CIMOGG’s fourteen presidential questions
Posted on December 25th, 2009

C. Wijeyawickrema, LL.B., Ph.D.

Dr. A. C. Viswalingam (President, The Citizens Movement for Good Governance) asked fourteen questions from  presidential candidates (The Island, 12/20/2009). It is unlikely that anyone of them will come forward with yes or no answers as requested by him. More importantly, because the list includes some questions which are wrong, if answered, we would get wrong answers or irrelevant answers. For example, when that apple fell on his head Isaac Newton did not ask “Why did this apple fall on my head?” Instead, he asked the right question: “Why do apples fall?” Posing public questions is a serious business. It is different from what lawyers do. They do not ask a question from a witness to which they already did not know the answer. Teachers often tell their students that there are no stupid questions, just because teachers want to encourage them. Otherwise, there is a category called “stupid question.”

          When asking “public questions” “publicly,” the professional questioner has a role different from that of a newspaper reporter. He or she has a duty to provide his/her own views first on the subject so that the answers, if given, could be more meaningful and beneficial to the general public.  Answers could be assessed on the background facts provided by the answer seeker. In the case of CIMOGG all what we know is that it supported the Grama Rajyya concept and like all the others it is in favour of peace and good governance. Because of the politically charged nature of some of the questions CIMOGG position should have been presented first for public benefit.

Easy questions  

            Questions, number4 (Media Commission), 5 (declaration of assets), 7 (right to information-whistleblower), 8 (implementation of languages law), 9 (publication of inquiry commission reports), 11 (mixed ethnic schools) and 12 (teeth to bribery and corruption law) are not difficult to answer. The answer to these seven questions should be “yes.”

On question no. 13, what is the justification for giving voting rights to expatriate dual citizens unless they live in Sri Lanka for at least three months of each year?  There are 500,000 Sri Lankan Tamils living in Canada alone. Would they decide to live in Sri Lanka on a regular basis each year? Unlike this kind of Sinhala and Tamil foreign citizens those who labor in the Middle East on temporary visas, whose hard-earned money help the SL budget should be given a right to vote under the rule of “no vote- no tax.”

On question no. 10, building national unity cannot be achieved via international covenants because they are selectively imposed according to world power politics. Human rights have become new colonial instruments with double standards applied by a few powerful western countries. CIMOGG must ask the question whether Sri Lanka has issues on human rights because it has not passed new laws based on new international laws or because the laws already existing are not properly implemented. CIMOGG must be able to demonstrate that religious and ethnic minorities are not protected but only the majority is protected. The real issue is corruption and not lack of laws.

 Bahubootha Constitution and Tamil homeland

The answers to the other five questions (1 & 2 -17th Amendment, 3 – presidential immunity, 6 – a new constitution and, 14 – 13th Amendment) depend on the approach one takes, for example, on the following subjects:

  1. Do we accept a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka or do we accept that Sri Lanka is home for the Sinhala majority and the other minorities guided by the concept of reasonableness.
  2. Do we want to empower people at the village council level or do we want to placate a few minority politicians making unreasonable demands. Do we want to give villages what Colombo gets?
  3. Do we want to demarcate political units based on ecological considerations or to continue with the arbitrary boundaries we inherited from colonial times?
  4. Are we going to change the very undemocratic election laws?
  5. Are we willing to teach Sinhala and Tamil to our school children?

1947 Constitution (based on 1943 ministers’ draft)

          When we compare 1972 and 1978 constitutions with the 1947 constitution, we can see that two aspects of democracy, (1) structural democracy such as rule of law and separation of powers and (2) territorial democracy of people electing their representatives were destroyed in the partition documents of 1972 and 1978. Therefore, the need today is to prepare a new constitution with people participation and their direct input. Both 1972 and 1978 are documents prepared by Colombo lawyers to meet with one or two Colombo politicians’ whishes. The 1943 ministers’ draft was prepared after a series of public meetings at different locations.

