Most critics of the Yahapalana Government attributed the indecisiveness in governance of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government to the 19th Amendment which according to them created two centres of power. What the 19th Amendment did in fact was transfer some of the powers vested in the Executive to the Prime Minister, Parliament and the independent commissions. This [...]

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20th Amendment unable to prevent failing governance

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Most critics of the Yahapalana Government attributed the indecisiveness in governance of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government to the 19th Amendment which according to them created two centres of power. What the 19th Amendment did in fact was transfer some of the powers vested in the Executive to the Prime Minister, Parliament and the independent commissions.

This was not a conspiracy to divest President Maithripala Sirisena of his powers and transfer such powers to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as alleged by his detractors. It was an implementation of the agreement by the Yahapalana outfit which was endorsed in the form of a mandate at the presidential elections of January 2015.

In fact President Sirisena himself led the effort to enact the 19th Amendment spending two whole days in Parliament to persuade the Joint Opposition led by the SLFP to provide the necessary two-third majority to amend the Constitution with a near unanimous vote of Parliament.

A deeper analysis of the Yahapalana tenure would reveal that what prevented the Government of the day from acting and speaking in one voice was the inability of the two leaders to iron out whatever differences that arose between them during their tenure. The souring of relationships between the two had a disastrous impact on the Yahapalana goals which could not be realised and eventually led to the fall of the Government and an alternative Gotabaya Rajapaksa-led Government coming to power.

Despite the many shortcomings of the Yahapalana Government, one cannot deny that democracy was strengthened during this period with the enactment of the 19th Amendment. The democratic space that was opened up contrasts drastically with the chilling effect of the pre-2015 Government rule.

Post 2015, democracy and the free expression of views has taken root in the country as evident from the protests and exercise of democratic rights that people are exercising even today. This is not to say the present Government is not attempting to curtail such rights in different ways. One of their successes was the passage of the 20th Amendment which has weakened institutions of governance on which democracy largely depends.

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) received a near two-third majority at the August 2020 parliamentary elections which they used to ensure the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The justification for once again centralising all powers in the Executive through the 20th Amendment was the argument that efficiency in Government would be strengthened through a centralised form of government with the Executive President being able to take decisive action.

Under the 20th Amendment governance seems to be falling apart. The list of such governance failures is too long to enumerate in detail but suffice it to describe a few which have a current relevance and impact.

With the impending Sinhala and Tamil New Year, it is a cruel blow to have the spectre of coconut oil containing cancer causing substances entering the market. The whole episode has caused a great deal of confusion with one section of the Government claiming the contaminated coconut oil has not entered the market while there are reports of bowsers containing such products being detected in Dankotuwa.

While the Government has promised to compel the importers concerned to re-export the contaminated coconut oil, the question arises whether it is ethical to do so because unscrupulous traders could send it to some other country, thus jeopardising the lives of other unsuspecting consumers elsewhere.

The proper thing to do would be to destroy such contaminated coconut oil on the basis that it is not fit for human consumption.

In this context it is useful to flag the duty of the State to take all necessary steps to ensure that all foodstuffs that enter the market are not injurious to health. At present there are reports of many such unhealthy foods in the market without any monitoring by the health and nutritional authorities. One example is the poultry products which are said to be injected with hormones that are injurious to our health being freely available on the shelves of retail outlets. This is only one example and there could be several more.

Another example of the failure of governance in the post 20th Amendment scenario is the Sugar Scam which is said to have caused the country a staggering 16 billion rupees revenue loss. No satisfactory answers are forthcoming from the Government to explain what happened nor has any action been taken to hold anyone accountable.

The colossal extent of environmental destruction that is going on unabated in the country is further proof that the 20th Amendment has not given the Government the capacity to put a stop to this wanton harm caused to the resources of the country. The situation is so bad even pro-Government media stations are giving wide publicity to the destruction of forests, while ardent supporters of the Government are crying foul with regard to the clearing of forests which are further aggravating the human-elephant conflict.

There are several satyagrahas being staged all over the country including one in Hambantota for more than 70 days seeking solutions to this conflict with no solution being offered by the Government.

The latest episode in the post 20th Amendment saga comes with the Wennappuwa area ASP being transferred out of his station due to the intervention of a Government State Minister. According to reports the Minister was not happy with the ASP for taking action against those who were distilling kassippu.

Under the 19th Amendment no politician could directly intervene to get a Police officer transferred as the power to do so was vested with the National Police Commission. The 20th Amendment has now weakened the National Police Commission resulting in the possibility of politicians interfering with these functions.

The bottom line is that? the 20th Amendment has not improved governance. On the contrary ?as evident from current happenings, governance has been weakened and the lives of the people have become increasingly difficult.

(javidyusuf@gmail.com).

 

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