Daily Archives: October 5, 2006
by R. M. B. Senanayake
There is no accountability of the Sri Lanka Executive President to the Judiciary. If the Opposition in Parliament joins the government the last check on the absolute power of the Executive President would disappear.
It is said that elections are lost by the incumbent governments rather than won by the Opposition. So is it wise for the Opposition to join the government. The General Secretary of the UNP has said they would not accept Ministerial posts but would support the government in its common agenda to be worked out. Ven: Bellanvila Wimalaratne Thero has rightly pointed out that what is needed is a political consensus about a political solution to resolve the ethnic issue rather than a national government which will deprive the public of a democratic Opposition.
We have an all-powerful Executive President. The Cabinet is appointed by him and holds office only by his favour. He could sack any of them at will. But he doesn’t have to go that far. The Ministers are powerless since the government is run by the President and a small coterie of his cronies who also are his closest family members. Where do the Ministers come in, in this set up? The President has unlimited power and is not accountable to the Judiciary according to the decisions of the Supreme Court which has ruled that there can be no judicial proceeding against the President on account of his blanket immunity. He can pursue the power game with no inhibitions. He can add to the political establishment with no restrictions and apparently he has lost count of the number of Ministers he has appointed. His entourage to the UN was probably the largest that any state leader has taken to the UN, apparently beating the record of the leader of the Congo Republic by a fair margin.
The President’s Accountability to Parliament will disappear
Now it is the turn of Parliament to be neutralised removing any possibility of it holding the President accountable as provided for under the Constitution. A democracy is characterised by checks and balances unlike a dictatorship. The UNP will be a part of the government and since the JVP and the JHU are also part of the government the Opposition will consist of the Tamil National Alliance! But the TNA MPs are not interested in the problems of the country but only in those of the north and east. So Parliamentary control of the Executive Presidency will disappear.
An Opposition that failed will now give up altogether
Some one might ask whether it matters since the UNP has never provided any effective opposition. When they were in power they made allegations of corruption and even fraud as in the case of the Rs 944 million said to have been siphoned away from funds allocated for the State Rubber Manufacturing Corporation; against the former President CBK. Now that she is not entitled to invoke the presidential immunity she could be charged in courts. But the UNP is silent although this matter is said to be in the Auditor General’s Report which is stuck somewhere in the Treasury.
The Failure of the Opposition
Nor have they raised any issues in governance, the violation of human rights such as the frequent abductions and disappearances evening Colombo or the financial extravagance of the current Presidency. All these show that there is a culture of impunity as far as celebrities and VIPs are concerned. Doesn’t the rule of law mean that all are equal before the law and that no one is above the law? Will the powerful ever be brought to justice. But without such justice will there ever be any improvement?
The 17th Amendment to the Constitution which regulated the Presidents power of appointment to the top posts in the Public Service and the Judiciary according to rules that required the laying down of specifications for the posts and the assessment of the suitability of the applicants for the posts, is not in operation. The government has ignored the 17th Amendment and proceeded to flout it with impunity despite the oath of office to uphold the Constitution. The Constitutional Council has been rendered dysfunctional. The way is once more open for the Executive to appoint anybody it likes to any post in government as in the days of our ancient feudal rulers. Those in the UNP were not sufficiently firm in politically denouncing the undue influence exerted over the courts by the former President which set a bad precedent.
It is the cowardice of the Opposition that has led the country down the Gadarene slope. These failures demonstrate more clearly than ever the complete bankruptcy of the entire political opposition. Will the greed for perks on the part of some UNPers cause a split in the UNP?
Will the UNP dash the peoples hopes for the future as well
The UNP is the party that represents the last hope of the country’s ruling elite for a way out of the present political and economic crisis. The government is violating the Fiscal Management (Responsibility) Law and running up the public debt, both external and domestic debt. The government is increasingly resorting to the printing press to fund its escalating budget deficit. It is just a matter of time before the public rise up in anger against the rising cost of living. Popular indignation will soon increase and the President would have to attack the democratic rights of the trade unions. True, the trade unions have acted most irresponsibly but then the remedy is not to ban strikes but to ensure that they function democratically in going for strikes. There should be a secret ballot among the membership before the trade union calls for a strike.
If the UNP is with the government it will not be in a position to give leadership to such discontent manifest in the form of public protests and street demonstrations. This role will then be filled by the anti-systemic JVP. Do the peace-loving democratic elite want such a populist revolution led by extremists? If not, shouldn’t they re-think the question of joining the government and becoming tainted by the corruption and maladministration? The UNP perhaps thinks that it can bring down the government when it becomes too unpopular. In Brazil they thought so too with regard to Lula da Silva the President. In 2005, the so-called left as well as the right thought that there was no need to bring down Lula who could have been impeached for the corruption scandals. In their opportunist calculations, they thought that it would be better and easier to defeat him at the polls. They made a big mistake. Lula recovered, using the state apparatus as well as the trade unions. He used the money and power of state enterprises (like the Brazilian petroleum company, Petrobras), increasing the resources of social aid agencies for the poor in the country’s Northeast, bought intellectuals, politicians, journalists and Messianic churches, recouping—even if artificially—his prestige.
International Obligations are out?