          Destruction of Sri Lankan constitutional environment began in the 1960s and after 1978 a draconian constitution (with amendments) and a new election law completed the death of representative democracy. Sri Lanka has not only lost the usual checks and balances, but the rule that “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” received a new meaning because the electoral system allowed only corrupt people to get elected. Instead of power corrupting people, corrupt people come to power! In the past people voted for a representative they knew who lived in their electorate or ward. Now it is a big business for investors of money to go to parliament and make more money.

          Under a party-list system of MPs like this it is unfair for the CMOGG to ask for the CC under the 17th Amendment. A corrupt set of political party employees who appear as MPs cannot be expected to think of the country and select respectable non-political members to the CC. A broken system cannot be fixed by band aids. The 1978 constitution is not workable with a president who has to depend on a majority of votes in the parliament. This was why President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to bribe MPs with ministerial positions. The 1978 method is based on a powerful president. If so, 17th Amendment was a step against that method. The solution is not to make that method weaker but to throw out that method and design a new method.

13th Amendment

          13-A was a copy of the 1935 Government of India Act which accepted communal representation. In 1956 India extended this as language-based states and it became a dangerous slippery path in India, the latest being the Telangana-Andra Pradesh debacle which opened up a new round of statehood demands which could create 50-60 state units in India. 13-A was based on the acceptance by India of a Tamil homeland in the island. 13-A was imposed on Sri Lanka by India and people in the south did not want it. A separate Tamil country in the island was an unreasonable idea that began in the 1920s because of the demand for a Pakistan (an idea promoted by the British) and a Dravidasthan in South India (which the British did not support). With a group of international Tamils backed by those who want to destabilize Sri Lanka, one or two language based spatial unit/s in Sri Lanka will provide room for a separatist talks and dreams.

          The solution for Sri Lanka is to copy the Panchayathi Raj Institutes in India rejuvenated in 1993 by the constitutional amendments 73 &74, and to empower people at the Village Council level. This plus the teaching of Sinhala and Tamil to school children will solve the so-called “ethnic issue” in Sri Lanka.

One Response to “CIMOGG’s fourteen presidential questions”

  1. Priyantha Abeywickrama Says:

    Thank you for this article on a more pertinent issue affecting Lanka. We live in a world where the damage caused by solutions is much worse than that caused by the problems. I must admit that I am very reluctant to put myself in the middle of a situation such as how to get rid foul smell, without discarding the heap of garbage that we selected to decorate our home. I mean adopting the smelliest system of government left-behind by English as our own home grown solution to manage our community affairs, the original purpose of governance.

    I want to comment on one particular aspect, the use of language as a solution, which I see as a much bigger problem than the original problem. The notion that we can master many languages is a lie according to our research. There is a serious doubt as to the individual capacities on ability to mastering a language. With specific focus on matters affecting Sinhala community, I wonder how many are there who could be classified as Sinhala based on the knowledge of Language, thinking style and physical activities. How many of those claiming to be Sinhala or Tamil know the meaning of the very words used as these ethnic labels? Considering the finite nature of words alone that reflects the collective knowledge of a particular ethnic group, if we put a bench mark of 75% of comprehensive knowledge of words in that language as a pre-requisite to be identified as belonging to an ethnic group, how many of us will pass that bench mark to call us Sinhala. Then how could we learn another language such as Tamil, to be of any use, unless we limit ourselves to greetings and bye bye stuff. If we extend the same concept to other ethnic groups how many of them belong to the self-claimed group of identity. IS NOT IT BETTER TO TREAT THOSE WHO FAIL THIS TEST AS ANIMALS WHO SHOULD BE GOVERNED BY THE LAWS OF NATURE? As a personal note, I want to add that I worked on mastering the Tamil language to a level, where I could produce same kind of thinking, in other words, to generate the same set of words, which may have come from an expert Tamil speaker with reference to an identical event. Sadly, I had to give up this exercise as I could not achieve that without causing permanent damage to both my physical and mental capabilities associated with vocal expression OR without giving away many of my language skills. So I wonder how I could see promoting multi-lingual practice as a means of peaceful co-habitation of rival ethnic groups. In fact, any forced attempt as envisaged by some self-appointed patriotic leaders on this basis should be considered as a serious crime amounting to genocide. I hope you understand that forced use of alien language and alien culture is a killer widely employed by English to destroy native populations. Genocide has many faces and does not need to be primitive wholesale slaughter in a short time, but can be more subtle and lasting for long periods, which gives the maximum pain to those who endure such genocidal episodes. How long can you endure talking an alien language and eating alien foods without going berserk? Sadly there are some murderers wearing humanitarian masks who enjoy such barbaric deeds to the best of their ability.

