First, a strong parliamentary majority; then we build merit-based, inclusive democracy | Daily News


Priorities for 2020 of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Presidency

First, a strong parliamentary majority; then we build merit-based, inclusive democracy

On November 16 2018, Presidential elections in Sri Lanka ended in a convincing victory for President GotabayaRajapaksa, candidate for the newly established Sri Lanka PodujanaPeramuna (SLPP). President Rajapaksaswifly negotiated with the then governing UNP-led United National Front and set up his own government albeit with limited parliamentary stability. The new government has its work cut out, faced, as it is, with an economy growing at its slowest pace in recent times and the sudden, entirely unexpected, revival of a terrorism threat with the April 21st, Easter Sunday multiple suicide bombings. Nevertheless, the majority of the citizenry have given the new President a mandate to implement his detailed election agenda to turn around the fortunes of the

People of the country has given President Rajapaksa a mandate to launch his agenda to turn around fortunes of the nation, an island community keen to put violence and instability behind and forge ahead to enjoy the fruits of a hard-earned achievement of middle-income-country status. Dr.Charitha Herath, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Peradeniya, is one of the strategy and vision architects of the SLPPwho has served as Secretary of the Ministry of Mass Media and Information and also as Chairman of the Central Environment Authority. In this interview he gives his view of the priorities of the Rajapaksa Presidency for 2020.

Q. You have been with the formation of the SLPP from its inception and have participated in the ideological formulations that underpin the party’s development and its historic victory that brought GotabayaRajapaksa to power. Can you list out the regime’s priorities for this year?

A. The checklist is long, but the four critical areas to focus on are fiscal belt-tightening, improving the business and economic climate, reforms in the political sphere and governance and, most immediately, the building of a clear majority in the legislature to implement the President’s manifesto and other programmes to develop the country.

We have started a new era in our country after the victory of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the recent presidential election. The present Government does not have a clear majority in the parliament. But the president is preparing the ground level at the moment to develop the country on all fronts. One of the important decisions in this regard by the President was to choose capable people with aproven track record to spearhead Government institutions. This is a salutary and an unprecedented move which has garnered praise from all quarters. It is all set for a good start in 2020.

We are looking at a parliamentary poll possibly in April 2020. Upto that period I do not think the government can run large scale programmes or projects during the current period. But the planning for the future is already on and is going on in a satisfactory manner.

I think the parliament election will be the second innings of these efforts which started on November 16, 2019. President Rajapaksa sought a mandate from the people to implement his policies for the development of the country. I think parliament polls will herald an extended version of the governmental initiatives currently begun. This will include the President’s policy manifesto as well as new ideas and thinking which will be formulated in time to come.

There are two main components in the policy agenda put forward by the President and mandated by the people.

One is the development dimension and the other one is the reformdimension.

Development approach is mainly focussed on social development and social security. According to the current situation we know that the numbers are not that productive or satisfactory in the economic sector. Somebody should fix this big mess in the economy. I think the people of the country expect that the President can do that due to a couple of reasons. One is that he is a pragmatic leader who does what he says and the second is the President is very action and result-oriented. He has proven these qualities during his tenure as defence secretary and in other positions. Thirdly his approach is based on a project mentality. This is an American term. Here you look at issues as a project. This means clear planning about starting a project, marketing and finishing the project in time. I think the new President has this visionary thinking and quick action capacity. . As an example, he recently went on a sudden inspection visit to the motor traffic department. He came to know about many issues and he spoke to the senior officers with regard to a very practical and pragmatic plan to overcome them.

The second is the reformist approach. Today we have a very old and outdated system of political governance. We need immediate reforms not only in the political sector but also in administration policy, environment policy and ethnic issues policy. In a democratic country making reforms may take time. But it is important to do these in a democratic formation. So the developmental and reformist approaches are within the agenda that was accepted by the people.

Q.What is the immediate political goal?

A. The next challenge for the President is to have a parliament which could support these initiatives.

I think there is a wrong definition or thinking about parliament in our society. There two different parliaments that we have experienced as a modern nation in. One is from 1948 to 1978 and the other is from 1978 upto now.

