Say No! To Super Ministers

By Lacille de Silva (Ceylon Today) 

We continue to have the most tyrannical and power hungry politicians for many decades. MS/RW formula could have been the right combination to consider reforms in the judiciary, public administration, public expenditure management, anti-corruption, as essentials, if they had strategized the processes and approaches correctly. Experience, intelligence and good judgement are needed to provide good leadership.

The Buddha had said it is wisdom that is most crucial. Our leaders lack wisdom, fortitude, insight and vision. Professor Rufus Fears had said that a politician and a statesman are not the same. A statesman, Fears had argued, is not a tyrant; he is the leader of a free people with four critical qualities: bedrock of principles, ability to judge what is right and wrong and act accordingly, vision and the ability to build a consensus to achieve that vision.

Development agenda

The required reforms are wide-ranging. The development agenda should be handled cautiously with persistence and determination. It should not be overloaded with bad governance. The key to a government’s effectiveness, ability and the overall capacity to lead the nation successfully lies in a few elements; responsiveness to the people, ability to bring about a good balance democratically to serve their interests; and most importantly enhancing efficiency of the public-sector institutions in the implementation of policies. President and PM should think smarter and act smarter because the voter is wide awake.

Social scientists say “progressive institutional reforms are pre-requisites for socio-economic development”. Establishing rule of law and strengthening the judiciary are the best tools in our struggle for economic and social reform for achieving economic development. We truly need urgent solutions to most burning policies and political dilemmas. Empowerment, participation, integrity, transparency and accountability are remedies to overcome bad governance.

I do not think the PM could succeed by introducing policies that hinders promotion of human rights, freedom, liberty and democratic activities. Jimmy Carter had said “Democratic movements have accounted for the progress of democracies in the western world”. There have been instances where youth had sacrificed their precious lives and successive leaders have disregarded their call for establishment of more democratic governments and institutions. Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa and Dae Jung Kim have proved beyond doubt the importance of democratic governance.

It is the government that is responsible for upholding the rule of law. President, PM and all elected representatives give an oath that they will uphold the Constitution and do the opposite. They disrespect other laws too. There seem to be one law for politicians and another law for ordinary citizens. Where is the equality before the law? Let me add, there should be nobody above the law. That was their slogan too.

Singaporeans today enjoy full employment and high economic growth, low divorce, illegitimacy and crime rates. Singapore’s second Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had said “We must think for ourselves and decide what is good for Singapore, what will make Singapore stable and successful”. Shouldn’t our leaders also think similarly? Lee Kuan Yew had said “To build a country, you need passion. If you just do your sums – plus, minus, debit, credit – you are a wash-out”.

Ranasinghe Premadasa

In my career spanning over 30 years in Parliament, I was convinced that the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa was the only exceptional Head of State, who displayed a strong obligation to improve public-sector performance. Premadasa endeavoured to build up and improve public sector organization through decision-making and by setting up of targets and follow up systems at all levels. He was a tireless task master.

He took the garment industry to villages and saw to it that the path was completely cleared for the industrialists. He hand-picked officers and involved them to carry out instructions to the letter. He was not prepared to accept ‘no’ for an answer.

He got officers transferred who could not live up to his expectations. A workaholic, he could have been rightly named Sri Lanka’s Deng Ziaoping, if he did not get assassinated. Premadasa was impeached, which he manipulated cleverly using strategy and his powers. The impeachment became a ‘failed exercise’.

He introduced P/A Circular 15 of 1990 to streamline the public-sector recruitment policy without political interference – a progressive step that was widely accepted by all communities. Why did successive governments disregard circular No. 15 of 1990 and push it under the carpet? President and PM should now enforce the relevant circular in the name of ‘good governance’. Amusingly, it has not yet been repealed.

Improving the public administration and judiciary should be the only subject to establish good governance. Values such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, efficiency and so on are seriously lacking. We should re-introduce a merit-based administrative service and proper devolution of power for strengthening public administration country-wide. We need better public expenditure management, efforts to fight corruption and a more professional public administration. Governance reforms take time, perhaps, years to produce results. The more we delay the more problems we will be adding to the future.

In Sri Lanka, politicians and bureaucrats seem to be keen in introducing reforms and give priority to those that benefit them. Should the PM create two separate ministries in a corrupt bureaucracy, which is inept, lackadaisical, self-interested, indifferent and ailing like a cancer?

PM should enforce all the laws that are already in the law books only to promote democracy and good governance; thereby, enhancing people’s participation. Why don’t they set tasks and priorities for reforms in the public sector? For democracy to gain further strength, good governance must flourish. Citizens should also be allowed to follow more closely the activities and operations of the Parliament in the decision-making process that affect their lives, including governance. By trying to bring in new legislation to create super-ministers, are they trying to introduce autocratic rule in place of democratic rule without the necessary participation or involvement of the people.

JRJ introduced the 1978 Constitution, created the Executive Presidency and changed the electoral system to keep UNP in power for ever, claiming he needed powers to achieve development and growth. People now hate politicians. “Americans hate politics. Because they hear politicians make promises that won’t come true” – Bill Clinton.

Current politicians

The present politicians during the past few decades had increased ‘inhumanity to country-men’ and continue to lie.They give all hollow promises. It is because the national policy does not adequately address issues such as inequities pertaining to economic growth, education policy, care for the disabled, elderly, accidents, suicides and so on. Successive governments have withdrawn numerous benefits people had been provided in the name of reducing public expenditure, denying social and distributive justice. Did they do that, purely because civil society in Sri Lanka is fragmented politically, ethnically and in many other ways? We should now consider the possibility of building up ‘one consolidated force’ to protect the citizens. We should say ‘No’ to super ministers.

Minister S.B. Dissanayake, in reply to a query raised by a journalist said that they are a group of people who love their health and they need luxury vehicles to travel about to serve the country. They continue to lie and distort reality. If so, having ‘served the country’, while enjoying all the luxuries at considerable expense to the people, what have they done? They have created a country over-burdened with massive debt with no hope for a ‘better tomorrow’. PM too fibbed that the imbalance would be corrected under their administration. MPs have been given massive tax concessions running into billions, while increasing taxes for poor people!

The President and the Prime Minster should not waste more time! As Harvard’s Merilee Grindle has put it, the PM should at least aim for “good enough” governance. Did the PM give up the ‘Litchchavi type rule’? “Democracy is based on reason, a sense of fair play, and freedom and a respect for the rights of other people” – Winston Churchill.

Creation of ‘super-ministers’ with immunity would create a weaker State faster. Weakening the State further is the dream of corrupt politicians. Are they trying to rob the depleted resources of this ‘impoverished country’ with law’s power and approval? The ‘blind pursuit of good governance’, without eradicating ‘chronic illness’, will not bring long-term prosperity. What gobbledygook! Aren’t they a bunch of disgusting boobs?  It is time to acknowledge what works – and disregard hallucinatory fantasies.