President Sirisena’s unfulfilled promises Ignoring Code of Conduct
Posted on May 27th, 2019

By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy Ceylon Today

The first commitment in the President’s 100-Day Manifesto with regard to February, within a month of his election, was that on Monday, 2 February An Ethical Code of Conduct will be introduced legally for all representatives of the people.” Nothing however was heard about this and I thought that it too had been forgotten. But when I inquired a month or so afterwards, I was told that the task of drafting this had been entrusted to Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the leader of the JVP.

 This has been done by the National Advisory Council set up soon after the election though it did not consist, as had been pledged, of representatives of parties represented in Parliament as well as Civil Society organisations.” One of just two mentions of the Council that I found through Google declared that it was renamed the National Executive Council to ensure the implementation of the programme within the stipulated 100 days of time.” As we know now, nothing of that programme was implemented in the 100 days save for the 19th Amendment, which was a chaotic compromise between reducing the power of the executive branch and transferring it to the Prime Minister.

There were no members of Civil Society at the first meeting of the Council which took place on 15 January, only 3 days later than scheduled. That there was just a slight delay must be considered an achievement by the President, which had no subsequent parallel. Far from ensuring that there were representatives of parties represented in Parliament, he had only the UNP and JHU and JVP leaders plus Rishad Bathiudeen from Parliament, along with Chandrika Kumaratunga and Sarath Fonseka.

 Typical of what might be termed the revenge agenda of these last two was the fact that the Council paid attention to bring those who were accused of fraud, mismanagement and corruption to justice swiftly…..It also discussed on establishing an institution to prevent such malpractices from taking place in the future, especially through an empowered Commission of Auditing.” Of course, we know now that Ranil was at the same time putting Arjuna Mahendran in place to oversee a malpractice that put anything that had happened previously in the shade.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake

The spokesman for the Council seems to have been Anura Kumara Dissanayake, which was designed doubtless to get him on board – and it was duly noted that The JVP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has said they will not accept portfolios and join the Government, but will participate in the National Executive Council to implement the 100-Day Programme and bring about the promised change by President Sirisena.” But there is a stunning silence after that about the Council. In fact, Anura Kumara told me, when I upbraided him for not having moved on the Code of Conduct, that he had submitted a draft within a couple of weeks, but had since heard nothing. The Council had not met, and it seemed he was not inclined to agitate for another meeting to pursue the matter.

I wrote to him when I found out what was happening, or rather what was not happening, to say that Since the process of consultation that was promised has been forgotten, I am sending you some suggestions with regard to the Code….The Code of Conduct should aim at three objectives. The first, and the most obvious to pursue, is eliminating corruption. This requires transparency and accountability with regard to both appointments and expenditure.” I reiterated then what I had written to the Prime Minister with regard to the draft Freedom of Information Act that we should ensure access to the Declarations of Assets of Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Secretaries of Ministries, Chairs of Public Authorities and all officials responsible for contracts or expenditure over the value of Rs 1 million. 

Such Declarations should be posted electronically.”

But there was no reply and the Code of Conduct, like other regulatory measures pledged, was put on the back burner. This was finally introduced well over three years after it had been promised, and has now been in operation for just over a year. But that is only in theory, for there is no sign of the practical measures required to ensure compliance. Thus, I was glad to see a requirement that:

16.The members shall disclose information relating to their business relationships and financial interests including information of close family members in order to increase the public trust in Members.

17.Every Member shall fulfil conscientiously the requirements of the Parliament in respect of registration of any interest in the Register. For the purpose of this section every Member shall immediately after a General Election, disclose to the Parliament all relevant interests that a reasonable person might think could give rise to the perception of influencing behaviour between duties and responsibilities and the personal interests of such Member such as assets relating to land and property, shareholdings and gifts. The provisions of this section shall apply to any items received or donated by such Member.

But there is no sign of activation of what would give teeth to this requirement, the provision that:

21.The Parliament shall publish the information so disclosed by any Member under Section 17 and the amounts of expenditure of public funds used by each Member and the purposes for which such funds have been utilised as soon as practicable. These shall be published by Parliament in the most accessible means available such as Parliamentary website.


Obviously, much more must be done by the Speaker and the administration of Parliament to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Code. But meanwhile it will be useful if the Opposition, if not, the Civil Society activists who were so critical of the last government, but have kept quiet about many of the lapses of this government, look into the Register and see to what extent the more dubious Members of Parliament and the executive have faithfully recorded their interests.

Perhaps the most dubious, in terms of the shady university he owns, is Mr. Hizbullah, who is no longer a Member of Parliament. But one would assume his assets are not to be forgotten now that he has been elevated to higher things. If he is found to have not come clean, that is yet another reason for his removal, if indeed the case needs to be strengthened.

Incidentally, I suspect it is not Mr. Hizbullah alone who has not fulfilled the requirement that:

5.Every Member in the exercise, performance and discharge of his powers, functions and duties shall act in the interest of the Nation as a whole and specially towards his constituents.

But we should also note that this clause is difficult of fulfilment given our current electoral system, which is still district-based proportional representation. Obviously members do not see themselves as representing the whole district, but rather those elements within the district they count on for votes which will suffice for election. And these generally are based on racial or religious distinctions or specific party affiliations.

An additional point I should note is that, while the Code of Conduct is most obviously necessary to deal with corruption, there are other aspects too which need to be considered. In my letter to Anura Kumara, I noted too, the need for responsiveness to the public, and also respect. For this purpose, I felt that Parliament needed to put in place Regulations to provide that minutes of all meetings where the public are involved should be systematically maintained, and shared with the next level up of government. Responses must be conveyed to participants.”  A corollary of this was that All government officials must understand the need to respond promptly to requests from the people. They must also ensure that records are kept.”


I realise that this element applies more to the executive than ordinary members, but inasmuch as the executive is constitutionally tied to Parliament, there seemed no harm in setting out these guidelines too in the Code for those with executive responsibilities. And another point I mentioned, with regard to appointments in the gift of politicians, applies to ordinary members as well as Ministers.

This was the need for transparency with regard to the qualifications and job descriptions of employees above a certain level.” I have felt very strongly about this with regard to the many appointments made to both boards and administrative positions by Ministers, but the principle should also apply to staff whom Members of Parliament can hire. I was for instance horrified when I was told, when I got into Parliament, that I could choose to have the allowances paid direct to me, and then I could pay staff I took on as I wished – and I found indeed that colleagues employed relatives and sometimes poor ones, so, they could pocket part of the allowance.

Far from the Code of Conduct changing that, it seems to have got entrenched, according to the Parliament website Members are now paid Rs 100,000 a month to maintain an office.” This will allow for a free for all, whereas it is clear that the Code envisages appointments based on capacity. 7 © of the Code states that The Members shall in carrying out their duties relating to any public business, public appointments, awarding of contracts, recommending persons for any rewards or any other benefit ensure that such things are made purely on merit.”

 But this could be better observed if there were clear job descriptions and a schedule of qualifications that could be assessed.

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