Extracts from Shivshankar Menon’ book, in his (Oct, 2016) launched memoirs, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy

A section from the Chapter on Sri Lanka, titled ‘Force works’: “I found that as Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya, had a clear view of Sri Lanka’s interests, one that was compatible with ours. Immediately after the war, he reassured the Indian troika (National Security Advisor M.K. Narayan, Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon) about the nature of Sri Lanka’s defence relationship with China, and helped Indian companies re-enter the reconstruction of Colombo. Security was Gotabhaya’s sole preoccupation, which made him sensitive to India’s concerns, while his brother Mahinda was much more compliant with Chinese demands, having built a political machine on Chinese money. The basic assurances that Gotabhaya and, more reluctantly, Mahinda Rajapaksa gave us were that India’s security interests would be respected and that there would be no surprises in Sri Lanka’s relations with China. In detailed conversations I was assured that there wouldn’t be no permanent Chinese military presence in Sri Lanka and that Sri Lanka would look to India for most of its military training and intelligence needs. These assurances were respected, in practice, by the Sri Lankans, until May 2014. At no stage exclusivity sought or promised. And realistically speaking, it would be unreasonable to expect exclusivity.”

Sri Lanka troika comprised Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and presidential advisor Basil Rajapaksa. The two groups worked closely throughout eelam war IV (Aug. 2006 – May 2009). Menon stated: “Troika made decision making easy and quick, but the decisions, once made, were also final and hard to change.”

– Shivshankar Menon, 2016.

New scenario- Possibility of extending the term of the parliament

The article posted here under the heading “President’s term and Peoples power” was written and dispatched for publication on ‘Thai Pongal’ day. Since then the Supreme court determination has been made public confirming that the incumbent President’s term shall be five years and not six years as argued by Hon. Attorney General. As mentioned earlier, although article 49(1)(b) is very clear- referring to the ‘five- year’ term for the incumbent president as well-, the AG has argued otherwise. We are aware that the public perception in the ‘good old days’ was that AG’s opinion in general, is always right and the office of the AG was held in high esteem. In the meantime, the Deputy Minister, Ajith Perera was quoted as saying that the government will change the Constitution and abolish the Executive Presidency adding that the people of the country gave the government a mandate to change the Constitution. We won’t be surprised that the next move of the government would be to seek peoples mandate through a referendum to abolish the Presidential system and revert back to a new parliament where they will count the duration of the parliament from the date of approving the new constitution. In the republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the people.

