The concept of Governance in Sri Lankan context | Daily News

The concept of Governance in Sri Lankan context

Defining the term and principles of Good Governance is controversial. The term Good Governance or Yahapalanaya in Sinhala primarily emerged into Sri Lankan political arena following the 2010 Presidential Election. The term Good Governance was then used to condemn the undemocratic practices of the former regime. The opposition parties and civil society organisations urged the government to ensure Good Governance for the betterment of the country and its citizens.

Even though, this Good Governance concept was evolved from Western world, the Good Governance practice and its applicability can be witnessed in the East as well.

The Buddhist concept of good governance are depicted in Dasa Raja Dharma (Ten Governing Principles for Righteous State) in which the Buddha preached to kings for them to be fair and concerned with welfare of their communities. The Buddha preached the principle of Good Governance about 2600 years ago. Therefore, it is evidence that main roots and principles of the Good Governance had been originated from the East, although it was developed as a discipline in Western world.

Emperor Dharmashoka in his rock edict affirms “This is my role to govern by righteousness, administer by righteousness”. Sri Lankan society since ancient time has upheld the importance of the good governance. Even though, the concept of good governance was developed by West, it has been practically utilized by Asians in India and Sri Lanka for a period of centuries.

According to the teachings of the Buddha, in order to fulfill the characteristics of a Dharma Rajya, a government has to achieve following qualities.

(01). The generosity and charity of government.

(02). The high moral character.

(03). Sacrificing everything for the good of the people

(04). The honesty and integrity

(05). The kindness and gentleness

(06). The austerity in habits.

(07). The freedom from hatred, ill-will enmity.

(08). The non violence.

(09). The patience, forbearance, tolerance, understanding

(10). The non-opposition and non-obstruction.

Good Governance is a concept that recently used in political science and public administration. The concept of Good Governance goes parallel with some other terms such as democracy, civil society, popular participation, human rights, and sustainable development. Furthermore, this concept closely associated with public sector reforms.

Emergence of Good Governance from West

It is believed that the concept of Good Governance is a prerequisite for the development of a country. The Good Governance concept encompasses the democratic involvement, civil society involvement and rule of law.

The World Bank Report in 1997 defined Good Governance the manner in which power is exercise in the management of a country’s economic and social resource for development.

Osborne and Gaebler in their publication through Reinventing Government, the term Good Governance is being used as a panacea for all political ills in the march of democracy. According to this definition the concept of Good Governance emerged from West in view of promoting liberal democracy. The World Bank and International Monitory Fund (IMF) were the architects of the concept of Good Governance that sought remedies for the less developed countries in Sub Sahara-African countries. This concept invites developing countries to adopt the principles of Good Governance in order to redress their issues including corruptions and other hindrances for the development.

Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed defines Good Governance as the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority to manage a nation’s affairs.

The Ministerial symposium of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines Good Governance in terms of the relations. This covers more than public administration and relationships, methods and instruments of relationships between government and citizens, acting as individuals and as part of institutions. e.g. political parties, special interest groups and media.

The United Nations Development Programms (UNDP) defines Good Governance more or less as above but placed greater emphasis on sustainable human development (UN Report, 1998).

The UNDP identifies eight characteristics of Good Governance. They are; (01). Participation, (02). Rule of Law, (03). Transparency, (04). Responsiveness, (05). Consensus Orientation, (06). Equity, (07). Effectiveness and Efficiency, (08). Accountability. See graphic

Therefore, Good Governance is the highest state of development and management of a nation’s affairs. It is good that a democratic form of government is in place, that people participate in decision making process, that services are delivered efficiently that human rights are respected and that the government is transparent, accountable and productive.

The concept of Good Governance is more popular in Scandinavian countries and Western European countries. The German government’s understanding about the Good Governance includes anti-corruption, sparing and transparent use of resources and sustainable economic development.

The concept of Good Governance in Sri Lanka

We often use the concept of Good Governance without thinking of its real meaning and implications. This concept is widely used in Sri Lankan political arena following 2010 Presidential Election. Soon after the Presidential Election then Opposition’s Common Candidate Sarath Fonseka was arrested and detained without reasonable grounds. The Opposition Parties along with civil society organisations agitated for Good Governance alleging then government was heading for an authoritative military regime. The undemocratic moves and practices of Mahinda Rajapaksa government were far away to the principles of Good Governance. The opposition parties along with civil society organisations created an opinion among general public that Rajapaksa government was practising bad governance.

