsibilities of the long existing 04 tiered decentralized political administration system consisting of a) a Central Parliament with 225 MPs , b) a Provincial Council system with 09 mini- Parliaments housing a large number of PC ministers and members ,c)a grass-root network of MC,UCand PS members and d) an all powerful Executive President who is the people’s Ombudsman for all purposes leading a massive Cabinet of around 110 Ministers ! What a burden is this on the National Exchequer for a small country like ours? As tax payers, are we getting a decent return on this investment? As if adding insult to injury, what a colossal amount of money is spent unproductively by way of Cut-outs, posters and polythene campaigns affecting the environment to elect this coterie of so called administrators of this country?
Given this scenario, a paradigm shift in the mind set of the voter is urgently required and can be achieved only with the help of the Mass media and civic minded people educating the public .Towards this end, I give below some salient facts and suggestions that one and all should grasp and act.
 MPs in the central Parliament are only Legislators cum Policy makers and as such their prime responsibility should be to formulate national policies and approve the necessary Laws for the country’s advancement in all spheres. In addition, they are required to approve the national budget and handle the finances of the country including national level infrastructural projects. The people’s needs at village, urban and municipal level which have been included in the central budgetary allocations through the respective ministries, at the instance of the respective Provincial and local authorities should be monitored by the MPs to ensure end-use of funds. It is in this manner that the MPs should relate to the people and not by usurping the roles of PCs and other local bodies!
 We agree that in its present form, the PC system, loaded with 09 mini-parliaments has become a wasteful drain on the country’s resources and finances. However, since it is a step towards resolving our national problem, it would be impractical to abolish this system at this juncture. Instead, the Govt. should properly empower the PCs and other local bodies to deliver maximum benefits from them to the people. Since the representatives whom the people should actually get to know(if at all) should be those elected by them at the grass root level, the present Local Govt. election system should be depoliticized so that all members are elected by the people, based purely on their social- acceptance, service- orientation and commitment to serve the people and the locality. It is akin to the ‘Grama Rajya ‘concept presently being discussed.
 Another plus factor that we cannot forget is, the presence of an all powerful executive President elected by the people. It is evident that the President is untiringly dealing even with day- today issues in the Ministries, Trade unions, health and educational problems etc. of the people. The Presidential Secretariat and the President’s fund have become efficient outlets of assistance for the needy people. However, what is really expected of an Executive President once elected by the people is, to function as a ‘Statesman’ and an Ombudsmen for the entire population. This is what was envisaged when the post of Executive President was marketed. However, a pre-requisite is to remove the well known dictatorial powers presently vested with the Executive presidency. The aforesaid underpinnings of a decentralized political administration system combined with an Executive Presidency amply justify the abolishing of ‘Preferential voting’ or ‘Manape’ system. Needless to state that even the existing system has recognized this fact by making the ‘Preferential Vote’ optional for the voter! In an extreme situation if the voter decides to mark his vote only for the party of his choice, how will that political party select its candidates to fill the number of seats allocated after the election result? Obviously, it has to depend on a merit list of its candidates nominated for the district.
Revive the’ Party list’ System
It is now very clear that at a parliamentary election, the people should be voting not for individuals but for a Party of their choice based on its Policy frame work and action plan (Party manifesto) time framed for the ensuing 06 years. This being the most crucial factor to win votes, it can even be made an enforceable legal document in order to safeguard the gullible voter from being taken for a ride by false promises and political rhetoric! Next, the voter expects only educated and capable individuals who can implement their party manifesto to come to the Parliament. Thus, it is in the best interest of the party concerned to field their best candidates in merit order, if they want to become the majority party in the parliament.
It is necessary at this point to enlist some of the main advantages of the ‘Party lists’ Viz,
The much maligned poster wars, enmities, rivalries, thuggery and financial extravaganza associated with the PV system will be no more, thereby creating a peaceful atmosphere during the elections.
Since a Party will nominate the candidates strictly under its terms and conditions, the much maligned ‘crossovers’ will come to an end. Anyway, the country Constitution too should be amended to stop this comedy of unethical crossovers!
As the MPs will not be directly dealing with the people at grass root level, they can devote more time and energy for their primary duty of developing Policies and Laws for the country. As such it will not be necessary to allocate large staff and luxury vehicles to Ministers and MPs of the central Govt.The monies so saved can be utilized to provide facilities to PCs and other Local bodies who are actually required to go to the field to identify and solve people’s problems.
In this scenario, we can even consider reducing the number of MPs in the Parliament and save a large amount of tax-payers’ money which can be channeled for worthier purposes!
Introduce an all-party Cabinet
Given the existence of the more democratic and fairer PR system, coupled with a more or less common economic-philosophy presently followed by the two major parties, we venture to suggest, to extend the PR system to the cabinet as well and implement the PR system in full. In our view, it is the first step towards bringing about this much elusive Political consensus to solve our National problem in a cost-effective and a productive manner. One can see that this proposal merely seeks to regularize an existing situation where de-facto opposition parliamentarians are holding Ministerial portfolios! When the system is thus changed constitutionally and legally, no political party should feel shy to take over Ministerial portfolios. The TNA which will get its due representation in the Cabinet will certainly be forced to give up its present misgivings about a nationalist Cabinet and extend its co-operation working at a national level.
There is no doubt that a proposal of this nature evolving from the decent, civil society, which puts the country’s interest first, will not be palatable to those power- hungry politicians who have converted Politics to a business of ‘ Revenue and Revenge’! They always espouse a policy of ‘Victor Vs the Vanquished’ under the pretext of a so called ‘Stable-Govt.’ which is synonymous with a virtual dictatorship! It must be remembered that the proposed system will guarantee a ‘Stable Govt.’all the time as the MPs and the ‘All party Cabinet’ will be striving to achieve National goals of growth and development in a more transparent manner sans any rivalry or attempts to ‘cross-over’ which are unethical and unconstitutional. Also with an ‘All party Cabinet’, the Executive President will find it difficult to dissolve the Parliament prematurely. Finally, we appeal to all right thinking, decent citizens and politicians to work forthrightly towards a ‘Paradigm shift’ on the lines mentioned above, and ensure the achievement of a true ‘Miracle of Asia’. End ‘confrontational politics’ and enter’ consensual politics’!