The Need For An Overall Reorganization In The System Of Governanance
By Victor Ivan
The political outlook of our country has not kept pace with the unprecedented changes that have swept across the modern world today. It still stagnates at an unprogressive level where the ideological backwardness of politicians reigns supreme. Although, Prabakaran had been removed from the political scene of the country, the various schools of political ideologies do not seem to have changed their perception on the issue commonly referred to as the Sinhala Tamil problem. They still look at this problem the way they used to see it when Prabakaran was alive. Those who look at this issue from the point of view of the Tamil people believe that, at the least the provisions enshrined in the 13th amendment should be implemented while those representing the point of view of the Sinhala people are against the indiscriminate grant of all the provisions of the 13th amendment. However, those representing Marxist or liberal points of view are of the view that provisions in the 13th amendment should be granted in toto if a lasting solution is to be found for the problem.
All four schools of thought mentioned above have identified the problem as a mere inter racial issue. They have failed to perceive it as a more complicated one which is intricately connected with inter-caste relations and religious differences that have got entangled with the political system. Consequently, they have failed to envision a need for a complete transformation or reorganization in the social and political system of the country; their expectations are narrowly confined to effecting a change that impacts only on the inter- racial issues.
As I see it, those who look at this problem from traditional points of view can see only one aspect of a multi-faceted problem; in other words, they have missed the forest for a few trees that they see superficially. Undoubtedly, the trees they see are a part of the forest, but not the forest itself.
The Root of the Problem
The root of the problem lies in our failure to create a united nation and a democratic society which are essential prerequisites for successful sustenance of the national state and the democratic system of governance that we inherited from the British colonial rule.
It is true that everything that the British rule bequeathed us were not wholesome and beneficial. But, from a historical sense the nation state and the democratic system of governance that the British conferred to us are more beneficial and progressive concepts than the system we had before the colonial rule in which the country was divided into a number of kingdoms without clear borders and was governed by feudal rulers who owed their positions to a system of inheritance.
In order to reap the benefits and ensure progressive march of the nation state and the democratic system of governance that was bequeathed to us, two essential conditions must be fulfilled, namely the establishment of a united nation and creation of a democratic society
Yet, there was no indication to show that the successive governments that ruled the country after independence had heeded these conditions. Instead, all of them steered the country without attempting to create these two cardinal conditions. It is unfortunate that all the national leaders have equally failed to realize the need for ushering a united nation and a democratic society. It was only the political parties which commanded the majority support in terms of race, castes and religion had the capacity to secure the power to rule.
Sometimes, they adopted a policy of favoring the people of the race, caste and the religion they represented thereby completely ignoring the interests of the people belonging to the other communities, castes and religions. This situation created unrest and dissatisfaction among the minority groups. It eventually caused a distortion in the relationship among and between different racial, castes and religious groups as well as in the system of governance.
It is against this backdrop that the militant social groups that refused to accept the authority of the government emerged and attempted to capture political power by force to create a separate state. The armed struggles that they launched and the military suppression of them eventually resulted in a large scale blood bath in the country. One way or the other, the racial, castes and religious differences have influenced the emergence of these rebel groups.
Distancing and exclusion
The independent movement in Ceylon lacked a clear vision for building a united nation. The minority groups were not sure of their place in an independent Ceylon. They had a serious doubt about their fate. Non Sinhalese communities were afraid of the emergence of Sinhala domination. The Minority caste groups in the Sinhala community were worried about the emerging domination by the Govigama caste. Equally, the non Buddhist religious groups were skeptical about the emergence of Buddhist majority dominance. They even expressed their doubts and sentiments before the Donoughmore and Soulbury Commissions. The Burgher community deeply felt that in the post independent Ceylon, they would loose the recognition that they enjoyed previously under the colonial rule. It was an Anglo Ceylonese community. By physical appearance they resembled Europeans. By faith they were Christians and spoke English language.