    We live in a world totally turned upside down as inferred when I said of removing stench while living on a garbage tip. The language is a critical element of any civilisation to judge its values and there can never be two languages in one community because language is one of the essential pillars forming a community. Even two groups of the same community who lived apart will not form a single community after a significant time lapse. Then, presence of Tamils among Sinhala has to be a result of other reasons that should be solved accordingly than forcing Sinhala people to use Tamil as another language. This is the only country in the world, that majority has to follow the minority to appease the minority migrant interests. How just could this be to Sinhala people?

    Regarding other content, I thought of attaching the following comment made in response to an article by Dayan Jayathilaka supporting implementation of 13A and 17A at the http://www.adaderana.lk website. I hope it would complement this article to Lankaweb viewers.

    “Any attempt to implement 13th and 17th Amendments, essentially dysfunctional and unimplemented by predecessors will take away the gloss of status held by MR and turn him to another like SF in the eyes of those who supported him. Sadly, the reliance on advice given by the extreme left elements has turned the left of centre parties in Lanka to be limited for one term in the past. If it happens again, it will be their turn to enjoy the fate of UNP, which is already a party of irrelevance with respect to the future. Obviously, this will be an opportunity for a true nationalistic and strong native entity taking over their place as contemplated by people like me. However, what happens is just a normal event in historical terms.

    The form of Constitutional government is proving to be a failure when adapted to a proper form of “STATE”. This concept used by US is not a state as such and essentially a part of a state that became a “pseudo-state” created by victorious rebels that lives on with “Brute Force” used for the victory. The only legitimacy of existence is the brute force that remains the driving force behind this system of government in US with a privileged class made of victorious rebels and their followers. The nominal head of state voted in by fanfare is merely a publicity stunt as proven by recent events. The application to Lanka is abysmal in comparison to ‘what is effectively applied’ with ‘what is contemplated”, where the instrument of power used to achieve is more akin to asking a thief to do what ever he/she desires while looking after all the valuables of the society. The actions of those who became the principle instrument of power (the president) have proven the next part of text that wish to omit.

    The parliamentary model borrowed from the last colonial master is essentially a headless chicken. It is nearly impossible to create the head (Monarchy and Council of Lords) given the local history that has its own rules.

    The hybrid model employed by politicians with a very narrow idea of retaining power has proven to be a devastating failure pushing country into a quagmire.

    The notion that by creating rules such as enacting laws and changing constitution, a country can be governed is dictatorial and surely fails in the long run. What goes against natural justice will return with fire that will burn those who try such luck. The effort made to empower essentially a settler community over those rights of native population is purely evil and not going to work as there are other elements that are in force though not bothered about by the humanity. Such empires built on use of their laws have disappeared along with those who enacted them. Do we have to follow such an end is the question of those who wish to do such things?

    I believe that talking of the reasons for failure to implement enactments such as 13A and 17A, and the faults of constitutional governance, an extension of a concept based on bible-driven Christian values, are essentially the talking material of political scientists.

    The intent of the constitutional variations including 13A and 17A is essentially an erosion of the purpose derived from the culture of people who developed this concept of governance. For them, the winner decides for all and takes home all the credit or debit, and loser are just weepers. Interestingly, some of the changes are intended to take away the best part of the things winner could enjoy while leaving behind all the responsibilities in the hand of the winner according to these changes to the system of governance. In other words losers have the power to say that you have won but we decide how you run the government. This will never work as it is an attempt by losers to behave like winners.

    Having said that we have reached a dead end as to the way we run Lanka as a proper state with a very long history beyond times, the most important issue is to come up with a brand new way of governance, without tinkering something beyond repair or going backward in time. Can the political scientists or others do it? Or, do we have to seek the help of those who created the original concept of STATE to come up with the solution? (I noticed a bit better style of writing fit for a political scientist when reading this article.)”

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