President’s term and peoples’ power

As we all know, President Sirisena has sought the opinion of the Supreme Court that whether, he, as the person elected on 9 January 2015, has any impediment to continue in the office of President for a period of six years. In terms of the Article 30(2) of the 19th amendment, the President shall hold office for a term of five years.
Move against the mandate at the elections in 2015:
It is important to analyze the socio-political considerations apart from the legal & constitutional validity of granting ‘six- year’ term for the President MS thus enabling him to stay in power till end November 2020. The writer’s view is this will effectively change the political game plans of the main political parties to be contested at the next General and Presidential elections due to be held only after December 2019 under the existing provisions in the constitution. Contrary to popular belief, the Presidential elections shall be held on or around December 2019 under the existing provisions in the constitution, whereas; unless the parliament dissolve themselves with two-third majority, even the President cannot dissolve parliament before four and half years, meaning the earliest date for the general elections would be in March 2020. In short, the Presidential election would essentially supersedes parliamentary elections, unless necessary amendments are brought in to the relevant provisions in the constitution. This will enable the present government to hold next parliamentary elections in 2020 whilst the incumbent president holds office to spearhead the elections. It is in that context only the President’s request to seek opinion of the Supreme Court should be viewed.
The Attorney General, in support of President MS’s request to the Supreme court, making submissions in Supreme court on 11th January stated that the incumbent President was elected by the people to the office to a term of six years. Quote: “It is the sovereignty of the people who exercise their franchise to elect him as President. The power emanated from the franchise of the people. The commencement of his office should be considered from the date on which he is elected.” He further said that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution is operative after the incumbent President was elected for a term of six years by the people.
It is true that, in terms of the Article 3 of the constitution the sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of the government and franchise. Peoples’ Sovereignty is a fundamental right guaranteed under the constitution. Quote. “…The members of Parliament hold a mandate and are agents of the People”. These are the extracts of the judgement delivered in 1987 on the 13th amendment to the Constitution by Justice Wanasundera. Therefore, it is obvious that it is the power of the people that is exercised by the President and Parliament. Both the Parliament and the President derive power from the people.
Doesn’t it affect people’s sovereignty?
Let us examine the relevant provisions in the 19 A to the constitution. Article 49(1)(b) in the transitional provision says that the President holding office on the day proceeding April 22,2015, (referring to President MS) shall continue to hold such office after such date, subject to the provisions of the constitution as amended by this act (19A). Although this provision is very clear- referring to the ‘five- year’ term for the incumbent president as well-, the AG has argued that what matters is the sovereignty of the people and the incumbent President was elected by the people before the 19A became operative. Therefore, for the purpose of determining the term of the office of the President, the provisions under 19A cannot be taken into consideration, that’s the obvious argument by the AG. In this connection, it is also relevant to draw attention to Article 33A of the 19th amendment, where it says that the President shall be responsible to the parliament for due exercise of his powers, duties and functions etc. Earlier this provision of President’s responsibility to the Parliament was not there in the constitution. In the event, the ‘fixing the President’s term’ goes back to ‘pre 19A’ scenario under the ‘principle of sovereignty of the people’, then same principle applies to other changes that will happen by reverting back from Article 33A, meaning the previous scenario under which the incumbent President shall not be responsible to parliament. It badly affects people’s sovereignty as peoples’ legislative power shall be exercised by the Parliament. One can’t eat the cake and at the same time have it also. A pertinent question would be whether the citizens’ fundamental rights will be violated, in the event the term is extended. This is because the President would not be answerable to Parliament, if 19A doesn’t apply to the incumbent President.
Economic downturn due to bad governance:
When this unity (so called) government came into power in January 2015, the outstanding external debt was US$ 43 Billion and the Sri Lankan economy was growing @ a faster rate above 5% and a GDP of US$ 80 Billion @ current market price. As per the Central Bank report 2016, the economy has been stagnating around US $ 81. 6 Billion in terms of GDP at ‘cmp’ and the external debt outstanding as at end December 2016 has increased to US$ 47 billion. It is expected that the GDP for the year 2017 was even lower than 2016 (2017 Central Bank report yet to come)
One of the major draw-backs during the last three-year period is the delays in execution of policies and programmes. It goes without saying that getting policy implementation right is critically important for ‘governance’ purposes. A simple governance structure, in our view has two functional dimensions. A more participatory style of management for policy formulation/strategic planning, whereas a more authoritarian style is needed for execution of such policies efficiently. In this respect the previous government has a proven track record for getting the implementation right. It is worthwhile to mention that the former Defense Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa played a major role in driving the infrastructure development of the country through instilling a strong work ethic culture. The immediate future scenario would be that more and more people would become dissatisfied with the government machinery. This will lead to social unrest which makes the system un-governable.
Will this political strategy backfire?
Coming back to the question of extending the President’s term by further one year, this will enable the President to hold the parliamentary elections before the next Presidential elections in 2020, whereas according to the present constitution, the Presidential election would have to be held in December 2019 before the general elections. Postponing elections is not a new or embarrassing act for this government, however it affects peoples’ sovereignty in terms of the article 4(a) and 4(e) of the constitution on two accounts, namely the franchise and the legislative power of the people. It is therefore interesting to find out as to why the present government wants to postpose the next Presidential elections till General elections are held and over. Is it because of ‘GR factor’?

Economic power is being shifted from West to Asia. Is Sri Lanka ready?

Sri Lankan economy is underperforming: The balance of economic power is shifting from West to Asia, with China, Japan, South Korea, India, and many other east/south Asian economies leading the global economic recovery. The World Bank forecasts global economic growth of 3 percent in 2018 and the growth in so called advanced economies is expected to be around only 2 percent in 2018. The economic growth in emerging markets is projected to strengthen around 4.5 percent in 2018, China, Vietnam, South Korea and India will perform much better.

