The Executive Presidency Debate:  Are we not barking up the wrong tree?
Posted on November 27th, 2014

By Garvin Karunaratne Former Government Agent, Matara District

The Presidential Election  is today the concern of everyone. Many ideas are mooted by patriotic persons and  most are of the opinion that many changes have to be done. It looks to me that some of the changes suggested like changing the Constitution is something that cannot be done within a short space of time. The demand on everyone’s lips is that the Executive Presidency should be abolished.

It is said that the powers vested in the Executive President has enabled a dictator to emerge and therefore the Executive Presidency has to be axed. Has our incumbent President  become a dictator? Has he done anything up to now that smacks that he has exceeded the bounds of reasonability?

When we think of our incumbent President the greatest achievement has been defeating the terrorist LTTE and its leader Prabhakaran.  Was liberating the total population of Sri lanka from the incessant attacks of the LTTE a dictatorial deed?  It was the President and his brother the Defence Secretary who directed the armed forces. They did act like dictators, did not waver for a moment to liberate the people of Sri Lanka from the terrorist.  They dared not to listen to the advice offered by the US, UK France and many other Western Powers to stop defeating the LTTE. To me that was not  dictatorial. It was essentially a patriotic deed.

Let us trace back to the past of the LTTE conflict to illustrate how past Presidents  and Prime Ministers conducted themselves.

It is well known that  Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe  connived with Norway to provide sophisticated communication equipment to the LTTE.  At that time the LTTE was controlling the Northern and the Eastern Provinces and was attempting to subjugate the entire island. Was this in the national interest? Though this is an established fact the perpetrators have got off scot free. Had this happened in the USA  the persons would have been in Guantanamo Bay.

It is an important fact that this  act of treason by the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe was done under the Executive Presidentship of Chandrika Kumaranatunge. The President had all powers at her command to act in the interests of the nation to stop this act, but she ignored it. Was that becoming of a President?

What of the PTOMS (Post Tsunami  Operational Management Structure)Agreement which was signed when President Chandrika Kumaranatunge  was President and Ranil Wickrtemasinghe was Prime Minister. The PTOMS was arranged when Jayantha Dhanapala was Head of the Peace Secretariat and came to a joint agreement with the LTTE on a joint mechanism to handle Tsunami relief.. It was signed on 24/6/2005 and came with an Aid Package of $ US 3 billion.. Its intention was  to deliver relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development  to the coastal communities in  Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullativu and Trincomalee.. Under this there was a Reconstruction Committee and  a Regional Committee. The High Level Commiittee consisted of  one nominee from the Government of Sri Lanka, one nominee from the LTTE  and one nominee from the Muslims.  Any one of the nominees will serve as the Chair.  The Regional Committee comprised two members from the Government of Sri lanka,  five members from the LTTE,  and three members from the Muslims. The Chairperson was to be held by one of the LTTE nominees and the Deputy Chair was to be held by a Muslim..

It is evident that in the case of the Regional Committee the lawful Government of Sri lanka has been given an insignificant position.  There was criticism of the PTOMS in that it accorded undue prominence to a terrorist organization. The JVP objected and filed action in the Supreme Court which delivered a judgement against the PTOMS.

Ven Ellawala Medhananda the President of the JHU protested at the signing of the PTOMS, stating that Kumaranatunge had committed the ultimate betrayal and given further credence  to the Ceasefire Agreement signed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe … The sovereignty and the territorial integrity of this country have been severely breached by this Memorandum of Understanding.(SundayLeader Archive20050626)

 The role played by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and President Chandrika Kumaranatunge  in signing the PTOMS Agreement amounts in my mind to treason but it has so happened that they pose as our leaders today!.

These facts- excesses by our leaders placed in authority  prove to me that the fault does not lie in the Executive Presidency, but  in the persons who are incumbents. In defeating the LTTE President Rajapaksa took pains to ensure that the country was safeguarded.   The role played by President Kumaranatunge and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe amounts to selling the Motherland.

Another change suggested is that of the Constitution. This is not a document that can be changed in a hurry. If done piecemeal or in a hurry it will be another mess worse than President Jayawardena’s Constitution.

