Worst govt since independence– Prof. Purasinghe
By Rasika Hemamali
The Head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Prof. Terrance Purasinghe says the government has not delivered on its election promises. "The new Constitution is being drafted at a snail's pace. Those reforms have not been implemented. The people wanted the Executive Presidential System to be abolished, and wanted a Parliamentary system to be put in place." He expressed these views in an interview with Ceylon Today. Excerpts:
? If you look back, what has the government done over the past two years?
A: The people brought this government to power with the hope that they will deliver on their primary election promises, which were reinstating democracy, ridding the country of corruption and fraud, establishing good governance, sorting out racial issues, and carrying out a far more logical devolution of power. They even pledged to increase salaries by Rs 10,000 and reduce oil prices. Even though the government has increased salaries by Rs 10,000 and reduced oil prices, they are yet to deliver on some of their primary election promises.
At the same time, the government brought about democratic reforms. They reduced the power of the Executive President through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Parliament has been given the right to reduce these powers. Today, Parliament is very powerful.
The President isn't as powerful as he used to be. If the Joint Opposition (JO) did not object, the 19th Amendment would have been even better. The Right to Information Act has come into effect, but the Audit Bill is yet to be passed.
? What promises did they fail to deliver?
A: The new Constitution is being drafted at a snail's pace. Those reforms are yet to be brought about. The people wanted the Executive Presidential System to be abolished, and wanted a Parliamentary system to be put in place. To this date, a proper opinion on that has not been submitted. The current Constitution enables the President to do as he pleases with zero accountability. The people wanted this system to be abolished and that is the reason why the government won the election. There is no proper opinion on that either.
That is the biggest weakness of the government.
Investigations are now being carried out and the individuals who engaged in corruption and fraud during the previous regime are being brought to book. All reports and information required to prosecute these individuals (about 100 people) have been prepared. However, to this date, the Attorney General's Department has not filed legal action. Due to this reason, the public has lost all hopes and are of the view that those who engaged in corruption and fraud will not be prosecuted.
? If Mahinda Rajapaksa comes to power in the future, will be able to achieve these things?
A: This government came to power because the people were fed up with the administrative system of the previous regime. From 2005-2015 the Rajapaksa regime ruled with an iron fist. Many serious incidents took place during his era including, but not limited to violation of human rights, enforced disappearances, murder, and sabotage of media institutions. Corruption and theft were rampant.
High ranking officials in the government were up to all the villainy under the sun. People pointed fingers at the President, Parliamentarians, and ministers. Nobody bothered to investigate. The Judiciary was rendered powerless, because the Executive President called the shots and had the final say. The Executive President had the power to appoint Judges. He got them to deliver judgments in his favour. Because of this unfair advantage, he was able to pass the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with ease.
Rajapaksa wanted to be 'the President for Life.' His long-term objective was to create a system similar to a monarchy, where his son would inherit power after his demise. The citizens of the country were flabbergasted when they got to know this, and so they decided to remove him from power. People voted for the new government because they thought that it would bring about change.
The Rajapaksa regime took the subject of devolution of power very lightly. Instead of trying to sort out the issue, they in fact made it worse. They thought that if they pit people against each other and divided the country this would enable them to stay in power forever.
A good example of this is the incident which took place at Beruwala. They killed prisoners. Several questions were raised over human rights. This is why the Human Rights Council brought a resolution against the Rajapaksa Government. Due to this reason, the Rajapaksa Government had to hold an election ahead of the specified time. The election that should have been held in 2017 was held in 2015.
? What are the weaknesses of the current government?
A: This is the most unfortunate and tardy government that has ever come to power since independence. The main reason for this is the two pronged approach of the government. The President is from one party and the Prime Minister is from another party. There are several angles from which the 1978 Constitutional conflict can be analyzed. When the President is from one party and a majority of individuals in Parliament are from another party it is not possible to carry on a government efficiently and effectively due to the conflict of policies. The Prime Minister and the President are dreaming about coexistence, however, that does not suit the political culture in this country. In the past, the two main parties have never governed a country. This is something new.
? What will be the outcome of this experiment?
A: This is not a time to carry out experiments to solve the problems of this country. If there are no problems in the country and there is a peaceful environment and no economic crisis and if the people do not have burning political ambitions, experiments can be carried out. People have burning expectations.
The people want justice to prevail and they want the thieves, murderers, and people who engaged in corruption to be brought to book. Unfortunately, the government has not understood it. If they promised something, they need to deliver it. They are yet to do this. Due to this reason, thieves and murderers are getting away with their crimes. Rajapaksa and his cronies are using the opportunity to gain political mileage. The government should take full responsibility for this.
? There are thieves in the government. What is your opinion about this?
A: The individuals in this government are scared to steal. The individuals accused of theft in this government were investigated prior to those from the previous government. None of the previous governments investigated suspects in their governments. Two ministers of the government resigned. Rajapaksa was accused of embezzling 'Helping Hambantota' funds. Did he resign? In Ravi Karunanayake's case, the good governance government came down hard on him and he was forced to resign.
? Are you satisfied with the economic policies of the government?
A: With regard to the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM), I cannot agree with the fact of privatization with the government. Government assets need not be sold off. They should be managed. If industrial development is created in Sri Lanka, it is foreign investors who will invest. Foreign investors will not come here to invest for about 20 years. They will come for either 99 years or more. Under the regressive capitalist system, countries can be developed only with the aid of foreign investment. Foreign investors do not come to develop this country. They come to earn profits. We have to know how to manage it.
Why did the government embrace SAITM, which is something that was left behind by the Rajapaksa regime? They are trying to fulfil a requirement of the wealthy class. Why is the government displaying that? They could have come up with a proper solution for SAITM and the government could have acquired it. If they did this, people would have praised them. These are bad decisions. If they do not take corrective action, the government cannot move forward. At the same time, the government needs to come up with a plan to reduce the cost of living. If they do not rectify the issues, there is a high probability that Rajapaksa and his cronies will come back to power. The government should have tried to fix the issues over the course of two years. If the people feel that the government is going on a developed, democratic journey, it will have a future. If not, the government will become the most unfortunate regime that came to power since independence.
? What can the people do to make this a people-friendly regime?
A: People need to educate themselves about politics. There is no point in casting your vote and keeping quiet afterwards. If the citizens of this country elected someone into office, then that individual needs to be accountable to the citizens. If the person who has been elected to office does not deliver and neglects their duties and responsibilities, the citizens should be able to take up this matter with political representatives, Parliament, and the President.
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