In the parliament from 1948 – 1978 we had some serious people who got involved in policy making, decision making, law making and the managing of finance. After 1978, we saw a different kind of parliamentarians. Respect for parliamentarians in the public mind eroded and people later did not take them seriously. The parliamentarians also did not take the heavy responsibility which came with their position seriously.

There were some people who were clearly rejected by the intelligent society. The law making and policy making in the country were adversely affected. Therefore, the definition of a ‘member of parliament’ should be re-scrutinized and re-invented.

The main idea of creating parliamentarians were to do mainly three things, law making, important policy making, oversee the governing mechanism and public finance.

But our MPs are doing everything but these three! They construct bridges and boast about it but do not construct good policies. Considerable section of voters are of the view that the behavior of MPs should change. There are good people in parliament as well but the citizenry’s confidence has eroded due to the behaviour of some MPs.

So one of the challenges for President Rajapaksa in 2020 is to get a good set of MP’s in to Parliament who can undertake important policy making, oversee the governing mechanism and manage public finance.

In some countries you have executive President and parliament. But parliamentarians are not given ministerial posts. For example, in the US, ministerial posts are completely removed from the legislature. I am not saying we should do the same, but we could look for new avenues to vest powers with the executive and the parliament.

This time we need a parliament with MPs whom people could trust and depend on at any time. The people have a responsibility to elect a good group of people to parliament to support the President in taking this country forward in the right direction.

Q.What are the priorities in the economic sphere?

A. In 2020 our economic policy too should change. We should have new policies for exports and, to boost the services and industrial sectors. We also need to manage our currency and foreign exchange reserves in a prudent manner.

The investment environment in the past five years has been dogged by high borrowing costs, delays in project approvals and rise in corporate debt levels.

On inflation, the government must complement the central bank’s efforts to contain inflation. Low and stable inflation is a necessary precursor for boosting investments by providing good visibility and costs and profitability.

Foreign employment sector should be streamlined. We should look for new markets other than the traditional Middle East and prepared a highly skilled labour force to meet any requirement. We need to engage with the knowledge economy.

Q. How will the regime approach the ethnic issue?

A. Another important challenge is the ethnic issue. We have weaknesses in the current constitution. The 19th amendment has several flaws which should be rectified. The 19A was done hurriedly and some NGO’s too were behind this resulting in many internal disagreements and conflicts.

The Ethnic issue is closely related to the flaws in the constitution. The government I think in 2020 should take the ethnic issue in conjunction with the constitutional process where you can address not only solutions to the ethnic issue but the question of powers vested with the executive as well. We need to re-arrange these dynamics without delay. We must also look at the 13th Amendment. The power sharing issue related to 13A, the legislature and executive issue related to 19A and the electoral issues too should be addressed. We need a substantive, productive, proactive futuristic approach for changes in the constitutional framework.

The next step is to develop a very good state structure where the public could get their services done impartially, efficiently and without any delays.

Q.What is the outlook on the international and diplomatic front?

A. Our international relations and foreign policy should be carefully non-aligned. We need to streamline the foreign service sector to have a more robust and efficient foreign service. As our President has already emphasised many times, Sri Lanka must manage its international relations so that we remain friends with all nations.

Q.Any priorities in the social and cultural spheres? The country is beset by various social problems …

A. The people’s expectations are shown by the many volunteer activities that have sprung up today. The people are showing that they are willing to engage with the government in carrying out public service and welfare programmes. This trend is very encouraging and a good start for the new government in 2020.

I believe the people’s freedom should be protected and the public should be able to live without fear and comfortably in any part of the country. The law and order situation has improved already but more efforts are needed in 2020 to further strengthen public security.

In the same way we should develop the environment for a merit-based decision making culture. We are a democratic country. Democracy should be practiced with meritocracy. Merit should be used to choose people in government and administration. Democracy should be the cornerstone of social development.

We will have a new parliament soon. That parliament should work with the President to develop the country in all fronts in the next five years.

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