It is a pity that according to the latest reports of the World Bank, the projected growth rates even for South Asia countries (India, Bangladesh and Pakistan etc) during the next two-three years are around 6.8 – 7.2% whereas, Sri Lankan growth figures are much lower than the above and it is around 4%.

Sri Lanka continues to be relied on Western markets for our export earnings. The bulk of the Sri Lankan exports (60%) have been to the US and EU. As seen above the Asian economies attain a strong growth. Asian growth champions, China and India are predicted to grow at an impressive 6.4 and 7.3 percent respectively.

Overcoming implementation snags:

It is interesting to find out answers as to why our government ministries and institutions fail in implementation? The answer narrows downs to one single entity which is non-other the government machinery itself. Answers are simple and well known yet no light at the tunnel of effective delivery. The present implementation snags in Sri Lankan government policy making process are mainly due to the following issues:

(1) Lack of a ‘shared value system’ and work ethic culture.
(2) policy inconsistencies, incongruities and lack of clarity on the specific policy.
(3) Policies drawn without due consideration of geo-political realities and environmental factors.
(4) communication gaps in forwarding the relevant policy docs.
(5) the specific policy change may not be acceptable to influencing stakeholders.
(6) process of policy change has been perceived by majority stakeholders as not transparent.
(7) Undue private sector lobbies creating confusion in decision making.
(8) trade union views are not sought at the beginning itself.
(9) influencing stakeholders, anyway want to scuttle the process and the government’s inability to cope up with the social unrest.
(10) Others not specified.

Sri Lanka to plug in to Eastern growth centres:

Sri Lanka is yet to effectively ‘plug in’ to the dynamic growth centres that are emerging in Asia. According to former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa this is one of the priority areas for further studies for policy shaping, if we are to truly, fast track development initiatives to improve the economic welfare of the people of this country. It is in this context only the policy shaping and future strategic directions for Sri Lankan economy should be viewed.

The writer is of the view that in the past the leaders of the political parties who aspire to become the policy makers in the next government that they are going to form, used to engage in drafting ‘party manifestos’ in a hurry without due consideration of ‘evidence- based policy shaping’ and -come out with some practical & implementable strategies- focussing on achieving long term sustainable development goals as a whole.in this connection, it is very important to analyse and find out what are the industries and businesses in Sri Lanka having ‘competitive advantage’ to penetrate in to these emerging markets. We also need to find out whether there are any skill gaps in the ‘human resource’ needs to further improve the competitiveness of the industries.

Conclusion:

In the recent past, the socio- economic analysis & research unit- through our ‘RTD Forum’ and ‘Viyathmaga organisation’ – has engaged in critically reviewing the national policies, their formulation & implementation covering areas such as Agriculture, SME sector, economic development, transportation and infrastructure etc. Whilst there is a need for a continuous review of national policies & programs, our view is that these winning strategies have to be crafted based on evidence and studying past experiences, without any fixed ideologies linked to petty party politics and affiliations.

-Jayampathy Molligoda.

Extracts from policy analysis & research carried out on “Paddy cultivation” through RTD forum / VM organisation

Rice is the staple diet of the people in Sri Lanka and is the single most important crop occupying 34 % (870,000 hectares) of the total cultivated area. On average 560,000 hectares are cultivated during the main season(Maha) and 310,000 ha during the second season, Yala. About 1.8 million farmer families are engaged in paddy cultivation island-wide.

The recent performance in the paddy cultivation & harvest has been poor partly due to (a) adverse weather conditions (b) inconsistent government policies (c) lack of clear direction and focus on efficient implementation of government policies. After experiencing a 50 per cent plunge during the ‘Maha’ season in 2016/17, it is expected a further drop of 50% during the ‘Yala’ season due to the drought prevailed in the dry zone. The total expected paddy output in 2017 would be 2.4 Million Metric Tons, which is the lowest during the last ten years.

