Nominations, a betrayal
The editorial of The Island of Saturday the 4th instant made some revelations about the educational qualifications of MPs. We were informed that of the 225 members (less the 20-25 nominated on the National List) 95 had failed the Ordinary Level examination and 145 or nearly half of the number of elected MPs had failed the Advance Level. It is assumed that the other half consists of graduates, professionals and those with post graduate qualifications. I don’t know to which category the former President belonged though by all accounts he was a lawyer who had a privileged entry to the Law School.
There was a series of articles in the newspapers recently by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha about the role of the MP. One matter that interested me was the subordinate role accorded to Secretaries of ministries who really are the advisors to their Ministers, the Policy Implementers and the Chief Accounting Officers, yet operating under the “supervision and control of the Ministers”. The last few words could not be found in the Indian Constitution. This is subject to correction. I had made a last ditch attempt to rehabilitate the Secretaries in their former pre 1972 “permanent status” through the new 19th Amendment by mustering cogent arguments including parallels from the Indian system of public administration and also citing two instances where the Ministers punished their Secretaries unlawfully. This was done by two letters published in The Island a few months back which triggered a response from a former President of the OPA, Elmore Perera, himself a victim of the bad choices made by a Head of Government in appointing Ministers.
The sorry tale of the nomination given to the former President may not be such a bad blunder after all since the political culture of our country has been marked by a culture of greed and revenge, thanhaand a lack of maithree. It could be a master stroke, a poisoned chalice or a sop to Cerberus, especially after the incumbent President gave an assurance that he would remain neutral during the general election. Cerberus here is the UPLF rump impulsively driven to resurrect their fallen archangel who was rejected by the people despite huge handouts made to the voter at public expense.
Be that as it may. If the quality of the average member of Parliament as measured by his educational attainments has much to be desired what could be said of the professional classes and the Oxfo-Sorbo Doctors who adorned the legislative assembly? Did they not negligently by tacit approval condone the extravaganzas in spending by wantonly borrowing at high commercial rates of interest on ill conceived projects (like the Mattala Airport, the Hambantota port, the Sooriyawewa Stadium and many construction projects, free lunches to all and sundry and pre election goodies to the voter) and, according to the former President’s own bold assertion condone the protection given to his corrupt politicos to earn commissions illicitly?
This culture of corruption, fraud, deceit and abuse of power has been in our blood since State Council days as told to me by an old timer. The story goes that a group of members/ministers of the State Council had met the PM DS Senanayake to complain that the Member for Gampola was in the habit of taking bribes. The response of the PM was to tell the complainants that the Member for Gampola was only a “punchi horek”, a small time petty thief only. Robert Knox living in the Kandyan kingdom in the 1650s mentions two Sinhala proverbs to the effect that unless one has the money to bribe the judges (Dissawa and Mohottalas, I believe) there is no prospect of relief. This cultural heritage, now at its apogee, is an indictment on the two major religions practised in our country. To this religio-cultural bankruptcy must be added the culture of violence leading to the killing of political opponents and media persons and abductions perfected as an art by the ruling class of the previous regime.
The average MP is a mere cipher under the Presidential system contributing almost nothing on policy making and analysis. Even under a prime ministerial system of governance based on the Party system and policed by the Damoclean Party Whip the role of the MP as envisaged by our well meaning writers to the press turns out to be a low key school boyish role in which the primary concern is to win the next election, earn a six figure salary fattened by umpteen number of allowances, free perks, pensions and Prados leaving enough to fight the next election. In a recent article published in another daily a former Administrator working in Parliament, L de Silva, has stated that the MPs do not make use of the research contributions made by the Research Unit in Parliament nor the well equipped Library.
The alternative is to introduce a system as in the State Council days where some of the ministers were officials who have no party loyalties nor elections to fight but possess the intellectual capacity to use it in the national interest. Let half of the membership of Parliament consist of officials like the former British Civil Servants and their successors, the equally smart and clever Sri Lankan counterparts.
Certainly there is absolutely no need to increase the number of MPs. The real need is to reduce the number since there are nearly 450 Members in the Provincial Councils already. A small country as ours is having already three tiers of governance at the political level. What we need is to reduce the system to two levels and to reintroduce the party less system of governance with mixed representation consisting of elected members and merit based appointed officials, a mixture of democracy and meritocracy.
Leo Fernando Pelawatte