ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday December 23, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 30
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New look Executive for New Year

After more than a month of hectic parliamentary business which climaxed in some melodrama, the Legislature, some would believe, has earned a well-deserved rest. But it is timely to reflect on the role it plays in the nation's affairs.

With the advent of the Executive Presidency in 1978, Parliament lost its clout as the foremost institution guiding the destinies of the country.

That focus shifted to the Presidential Secretariat, and Parliament became a virtual rubberstamp of the Executive President, but only till the Proportional Representation (PR) system was introduced and the advent of small parties into the Legislature which could always play a key role given the delicate balance of power elections under PR would throw up.

Next year will mark thirty years under the Executive Presidency, i.e. half the period since Independence has been under this hybrid system between the French and British models.
The Executive Presidency was brought in to stabilise the Executive (the Government), so that it does not have to rely on the whims and fortunes of Parliament, and majorities therein. But it was also seen as an autocratic institution, where 'All the President's Men' ran the country, accountable to no one.

The only significance Parliament had, apart from passing laws, was to pass monies for the running of the Government, and the only hold it had on an Executive Presidency was to have the Budget defeated, which would necessarily trigger an election. But there were ways around this for an all-powerful Executive President who could 'purchase' Honourable Members of Parliament with ministerial office and all the attendant trappings, despite the heavy cost to the public.

Readers are familiar with the public utterances of a former Executive President who promised to dismantle the office within a year. Her then-Constitutional Affairs Minister even set the date -- July 15, 1995. Eventually, not only did she serve her full two-terms but had to be forced out of office by the Supreme Court while she clung on to that office. Before her was an Executive President who said these powers were too much for one individual, but did nothing to change the system. Now, the incumbent Executive President too seems similarly comfortably ensconced.

The fact of the matter is that a dictatorship by Parliament, as we saw in the period from 1970-77 is no different to a dictatorship of the Executive Presidency. Then there was almost a free ride for the ruling party holding the reins of both the Executive Presidency and a record 5/6th majority of the Legislature as well.

This is why the poet Pope's oft-quoted line; "For forms of Government let fools contest; that which is best administered is best" appears to be the simple truth.

Constitutional law expert Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam said that any Executive Presidency required a strong Secretariat -- the President needed good advisers and a team of efficient administrators, people with wisdom and enthusiasm for work, and above all, integrity.

Does the Presidential Secretariat meet this test today? Despite the President's initial proclamation that he is a son of the soil and needs no advisers, he seems to have broken all records in the number of advisers he has; some of whom he has treated as a Kola-kella -- a piece of paper, whom he does not consult and believes he has done his duty by, by giving them a car and petrol.

This ranges from the soaring Cost of Living to colossal expenditure by a top heavy Cabinet and a devil-may-care Presidency; from the way Human Rights is being trampled to runaway corruption; from witch-hunts against dissidents to complete disregard to Parliamentary findings of criminal misuse of public funds. The signs from abroad are not good and the Government cannot choose to ignore them, however annoying or unfair.

There is thus, a massive workload for the incumbent President in the New Year, and one is not certain if all of it can, or needs to be done, by him alone.

Power-sharing need not only be an issue for the periphery. There is a great need for it at the Centre, the very apex of power.

Parliament must be embraced, and engaged much more in the governance of the country. Oversight Committees like in the US are worth considering for the greater good. There is a Right to Information Law that modern democracies have introduced to permit ordinary people have access to Government data and force public servants to truly serve the public.
This is the time, for the President to reflect upon these burning issues and map out a better New Year for the country he presides over.

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