Abolition of the Executive Presidency equates to a new Constitution
Posted on August 28th, 2017

BY SHIVANTHI RANASINGHE Courtesy  Ceylon Today

Those who are insisting for a new constitution should pause to reflect on what they are asking and from whom they are asking. First of all, it was the abolition of the executive presidency that was pledged in the 2015 elections and not a brand new constitution. One may argue that abolition of the executive presidency equates to a new constitution. While that maybe the case, the more important question in this highly debatable matter is, do we have the right people in place to undertake this monumental task? After all, our constitution is the blueprint of our law, upholder of our identity and the guard of our national interests.

When this government came to power in 2015, it was marketed as the people’s silent revolutionary. Yet, at the same time, India and America took credit for the ‘regime change.’ The fact that there was foreign influence should be cause enough for us to worry. As Lakshman Kadirgamar famously observed, there is no such thing as a free dinner. Then, what is the price we are to pay for the ‘democracy’ they helped to install?

We all have the same issues

This is not a question to be treated lightly. The regime changes that took place in the Middle East, just few years before our own, offers us live examples of its consequences. Middle East had its own issues – with each other and with the world, especially the West. On the whole though, its respective citizens enjoyed a fairly stable country. Today, those countries that allowed democracy to be imported from the west have disintegrated into utter chaos and even war zones.

When the U.S. Ambassador Atul Keshap brings the message that America wants Sri Lanka to be a federal State, the question is why? The answer offered is, to devolve power so minority communities in Sri Lanka have a degree of self-governance.

However, in Sri Lanka there are no minority communities. All Sri Lankan citizens, irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion, creed, or even gender enjoy the same benefits. This thus also means, we all have the same issues.

It is not only the Tamil student with excellent Advanced Level results denied entrance to the university. It is not only the Muslim graduate who finds himself unemployable. Likewise, a Sri Lankan citizen from any corner of Sri Lanka can ask legal proceedings and official documents to be in Tamil. This is not a privilege Tamils in India or West enjoys.

The 13th Amendment in the American constitution is interesting. It declared that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or in any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Roughly, demographics of incarcerated Americans nationwide are:

450 Caucasians for every 100,000, 831 Hispanic for every 100,000, 2,306 African origin for every 100,000.

It appears that it is America that needs to devolve power to its minorities.

On the other hand, it was this Constitution that kept our country from keeling over during three decades of terrorism. It was the same Constitution that allowed the annihilation of the most brutal terrorist organization in less than three years, once political will finally set in to militarily defeat terrorism. That same Constitution allowed over 12,000 rehabilitated cadres who once belonged to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to be released back to society without any stigma.

One must not forget, terrorism too was imported to Sri Lanka. It is not even a secret anymore that India trained, armed, and financed the Tamil terrorist groups. Kouchner and Miliband came over just before the war ended to pressurize the then government to stop its military efforts is a well-known fact. Less spoken however is the Western powers’ lack of will to arrest fund collection towards the terrorists’ war chest, terrorist propaganda or at the very least prevent terrorists such as Adele Balasingham from residing in those very countries.

For 30 years, Sri Lanka was staring at bankruptcy. It all ended with the annihilation of the LTTE. The country was both stabilizing and progressing.

Debt built to a crescendo

It was in this background that allegations of corruption and debt built to a crescendo. This concerned the general public greatly.

Gradually, the popularity of the then administration waned. Their failure to investigate and respond to the allegations added to the discontentment. While the people’s attention was distracted over the corruption allegations, in the international arena efforts to convert the war victory to war crimes were well underway. To the home audience, the government repeatedly assures the constitution does not allow hybrid courts with foreign judges and prosecutors, disappearance act, retrospective law and terminating services of officers with allegations that has insufficient evidence to sentence thm.

Yet, the Government is not making any effort to reverse, renegotiate, or reject the resolution. The West-led international community is not letting up either. High Commissioner for UNHRC Zeid al-Hussein was in Sri Lanka to remind that we are free to take any decision whose consequences we can face.

It is in this context the new constitution in the making must be viewed. The effort to introduce the unconstitutional as constitutional must never be underestimated. Since the installation of this government, Jeffery Feltman visited government officials twice. Both visits were a hush-hush matter, with closed-door meetings. Feltman is known for taking sides to accentuate the division.

When all these facts are taken on board, it is obvious the foreign interest on Sri Lanka has reached dangerous levels. Without understanding or addressing this danger, it is very foolish to change the locks.

The other factor those asking for a new constitution must consider is the calibre of the executors.

On 29 January 2015, the 100-day mini budget was presented. Though the then finance minister Ravi Karunanayake claimed the economy left by the predecessor to be scary, the mini budget reduced government’s income by slashing taxes on fuel and increased its expenditure by giving a whopping Rs 10,000/- monthly allowance to the public sector. It was not long before the country’s finances twisted into a knot.

On 27 February 2015, a routine auctioning of treasury bonds at the Central Bank was perverted. The then Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran explained it as more of a miscommunication than anything else. He claimed that though only Rs one billion was called, he had in the back of his mind that the government was in need of a much larger sum. However, only Perpetual Treasuries owned by his son-in-law knew that bids worth larger than the value called for would be accepted. As a result, the interest rates increased and for the next 30 years, the country will feel its rippling effect.

Had the government dissolved in 100 days as was the plan, the Central Bank bond scam would never have got exposed as it did. Within these 100 days, people would have enjoyed the bounty of the Robin Hood mini budget and it would be on that popular note the government would have gone to the general elections.

However, the president of the country to whom the power is vested to call for elections, kept putting off the date. By the time elections were finally called, the finances were in a tangle as government coffers emptied faster than it filled.

Though one of the first things the 100-day did was to establish a special crime investigation division to focus entirely on large scale financial frauds, the bond scam investigation was never directed to it. Instead, the Prime Minister, who unceremoniously took the Central Bank under his purview before the bond scam, appointed a three-member committee to check if any irregularities had occurred. When that failed to appease the growing anger, it became the subject of the Commission on Public Enterprise.

The evidence presented had implicated both, the Central Bank Governor and the Prime Minister, in addition to several other senior ministers. Finally the 100-day government was dissolved on the eve the COPE report was to be presented to the Parliament. It is said that it was on the direction of Keshap, the general elections were called.

By then, people’s discontentment was setting in and the 100-day government did not face the August 2015 elections on the high note they wanted.

On 25 September 2015, Sri Lanka decided to cosponsor the U.S. draft resolution ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’. How much Keshap’s interference to prevent the COPE report from been presented to the parliament played a part in accepting the Geneva resolution without a hum of protest is not possible to state, but perhaps easy to guess.

In 2017, we lost control of our Magampura Port for the next 99 years. Severely cash strapped, other national assets are also up for long term lease.

Only a court of law can decide if one is guilty. However, a number of things are obvious. The Robin Hood mini budget was to be a grand scale election bribe. Also, the mastermind behind the Central Bank bond scam countered on a major distraction such as an election, for they did not bother to cover their tracks. Had the general elections were called on schedule, everyone’s attention would be on the various campaigns and the ensuring debates. Therefore, our economy was ransomed for individual political survival. The most contentious of all is the allegation that with one phone call, Keshap dissolved our government. Is it from these entities, we ask for a new Constitution?

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