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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2553

Consensual governance and the politicized bureaucracy

By Oscar E V Fernando

Adhering to the county’s constitution is good governance: in the MOU to be signed by the government and the opposition two aspects of the common program are good governance and peace: the UNP leader says that development will follow subsequent to these two aspects being finalized.

It could be concluded that the UNP prefers to support the government whilst being in the opposition to bring about good governance and peace: these two aspects can certainly be brought about while being in the opposition—and these are a must for development.

Peace without development will not last long: lack of peace both in the south and north is due to poverty, unemployment and under-development.

Hence the slogan and the process of peace and peace dividends that were adhered to by a previous regime until this regime was wantonly stalled by the then executive.

Underdevelopment and the brink of war in the absence of peace are two time- bombs that have to be defused without any further delay. War can be averted by both parties being on opposite sides if there is consensus—but what about development?

For economic development of the country, mere stretching of the hands from across the table will not suffice. The new comers to the government must be empowered with ministries and such ministries should be accepted for potent action and for closer collaboration. It would appear that this specific collaboration and granting of ministries are in a state of suspense—the question is for how long, before the two time bombs tick off!

There is however a reason for this suspense engineered by the leader of the opposition. As much as power is of the essence in politics, politicians can become impotent if they are at cross roads with a bureaucracy that has allegiance to another political boss. In other words a politicized bureaucracy becomes a bugbear in consensual governance. Taking up ministries so essential for development, in such a situation, becomes a mere eye wash.

The public service bureaucracy that was independent of politics underwent a radical change since the seventies when the then permanent secretaries were appointed at the whim of the politician—it was earlier by an independent public service commission. The bureaucrat consequently became dependent on the politician—this has been the downfall of the public service and also the country, since then.

Today the entire bureaucracy in Sri Lanka is duty bound to the political hierarchy of the government, as with each change of government after an election victory, the existing bureaucrats are sent to ‘Siberia’ (a term used in public service parlance) and political appointments to suit the new political masters are made. It will not be an exaggeration to say that some or most of the existing bureaucrats have become creatures of the politicians who were victorious at the last election. This is not confined to one political regime—it was continued by all political parties since the seventies.

It is to stall this inappropriate practice that the seventeenth amendment to the constitution was introduced in parliament. It is as a consequence of this amendment that the Constitutional Council was set up and this body appointed various commissions such as the police commission, elections commission and public service commission. This council that functioned for a period is now not functioning due to political bungling and the said commissions are now in disarray.

The Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) stated recently; Violations of the 17th amendment commenced with President Kumaranatunge refusing to act on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council (CC) to appoint the Elections Commissioner.

Thereafter, when the CC ended in 2005 the then President did not appoint a new Council, and that prevented appointments to Commissions recognized by the constitution.

The present President has not been successful yet to activate the process of forming the CC: we have witnessed two eminent judges resigning from the Judicial Service Commission on a matter of conscience in the recent past. Also in the absence of the CC the president continues to make his appointments that can be construed as political appointments, but will have to be accepted in the present state of affairs.

With regard to the 17th amendment dealing with the Constitutional Council, former ambassador D Laksiri Mendis who was mainly instrumental in drafting this amendment had this to say on being interviewed recently by the Daily Mirror.

This amendment initiated in 1998 to depoliticize key institutions to ensure free and fair elections was passed in 2000/2001 with Mr Karu Jayasuriya initiating a draft bill.

He further observes;

That since independence SL has become a highly politicized society. That the structure of the CC consists of representatives of the two major parties. That unless the politicization trend is reversed our institutions will degenerate into chaos.

The immediate stumbling block for consensual governance could well be the politicized bureaucracy and this is understandable. The bureaucracy from the ministry downwards moving on to the treasury that holds the all important kitty will obviously be in a politicized state. As all these ministries are interconnected, the new political flavor in governance will face problems. This is no fault of the present regime. It has to be corrected—and corrected immediately by consensus on both sides.

The entirety of present bureaucracy and the recent appointments made by the president cannot all be given the ‘Siberian’ treatment, but the very appointment of a duly constituted Constitutional Council would be sufficient to change the allegiance of the bureaucracy to the CC and act independent of both flavors of politicians.

The anticipated consensual government would take off smoothly only after depoliticizing the bureaucracy; the much hoped for peace would be achieved after a well negotiated power devolution package to the northeast: both can be brought about with the two major parties being on opposite sides with consensus for passage of legislation.

The leader of the UNP made a statement to the OPA that once good governance and peace comes about then development would naturally follow—but it is essential that development be swift in coming with foreign aid and foreign investors, as peace and good governance that may ensue could soon be disrupted with the march of hungry bellies ending up in revolt.

If economic development were to take place pragmatically, then both sides should share power with each having ministries: my article Significance of power in politics’ published in "Asian Tribune" of 28th October 2006 refers.

- Asian Tribune -

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