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Friday December 9th, 2022

Opinion: Strong Government must be disciplined and deliver development

The sun sets over the Parliament at Shri Jayewardenepura

ECONOMYNEXT – The government has announced that the draft 20th Amendment Bill will be presented to parliament today, Tuesday September 22. It will be the same version that caught the country by surprise when it first made its appearance to the public on September 3. The extreme nature of the proposed amendment, which has been the cause of much disquiet, is epitomized by the power it seeks to give the president to sack the prime minister and ministers at his discretion and to dissolve the parliament after a year of its election. Undoubtedly it was concerns within the ranks of those elected to parliament from within the government side itself that prompted Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to appoint a committee consisting of parliamentarians of stature to give their opinion on the proposed 20th Amendment and to suggest further amendments to it.

There are disturbing features about the draft 20th Amendment. The most significant is the overwhelming power it seeks to give the institution of the presidency by transferring the powers currently vested in other institutions to it. The proposed amendment immediately evoked protests from the opposition political parties and civil society and was soon followed by more subdued expressions of dissent from within the government itself. Government members have not openly criticized the erosion of parliamentary powers but instead, appear to have chosen the option of stating their objections to less significant clauses in the proposed 20th Amendment. One of these is the removal of the ban on dual citizens from contesting for political office and the removal of the oath against promoting separatism in the country.

Another troubling feature of the 20th Amendment is the unwillingness of anyone to claim the responsibility for its creation. It can be expected that those elected to parliament would not wish to take the responsibility for the proposed amendment which seeks to erode their own position. This has resulted in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stepping forward to take responsibility as the head of the government along with the rest of the government as a collective group. The president may be feeling the burden of the heavy responsibility placed upon him by popular expectations. His frustrations are becoming more evident as he has begun pointing out the inefficiencies that exist not only the governmental system but also the wider society. These inefficiencies in the public service can be attributed to politicization during the past decades for which past administrations have to take equal responsibility.

POLITICALLY ASTUTE

The parliamentary committee appointed by the prime minister to look into the issues arising out of the draft amendment has not presented their conclusions to the general public or incorporated their ideas into the draft amendment. As a result, it will be the same draft that made its appearance on September 3 that has been presented to parliament. It appears that the government’s current position is that the 20th Amendment bill will be presented to parliament in its original formulation and changes to it, if any, will take place in the course of the parliamentary debate regarding it (during the Committee Stage). This could be politically astute, from the government’s perspective. From a political transformative perspective, it offers scope for parliamentarians to engage in a meaningful process of consultations to achieve sufficient consensus following an intellectual discourse.

There are, however, two consequences that flow from the direct presentation of the draft amendment to parliament without any changes. On the one hand, this will have the adverse effect of making it more difficult for those opposed to the draft amendment to take it before the courts of law. As they will have only a limited time frame of one week to file their cases in the courts, they will have to file their objections to the original version of the 20th Amendment and not to the subsequent changes that may take place as a result of the parliamentary process. A second consequence flowing from the strategy of seeking amendments to the draft 20th Amendment in parliament itself is that it will conceal the division within the government on the question of the amendment.

The government’s decision not to share the results of the deliberations of the prime minister’s committee with the general public could be due to the concern that the division of the government members into two camps will be seen. On the other hand, a debate in parliament will bring in the opposition political parties so that the lines of division would be more complex. For instance, the opposition parliamentarians would not wish the president to have the power to dissolve the parliament after the passage of one year, which is likely to be shared by government members also. On the other hand, the opposition is also likely to bring up other issues such as the need to safeguard the independence of institutions such as the courts of law and the auditor general’s office.

STRONG GOVERNMENT

The 20th Amendment is a reaction to the problems in the 19th Amendment which showed the possibility of deadlock within the executive branch of government when the president and parliamentary majority were of two minds. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is reported to have informed the cabinet of ministers that without the changes proposed in the draft 20th Amendment it was difficult to run the country. However, the parliament was also elected by the people and has a five-year mandate and the powers being withdrawn are so significant that they may require a referendum. Indeed, parliament is more representative of the plural and diverse nature of society and of the different ethnic and religious communities and needs to be empowered rather than being disempowered.

