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12th July 1998

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Mirror Magazine

Remember July 15 '95?

Three years to July 15 since the promise to do away with an anomalous Executive Presidential system with its potential for abuse and we are yet in limbo on this vital issue. Once again we are at the ritual annual refrain that one of the biggest election promises has yet to be fulfilled; sadly broken. It appears to be on par with those other Utopian promises trotted out willy-nilly at election times like bringing in rice from the moon or ushering in a Dharmishta era of justice in Sri Lanka.

What justification has the government for perpetuating this pernicious system? It still is unable to give a convincing response as to why the abolition of the Executive Presidency should be linked to constitutional reforms or the devolution of powers at the periphery. Why this dilatory ploy of linkage when the UNP and the JVP are willing to throw in their support for abolition? It can be done even tomorrow. Then it is quite clear that the issue of a devolution package has been bogged down in considerable opposition from a majority of the people with no reconciliation in sight.

The plain truth is that the government is showing uneasiness at the prospect of holding Provincial Council elections, fears the outcome and fears perhaps that reverting to a pristine parliamentary form of government might be the death-knell of the Kumaratunga regime. That indeed may explain this false front - the notion that the abolition of this provision of the Constitution perpetuating an Executive Presidency needs to be linked to a decision as regards other provisions.

Such blatant deceit will surely go down in the annals of our history as one of the heftiest boru pachas - one of the heftiest lies uttered by a group of politicians eager for power to a people who put their faith in them.

As if it would make things any better, we now hear talk of a snap Presidential poll in lieu of PC polls. But then what of the Executive Presidency itself? It was only last week we pointed out that the Provincial Council system was not a system of government which people entirely appreciated. That goes for the Executive Presidential system too with all its attendant flaws and abuses. The awesome powers that go with this post are surely enough to turn the mildest man or woman into a tinpot dictator. History has shown us, repeatedly, how perfectly acceptable political leaders have been transformed, knowingly or unknowingly, into beings of another kind. They surround themselves, more often than not, with favourites and cohorts when they ought to be establishing a strong, respected and reputable secretariat at the helm. Instead they cut themselves off from the public, surrounded by a human wall as it were built around them. Then they wonder later what went wrong.

Be Alert

There appear to be reports that Interna- tional Alert, the Norwegian-funded and London-based NGO that had been operating in Sri Lanka has given its landlords notice to the effect it would be quitting the premises it occupied here. If true this is perhaps an outcome of the recent exposures regarding this particular organisation—allegations it had in the course of its activities here bent over backwards to please the LTTE, if not to covertly or indirectly help the rebels. However we are uncertain as to whether this quit notice means it has closed down operations in Sri Lanka or merely gone underground for the time being in true guerrilla style.

It is a pity that the Norwegian Ambassador here has not been of much help in throwing light on this sordid episode. It is unfortunate that he has not been candid enough to answer questions as regards his government's position in regard to funding for an organisation that is suspect. He ducks questions as regards future funding for an organisation - an NGO in this instance - which supports the LTTE, an outlawed group. His own country is a haven for the LTTE and yet he says his government wishes to be a "facilitator" in bringing about peace in Sri Lanka. That is as hypocritical as Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, becoming the donor of the now famous Peace Prize! That indeed takes the dynamite!

It is our hope that the Sri Lankan government will pursue what Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar advised as to investigating LTTE front-offices operating in Sri Lanka. The fact that International Alert has quickly closed down its Colombo office and gone into hiding following the Foreign Minister's remarks on having it investigated appears to speak for itself.

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