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Mahajana Viyawastawa – A new constitution for Sri Lanka’s future

By Jayantha de Silva

(December 17, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Although several months have passed since the combined might of the three defence services and the police, ably supported by the President of Sri Lanka and the Secretary Defence was able to defeat the LTTE terrorists, the expected peace dividend has not yet materialised. We are advised that our foreign exchange reserves are better, but that has not made any difference to the people, especially the poor people. The paddy harvest in the re-vitalised Eastern sector has failed to prevent continued imports of rice. Above all, corruption and high-handed action by politicians, their lackeys and the police has increased. It is time that the government began reducing the ridiculously large number of Ministers and began doing something about the upsurge of criminal activity including armed banditry, lack of transparency in State administration, a defunct education system, non-existent industrial enterprise, insipid agricultural sector, to name just a few.

Why do we need a New Constitution? The reasoning is that, though it may be possible to set some of our problems right by passing special Acts of Parliament, there are many that cannot be solved in that manner, including any provision that affects the power and perks that politicians now enjoy. But there IS one way that all these problems and many more besides can be set right at one stroke and that is by introducing a New Constitution incorporating the necessary changes to existing laws or promulgating new laws. The Constitution, being the first law of the land, supersedes all existing laws.

We cannot depend on politicians to draft such a Constitution for obvious reasons and it must therefore be drafted by the people, and that has now been done. It is called the Mahajana Viyawastawa. Some of the important issues this New Constitution covers are given below. Note that certain sections will be unacceptable to some people, but the whole is necessary for the betterment of our future. No Constitution can be everything to every individual.

A full copy of the Mahajana Viyawastawa is available on the Internet at http://serendib.heliohost.org.

Equality and its Enforcement. The foundation of the Mahajana Viyawastawa is based on EQUALITY, which pervades the entire Constitution. The present (1978) Constitution also assures equality for every individual, but it is not practiced as there is no system for enforcing it or any other provision in the Constitution. Today, there is no equality in selection procedures for employment, promotions or appointments, which are corrupted by political interference, ethnic, religious and caste bias, nepotism, crony influence, etc, making a farce of equal opportunity. The MV introduces a new Department called the Department for Enforcement of the Constitution, which is outside the control of the President or Parliament and is legally able to investigate each and every complaint made by any citizen. If necessary, complaints can be made in confidence, and the complainant’s identity hidden even from court proceedings. In short, this Department is charged with ensuring that not only the provisions for Equality, but all provisions in the Constitution are not only enforced, but guaranteed. Nobody can interfere with investigations, either politicians, security forces or the police, and no one can stop the investigations, under pain of severe punishment. Because such a system does not exist in the 1978 Constitution, various governments were forced to raise special Commissions such as the Police Commission, Justice Commission, Bribery Commission to deal with the problems caused by the failure of the Constitution. In 2006, the 17th Amendment was introduced as all these Commissions failed to function for various reasons. Eight years have passed since then, but the 17th Amendment and the other Commissions remain inactive. The MV, on the other hand, through the Department of Enforcement is able to guarantee that all provisions in the proposed Constitution and in particular, Equality to every person, is guaranteed and that all other the provisions in the Constitution shall be enforced.

Administration. The country is administered through non-political District Councils (no elected councillors), headed by a Government Agent and non-political Municipalities headed by a Non-political Mayor, with four elected non-political councillors, and the last person in the chain of administration, a non-political Grama Sevaka in each village. This entire chain comprise government servants and is non-political for the reason that, if there is even a single political appointment in this chain, the services supplied to the citizens by the State such as education, health, electricity, water supply, irrigation, land, etc, will be politically compromised, not be equally distributed and unequal treatment will result. There is no local government or any other organisation in between. The Grama Sevaka, in consultation with the people of the village will submit the requirements of the village to the Municipality or the GA for their attention. The MP has no responsibility in this regard because of the possibility of unequal treatment of different villagers based on their political beliefs.

Political System. The President is non-political and non-executive and is elected by the people. The Chief Executive is the Prime Minister, the leader of the Party that wins the highest number of seats at the election. All elections are based on a simple majority. No coalitions or “alliances” are permitted because they can cause a party that won the election to “lose” to a coalition of parties that lost the election. Political parties based on ethnic and religious principles are not permitted, not only because of the lesson we have learnt from the past 60 years, but also because such parties are inherently disruptive and divisive and do not contribute to economic or social development. A Senate is re-introduced, comprising 25 eminent and respected citizens, one from each District, who are non-political and are elected by the people of the district. The Senate, among other duties, is charged with approving or not approving Bills passed by Parliament and has the power to impeach the President of the Country if so requested by a majority of the people. The Senate acts as a check and balance against Parliamentary excesses.