It is my frank opinion that it was possible to defeat the LTTE because of the Executive Powers that the President held.

President Rajapaksa has remained a true democrat to this day. He has not tried ever to steal the Presidency by getting the Surpreme Court to order to stop the counting of votes like what President George W. Bush did in the case of the 2000 US presidential Election. Here George W Bush was declared winner  by stopping the counting of ballots in a number of counting centers in Florida.(My book: The Hijacking of the 2000 US Presidential Election: The University Press of America).

Our President has also not tried to  manipulate the counting of ballots which George W Bush did through the manufacturers of the voting machines. There was no paper trail to back the voting decisions and the totals coffed up by the electronic machines, though there were plenty of errors had to be accepted as final.(My book: The Electronic Stealing of the 2004 US Presidential Election.)

 The only high handed act is to decide an early election. This is not his fault. It is the fault of the Constitution. I hope that like in the US Constitution the dates when the election should be held should be specifically laid down with any amendment to the Constitution.

 Instead there are other factors which are more important than  abolishing the Executive Presidency.

 The prime factor lies in the economy. Since 1977 we have been following the open market free economy in the manner dictated by the IMF and that liberalization process has taken our country to have a huge foreign debt. In 1977 when Prime Minister Siriimavo handed over the reigns our country had no foreign debt.  The IMF advised the Third World countries to give up national planning, abolish exchange controls, allow all imports, allow foreign exchange to be used by the citizens for luxury travel foreign education etc and in that process when our foreign fund incomes were insufficient, advised us to take loans. At first the IMF and World Bank arranged loans with periods of grace where no payments of capital or interest had to be paid which also meant that when the day for payment comes the leaders who took the loans are out of office. Later the IMF and he World Bank  backed out and currently loans are at a high interest of 6 to 8% interest.. Now, when the banks are shy of giving us loans we are forced to  raise bonds and that is our current method. We have stepped even further and have allowed the private sector to obtain foreign loans. Let me point out what happened to Argentina. When their economy crashed in 2002 the bond holders sold the bonds at low rates. Two US Hedge Funds  purchased these bonds at rock bottom prices and went to the US Supreme Court and obtained an order that they have to be paid immediately at full value. Now Argentina has to honour that order. Are we immune from facing such a situation?

By the time the UNP handed over the country after ruling for seventeen years we were so indebted that we had to raise loans to service the loans we had taken. It was the Jayawarena Government that accepted the IMF’s free market policies and thereby took us on the road to indebtedness The UNP stalvarts  who criticize the economy today  forget that it was their UNP President Jayawardena that ruined the economy by following the IMF recipe that will lead anyone to disaster.

 The  elimination of poverty, assuring employment to everyone are targets that require our immediate attention. Following the IMF and its Milton Friedman principles has ruined our economy and has altered it from a sustainable economy(Days of Premier Dudley Senanayake & Sirimavo) to an indebted economy that provides luxury living for the rich, leaving the poor to eke out a living. When I am in Sri Lanka I have a contact at  Battaramulla and at a moment’s notice I can pick up a dozen men for whom I pay Rs 1200 a day. These men would be lucky if they can find such employment for twelve to fifteen days a month. Every one of them had a family of at least four to five to feed.  They have to live breathing air on the days they cannot find work.  Let us eliminate this  poverty and we have to find a President who can tackle that task..

We have to control our foreign exchange and use it in the national interest. Since 1977 we do not control our foreign exchange.

Full facts on the futility of our following the IMF Friedman economy model is contained in my numerous Papers: in Lanka Web and The Nation. Or my book: Papers on the Economic Development of Sri Lanka (Godages)

We have to bring about changes to the economic model we are following now.  The only leader who can achieve it is no other than President Rajapaksa.  Other Presidents will be listening to the Western Superpowers and will carry out their dictates. A glance at Regaining Sri lanka, the Plan put forward by Ranil Wickremasinghe  when he was Prime Minister will convince anyone.

To my mind changing the course of the economy to alleviate poverty, ensure that everyone gets a reasonable income, make things locally instead of importing goods, is an essential  requirement. This is more important than abolishing the Executive Presidency.