We are now told by the Supreme Court that all the International Treaties and UN Covenants are not enforceable unless they have been incorporated in our legal system by a separate Act of Parliament. Mr Desmond Fernando P.C says International Law is customary and is binding on states when they sign up to abide by them. The decision comes at a very critical moment since there are many allegations of violations of International Humanitarian Law and the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions I-IV. Will the government abide by the international obligations it assumed when it signed up for these UN Declarations? Will it inquire into the complaints of abductions, extra-judicial killings and disappearances?
As Lord Acton said power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In a democracy checks and balances are in place to prevent the emergence of absolute power. But the checks and balances provided for in our Constitution are not working. There is no accountability of the Executive President to the Judiciary. If the Opposition in Parliament joins the government the last check on the absolute power of the Executive President would disappear. Nor will the Constitution or laws be any check if the Executive President who chooses to do otherwise.
Have the Media have become puppy dogs?
There is the Fourth Estate an important institution in a democracy. But the media has already packed up in where its role is to hold the government of the day accountable to the people is concerned. It must engage in investigative journalism not be fobbed off by the machinations of the rulers. The press must as the Economist (26th August 06) stated, try the government in the court of public opinion. How could it do so if like the government owned media it too becomes servile? Is our press catering only to closed minds? "A good newspaper, I suppose is a nation talking to itself" mused Arthur Miller in 1961. The media seem to think that their job is to sing hosannas to the government – certainly not to report any news which could embarrass the government! The President has already met and appealed to the media to act ‘responsibly’ since there is a war on.
Does the war situation require a democratic media to suppress the truth? Is it in the interests of the public? Can a democratic government elected by the people demand the self censorship of news. We also see bureaucratic caprice in abundance. What happens to the theory of freedom which states that a fair and democratic exchange of opinions about matters of public affairs is necessary for the emergence of truth so necessary for the success of democracy? What is in store for good governance? Can there be good governance when the work of government is done in secrecy and without transparency? Won’t such a national or rather coalition government open the way to unbridled political opportunism? -The Island
SLT broadband network connects over 1,200 schools island wide, funding from ADB
The Ministry of Education will launch the SchoolNet online educational system which will improve efficiency and increase academic achievement within the public schools across the nation.
SchoolNet will revolutionize the way school administrators operate, the way teachers teach, the way parents stay involved, and the way children learn.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in a ceremony later this week, will video conference between two schools in the North East and the South and discuss with students their views and reactions to the SchoolNet program.
SchoolNet will allow teachers and students from over 1200 schools throughout the nation to access reference material, tutorials, emails and other educational programs over the internet. In addition, for the first time teachers will be able to access several lesson plans on their computers.
SchoolNet is an educational program set up by the Ministry of Education together with the Asian Development Bank funded Secondary Education Modernization Project. This program allows the SchoolNet communities prompt online access to educational software and enhance the effectiveness of teaching and learning in the educational environment. The impressive developments in audio, video and computer assisted programs along with computer mediated communications offer many possibilities for teachers to convert activities around interactive learning, watching related videos, online assessments and holding conversations in real time.
“SchoolNet represents a breakthrough in using educational content to refine personalized student instruction,” said Ariyaratne Hewage, Secretary, Ministry of Education. “At both the user level and the school level, SchoolNet will respond to the growing need for tools that assist in navigating educational content to make appropriate decisions.”
The distribution of educational software will be cost effective through SchoolNet. Educational materials pertaining to the national curriculum and will be available for Computer Assisted Learning with the guidance of National Institute of Education. This could include the version management, archiving and prompt updates.The SchoolNet is based on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) concept in today’s communication industry. The infrastructure and service provider for SchoolNet is Sri Lanka Telecom, the nation’s flagship telecommunications provider. Each school will be connected to SchoolNet VPN by using different access speeds based on the current requirements. However, this could be increased to higher data rates on demand. Meanwhile the Network Operation Center (NOC) will be the main hub of the SchoolNet and located at the University of Moratuwa.
The servers for Web Applications, Databases, Intranet and Security will be installed at the NOC and maintained by dedicated staff to offer reliable and maximum service levels. The latest ICT technologies have been selected for the SchoolNet operation, foreseeing future requirements in the education sector. The NOC will be connected to the Internet through 155 Mbps Optical Fiber link to avoid bottlenecks in the bandwidth. SLT will provide state-of-the-art technology to introduce high quality, reliable and broadband information artery to the national education system. This will particularly give rural schools access to information and an education content.
CEO Sri Lanka Telecom Shuhei Anan said, "Our partnership with SchoolNet demonstrates SLTs commitment to collaborate with the Government of Sri Lanka to take education system to greater heights. Since education is of extreme importance to the country, it will bring the necessary facilities to improve and enhance the methods of learning and teaching further“.
For the SchoolNet project, SLT will act as the telecommunications backbone providing high-speed access to data, video, and voice communications in schools and libraries. Together with the Ministry of Education, Sri Lanka Telecom believes that, they can create a stronger resource pool for children and teachers across the country. SchoolNet’s resources will enhance the educational applications through SLT’s technology. SLTs commitment will be a direct cost saving to the Ministry of Education and further enhance the capabilities of the students and teachers. -Financial Times