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Sri Lanka: The Panacea

The State should have acted more responsibly, at least after the extremist Islamist movements raised their head as one of the deadliest terrorist outfits on a global level


by Victor Ivan 

Sri Lanka has been able to avoid physical attacks against the Muslim community in the aftermath of the deadliest bomb explosions on Easter Sunday. Nevertheless, the manner in which this crisis is being managed by the Sri Lankan State (except the incidents which happened at Kochchikade and Negombo) is not mature or satisfactory.

While it is natural to expect a great antagonism to emerge from society against the Muslim community in a violent backdrop like this, the way the crisis is being managed by the State appears to be more conducive to petrify society than integrate it and appease the protest of non-Muslim society against Muslim society.

The deadliest attacks on Easter Sunday caused great anger, protest and disgust among non-Muslim societies, viz. Sinhala and Tamil societies against Muslim community. Similarly, it caused shame and a sense of guilt in Muslim society as well, making it difficult for them to face non-Muslim society.

While the psychological difference created between these two groups is immense, the way certain electronic media reports search operations conducted by the security forces tends to widen this difference.

Similarly, the way the State acts on this issue is not mature. It looks irresponsible and imprudent. The State had lost the quality of security focus of the country and vulnerability alerts over a longer period. This can be considered an outcome of the overall process of the degeneration of the Sri Lanka State.

The J.R. Jayewardene regime failed to manage the crisis of ’83 Black July discreetly. Despite there being several terrorist organisations operating in the north and the east which appeared for a separate state and for an armed struggle prior to the Black July incident, they didn’t have wide or any public support.

But ’83 Black July led to change the picture completely. As Narayan Swamy reported, the youth of the Northern and the Eastern Provinces began to rally round the militant groups operating in their areas in the hundreds in the aftermath of ’83 Black July. They didn’t consider who the leaders were of militant groups in joining them. They agitated, demanding weapons. They left their homes leaving a brief note of one or two lines informing their home people that they were joining the struggle for Eelam.

Are we, knowingly or unknowingly, trying to push Muslim society also into a similar deadly situation?

Blinding the eyes of surveillance

The State should have acted more responsibly, at least after the extremist Islamist movements raised their head as one of the deadliest terrorist outfits on a global level. The State in its diplomatic dealings with Muslim countries which support Islamist terrorist organisations appearing for extremist ideologies should have been careful not to allow them implement programs for dissemination of such ideologies in the Muslim community of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka had always considered any money bag more important than national security and the existence of the country. Consequently, the country (Sri Lanka) is in an ugly situation where it would permit any donor country to do any damn thing in our country according to their whims and fancies. In the end, Muslim countries that supported Sri Lanka financially have been able to initiate and nourish extremist Islamist ideologies in Sri Lanka, presumably with the assistance of the State.

The immediate attention of the leaders of the State and the security services should have been focused on this problem, no sooner it was revealed that a team of Sri Lankan Muslim youths had returned to Sri Lanka after having had terrorist training in the Middle East. But none of them took it seriously.

The authorities had the responsibility to focus their complete attention on the subsequent incidents that took place at Mawanella and the seizure of a considerable stock of weapons from Wanathavilluva.

Eventually, they failed miserably to act sensibly when the Indian intelligence services warned about an imminent threat of a planned attack. It was only after facing terrible carnage that all search operations and investigations began to activate their machinery. This state of affairs clearly reflects the poor level of sensibility and responsibility of the State and its leaders.

At least after this massive attack, serious attention of the leaders of the State and the political analysts should have been focused on the decline and deterioration of the political system. Nobody seems to have recognised the importance of restructuring the entire system more than anything else.

All of them want to avoid the pressing need for a complete transformation of this exploitative system that makes them rich. Instead, they try to focus the attention of people on future elections and to continue with the present system, which is extremely putrid and corrupt, to their advantage.

Understanding the need for restructuring the system

Following the end of the civil war, the need for an overall structural change in the entire system emerged intensely. Apart from writing profusely on this issue, I have tried to convince all the major leaders of the country about the deterioration of the State and the urgent need for a complete restructuring of the entire system to overcome the crisis the country has faced at the 25th anniversary of the Ravaya newspaper which was attended by the major political leaders of the country. But none of them, including the Head of State and the Leader of the Opposition who were present on this occasion, seemed to have realised the seriousness of the point that I tried to impress upon them.