Who else other than President Rajapaksa for this task of national significance. We have no other leader who can execute this task. Our other leaders are those that  have got lost among the PTOMS sands..

Garvin Karunaratne

Former Government Agent, Matara District

15 Responses to “The Executive Presidency Debate:  Are we not barking up the wrong tree?”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Well said, Garvin!

    Sri Lanka NEEDS an Executive Presidency to PROTECT, DEFEND and DEVELOP the nation in the years ahead!

    Why is an Executive Presidency GOOD for the USA and France, for example, but BAD for Sri Lanka under GREAT threat by various foreign and local forces today?

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    India initiated, trained, delivered, funded and protected the Separatist Tamil terrorists in Sri Lanka during Indira Gandhi’s and a part of Rajiv Gandhi’s tenures as PMs of India. They PREVENTED the Sri Lanka armed forces from utterly defeating the LTTE several times before they FORCED Sri Lanka to accept an INVASION Force to PARTITION Sri Lanka in two to create an autonomous state for the Tamil Separatists. To this end, they FORCED the 13th Amendment upon Sri Lanka’s Constitution, and are pushing to achieve that end to this day.

    Those actions by India killed over 150,000 innocent citizens of Sri Lanka, caused untold economic losses, delayed the Economic Growth of Sri Lanka that was then held up as a model for Singapore and other Asian nations to emulate, and delayed the progress of Sri Lanka towards a more equitable and vibrant society. Only a few years ago, India was plotting with Western Powers to haul Sri Lanka up on War Crimes charges at the UN, forgetting its own culpability in fomenting that war in Sri Lanka in the FIRST PLACE!

    Only the new BJP government of Narendra Modi seems ready to change those flawed policies towards Sri Lanka. We Sri Lankans welcome this change heartily with renewed hope, although we are wary of a regression into the bad old days of the last 30-years of destructive enmity, especially when the Modi government is inevitably ousted from power some time in the future.

    Having said these things, We Sri Lankans also look towards India as the fount of our peoples, our cultures and our religions with a great deal of love and kindred feeling. So, we are torn apart internally with two opposing emotions: love arising from kinship and a shared Asokan age, and anger arising from recent betrayal. Since the betrayal is recent and more painful, protecting our nation against a recurrence is paramount in our minds.

    Ergo, the advice by many Sri Lankan Patriots here to hold India at an arms length, and never to give India predominant position within Sri Lanka, for India’s policies change with its local political winds. We as a nation cannot afford to be victimized again by India, because that can PERMANENTLY DIVIDE and DESTROY Sri Lanka, so we seek alliances and erect defenses against India.

    Unfortunately, our own national history teaches us, beyond all reasonable doubt, that denying India a predominant position in Sri Lanka, is the correct approach to Sri Lanka’s survival.

    I have this to say regarding India’s development since Independence.

    Despite a debilitating 30-year war, Sri Lanka is way ahead of India in all the accepted indices of social equity and economic progress. In India, caste and religious discrimination is endemic, and this is compounded by Government handouts based not on need alone, but on sicial attributes such as caste that pits its people into competition against each other soley to garner these monetary benefits. India has failed to educate all of its people irrespective of social class, and is far behind Sri Lanka today. India’s foreign policy has succeeded in inciting wars with ALL of its neighboring countries; something that Modi is trying to reverse. Corruption and graft is widespread; far more than in Sri Lanka. India is best with multiple internal rebellions and insurgencies. The biggest of them, the Naxalite Communist insurgency, is spread across a wide swathe of India’s land mass, extending from Karnataka in the South-West to Assam and Nagaland in the North-East encompassing about 80% of India’s people. Often, the government rules the cities, towns and the countryside by day, and rules only the city centers at night, leaving the rest to the Naxalite insurgents.

    Yes, India with its size, and large population, has a large number of technocrats, engineers, and businessmen who are still a very small minority as a percentage of its population in comparison with many other developing nations, even Sri Lanka. Again, because of its size and national resources, it can launch satellites and space craft, build weaponry of many types, and field nuclear power plants, while its people, on average, languish in abject poverty and social inequity. That is why it is rather ludicrous for India to be offering economic assistance to Sri Lanka, while the average Indian citizen is far worse off compared to the average Sri Lankan citizen. Let us call that Indian assistance to Sri Lanka what it is: “WAR REPARATIONS”.