The Media Freedom was suppressed to some extend and several journalists and media institutions were attacked and perpetrators responsible for those crimes were not taken into custody by law enforcement authorities. At this juncture, foreign countries including United States of America (USA), Canada and European countries urged the government to practise Good Governance. Inter governmental organisations and International non-governmental organisations such as United Nations Organization, Transparency International and Amnesty International also urged the government get away from bad governance and switch for Good Governance.

The present government created an opinion that the former Rajapaksa regime was governance model which practised bad governance. The then Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake was impeached and removed from the office in an arbitrary manner. The independence of the Judiciary was a focal point of the political arena. Powerful people in the society were not subjected to the law and order of the country. The laws were not enforced against the Ministers like Mervin Silva though he was caught red-handed over number of offences.

18th Amendment to the Constitution

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution can be considered as a situation where concept of Good Governance was dismantled through an executive President with absolute power. This amendment removed the limits on the number of terms that a President may serve. The judges to the apex courts and commissioners for the Election and Human Rights Commissions were appointed by President under the recommendation of Parliamentary Council. Following these developments, opposition political parties along with civil society organisations campaigned for Good Governance instead of authoritative regime.

Good Governance, a hijacked concept in Sri Lanka

The present Yahapalana government or the Unity Government pledged to implement Good Governance in Sri Lanka. It is important to emphasis that neither the civil activists and politicians who campaigned for Good Governance nor the general public in Sri Lanka properly understood the concept of Good Governance. The concept of Good Governance can be considered as a hijacked concept which used to fulfill certain political objectives. The civil society activists who campaigned for Good Governance even had no clear idea what really Good Governance is. They too abandoned their adhere to the principle of Good Governance especially following the death of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera, the convener of the Movement for Social Justice. Sri Lanka never had a mechanism to manage and develop the affairs of state through Good Governance principles.

Good Governance, a Western concept

The term Good Governance what we are referring here is a Western concept. Most of European and Scandinavian countries are practicing the principles of Good Governance since those countries’ governance bodies are matured enough to cater it. The Western countries, Non Governmental Organisations, Inter Governmental Organisations are pressurizing upon the developing countries to implement so called Good Governance principles. These external actors directly intervene into the internal affairs of developing countries in the name of Good Governance.

Allegations of Corruption

The new Yahapalana government promised to eradicate corruption in the country. It promised to make the new government exemplary in Good Governance through corruption free governance. The bond issue controversy of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) brought a huge setback for the present Yahapalana Government. It is alleged that the appointment of Arjuna Mahendran to the post of Central Bank of Sri Lanka is detrimental to the principle of Good Governance.

The Yahapalana Government promised to initiate legal action and punish against the persons who involved in large-scale corruptions and frauds during the previous regime. However, the progress of taking legal action against the politicians and public officials responsible for massive frauds and corruptions is questionable.

Rule of Law

The legal framework in a country should be fair and enforced impartially. It was a well-established allegation that the former Rajapaksa government directly interfered with the affairs of the judiciary. The laws are being promptly enforced against an ordinary citizen. However, there is no different during the past and present that law enforcement authorities are reluctant to take immediate action against the rich people and politicians. The justice is being meted out based on the social powers and wealth in contrary to the Good Governance principles. The slowness and delay in corruption and fraud cases against politician and rich people can be clearly examined with evidence. A phrase relating to judiciary stated that “Justice must only be done, it must be seen to be done”.

The National Unity government campaigned against nepotism, immense corruption and mismanagement and degradation of rule of law. The influence of Civil Society representation to ensure checks and balance is vital. Violation of human rights was one of main recent allegations against the Sri Lankan government. International organisations have named Sri Lanka as one of worst place for journalists. Abduction of civilians, especially the Tamils civilians have become a major threat to good governance. Public have a frustration over the rule of law and judicial system. Impartial Court system may ensure the signs of rule of law securing the concept of all are equal before law. Some politicians and their henchmen seem to be above the rule of law.

Good Governance Practices in Sri Lanka

19th Amendment to the Constitution

The passing of the 19th Amendment to the constitution in April 2015 was another commendable move for the good governance practice in Sri Lanka.

