Letters to the Editor

1st September 1996


Retain Executive Presidency with modified powers

My attention has been drawn to a few letters that have appeared in the national newspapers regarding the abolition of the Executive Presidency. The Sri Lankan electorate is fully aware that one of the most significant changes to the Sri Lankan Constitution that was firmly and resolutely promised and publicised by the PA (during the 1994 elections) as absolutely essential to Sri Lanka's progress was the abolition of the Executive Presidency by the 15th of July 1995. The bulk of the failures of the 17 year old UNP administration and especially the Premadasa regime was attributed to the Executive Presidency; its abolition and its replacement by the transfer of all executive power to a West Minster style Prime Minister directly responsible to an elected Parliament was shown to the Sri Lankan people as the principal solution to the curtailment of democratic freedoms and the so called one-man show of President Premadasa.

Unfortunately, what was not honestly recognized by the PA at that time in its quest for power was the tremendous success and accelerated development achieved by the 17 year old UNP regime in the form of a vibrant economy, progressive relaxation of very stringent exchange control regulations, significant growth, an upsurge in the share market, tremendous increase of foreign exchange reserves, unprecedented private sector investment etc. What is even more significant is the fact that all these developments resulted in a considerable reduction in unemployment (vis-a-vis the stagnant economy in 1977) in spite of an on going civil war in the North-East and a JVP rebellion. Should we not ponder to think as to how and why Sri Lanka was able to progress in this manner and show resilience and bouyance in spite of the adverse effects of the 1987 1989 JVP insurgency? How did Sri Lanka, which was on the verge of a complete break down of law and order in 1988/89 recover? Could Sri Lanka have survived all these crises if it did not have an Executive President, who was able, on the strength of the people's mandate, to take quick decisions, act in a forceful manner, exhibit qualities of effective governance and get things done even in the form of a one-man show? If we carry out an honest re appraisal of these events without political bias, there would be no other way but to conclude that it was the Executive President that enabled stability and confidence to be achieved both locally and abroad. A fixed term executive Presidency, whose continuance in office did not depend on volatile votes in Parliament had brought in so much stability and confidence that enabled an already overheated share market to continue its previous rise even after President Premadasa had been assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber in May 1993 !!! These are stark realities which no impartial analyst can choose to ignore!

It must now be quite clear to the PA government, after two years in office, that there is great value, use and purpose in the Executive Presidency to Sri Lanka; I have no doubt that the PA recognizes that abolishing it will result in a destabilisation of the country. Is it not far better therefore for the PA to accept the political reality of that situation and explain to the electorate the truth that they have realised, after two years in office. If there was no Executive Presidency and the stability of the PA government had rested merely on its one vote-parliamentary majority, would not the PA have had many anxious moments in trying to preserve its parliamentary majority? Perhaps could not the PA government have collapsed by now, if not for the Executive Presidency? Should not the PA Government give up dogmatism and take on a pragmatic view of ground realities vis a vis the stability of Sri Lanka and make an honest declaration very early? Postponing the issue by taking cover under delay in getting consensus for the devolution package will do much harm but no good for the government or the country! At least there would be increased stability and enhanced foreign investor confidence if such a firm declaration is made in the interests of Sri Lanka.

There is no doubt that there are unwelcome features in the Executive Presidency, which all political parties have recognized and should therefore be amended/modified. For example, some of the powers of the President should be reduced and he should be made more answerable to Parliament; immunity from prosecution in Courts of Law could be limited to specific matters so that we could minimise a "one-man show". One proven way in which the powers of the executive - whether executive President or West Minster style Prime Minister - could be reduced is through an effective second chamber of Parliament. A second chamber, consisting also of professionals and more independent thinking responsible citizens, who could analyse legislation outside the ambit of partisan politics, should be introduced so that hasty legislations can be avoided or at least delayed. Let us not forget that within four months of coming to power even the PA Government introduced without prior notice at the Committee stage in Parliament a far reaching amendment to the term of office of a University Vice-Chancellor. A second parliamentary chamber is essential to eliminate hasty legislation, which in any event cannot be in the public interest. Such a chamber could also give a greater say for regional minorities by enabling provincial representation, and thereby enhance the devolution process.

Let us all remember that, particularly under a state of Emergency, even an executive Prime Minister under a West Minster style of Government can function as a de facto dictator. Experience during the 1970 1977 period showed us quite vividly how a West Minster style government extended the period of Parliament from five to seven years, without even a referendum; such a government abolished the second chamber (Senate) by a mere two thirds majority in Parliament; such a government did prolong the State of Emergency «ad infinitum`` without even debating the monthly extension in Parliament; such a government carried on from 1971-1977 without holding a single election to any local authority; such a government was able to take over the Lake House Group of Newspapers and use the emergency to ban the Sun Group of Newspapers.

Let us therefore, not fool ourselves by assuming that we can eliminate "one man shows" by abolishing the executive Presidency ! Let us not throw away the baby also with the dirty bath water ! Let us retain the executive Presidency, which has been and will be the one predominant stabilising face, but with appropriately modified powers so as to eliminate any unsatisfactory features. In that way we will be able to clean the bath water and continue to bathe the baby ! Sri Lanka can continue with some degree of stability and confidence if we give up political dogmas and unsound policies and accept instead practical realities.

