April 25, 2019

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    Telling the truth is no crime

    February 09, 2019

    The National Day of a nation is the most appropriate occasion to review the progresses made and the failures, if any. Accordingly, President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to list out the achievements and outline the failures as well as some misdeeds of the government cannot be faulted. Although the representatives of the foreign governments were also present, February 4 platform is basically the most suitable one for the Head of State to give his frank opinion on political developments.

    Some political parties and a segment of media may not be happy about President Sirisena’s comments on some political issues on the National Day, but by and large the people of the country listened to him in rapt attention as he clarified his position on many issues.

    In an honest analyses of the governance in the last four years, President Sirisena said that there were both achievements and failures of the unity government of United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and United National Front (UNF).

    One of the key achievements was restoration of democratic institutions by setting up the Constitutional Council and Independent Commissions to ensure fairness in the matter of appointments, promotions and transfers of Judiciary, Police and public sector institutions. That has also resulted in prevention of political interferences, though some decisions of the CC cannot be described as impartial.

    Executive Presidency

    By passing the 19th Amendment, President Sirisena curtailed some of the excessive powers of Executive Presidency and devolved them to the Parliament, empowering the legislative body. The judiciary as well as the Attorney General’s Department has been completely freed of political interference.

    “In addition, since 2015, we completely removed the fear that was prevalent in the country,” the President pointed out and then listed out few failures. “We won that situation. How difficult it is to remove corruption?”

    This is a very pertinent question. The allegations of corruption surfaced in the hearings of Presidential Commissions and different courts shocked the people because of their unbelievably high magnitude. They include the Central Bank Bond scam, malpractices in SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka, hedging deals on petroleum imports, power purchases from private sector and malpractices in joint projects with foreign firms.

    President Sirisena also used the National Day platform to tell the nation – and outsiders too – his position about the proposal for a so-called national government. “I see the proposal about a national government in the media. It is necessary to ask how ethical is to claim the formation of a national government by joining with a political party which has only a single Member of Parliament. I only see that as an attempt to increase the number of ministers and increase in the facilities of the ministers and MPs. From what I have seen in the media, I strongly disagree to the idea of proposed national government.”

    As he pointed out if the number of ministers is reduced to 25 with a single party running a government, it is the wish of the people. Any opinion poll would show that people want a limited number of ministers and less perks and privileges to ministers and MPs.

    The President also clarified his position on the delay in holding of Provincial Council elections. “I see the failure to hold Provincial Council elections for the last one and a half years as a challenge to democracy? Non Government Organizations do not come forward to talk about that.”

    The majority opinion in the country is that the elections must be held when they are due. Whatever the reasons given, any delay in holding of elections tantamount to a violation of the citizens’ right to elect their representatives.

    Furthermore, the past experiences show that whenever elections were delayed it reflected adversely on the incumbent party. When Sirimavo Bandaranaike postponed elections from 1975 to 1977, the SLFP was routed at the elections and the party could win only 8 seats in Parliament and it could not even become the main opposition party for the first time.

    President J R Jayewardene held a National Referendum to extend the term of parliament in 1982 and the government lost its legitimacy to govern because of the highhanded manner in which the referendum was conducted. The then Elections Commissioner described the referendum as the worst undemocratic election ever held in Sri Lanka. The unsettled conditions resulted in 1983 communal riots and 1988-89 southern militancy costing nearly 100,000 lives.

    Duties and responsibilities

    President Sirisena gave his honest position regarding the lethargic attitude in the public sector. “There are 1.6 million public servants in this country. According to survey reports, the efficiency of public service is only 30 percent. But it should be 70 percent. I see that the mistake is not of the public servants. They do not have the proper guidance.”

    He reminded the people about their responsibilities and obligations to the nation. “Before questioning the duties and responsibilities that should be accomplished by the country for you, it is a necessary to think about the duties that should be accomplished by you on behalf of the country. ‘What will we get?’ or ‘What we will receive?’ are questions asked by most. But everybody knows that the most essential thing is to accomplish duties and responsibilities on behalf of the nation.”

    Addressing the gathering that included all the foreign envoys in Colombo and those who are concurrently accredited from New Delhi and other neighbouring capitals, President Sirisena talked about undue foreign interferences on internal issues of Sri Lanka. “There are foreign interferences and pressures among the challenges we are faced with. With marked contrast to the armed foreign invasions prior to 1948, these interferences have surfaced with a different face.”

    The country has seen, time and again, about subtle, and not so subtle, interference by foreign powers or regional giants on our regime or the attempts at regime changes.

    New political journey

    The President also expressed a critical view on the politicians of past and present. “Since 2015, I have attempted to enter into a new political journey with novel development experiences. The people have fulfilled their responsibility by changing governments at every time. But, most of the governments which came to power destroyed the aspirations of the people. All of us know that the real supreme institution of the people’s supremacy, the Parliament has tarnished its image. How maliciously the MPs took actions to throw chilli powder at police officers inside the Chamber and also to bring a knife into the Chamber and to destroy the resources used by the MPs that are maintained by funds of the people. At present the people see the Parliament as a mirror image which shows the deterioration of the society.”

    He reminded everybody that the leadership of the country is bestowed upon a certain individual to protect the special sections of the society such as underprivileged, innocents, widows, refugees, disabled children and women, farmers, fishing community and labourers from harm and exploitation and to provide them economic, spiritual and intellectual freedom. That is the most important National Day message to the people of the country, especially to the elected representatives of the people.

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