Even earlier, in an article written on the victory of the war, soon after the internal war was over, I pointed out that though the victory of the internal war had made President Mahinda Rajapaksa the most acclaimed hero produced since independence, his name, too, was likely to be thrown into the waste-bin of history in the future unless the country was restructured and the anomaly of the political system was rectified. I also tried to explain him the necessity for restructuring. Unfortunately, he was not able to realise the gravity of the problem.

Utopian dreams

It was at a panel discussion held at the Center for Society and Religion, at Maradana, founded by Rev. Father Tissa Balasuriya, in which I too participated as a panellist, that I came to know, for the first time, about two formulas presented by the Movement for a Just Society – one for fielding a common candidate for the presidential election 2015 and the other for abolition of the presidential system and replacing it with a parliamentary system through a simple amendment to the Constitution.

Kumudu Kusum Kumara, Sumanasiri Liyanage and Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, three university lecturers, were also among the speakers at this meeting. Nirmal in his speech said that the Movement for a Just Society had decided to propose a common candidate for the forthcoming presidential election and the prospective candidate would be Venerable Sobitha Thero. He further stated that the presidential system would be abolished with a simple amendment to the Constitution and thereafter a parliamentary system of governance would be established. At this juncture, Dr. Jayampathi Wickramatunga who was seated in the audience stood up and affirmed that the necessary amendment to change the Constitution had already been drafted.

In my speech, I criticised the concept of the common candidate and the idea of abolishing the presidential system and changing over to a parliamentary system through a simple amendment to the Constitution and pointed out that usually an amendment to a constitution is made to add new clauses or to rectify any shortcomings of the existing constitution. Changing from one system of governance to a new system of governance ought to be effected only by adopting a new constitution and not by a simple constitutional amendment. I pointed out that it is an accepted principle of constitution making. 

I also met Ven. Maduluvave Sobitha Thero and enlightened him on my ideas on this issue. I also expressed my opinion on these two issues, viz. fielding a common candidate for presidential election and the changing over of the presidential system of governance to a parliamentary system through a simple amendment to the Constitution, in writing.

I stressed that such an amendment to the Constitution would result in making the entire system of governance a disorderly and chaotic mess while pushing the country into a state of anarchy. It can be said that my prediction is now coming true in a larger measure than was expected. In this debate, even the Ravaya newspaper, despite it being a creation of mine, did not support my views, officially. Instead, it too, appeared on behalf of the agenda of the Movement for a Just Society which can be described as a utopian ideal which looked attractive on the surface.

The 30th anniversary of the Ravaya newspaper was held after the Yahapalana Government was elected to power. I suggested that the 30th anniversary should be made a platform to pursue the discussion on the need for restructuring the system, mooted at the 25th anniversary.

I was of the view that, apart from the leaders of the Yahapalana Government and the other leaders connected to that program, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa too should be involved in this dialogue. However, the Ravaya Board of Directors at that time vehemently opposed my idea. Accordingly, my suggestion to invite the former President was declined and the anniversary was held with the participation of the leaders of the Yahapalana Government only.

During the meeting, I tried to bring forward the issue on the need for restructuring the system. But all the leaders who attended the meeting followed a policy of ignoring it and they talked about other matters.

Paucity of vision

The general political literacy of the people, not only in common society, but even in educated circles, remains at a very low level. Consequently, more often than not, they are orbiting around the questions of least importance rather than concentrating on central issues.

Involvement of people’s representatives like presidents, ministers and MPs, who are at the helm of the political pyramid, in business deals with the Government can be considered the main problem of central importance which has caused the degeneration of the Sri Lankan State.

They are the temporary custodians of public property of the country. However, most of them, ignoring their responsibility to safeguard and foster public property, have tended to pursue a policy of exploiting them in various ways to amass personal wealth using public property assigned to them.

It is due to this practice that the corruption had become rampant and uncontrollable, the State administration is rendered inefficient and unsuccessful and the rule of law had declined and the country made a confused mess and a hapless chew.

It is absolutely against the law for the members elected to rule the country by public vote to obtain undue economic advantages from the State. It is completely contrary to the law for the members of Parliament to transact business with the Government, to buy properties of the Government or sell their properties to the Government.

In almost every democratic country, there are strict laws to control the conduct of politicians who are elected by the public vote. Even in Sri Lanka, a similar system was in operation up to 1977. Though these laws have not been revoked, J.R. Jayewardene during his regime prevented them being implemented.

Albert Silva who was elected to the Legislative Council from Galle electorate in 1977 was deprived of his parliamentary seat in 1979 by the Judiciary as he held a permit for distribution of kerosene oil in his name. Two decades later, Rajitha Senarathne MP was deprived of his parliamentary seat by the Judiciary for selling medical drugs to the Government through a company belonged to him. This shows that the law remains still valid despite it not being implemented appropriately.