According to Census and Statistics Department, the overall ‘Agricultural activities’ have reported a negative growth rate of 3.3 percent in the third quarter of 2017, which is the lowest growth rate since 2010. As a result, the ‘Agriculture sector’ has reported negative growth rates over the last 7 quarters.

Total rice requirement for the year 2018 would be 2.4 million metric tons. In terms of paddy cultivation, it works out to a total paddy harvest of 3.6 million metric tons per year in order to meet the total requirement of rice consumption in Sri Lanka. During the latter part of 2017, the policy makers and the government cut import taxes on rice and the traders were allowed to import 800,000 more metric tons of rice in order to prevent possible rice shortages in the country. As per the ‘Rice Importers Association’, over 50 per cent of the rice available in the market by end of 2017 is imported.

There seems to be no ‘focused and strategic approach’ with clear policy directives to improve this vital sector. As a result, a ‘daily labour’ in the agriculture sector and the rain-fed paddy farmers together with their families were among the livelihood groups most affected. In addition, country has to spend unnecessarily much needed ‘foreign exchange’ on account of importing additional quantities of rice and wheat floor in order to meet the shortfall in consumption…..”

-Jayampathy Molligoda & Thusitha Bandara

Where there is no bread, there is no law; where there is no law, there is no bread

We preach that Sri Lanka is a Democratic Socialist Republic and practice social-market economy. One of the measures to see the role of government in the social sector is to look at the total tax collection from the rich and the subsidies afforded to the less privileged people in society. The rich countries’ tax collection is around 45 percent to 50 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and they in turn invest 12 percent to 18 percent on health and education, whereas in Sri Lanka, our tax revenue is around 13-15% percent and how much do we spend on education and health?

Health & education services fast deteriorating:
The growing tax collection has enabled the developed countries (US, Britain, France and Sweden) to take on social welfare functions. A major portion goes to health and education. Spending on education and health accounts for 12-18% of national income in all the developed countries today. In all the developed countries, public spending covers much of the cost of education and health services: The goal is to give equal access to these basic goods: every child should have access to education, regardless of his or her parents’ income, and everyone should have access to health care.
Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, the governments of the day do not spend even 4 percent on health and education, where more than 25 percent of our people live below the poverty line. In fact, there has been a reduction in the capital expenditure on health during the last two to four years. Our health and education services are fast deteriorating to a level where we could end up in having unhealthy and less educated children similar to the population living in least developed countries.

Becoming un-governable:
In Sri Lanka, corruption and mismanagement have reached such proportions that the young electorate, especially the millennials viewed political leaders with suspicion. They are really fed up with all the political parties including those in the government as well as in the opposition. The successive governments have failed in bringing social justice and much-needed economic welfare to the people. Consequently, the income inequality and social unrest are fast spreading across the regions, sub-districts and cities. Most of the top Business leaders and Professionals are of the view that the quality of life of not only poor, even the middle class is drastically declining. The immediate future scenario would be that more and more people would become dissatisfied with the government machinery. This will lead to social unrest which makes the system un-governable.

Conclusion
Time is opportune for the professionals, academics and business leaders to come forward and critically review how to raise much needed investments in order to improve “Education and Health” sectors on a sustainable basis. Our view is that we must have ‘brain-storming sessions’ inviting cross section of people and the concerned professionals and craft ‘winning strategies’ for Sri Lanka, based on evidence and lessons learnt (by studying benchmark best practices, past experiences etc.) without any fixed ideologies linked to petty party politics and its affiliations. ‘Politics’ is too good to be left out to conventional politicians only.
Jayampathy Molligoda.

About

The Professionals for a Better Future (VIYATHMAGA) is a network of Academics, Professionals, and Entrepreneurs who love the country and wish to contribute actively towards the development of a prosperous Sri Lanka where all citizens can live in peace and harmony. VIYATHMAGA is not a political organisation. It is a civil society movement, wishing to contribute towards the betterment of the country.

Need to talk to us?





[recaptcha]

Our Contacts

No:765, Ethul Kotte, Kotte.

info@viyathmaga.com