Currently the most important foundation Sri Lanka needs is unity and trust amongst her people. To promote this, we need national acceptance of equal opportunity, human rights and diversity through legislation. Therefore, the proposed new constitution for Sri Lanka should protect and uphold human rights, accept diversity and promote true democracy. It is also prudent [...]

Sunday Times 2

A proposal for the new constitution


Currently the most important foundation Sri Lanka needs is unity and trust amongst her people. To promote this, we need national acceptance of equal opportunity, human rights and diversity through legislation. Therefore, the proposed new constitution for Sri Lanka should protect and uphold human rights, accept diversity and promote true democracy. It is also prudent that students be protected from exploitation until the age of 21.This is especially to safeguard education in secondary schools and universities.

Parliament is not a place for hooligans but a house of honour for constructive argument, sound debate and agreement on the welfare of the Sri Lankan people

This is because students have become the bait and front line of various groups, exploiting their ignorance, honesty, vulnerability and poverty through a variety of sinister and cheap means including forced physical and mental activities designed to destroy our traditional national practices and family values. Dishonouring elders and teachers, being unlawful purposefully in mass, public use of obscene language whilst intimidating others who are resistant to this change are some principles they work on. This is sadly a major hindrance for our national development. Some students are entrenched in these trends of hate and destructive attitude until late in life. These damaged personalities openly display their inability to resolve differences through civilised means of discussion, argument and propaganda. Instead they embark on threats, violence, public harassment and public property destruction. We have recently witnessed these trends on television where student leaders including student monks found it difficult to comprehend a nationally complex situation due to their self imposed tunnel vision. They seek resolution through forcing administrators by intimidation or holding them to ransom.

Politicians often call for government officers to be more disciplined and efficient. Some parliamentarians think government officers are government servants, whose duty is to serve the parliamentarians. This was made publicly known in the recent debates in the Parliament when the formulation of the constitution council was discussed. In fact all parliamentarians are also government officers and should serve under the same service and disciplinary procedures as other government servants including the leave entitlement. This is because they too are fully supported and maintained by public money. Hence, they have a moral obligation to obey disciplinary codes that apply to all government officers. The physical and verbal abuse in parliament, ignoring parliamentary rules, ethics and duties, ad hoc attendance, and use of unlawful means to publicly intimidate, force and obstruct parliamentary proceedings should come to a halt. Parliament is not a place for hooligans but a house of honour for constructive argument, sound debate and agreement on the welfare of the Sri Lankan people. It is the supreme institution of the people of Sri Lanka and anyone attempting to break these values should be debarred from attendance or removed instantly. Without such a rule we cannot bring sanity to our peoples’ representatives.

Today what most politicians do is spend public money allocated to their ministries in a manner that will directly or indirectly benefit them. As of today, politicians are the most unaccountable officers in our governance. They take no responsibility for any of their mistakes that costs millions to the public taxpayer. Thus, in legislation, they should be held accountable for projects that go wrong, especially if they have worked upon their wishful thinking rather than on sound feasibility analysis, justification and expert advice.

Diversity has to be tolerated, accepted and considered equal by law. Until this is done there will be polarisation due to race, religion, caste and greed. Most of our politicians are masters in propagating these divisions. The Equality law in the new constitution should class the following characteristics as protected. In other words, it should become unlawful to discriminate against people based on any of the following characteristics. These include; (a) Religion or belief, (b) Age (c) Marriage and civil partnership (d) Race (e) Disability (f) Sexual orientation (g) Gender and (h) Pregnancy and maternity. This will provide equal opportunities at every level and completely remove all quarrels that are based on any of the above.

This will help us do away with parties polarised with racial or religious instincts who deceive the voters year after year. These selfish anti-national groups have simply promised a ‘pound of flesh’ for their clan to secure their posting to the parliament. This fractional representation is the biggest obstacle for unification and equalisation.

Without ensuring equal opportunities, we will never be able to resolve inter racial or inter gender or even inter cast generated conflicts and misunderstandings. We need such a ruling to ensure that everyone is given equal opportunity. This will prevent back door employment, back door entrance to educational institutions, and day-to-day tactics of dodging the rules and favouring the favourites.

Polarised politicians over religious, regional or racial issues would hate to see equality flourish. This is because equality will erase the lifeline of division that makes them thrive in power. If there is equality, our motherland can move forward with political parties promoting true principles of governance that can lead us to become a developed country. The parties currently representing fractions of the community are only interested in swinging the pendulum from left to right or right to left at elections for their own advantage and not really for the benefit of the people they represent. There is no point beating about the bush. Our politicians will continue to dodge this necessity as long as they can – unless defeated by a referendum. The simple truth is what is public friendly is not always politician friendly. Thus, a chance of winning equal rights for everyone via the constitution is not an easy task unless the President himself spearheads the whole process.

