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21st February 1999

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Mirror Magazine

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Mirror Magazine

    Institutions and Constitutions

    Previous SLFP governments and now the PA too, of which the SLFP is a constituent member, have been enamoured with constitutions.

    It is probably not unkind to say that Dr G .L. Peiris the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs has tremendous faith in the constitutional process. His reflex reaction to any crisis that emanates from the nation's body politic is to say that "the constitution will be changed.'' With suitable tinkering in the constitution the Minister hopes to meet the threats and challenges that face the country's democratic process. Predictably he said so immediately after the conclusion of the now notorious North Western Provincial Council elections. Then, the Minister's reflex action to the events last week in which six members of the same family were killed , was to announce that laws have been created "and will be created,'' to meet the threats that are aimed against society's vulnerable sections by anti-social elements.

    Now , its not difficult to understand why the Minister seeks to find some legal escape route when he is confronted with some crisis situation arising (generally) after the event. That's the Minister's training, inculcated by long years of poring over legal tomes before he suddenly and inexplicably took that decisive plunge into turbulent politics. It is not that there are no constitutional answers or legal solutions to society's problems.

    But, what the country has experienced by a continuous process of constitutional tinkering by successive governments is that problems don't necessarily lie with constitutions , when there is so much to be done in the area of strengthening the country's' civic and public institutions. All the microscopic laws that are supposed to come to the aid of the citizen and which are found in the law books are rendered ineffective, for instance, when the institution of the Police which is supposed to implement most of these laws doesn't do its job.

    The reason the Police doesn't do its job on the other hand has little to do with what can be legally put right. The institution of the Police has been weakened by political interference and blatant disregard for the fundamentals such as the right of the police force to do its job independently of political pressure and influence. Politicians are guilty of most of the wrong doing on this count as the en masse transfer of policemen after the elections has evidenced. When the country's core institutions are being assailed and weakened from within due to sheer disrespect and disregard for the conventions and rules that should normally govern the conduct of civic institutions, there is no point in subsequently trying to nurse the system by introducing all types of laws and structures in the statute books. Law remains mere ink on paper unless there are no civic institutions to back-up the implementation of well intentioned legal edicts.

    God bless America

    In the aftermath of the Clinton scandal, Americans are trying to come to terms with what took place during the long drawn out impeachment proceedings. One international magazine carried an interesting article for instance on the Clinton impeachment issue and its effect on society at large. The magazine went on to cite stories of examples of six year olds who got caught lying claiming that they lied , but "did only what the President did.'' Another six year old had a fight with his kid sister and complained to his parents that "she commited perjury on me.'' So there is the final denouement in the Clinton scandal . Clinton is home free, he is one of America's most popular President's ever, and for young American kids he is increasingly a role model in these busy times.

    All this is not necessarily our business, but that would not prevent us from being sympathetic to America's kids. These kids will after all grow up to be America's next generation of leaders, and judging by their confusion over issues such as integrity and moral rectitude, all we can say is "god bless America'' when these children grow up.

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