Reducing the term of the office of the President

Main component of the 19th amendment to the constitution was reduction in the tenures of President. It re-introduced the two-term limit for the individual holding presidential office. It further diluted the President’s power to dissolve parliament after four and a half years. It further reduced the term of Parliament from six years to five years.

Limitation of President’s immunity

Prior to the 19th Amendment to the constitution, no proceedings could be instituted against the President. However, according to the 19th Amendment, actions of the President in his or her capacity as the President are subject to the Fundamental Rights jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Therefore immunity conferred on the President has been limited to criminal and civil proceedings.

In a landmark judgment, on December 13, 2018, the Supreme Court seven-judge-bench headed by Chief Justice Nalin Perera unanimously held that the gazette notification issued by President to dissolve the parliament prematurely was inconsistent with the Constitution. The order issued by Supreme Court challenging a gazette notification issued by Supreme Court reflects the independence of the judiciary under Good Governance in Sri Lanka.

In addition, in accordance with the 19th amendment to the constitution, the Dual Citizen holders are disqualified from being elected to the office of President.

Constitutional Council and Independent Commissions

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution provided provisions to establish Constitutional Council consisting of seven members of Parliament and three eminent persons.

Independent Commissions

Nine independent commissions were set up with the enactment of 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

(01). The Election Commission

(02). The Public Service Commission

(03). The National Police Commission

(04). The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka

(05). The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption

(06). The Finance Commission

(07). The Delimitation Commission

(08). The National Procurement Commission

(09). The Audit Service Commission

The members to the above commissions are appointed by President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. The Chairmen for above commissions are appointed by President on the recommendation of Constitutional council.

According to the clause 8 of the 19th Amendment (Article 41 (C) of the constitution) the President’s arbitrary power to appoint key positions in the government was curtailed. According to new provisions, the office of Chief Justice, Judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, Attorney General, members of the Judicial Service Commission, Auditor General, Inspector General of Police and Secretary General of Parliament are appointed on the recommendation of Constitutional Council.

Changes to the Legislature

The clause 15 of the 19th amendment to the constitution reduces the term of Parliament from 6 years to five. In terms of Article 70 (1) of the constitution, the President cannot dissolve the Parliament until the expiration of the four and six months of Parliament unless a resolution passed by Parliament with the two-third majority of the Parliament.

The concept of Governance in Sri Lankan context

The Right to Information Act

The Right to Information Act was passed by Parliament in 2016. According to the preamble of the Right to Information Act, it gives right for people to access the information of affairs of several organs and institutions of the government subject to certain restriction. Following the government changes in Sri Lanka, there was a public opinion about transparency and accountability of public authorities as they are established for the sake of public benefit utilizing public funds. In these circumstances the Right to Information Act was passed by the legislature to introduce a mechanism enabling to access the information of the affairs of public authorities.

The preamble of the Act says as follows; ‘where as the constitution guarantees the right of the access to information in Article 14A thereof and there exists a need to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public authorities by giving effect to the right of access to information and thereby promote a society in which the people of Sri Lanka would be able to more fully participate in public life through combating corruption and promoting accountability and Good Governance (The Right to Information Act, 2016).

By enacting this Act, the legislature envisages to promote accountability and Good Governance in Sri Lanka after giving public to access with government affairs in a transparency manner.

What conditions should be prevailed in order for the better functioning of those practices in the context of Sri Lanka?

Strengthening Civil Society

Today we are in a Representative Parliamentary Democratic system where public are represented by their representatives. This system also has several issues since the gap between people and their representatives has been widened. This could result in government of the people becoming a government off the people. Civil society can influence policy including policy implementation and project formulation.

Strengthening of civil society is important due to following functional contributions to the Good Governance.

(01). The role of the watchdog

These civil societies are functioned as a watchdog acts against violation of Human Rights and governing deficiencies.

(02). Civil societies advocate for the weaker sections’ point of view in the society.

(03). Civil society is functioned as a mobiliser of public opinion for or against a program or policy.

Therefore, a conducive environment should be existed for civil society in Sri Lanka.