Among the extreme features of the proposed 20th Amendment is the power to be transferred to the president to appoint all judges and top state officials at his discretion and to exclude many government departments and government-owned entities from being centrally audited. The question is why an equally sovereign body that is parliament is denied this power. The fate of the strong government that was elected in 2010 in the aftermath of the end of the three-decade-long war, which pledged to develop the country, and of which much was expected, and which failed, must not happen again. The main flaw there was that power was centralized in the institution of the presidency at the expense of the others and corruption and abuse of power got out of control.

Strong governments in which one institution dominates all others and in which there are no checks and balances rarely deliver good results to the people so that they enjoy the benefits of development and the protection of human rights. Strong governments that deliver both, of which there are many examples in the world and particularly in the Western world but now also in the eastern countries such as Japan and South Korea, operate under the rule of law, with checks and balances and take severe action against those found engaging in corrupt practices. They are an outcome of disciplined systems of government which deliver constructive results to the people over the longer term. Recent examples of South Korea and Malaysia are cases in point. (Colombo September 22, 2020)

Dr Jehan Perera is Executive Director at the National Peace Council

(Edited by Arjuna Ranawana)

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Sri Lanka bonds close up and while T-bills ease

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka bonds yields went up and the T-bills eased on active trade on Friday, dealers said.

“The bond rates went up, however more interest was seen in the short term bills by the investors” dealers said.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2024 closed at 31.90/32.20 percent on Friday, up from 31.25/70 percent at Thursday’s close.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2026 closed at 30.30/31.30 percent steady from 30.30/31.00 percent.

The three-month T-bills closed at 30.75/31.30 percent, down from 32.00/32.25 percent.

The Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank transactions was at 363.18 rupees against the US dollar unchanged.

Commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 371.78 and 372.00 for small transactions, data showed.

Buying rates are between 361.78 – 362.00 rupees. (Colombo/Dec 09/2022)

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Foreign minister, US ambassador discuss future assistance to crisis-hit Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — In a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed ways in which the United States can continue to support Sri Lanka going forward, the Ambassador said.

Chung tweeted Friday December 09 afternoon that the two officials had reflected on the “twists and turns” of 2022, at the meeting.

Minister Sabry was recently in Washington D.C. where he US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A foreign ministry statement said the two officials held productive discussions at the Department of State on December 02 on further elevating bilateral relations in diverse spheres, including the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations which will be marked in 2023.

Incidentally, Sri Lanka also celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British in 2023, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given himself and all parties that represent parliament a deadline to find a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic issue.

The US has been vocal about Sri Lanka addressing concerns about its human rights record since the end of the civil war in 2009 and was a sponsor of the latest resolution on Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unlike previous resolutions, this year’s iteration makes specific reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis and calls for investigations on corruption allegations.

In the lead up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, Minister Sabry Sri Lanka’s government under then new president Wickremesinghe does not want any confrontation with any international partner but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.

On the eve of the sessions on October 06, Sabry said countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who led the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

These pronouncements notwithstanding, the Wickremesnghe government has been making inroads to the West as well as India and Japan, eager to obtain their assistance in seeing Sri Lanka through the ongoing crisis.

The island nation has entered into a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility of 2.9 billion dollars to be disbursed over a period of four years, subject to a successful debt restructure programme and structural reforms.

Much depends on whether or not China agrees to restructure Sri Lanka’s 7.4 billion dollar outstanding debt to the emerging superpower. Beijing’s apparent hesitance to go for a swift restructure prompted Tamil National Alliance MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam to warn of possible “go home, China” protests in Colombo, similar to the wave of protests that forced the exit of former pro-China President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The TNA will be a key player in upcoming talks with the Wickremesinghe government on a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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India smogs out Sri Lanka’s China tower observers

 

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Chinese-built Lotus Tower has halved visitors to its observation deck an official said as dirty air flowing from India triggered air quality warnings and schools in the capital closed.

“Masks are mandatory at the observation deck and roughly around 50 to 60 can go up to the observation deck at a time, time limits have not been altered and still persists at 20 minutes for observation,” the official told EconomyNext.

Prior to the smog, 120 observers were permitted at once to the deck.

However, even after limitations the Lotus Tower has continued to draw visitors, and revenues are coming in, the official said.

The tower built with a Chinese loan by the cash rich Telecom Regulatory Commission has been described by critics as a white elephant that eats the money earned from telecom operators mainly as spectrum fees.

Sri Lanka’s National Building Research Organization (NBRO) said India air heavily polluted with particulate matter was flowing across the island into a depression in the South West Bengal Bay. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

 

 

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