Not only the general public, even the theoreticians who appear for constitutional reforms are not aware that the people’s representatives elected by public vote are not permitted to transact business with the government which they represent. The provisions for this were not included either in the 19th Amendment put forward by the Movement for a Just Society or in the 20th Amendment proposed by the JVP.

This is the root cause of corruption in Sri Lanka. It is unavoidable that a country becomes an extremely corrupt when the custodians of public property themselves resort to plunder public property in different ways. If the president, the prime minister or a minister of the government is bidding for a government tender, whatever the qualifications they have for it, there should be an opportunity for another bidder to obtain it.

In almost all countries where a democratic system of governance is in operation, strict laws are in operation to keep people’s representatives distanced from such transactions as it is considered an essential condition to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of state administration.

Under the democratic system, such offences are considered as unpardonable grave offences deserving serious punishments which include the deprivation of the parliament seat and civic rights of the wrongdoers and confiscation of wealth earned by them through undue means.

Plundering of State lands

President J.R. Jayewardene can be considered as the person who destroyed the legitimacy of the land policy of Sri Lanka which had been maintained up to then. He cannot be considered a person greedy of wealth. Nevertheless, he allowed the MPs of the ruling party to earn wealth by undue means in order keep them happy. If the MPs had any shame in exploiting public property, JR set a precedent by committing the sin by himself.

President Jayewardene setting an example exchanged a barren coconut land which he owned for a fertile land belonged to the Land Reforms Commission. This marked the beginning of the biggest plunder of lands in the history of Sri Lanka.

A system was introduced so that the MPs of the ruling party and their political henchmen could purchase, at a nominal price, not only the fertile lands that came under the Land Reforms Commission, but also the houses and other buildings standing thereon. While the stupid politicians purchased 50 acres of lands in their names, the shrewd ones purchased them in hundreds of acres against the names of hurriedly-set-up mushroom companies. In the end, the MPs of the ruling party became rich planters and landed proprietors.

Violation of rules was not confined to this. President JR allowed his MPs to become contractors supplying goods and services to the Government. The Government followed a policy of issuing licences to MPs of the ruling party to engage in businesses of timber, sand and rubble.

This unlawful practice initiated by President J.R. Jayewardene was pursued by the presidents who succeeded him by adding more elements into it. During the reign of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, MPs were granted liquor licences. The number of licences issued during her rule exceeded 1,000. With this, some MPs became tavern owners.

This unlawful system, which persists up to now, has become the most important and major factor that had impacted in distorting the nature of State rule and the deterioration of the State itself. This system has distorted the moral character of the people’s representatives completely. It has made the post of MP an important and easy way of amassing wealth and becoming rich instead of using it for fulfilling public service. This has led even presidents to become looters of public property under their custody. Thus, it has weakened the sovereignty of the law as well as the economy of the country and corrupted the election system and the system of political parties.

This degeneration is clearly manifested in every sector. This includes the lack of discipline in Parliament, Parliamentary debates and the Parliamentary Committee system. The MPs and the Ministers cannot be expected to have adequate time to fulfil their official responsibilities appropriately when making money through undue means has become the main object for the majority of them.

In fact, how many MPs are there in Parliament who do business with the Government in various ways as contractors, suppliers, license holders of timber, rubble sand and liquor? How many of them have purchased State lands? If this number is considerably high, doesn’t it make the Parliament an unlawful institution by virtue of the fact that it has a large number of MPs who are legally disqualified to be in Parliament?

Isn’t it the responsibility of the Speaker of the Parliament to investigate into this matter and expel the MPs who have done and are doing business with the Government which is contrary to the law of the country and also prohibit them doing business with the Government in order that the sanctity and the legitimacy of the Parliament are maintained?

Thus, the people’s representatives elected by public vote doing business with the Government can be considered as the root cause of rampant corruption of Sri Lanka. How can we be surprised to see that the country has fallen into a depth of wretchedness when the legislators themselves are openly transgressing the laws that they enact and the majority of them have become extremely corrupt and the law is not imposed on those transgressing the

law of the country?

What Sri Lanka needs at the moment is not a presidential or parliamentary election, but a comprehensive program aimed at making an in-depth structural change in this wicked and exploitative system which has led to the deterioration of the country.

The best approach for this would be to open the doors for making a participatory constitution or a people’s constitution with the consensus of the political parties. That is the only alternative available for an in-depth transformation and overcoming the present wretchedness of the country. It is important that the people and the people’s organisations assert their voice firmly to achieve this object.

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