Prof. J.N. Oleap Fernando,


War and politics do not mix

"There is something wrong in Sri Lanka" a Minister is reported to have said. Shakespeare in his "Hamlet put it more bluntly, "There is something rotten in Denmark", is how he aptly put it.

Often, the very people concerned in matters under discussion make casual remarks pregnant with meaning of serious impact to the listener even though the speaker himself is not aware of it . The minister need not search for the causes of unrest in this country. Is not division by unity that is essential for existence today.

War and politics do not mix. Politics, confrontational and ethnic, complicated with communal and religious bias, often leads to war, and that is the state of Sri Lanka today. The minister is well aware of it.

War is too serious and grave a matter to be handled by politicians. "The cowl does not make the monk" nor does a five star uniform make a general. The Mullaitivu catastrophe proves it. The war is serious enough to have a separate Ministry for War instead of being a part time job. There is no Ministry of Defence although we have a Defence Secretary - the most silent department in the state!

In times of war, the civil authority takes second place though supreme in times of peace.

Development and prosperity can wait. Let us concentrate on the war which is causing so much destruction and loss of lives. It is not the People's Alliance alone that is waging the war. It is the whole of Sri Lanka.

The tragedy is that "the government is at war with itself" as the Prime Minister is reported to have observed.

K. Kirthisinghe,


Enforce 55-year rule

I fully endorse the contents of the letter in The Sunday Times of August 11 under the headline "Retirement - reduce age limit to 55 years"? It is positively the best and the purest solution to take off over 50 percent of our present day problems. Although all previous Governments had identified the "problem of unemployment" none of them ever had a practical or a realistic approach.

Of all our past leaders in this land, the late Dr. N.M. Perera owes the singular honour being the only leader who stood with courage to suggest such reforms (In spite of heavy opposition) to tackle this grave problem. Having introduced the five-day week he was on the verge of implementing the 55-years rule when forces opposed to him were successful in deleting him from his position. Every public servant must be grateful for this great political leader who performed this near miracle in spite of all the stiff opposition he faced.

Today, Arts, Science, Medical and Engineering Graduates are clamouring for State employment with absolutely no solution from the Government.

It is best if the Government enforces the 55 year rule leaving a few categories like:-

a) Medical Consultants

b) Engineers, Architects, Science Graduates

c) Upper Administrative Grades (S.L.A.S.)

d) Service personnel.

It is time for the University students and their federations to force the Government to implement this rule as this is the only solution for their employment problem. This will ensure a steady avenue for their employment while providing employment for other grades as well.



System of sirens for security in villages

UNP National List Member of Parliament, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena should be commended by all peace loving citizens for his innovation. He has sponsored a system of sirens for security in secluded sites. This brain child of his has been implemented in far flung areas which are in dire danger to disruptive elements. These areas are in remote places, prone to terrorist machinations, even to burglars and way-lay robbers. Some of these locations are un-policed and home guards are the only salvation.

Four decades ago I was the Chief Clerk of the then Divisional Revenue Office (DRO) at Nilaveli, nine miles north of Trincomalee. A Rural Development Officer (RDO) M. Ramachandran had another brain child. He suggested that a gong be used to produce a loud clang and this gong sound will induce the others to take the cue and hit the gongs in their sites. By this process, the whole vicinity will be made aware of the danger potential and be alive to act wisely in the situation. Shades of African drums!

Mr. Ramachandran's grand Gong scheme was implemented by a circular sent out by his Department. Whether this gone scheme is yet in vogue is a matter of conjecture. It will be good to resurrect this scheme too which will be on a low cost Siren or Gong or Drums, if the means are good, it is fine Both Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena and M. Ramachandran (I am not aware of his whereabouts today) who are my personal friends should be hailed as men of Peace. They have in their humble way contributed in whatever small measure to tangible praiseworthy schemes which have Mother Sri Lanka very proud of them.

While all Sri Lanka salutes all the bravado of our armed forces, the police and innocent civilians, we all should acknowledge with gratitude these two worthy sons of Sri Lanka.

Mervyn St. Clair Anthony Nicholas,

Nuwara Eliya.

None so blind

On the occasion of inaugurating a new Bank of Ceylon savings scheme the other day, Prof. G.L. Peiris lamented that the people of this country do not save enough - that only 12 percent do, as compared to 30 percent in other South East Asian countries.

It is a pity that the learned Deputy Finance Minister has not seen that the people do not have enough to save and that what they get is barely sufficient to keep themselves alive, except in the case of a fortunate few.

What more proof is necessary that the people do not have enough than the unending exodus of our women to the Middle East (ironically not to greener pastures, but to arid desert areas!) to slave and even sell themselves otherwise, at great personal risk?

Michael Subasinghe,


Well done

The new presentation of your web pages deserves commendation. You have proved yourself not only by your presentation, but also by the news releases which are far superior to the Lake House news bulletins. Well done, Times: I always look forward to read your Sunday Edition and your Editorial/Opinion. As you mentioned in your recent "Situation Report", we the outsiders of your beautiful country get all the news within moments of happening in Sri Lanka, and feel sorry for those people living in the country where the story is originating who are always kept in the dark.

Joe Peter


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