Two years in, keeping track of promises | Daily News

Two years in, keeping track of promises

The current government swept into power in 2015 on a wave of election promises.

But two years later, how are they doing?

Verite Research, a Colombo-based think tank, has developed an online tool to track 80 “actionable” promises made by the two parties in the ruling coalition, the United National Front for Good Governance and the United People’s Freedom Alliance.

“The promises could have been kept better, but there is a great deal that has also been done that give us reasons for hope,” said Verite Research Executive Director Nishan de Mel at a ceremonial launch of the online tracker Tuesday evening.

MP Kabir Hashim, UNP General Secretary
MP Duminda Dissanayake, SLFP General Secretary
MP M. A. Sumanthiran,  TNA and ITAK Spokesperson
MP Vijitha Herath, JVP Information Secretary

He gave credit to the UNFGG for delivering a private sector minimum wage, restoring GSP+ tax concessions, removing the EU fisheries export ban and creating a system of sectoral oversight committees in parliament.

He also praised the UPFA for establishing an economic advisory council, developing a national sustainable development plan, and increasing wages for estate workers. All were promises in the two parties’ 2015 manifestos.

But some big-ticket items remain, such as passing the National Audit Bill.

According to tracker, the UNFGG, led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has completed, or is on track to complete, 25 percent of its general election promises.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s UPFA has made progress on 20 percent of its promises.

Sirisena himself completed 71 percent of his 100-day goals, according to Verite Research’s “Maithrimeter.”

Later, on a stage at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, party leaders discussed the work that still needs to be done.

National Audit Bill

Nishan de Mel asked a panel including MP Kabir Hashim, the General Secretary of the UNP, MP Duminda Dissanayake, the General Secretary of the SLFP, MP Vijitha Herath, the Information Secretary of the JVP, and MP M. A. Sumanthiran, the Spokesperson of the TNA and ITAK, why the National Audit Bill had not been passed in two years, when it was promised in 100 days.

“Why haven’t we still implemented the constitutional reforms process in full? Why haven’t we done so many other things that were in our agenda?,” MP Hashim said in response. “The government works with a lot of obstacles and we sometimes find it difficult to keep to a timeline. There are always objections when a bill is presented in its initial form.”

“But it’s in the process, and it definitely has the government’s top priority,” he added.

MP Dissanayake said that the Audit Bill had been presented to the Attorney General’s office, and that it had plenty of opportunity for public consultation.

Cabinet this week approved new amendments to the bill, which would take the power from the Auditor General to fine public officials found guilty of wrongdoing, and give it to ministry secretaries.

The new language now goes before the legal draftsman's department. MP Herath, of the JVP, stressed that the bill has support by a wide coalition in government, not only the two major parties, and that its slow passage was a reflection of bureaucracy, and not political stonewalling.

“The bill is very important to make our public finances stronger,” he said.

In defense, party leaders pointed to the passage of the Right to Information Act in 2016 as a major promise kept.

“The RTI was passed early, but even at that time, there was considerable opposition to it, or rather resistance to it, by some ministers,” said MP Sumanthiran, of ITAK.

“Seminars had to be conducted to convince ministers that this was indeed a good thing.”

But Sumanthiran in particular broke ranks with the ruling coalition and criticized specific broken promises.

“There was a promise that all private land held by the military would be released in 100 days,” he said. “This has not been delivered.” He also said the government had promised special courts, which included international judges, to prosecute alleged war crimes. “But here, you hear that the opposite is stated all the time,” he said.

The other MPs did not respond to Sumanthiran’s charges.

New Constitution

One major promise made by the Yahapalanaya government while campaigning was to deliver a new Constitution.

And there is progress on that front: the Constitutional Steering Committee submitted its interim report to parliament last month.

Several key areas need to be resolved, though, before they can send a new constitution to referendum. On Tuesday evening, MP Dissanayake of the SLFP said that his party is still committed to bringing a new Constitution, despite reports to the contrary.

What his party opposes is the dissolving of the Executive Presidency, he said, arguing that a popularly-elected president is the best way to ensure the will of the voters is followed. The UNP and JVP, however, want to abolish the Executive Presidency.

“To say that the SLFP is against constitutional reform is wrong,” Dissanayake said. MP Sumanthiran said the issue of the Executive Presidency is “not irresolvable.” Sumanthiran, who sits on the steering committee, said a potential compromise could be dropping the word “Executive” while maintaining some key powers.

“I’m fairly hopeful that we can strike a happy balance,” he said.He pointed to how the committee found compromise on the controversial issue of whether Sri Lanka should be labeled a “unitary” state versus “federal” one. The interim report proposes removing the word unitary in English, and replacing it with “aekiyaraajyaya” in Sinhala and “orumiththanadu” in Tamil.

That move has been criticized by Sinhala nationalists, including the JHU.

Parliament is scheduled to debate the interim report later this month.

“That is going to be the turning point of this country,” Sumanthiran said. “When we see a new Constitution that is approved by the people.”

Keeping track

Anybody can track the progress of the two major parties towards their election promises on, the website created by Verite Research and Saberion Pvt. Ltd. “People are asking for something different, and are using yahapalayana as a yardstick,” said de Mel, Verite’s Executive Director.

“They need to be able to measure or access in some way information about that political culture, about parliament, about political parties, and what they’re doing.” The manifesto tracker, he argued, allows them to do that.

“The other benefit that we see in setting out an instrument like this, is that it also makes political parties think again about the kind of promises that they will make,” he said.


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