The burgher community had made a significant contribution to enrich different spheres such as law, journalism, politics, arts & literature and athletics. Richard Francis Morgan, Charles Lorenz, Alfred Bultjens, Peter Keuneman, Lionel Wendet, George Keat, and Duncan White were among the prominent people of the burgher community that made an outstanding contribution in their respective fields of journalism, politics, photography, painting and athletics respectively. The other communities were jealous and spiteful of the burgher community because of the excellent display of their talents. They often mocked at them contemptuously nicknaming them as “Tuppahies”and Kerapothu Lansis. Burghers were the first to leave the country in large numbers immediately after independence. Our national leaders were not the least bothered about them leaving the country. They did not make any attempt to stop them. The spiteful attitude prevailed towards the burgher community was not confined to the majority Sinhala community only. The minority communities too, equally shared it. Next, the pressure came upon the Indian estate labor force which remained the lifeblood of the plantations sector. Even the Tamil leaders in the North of the caliber of Ponnambalam and Sundaralingam supported the program launched by D.S.Senanayaka, the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon to deprive the estate workers of their civic rights. There were only two Tamil parliamentarians viz. Chelvanayagam and Wanniasingam who opposed the move. Then came the phase in which the Tamils were deprived of their language rights. The displeasure and unrest generated by the language issue was not confined only to Tamil community. It caused an implicit unrest among the other minority castes and religious groups as well.
Impasse of the System of governance
Although the new constitution introduced by president J.R.Jayawardena in 1977 marked the climax of the process of degeneration and distortion of the System of governance, this process, however, had already commenced and has been developing since independence. The laws enacted depriving the civic rights of the estate workers of Indian origin and the language laws introduced in 1956 depriving the language rights of the Tamil people were contrary to the fundamental principles and safeguards enshrined in the Soulbury constitution. Both these instances could be reckoned as incidences of violation of the constitutional safeguards. Thereafter, in 1972, the coalition government led by the SLFP carried this process forward and to further heights. They abolished the Public Service Commission thereby shattering the backbone of the public service, depriving it of capacity and power for independent functioning. The SLFP led coalition government, in the name of safeguarding the national sovereignty also abolished the right to appeal to the Privy Council against judgments passed by the Supreme Court without introducing an alternate mechanism to review such judgments. This had resulted in the loss of an important element in the judicial system that ensured the sanctity of the rule of law, justice and impartiality in meting out justice. Since then, the process of degeneration and distortion of the system of governance was accelerated. It reached the climax with the introduction of the new constitution by J.R.Jayawardena in 1977. Consequently, we are now left with a political system that kills the creative impulse and the effectiveness of the nation due to extreme politicization, bribery and corruption, rampant wastage, lack of discipline, inertia and lawlessness that reign supreme under the current system.
Further, the violent struggles that sprang up in the interim and their protracted nature invariably deprived the country of the opportunity to review the situation and make necessary amendments and fundamental changes to transform and reorganize the political system. These violent struggles caused to eclipse the vision of the political society and the society in general in correctly perceiving the major problems that the country had encountered.
Despite the continued degeneration in the political system of the country, right from the beginning, the attention of the people was primarily focused more on the violent struggles of the disgruntled groups than on the other issues.
Under the circumstances, it was only after defeating terrorism that the opportunity has dawned for effecting fundamental changes to the political system and making a fundamental reorganization of the system. In other words, it was only after defeating terrorism that the people were able to see clearly and realize the level of degeneration into which the country had been plunged into. This situation in turn, has led the society in general to yearn for a fundamental change and reorganization in the political system and the system of governance. Accordingly, the historical moment for changing the system of politics and that of the governance and rebuilding the nation in a manner that promotes creative impulses of the nation has now dawned. It is time now for all political leaders, intellectuals; all those who are having grievances and those dreaming for a congenial Sri Lanka to focus their attention on this need.
The Problem as a whole
In my opinion, at this historical juncture , we should not confine ourselves to providing a solution only for the Tamil problem which caused an enormous blood bath over past thirty years; instead, we must take cognizance of all other issues as well i.e. the distortion caused in the inter racial, caste and religious relations among the people and the great distortions extant in the system of governance and the administrative system and address them concurrently and in concert in effecting a creative reorganization of the nation and the state.