Human rights
In a similar context, the human rights legislation should offer protection from discrimination in respect to following rights and freedoms. These include (a) Right to life (b) Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (c ) Right to liberty and security (d) Freedom from slavery and forced labour (e) Right of fair trial (f) No punishment without law (g) Respect for private and family life, home and correspondence (h) Freedom of thought, belief and religion (i) Freedom of expression (j) Freedom of assembly and association (k) Right to marry and start a family (l) Right to education and (n) the Right to participate in free elections.

Without free expression and debate, we cannot correct ourselves. This is also the only civilized instrument available today for self-correction. We need debate without hindrance for our development as a nation. Debate resolves differences of opinion through understanding. Open expression is also a healer of conflict-induced division.

Above legislation is essential to establish a true democracy. In a true democracy common people are considered the primary source of political voice and power. The effectiveness of a true democracy depends on the degree of the citizen’s involvement, and their knowledge of true current events and news. That is why the free press is essential. Only the informed and involved citizens and their commitment can formulate the foundation for a true democracy. Therefore, Rules and Regulations in the Constitution should be designed and prescribed to protect and maintain the principles of social stability, human rights, and equality as above. In democratic governance, people are able to exercise their inalienable rights, to directly elect their term-limited representatives, or impeach their elected or appointed representatives through a local or national referendum. The true frontline Guardians of Democracy therefore are the local independent press, and informed, involved and alert citizens. We also need a mechanism to ensure that all government officers are made aware of this legislation and are accountable for its implementation.

Unfortunately we are far from this idealistic situation. At present at least 10% of our cabinet constitute politicians defeated in polls. Amidst a mix of racially, religiously or otherwise divided politicos, the above number is sufficient to hold the balance of power and swing the pendulum in their favour term after term. The losers are the people, every time. The value of one person’s vote should be one and not anything less or more. This will have to be established in the constitution. This is not possible with any proportional representation. We had racially charged communal violence approximately 10 years after independence in 1958. We did nothing to end communal violence in legislation. Malaysia experienced communal violence in 1969 again 10 years after their independence. They took extra legislative measures to prevent it from happening again. The end result is that Malaysians grew while we did not. The Malaysian GDP today is three times above that of ours.

Public welfare
We must ensure by legislation that equitable education and health is available for all, free of charge. This means core and defined segments of education and health should be available to all citizens of the country equally. For example, if students qualifying from the advanced level examination are offered university education as a government policy, then it should be available to all such qualifiers and not a few. If the government is unable to offer a place for university education in Sri Lanka, then at least the estimated cost of such education in Sri Lanka should be made available to them to study elsewhere should they wish. Given the continuous need of this investment for future students, it is prudent this money is reclaimed during working life of its users following employment. This is the only way we can ensure that our young generation is adequately educated, in areas of their choice, without being a burden to the poor taxpayer and eventually become valuable citizens in the future. In a similar manner, the aspects of free health care declared for all citizens should be specified and available to all, equally, around the country, round the clock.

Our welfare system should prioritise children, mothers and the disabled.
Thus, a major proportion of our welfare should go to them unconditionally and not the ‘able and not working class’ who does not want to work or learn to work. This will ensure that we are truly a caring nation.

People’s approval
No legislation is perfect until tested in public. Thus, all legislation passed through the Parliament should be subject to a public consultation within the first year of its implementation allowing for a revised final reading again in the Parliament. Legislation that does not undergo a public consultation should be considered defunct. This is one way to keep legislation in check by the public opinion.

The number of politicians needed to serve this country should be reduced. While it is necessary to develop evidence-based policies, their effective implementation would depend on the efficacy of relevant institutions. In other words, the revamping of state institutions in different sectors is equally important with professional leadership and not political stooges. There are over 3,000 politicians serving in our provincial councils. We need more and more public money to maintain them including the projected 255 in the next parliament. The money has to be generated by the public and not politicians. This is why the professional bodies, which are the representatives of this money generating machinery, are at the forefront to guide politicians in the right direction without being blinded by cunning MPs.

We need a government that is stamped by the authority of the people and not by the politicians, addresses national problems in a systematic fashion, in conjunction with professionals and professional bodies taking into consideration our own research evidence, past experience, and the experience of other countries. Sans this, we have little hope of becoming a competitive independent nation in the modern world with a guaranteed, long lasting peace and prosperity.

This letter represents the views of a common man at 60 and not that of an economist or a political analyst.

- Chula Goonasekera is an academic who was attached to the University of Peradeniya.

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