Promoting Democracy and Decentralization

Media Freedom

Media freedom is an essential pillar of Governance. There is a correlation between media freedom and Good Governance. They support each other while promoting the country’s economic and human development. Free media in a country raised voice against frauds and corruptions. It provides platform for discussions pertaining to development such as poverty, corruption and environmental issues. The issues and shortcomings of government can be exposed through media. It will helpful for combating frauds and corruption in a country.

Democracy Building

New laws and regulations are required to promote democracy. The draconian laws that are detrimental to individual liberty should be abolished or repealed in line with contemporary requirements. Now, government is preparing to replace Prevention of Terrorist Act with new Counter-Terrorism Laws.

Gender Equality

Gender Equality is a core human right value and key to sustainable development. Traditional culture and religious norms often exclude women from involvement in social, political and economic affairs. Women occupy 52% of Sri Lanka population. Against this backdrop, how we can neglect the Gender Equality in Sri Lanka.

Combating the cause of poverty

To reduce structural poverty in the country will enhance the Good Governance concept. Issues like unequal distribution of wealth, structural barriers for the development should be addressed in order to alleviate the poverty.

Protecting of Human Rights

Respecting and protecting of Human Rights are key element of Good Governance. In the second republic constitution of Sri Lanka, the Right to Life is not guaranteed. How we talk about Good Governance where in a situation even right to life is not considered as a Fundamental Right?

Decentralization of power

Although the Provincial Council system was introduced in 1987 for the purpose of decentralization of powers, Sri Lanka is still struggling to ensure the main objectives of the Provincial Council system. Sri Lanka as a multi-ethnic country, the state-centered governance system will hinder the development aspirations. Participation is one of characteristics of Good Governance. Therefore, participation of all communities in the country irrespective of ethnic differences is an essential element of Good Governance. Decentralization of power can be considered as a mechanism to promote Good Governance that meets the aspiration of different ethnic groups. Sri Lanka in the post-war situation could utilize the merits of the decentralization to ensure trust and confidence among all ethnic groups.

Implementation of prevailing mechanism such as COPE

The Committee on Public Enterprises has been established in 1979 to ensure the observance of financial discipline in Public Corporations and other semi governmental bodies in which the Government has a financial stake. The duty of the committee is to report to parliament on accounts examined, budget and estimates, financial procedures, performance and management of corporations and other government business undertakings.

However, the findings and recommendations of the COPE report are not implemented in a meaningful manner. There is no any mechanism or procedure to implement those findings and recommendations that inquired into the financial irregularities of government institutions. The mere issuance of COPE report would not promote the financial discipline, transparency and accountability in the governance. The COPE report should be vested with powers and mandate to take necessary action regarding its findings and recommendations in order to promote Good Governance principles.

Aspirations for Good Governance by amending Local Authority Election Ordinance not fulfilled?

The new mixed electoral system consisting of the proportional representation system and the first-past-the-post system was introduced for the Local Government Elections by amending Local Authorities Election Ordinance. The main objective of this new amendment was to adopt Good Governance to the Local Government Bodies and ensure efficient service to public.

According to the new electoral system 60 percent of members represent single-member or multi-member wards and 40 percent are returned from a list called ‘additional persons’ list’ without a ward-based continuance. It was expected that new electoral system would help voters appoint someone from their own ward and thus make government more familiar to the people. However, this aspiration was not achieved during the February 10 Local Government Elections. The voters did not utilize this opportunity to elect their favorable candidate. Prior to casting vote during this election, people only considered about their party interest instead of electing candidates from the respective wards.

In the meantime, the total number of members in local government has been increased from 4,486 to around 8,356 members. The Campaign for Free and Fair Election (CaFFE) recently issued a statement citing that public representatives elected to the Local Government Election failed to fulfill their responsibilities during last six-month period. The CaFFE stated that though the number of members to Local Authorities was doubled, the elected members are not fulfilling their responsibility properly.

According to Section 27F of the Amendment, 25 percent of the total number of members in each local authority has to be women. However, this aspiration was too not successful aftermath the election.

On October 26, the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) withdrew from Unity Government prior to the appointment of new Prime Minister by President, creating political instability in Sri Lanka for a period of 51 days. In that sense, we have to think twice whether Sri Lanka has achieved the fruitful results of the Good Governance in practice.

(The writer is holding BA (Special) Political Science and Reading for Master of Arts in Peace and Development Studies.)


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