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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2731

Politicized Bureaucracy and the Seventeenth Amendment

By Oscar E V Fernando

Those governing a country must adhere to a set of rules that govern their own conduct in public affairs; governance however is bound to be criticized by those politically opposed to the party in power. Hence is the necessity for a national policy to be continued from government to government.

A national policy has to be made by like minded politicians and in a parliament where there are differing political ideologies it makes this task difficult; this is not impossible in Sri Lanka where the two major democratic parties do not diverge to a great extent.

The convergence of the two main democratic parties, with due arrangements for party/parliamentary leaderships in the opposition, would benefit the nation immensely in many areas especially in implementing constitutional amendments such as the 13th and the 17th-two amendments that would solve many a problem faced by this country!

Lack of this convergence is evidently paralyzing governance to the loss of the whole nation and the gain of parties on the fringe!

A consistent bureaucracy is a requirement for continuity of a national policy-bureaucracy implying firstly the secretaries and those working under them to serve the minister in charge of a subject; such staff must not change with the change of a minister and such secretaries must be appointed for a permanent term by an independent body and not the minister; hence is the term permanent secretary in the days before the bureaucracy was politicized in the seventies traditionally as a policy measure; prior to that the public services commission functioned to make top appointments to the public sector.

The dichotomy of the minister/permanent secretary relationship is well exemplified in the television drama series-Yes Minister!

A continued bureaucracy is also hindered by the prevalence of state economic enterprises in that the minister in charge would want a like minded secretary to make changes to the currently prevailing economic and political policy that varies with each government in power

If analyzed closely, most COPE queries originate due to the state handling business ventures that come up with granting of tenders and other possibilities of financial irregularities-prevailing due to lack of procedures in a politicized bureaucracy; due to this very reason pin-pointing responsibility for any misdeed is impracticable; the easiest way out has been to pin the blame on the minister in charge for misdeeds of his minions; it would seem many a good name had been vilified by mischievous elements all out to destroy the political status quo!

It is to avoid this sordid situation that the drafters of the 17th amendment introduced this change in the constitution.

It behooves us to point out that the main proponent to this radical change was Hon Karu Jayasuriya who, together with other initiators, is now in the government team and therefore it would be easy for the government to move in the matter of duly constituting the Constitutional Council (CC) consequent upon 17th amendment.

The seventeenth amendment was passed by parliament in
2001; this was to create the CC to appoint and monitor the performance of public officials in government and statutory boards.

The very creation of the CC and, privatizing state enterprises, would contribute to redundancy of the COPE committee; much noise is made of COPE reports by the very persons who propagate the continuation of public enterprises that are obviously corrupt due to the politicized bureaucracy!

This cyclic dilemma is pursued by some presumably to the very destruction of the existing society in a subtle and devious revolution; the two major democratic parties must sit up and identify this unfolding drama!

The very existence of the CC, the constitution of which is by a unanimous decision of the constituent political parties in parliament, makes political appointments to public institutions unacceptable as the;

The ten appointees to the CC comprise the following;

* Five members jointly by the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.
* One member by minority parties in the house.
* One member appointed by the president.
* Leader of the opposition
* Prime minister
* Speaker.

Appointed members could be removed from office only on mandatory grounds.

Thus the CC has vast independence to act on its own.

The drafters of the amendment had empowered the CC in two areas;

* To nominate members to key commissions; they are then appointed by the president; these are the police, elections, human rights, finance and delimitation commissions

* To approve appointments to important public offices such as-auditor general-inspector general-chief justice-judges of the supreme court-president and judges of the court of appeal-two members of the judicial service commission other than the chairman who by tradition is the chief justice.

There were setbacks in the implementation of this amendment but instead of making re-amendments or seeking positive ways to solve the problems, the CC has been allowed to lapse.

Out of the commissions appointed by the CC, reportedly the elections commission had run into difficulties initially as the then president raised objections to the appointment of its chairperson and this ended up only in a long drawn out battle!

Thereafter the police commission had faced problems created by politicians even to the extent of recommending that the inspector general of police be appointed to the police commission that has to monitor workings of the police staff-a completely irrational situation!

By early 2006 the 17th amendment had nearly broken down; the terms of appointments had expired in 2005 but the vacancies had not been filled due to the CC not being properly constituted.

The only commission that remained was the human rights commission which too reportedly had lapsed in March 2006-with that the 17th amendment had collapsed fully.

It had then been decided to revert back to where it was before the appointment of the CC-implying a politicized bureaucracy, with all implications of corruption and lethargy that the COPE reports proclaim very loudly!

The delay so far in constituting the CC was that the minority parties could not agree on their choice of candidate.

The president then took upon himself to appoint members to the various commissions.

But now the minority parties have nominated their candidate and there is no reason why the CC cannot be constituted forthwith-as this was the only lacunae left!

Once the CC is duly constituted, then, even the appointees of the interim period will have their allegiance to the CC and will ipso facto be independent of politics, and hopefully act independently too!!

- Asian Tribune -

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