    At the root of India”s failure to uplift its people lies its failure to demolish its evil caste structure, a problem the Lord Buddha himself encountered and preached against 2,500 years ago; its wrong policies implemented to reduce this endemic discrimination; its federal government structure that pits state governments against each other and against the union government, while none of them individually or together can summon the strength to enforce law and order within their territories.

    With the federal government structure, the central government continually FAILS to develop and execute NATIONAL PROGRAMS and DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS because of sabotage by regional forces. India is unable, even to enforce international agreements because of opposition and infringement of its legal national authority by regional players. For example, an agreement with Bangladesh to limit and repatriate illegal immigrants failed because of Mamata Banerjee’s opposition. India is unable to pursue a stable foreign policy with Sri Lanka that is in India’s national interest because of sabotage by Tamil Nadu, which colludes with foreign powers (eg. USA) on foreign policy matters that are the preserve of the central government. And so, this flawed nation, bungles on. Narendra Modi hopes to address some of these issues head-on, and I wish him all success in bringing discipline to India’s governance.

  3. Lorenzo Says:

    SL’s external LOANS (including the 2014 bond issue) is $20 BILLION. Is this the way to develop the country? Interest alone is over $1 BILLION a year.

    PB Jayasundara is the architect of UNP BANKRUPT economic policies.
    CABRAAL is a UNP politician.

    Now they run the economy! Or they continue to run the economy UNP or SLFP!

  4. Independent Says:

    Mr. Karunaratna,

    Mr. Chandrasiri Wijewickrema proved in the forum that PTOMS was tabled by none other than our President Rajapaksa.

    Have you got one of you main arguments wrong ?

    It is the Mahinda – Ven Ellawala Medhananda agreement which calls for abolition of powers of EP and is a part of Mahinda Chintanya.

    Who is barking at the wrong tree ? Trees do not change as much as people. People change. A good man today can be a mad man tomorrow. That is why when important constitutional changes are made, they should consider “positions” as held by “people” not “Trees”.

  5. Independent Says:

    Lorenzo,
    Listen to Mawbima interview with Patali. It is in Sinhala. I simply cannot disagree with him on anything he said. It is the EP powers being abused by few people. He says similar to facts you are presenting in this forum.
    Even though you don’t like him he is just like you.
    I too agree with you we have overdone this “bond” business to waste money loaned by every Sri Lankan, yearly basis. Is there some production or benefits that could recover the interest paid ?

    Mahinda Rajapaksa Airport earns $140 per month, according to Anura Kumara speech in the parliamentary budget debate and no one disagreed to it. What is the interest paid per month on this project ? For my modest house I pay more than this on interests.

  6. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    GARVIN !! Your Articles have given many ideas to improve the Economy. When you say the demand on everybodys lips is that everybody wants to abolish the Executive Presidency,. IT IS NOT EVERYBODY, GARVIN. It is the bankrupt politicians who has acquired a jealousy, which they failed to achieve. and it is their henchaiyas . The Ordinary people does not even understand the fundermentals of the Executive Office. So it is a Motley bunch that is playing this tune for their masters.

    I firmly believe that Executive Presidency should stay for the next three years after MR slides to his seat. EXECUTIVE WILL BE RETAINED BY MAHINDA FOR ANOTHER THREE YEARS,

  7. cwije Says:

    Garvin

    1. What is your opinion about 13-A? This must be abolished and Jana Sabha system created.

    2. On the war victory, Mahinda himself betrayed it by giving TNA a platform, a ladder to get a country by pen. Are you denying this?

    Hope you help us with these two questions.

    cw

  8. Independent Says:

    cwije,
    Actually the no: 2 is a big betrayal done because of EP. Most senior ministers in the government said not to do it. JHU, Wimal W said not to do it. Even Maha Sangha and a lot of patriotic associations said not to do it. President did it after listening to 3 or 4 people surrounding him because he had the EPs. The results ? In the 2010 general elections TNA won only 44% votes , Vanni 39% but 2013 PCs they won 78%, despite government spending 400bn on roads, rail, water , electricity etc. And it paved way to Ealam by proxy.