In my opinion, under the modern context, none of the communities living in Sri Lanka, namely, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim can be considered as fully fledged nations. None of them is in a position to claim full nation status separately and of their own capacity. Under the circumstance, the full nation status could be established only through the unity of all communities and building a common Sri Lankan identity based on equality principle whilst at the same time safeguarding the identity of each other. In the New Nation thus created, there should not be room for any caste, communal and religious differences. It should inculcate proper understanding and tolerance among the different communities, religions, languages, and cultures.
The attempt to rebuild the state and transform the system of governance & the administrative system should be pursued in a manner that would be consistent with the demands of the new state thus created. In this endeavor, it is important that special consideration be given for provision of facilities and adequate safeguards to ensure the effective functioning and existence of the emerging new Sri Lankan nation. Also, it should introduce adequate measures to promote national goals conducive to maximizing creative capacities of the nation. The consensus for these changes should be reached not by force but through the basis of equality and democratic means.
The elements of equality, justice, mutual understanding, respect and trust should form the basis of the bond that binds them together. A constitution alone cannot build a nation. It can only validate and grant sovereignty for the new nation. In my view, the current institutional system is no longer valid for the present. Tamil problem is an important issue to be resolved. But any solution found confined only to that problem would not prove to be strong and sustainable. Therefore, we must adopt a stance that takes the system as a whole and critically review it in an attempt to build a new Sri Lankan nation. In this process, the state and the entire social system should be reconstructed in consistence with the ambitions and the needs of the new nation. This is not a condition to be achieved in a few days. It might take a longer period, perhaps extending over four to five years.
I wish to highlight below some important points that should go into the agenda of proposed reorganization program.
- Principles and organizational methodologies to be adopted
- To eliminate the present distortion in the inter racial, caste and religious relations that prevail among the people and forge one common nation with a strong Sri Lankan identity which fosters mutual respect and care between the different groups of people.
- To eliminate social acceptance of the caste differences that prevail in Sinhala and Tamil social groups both explicitly and implicitly.
- Appropriate policies and organizational methodologies to overcome the menace of politicization, bribery, corruption and wastage.
- A methodology and a policy that helps eradicate the importance accorded to money in politics than the knowledge, experience and competence of the people.
- To eradicate the lumpanisation process permeated into the political scenario.
- To ensure the transparency in all institutional systems.
- To reduce the anomalies in income distribution.
- To promote the share of women’s participation in political organizations.
- To ensure fundamental human rights including the freedom of expression and right of access to information.
- To restructure the salaries of the government servants in keeping with the modern needs.
- The institutional system that ensures justice and implements the law and order of the country.
- The election system and election laws.
This is not a complete list. There may be many other issues that should go into it. The range and the size of this agenda clearly speak of the largeness of scope and the complexity of the issues to be addressed in reshaping and reconstructing the nation and the state.
In my view, what the country needs today is not a parochial movement aimed at changing the government but a strong national movement for recreation of the nation and the state of that nation. Such a movement should involve a wide and varied range of forces such as the government including the head of the state, the opposition including the leader of the opposition, professionals and professional organizations, trade unions and people’s organizations. It should be an inclusive movement that does not exclude anyone. It must be made a national renaissance movement which embraces every citizen of the country making them respectful partners and shareholders of the movement. It should be a movement that should discard all suspicions, hatred, ill will that prevail between and within the political parties and various social groups. It should also be capable of conferring peace upon everyone.
I am of the view that if the entire system is not reorganized in some way or the other, it is unavoidable that the system itself might make the change. The present system has reached near its climax and languishes in the verge of collapse, being unable to move forward. Taking cognizance of this situation, if the present system is not reorganized before it becomes dormant and inactive of its own, the eventual breakdown of the system will push the country into a greater crisis. The repercussions and the impact of such an eventuality are difficult to be predicted in advance.