Plus - Letter to the editor

Executive Presidency the problem

Once again the time has come to elect our next President. Taking their opposing places on the battleground are an experienced politician and an amateur politician. This letter explains why I am prepared to take the gamble and vote for the amateur, despite my being a senior government servant.
In the past 60 years since Independence, we have seen a political seesaw – Left to Right, Right to Left. Politicians and political processes give the public more and more subsidies and perks to their favourites in return for their vote and support.

Once elected, the politicians have eaten into the country’s reserves to keep their promises. Now that there are no more reserves left, the politicians are obtaining more and more loans, holding future generations to ransom. The result is that we are 20 times poorer than our former Asian rival Singapore, which was once our equal in terms of per capita earnings, back in the early years of our Independence.
Gen. Sarath Fonseka launching his campaign in Kandy

With time, our political battles have become more and more expensive and intense. With negative balance-sheets at the end of expensive political campaigns, the winning politicians have no alternative but to regain the financial losses incurred whilst in power. Naturally, the only way to close the gap was to legitimise bribery (e.g. commissions) and corruption.

The public trust in the civil service has dropped. The civil service is seen as lethargic, irresponsible, inefficient and unaccountable. The new presidency was created in the late ’80s to “legitimise” the political processes. This is why most politicians are rallying round the President. They are abandoning their electorates, forgetting the values they once stood for, dropping lifetime friends and even joining their former enemies in order to stay in power.

Politicians should be leaders, but today most of them have become “feeders” – feeding on the nation. They freely spend the hard-earned money of the national workforce, often in wasteful exercises. The financial burden politicians represent is huge, and it is expanding at the expense of the nation. If one nominal ministerial portfolio was scrapped, the revenue saved could fund the education of 500 students at a national university.

Most of our national services have suffered because of parasitic politicians and portfolios. Today, the country can afford to give only 3 per cent of our population a university education; in developed countries the number exceeds 50 per cent.

In Sri Lanka, the highest ranking government officer earns between US$20 and 25 a day. In developed countries, officers of similar rank earn 10 times more. Why is the government keeping salaries so low?
We are a nation with a large debt, mostly accumulated through unproductive, incomplete and wasteful projects. Yet we support a jumbo Cabinet and hold frequent elections, and conduct massive election campaigns at national expense.

I salute the JVP for their stand in the upcoming election, despite their appalling history and being on the ruling side. They want the Presidency abolished, which reflects their maturity, wisdom and commitment to the nation.

Education, law and order, discipline and peace are the essential ingredients for development. The big question is whether an amateur politician can provide these?

The General is a retired officer who has been a loyal and disciplined officer all his life. While in office, he demonstrated his professional ethics. For example, while in office, he never spoke loosely, never divulged national secrets. He is not a politician, but he will carry out the tasks assigned to him with 100 per cent loyalty.

We can be sure he will uphold discipline, law and order and democracy. He has already demonstrated this in his own Army. He will not have to serve any party or individual once elected. No politicians will be spared, as the determining factor will be the unbiased public vote. He will achieve his targets. As a military officer he demonstrated that he could achieve his targets within a given time.

My only request to the General is that he increases our children’s opportunities for a university education. We should accommodate at least 20 per cent of the students who qualify at the Advanced Level examination. That would be the best foundation for our development as a nation. We may not live to see the results, but somebody will remember.

We know what resulted in countries where there was indiscipline and corruption, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Myanmar. Dear General, this nation needs no subsidies. Our people need the opportunity to learn, work and earn a decent wage in a free and peaceful environment. Their careers should be based on their skills, quality, performance and experience.

Your task is to make this opportunity available by establishing a true democracy, law and order, and equity. The brain drain will then stop. There will be no need for separate solutions for minority communities. We will all be one nation. The impediment to this is not the person of the President but the executive presidency in its current omnipotent form.

Professor Chula Goonasekera, University of Peradeniya

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