  9. nilwala Says:

    Garvin: The “Common Opposition ” is cynically banking on the historic “short memories” of the Sri Lankan people, especially of our youth who were not taught History as a subject for ~10yr. and are now at voting age. The coup has been patiently plotted hoping that all the murky pasts of the plotters will be forgotten in the heated crucible of an election with its “surprise candidate”, and that regardless of what each of the members of that joint group did independently and collectively to wreck this country, the selected “Front Man” could trick the people and the idealistic youth into voting for what they think would be the installation of CLEAN politics.

    After all, with all the propaganda and gossip of dynasty and family-run Govt., no one has found serious fault with the President himself, or even with those family members without whom much of what has been achieved would not have been done. This contest is fueled by an inshore and offshore thirst for revenge and power, with nothing better to offer to the people of Sri Lanka than what had been offered before by this Opposition cabal:
    Secession, more War, and International Intervention… all of which the current regime has managed to successfully evade thus far. Will Sri Lankans be foolish enough to be lured into that trap again?

    The President has to deal with this wily lot with some clever actions that he too may be quite capable of, as a survivor in Sri Lanka’s murky, dirty politics (not that it is any better elsewhere in the world!).

  10. nilwala Says:

    Also – as far an Executive Presidency is concerned, many in the anti-Rajapakse camp seem to have the paranoid sense of a Presidency that is a Dictatorship. Were Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew or Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamed, who were more dictatorial than Rajapakse perceived as such by the majority of their people? No!! Sri Lankans admired them as well. So what is it that bothers these Sri Lankans about Rajapakse?

    Besides, the stability enjoyed by those countries under the continued leadership of a Head of State elected for several consecutive terms is what gave them the ability to maintain direction with continued impetus to prosper. The shifting goals of leadership change are nor conducive to sustained progress.
    And that is where an Executive Presidency wherein the entire country votes selecting a person acceptable to the majority from the whole country is a better system than that of the Westminster type, where the Head of a Political Party that received the most votes becomes Prime Minister…. and is expected to represent ALL the people, and be fair to all parties. Perhaps the opportunity for alternate swap and change may serve already developed countries, but certainly for developing countries there is some illogic to this arrangement which in practice means 2steps forward, 1step back with each cycle of alternating objectives, made even more complicated in a country like Sri Lanka that has suffered the “Coalition Disease”.

    Why not give Sri Lanka the same chance to stay on course? Is it that native “Envy Factor”?

  11. Nimal Says:

    Well said Gavin, though I haven’t got the time to read it all.
    President must use his powers to put things right like.
    Stop long winded civil court cases that have ruined peoples lives while crooks and wrong doers sitting on other people’s lands.I know one case where the surviving grand chidren live in dire poverty while the tenant( a business studio)opposite Kandy Police station going on with the case for last 50 years. My parents too gave up lands after never ending court cases gone for over 30 years.My late sister died without getting her house back, a house she paid with her hard working money from the middle East.
    Presently my surviving sister bed ridden is homeless, living with me because the cursed transfer system in the island forces one to live away from ones house where one is forced rent out ones own house. In this case the tenant was a known criminal, should have been convicted of multiple murder where his gang had killed a whole family in day light, being a crown witness against his own mates was released while his accomplices are in the death row. Judges knowing his history is allowing the case to go on. He died recently and the case had taken a twist as the surviving members are moved on to another case.
    In UK a similar case will be settled in one hearing but utterly courrupt SL with a supposed to be 3000 years history, justice and fair play will never be given to it’s people.
    Politicians will pass laws to restrict people but they will do what they want seems to be above the law.
    Most unfair practice is to transfer people where families are split up and where such employee bears the burden of ruining 3 houses,if the husband too is transfered.
    We are an unjust country, no wonder the minorities feel neglected by the state. If a Sinhalese like me feel so bitter, then how will a minority feel?
    When I spoke to CBK about these problems in the country during her campaigning visits, she ridiculed me by uttering in the political campaign that the President can’t interfering in the judiciary. OH really? When her uncle and his sons were remanded for murder, the remand prison was made a luxury penthouse with TV and what else, making a bad precedence. She too visited ta criminal in prison. Now our politicians too visit convicted criminals. Being a just president should use powers to put things right, like use his(or Her) powers to stop transferring people and get the bloody judges to end a case in one hearing or get sudda judges to come over and finish the court cases.

  12. aloy Says:

    Nimal, why are you complaining about slow dispensation of justice. Haven’t they given their opinion on a very serious matter in just a few hours?. However, now it seems nobody is sure whether it is a ten page opinion or a 27 page one they all signed after one of them read it for the others.
    Some people are akin to poodles.

  13. Nimal Says:

    Aloy
    Why am I complain about slow dispensation of justice? Is 30 year too slow? Such cases are done in one day where before the date of the hearing the court writes to both parties put forward their submissions prior to the hearing and I think the judge goes through it prior to the date of the hearing and makes a decision that is binding.
    My neighbour’s house was occupied by a group of people where they refused to pay and the police was involved as there was a criminal breach and within a week that group was evicted after one hearing. My son was a witness where he was asked to delay his prearranged flight to SL with us. Court officials and lawyers visited our house and persuaded him to give up his scheduled flight and attend the courts thereafter the court and the lawyers concerned rearranged his flight and took him to the airport.
    I was taken to courts over a labour and employment dispute where the judge threw out the case.
    Unlike in SL where cops and judges are batting for politicians in UK one of the most powerful politicians in the ruling party(chief whip) was punished yeasterday for bringing false chargers against a police officer where the politician had to pay a liability costing him over half a million Pounds. Now his political life and prospects are in tatters and will this ever happen in SL ?This is why these countries are so advanced and this why everyone wants to settle here, that include our pseudo patriots who keep hallucinating about our history and culture while living in the comfort of these advanced countries.

  14. Vimutti Says:

    Nimal – I don’t know about the country where you live, but in many so-called advanced countries, the justice process is also very slow.

    In the US, for example, it takes at least two-three years to have a trial after you file a case, and two more years at the court of appeals, and two-three more years at the supreme court, for a total of 6-9 years. And if the supreme court remands the case for new trial, you have to start the process all over again for another 6-9 years, spending 12-18 years on ONE case.

    Most cases are therefore settled out of court, which also takes about two-three years, because only the uncertainties of an actual trial outcome is what motivates settlement.

    And having brown skin truly is a disadvantage in front of white juries in these advanced countries, in which damage award amounts are considerably lower than they are for white successful litigants and where the benefit of the doubt always favors white witnesses if their testimony is in conflict with a person of color.

    My advice is to avoid the legal system in ANY country if you can, and structure your agreements and contracts so they are self-enforcing. Otherwise, you are in for a ridiculous waste of time and money regardless of where you live.

  15. Nimal Says:

    Vimutti
    I know there are problems in countries like US for minorities and that’s why there are riots now,yet a minority was elected the president.
    Many wants to live and invest in UK because the system works and the police and the justice system is fair as it could be.They believe that delayed justice harms quality of life and any business where one could without fear invest ones own hard earned money, say an extra house on rent where a rent dodger gets no mercy and system support the hardworking striver who needs a return for his investment.
    I know a big company who was a tenant in my building threatened to stay for over 18 years without paying a cent in rent if I had taken them to courts. I had to settle with a great loss to get rid of them, who were a nuisance to the other good tenants and this is in SL. I take a flight to SL for a hearing and my lawyers advises his second to get another date showing no concern to my plight. I had to speak to the judge directly and pleaded with him that I have come all the way several times for that case and this good judge ordered the court to meet that afternoon in my land where he ordered the encroacher to give a bit of his own unbuildable land while he is enjoying my prime land. He took advantage of the poor justice system while I am left with an unbuildable land. I visited the courts recently and all the cases were put back and it’s shame and a scandal. You must not give an excuse for our cruel and un just justice system and should not accept as norm.

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