Provincial Councils. Two provincial Councils are established in the Northern and Eastern provinces only, on a temporary basis until post-Tamil insurgency development work is over. They have only supervisory powers and no power over District Administration, which continued under the GA system. These two Provincial Councils will be dissolved as soon as redevelopment work in the two provinces is completed.

Checks and Balances. The government is divided into three branches, the Constitutional Branch (previously Executive Branch), the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch. The Constitutional Branch is nominally headed by a non-political, non-executive President appointed by the people. The Prime Minister is the head of the Legislative Branch and the Chief Justice is the head of the Judicial Branch. The three branches are organised in such a way as to enable each Branch to provide checks and balances against the others. In addition, the media is completely free, and is charged with the task of investigating and reporting on all government and public activity. The police department is placed under the Department of Justice and acts as a check and balance against excesses by the defence forces. The Department of Enforcement is constantly available to redress grievances of individuals and to act as a check and balance against the police department.

The Media. The media provides the first line of checks and balances and for this purpose it is not only completely free, but its freedom is guaranteed, even to the extent of providing police protection to media personnel. A new National Media Organisation that is publicly funded is established that is not controlled by the State, the President or Parliament. Being publicly funded, it will not be dependent on advertising and other revenue so that it can report accurately and without prejudice or bias.

Ministries and Ministers. The number of Ministries and Ministers are reduced to 15. The Ministers are non-political and selected by the Public Service Commission from applicants, based on their qualifications, experience in respective fields and above all, ability. They are employed on extendable contracts of five years. The Ministers will, therefore, be technocrats who are experts in their fields. The Ministry of Defence becomes the Department of Defence under the Chief of Defence Staff and the Ministry of Justice becomes the Department of Justice under the Chief Justice in order to remove all political influence from these departments. The main reason for the Department of Defence to be placed under the control of Defence professionals is to prevent what almost happened in 2000 when the President at the time offered the Northern Province to a terrorist organisation for 10 years and what actually did happen in 2002 when a foolish Prime Minister handed over a third of the country through a private MOU to the same terrorists for them to govern, without discussing the matter with the President, the Parliament or the Security forces. The security of the country is therefore placed in the hands of professionals rather than self-serving politicians.

MPs. The number of MPs are reduced to a maximum of 100, the number to be determined by the Delimitation Commission, which shall re-determine the boundaries of electorates based on village limits, ethnic ratio, population, etc. At present there are 46 electorates, which mean there can only be 46 MPs, which is insufficient as each has to represent almost 400,000 people. The remaining 189 MPs are irrelevant as they do not represent the people, but are creations of a political system that controls the MP’s vote through political parties. The National list and Proportional representation are aberrations of democracy invented by politicians to subvert true democracy through Party-based autocracy. The second Constitution drafted by the Soulbury Commission delineated 101 electorates, which is far more practical than 46. This means that each MP will have to represent 200,000 people, which too is not practical. Therefore, in practical terms, the MV accepts that there can be no real representation as the number of people in a constituency is too large, and accepts the system of appointing MPs through a people’s ballot to vote on Bills in Parliament, but for that purpose they must use their own “Conscience Vote” rather than voting as decreed by a political party they may represent. A political party shall not have any influence on the way a MP votes. Instead, as a majority of people in a constituency selected the MP, it is accepted that the MP will vote according to the wishes of the majority of people, as the people have placed their trust in the MP to vote on Bills on their behalf. By this means, the first principle of democracy is at least partially upheld.

Voting on Bills. A Bill is tabled in Parliament by a Minister who is non-political, by using a presentation that may be broadcast over the National Media Organisation and then placed in the website of the relevant Ministry, and also publicised by the National Media Organization for a period of 19 days during which it will be debated in Parliament. The Bill will be finally voted on by each MP according to the way the MP feels the majority of people in the MP’s constituency will want it voted on. Since an MP uses his or her “Conscience Vote”, a political opposition is irrelevant, although, if there is a sufficiently large party that has lost the election, that party may become the opposition. The more important aspect is that each Bill before Parliament must generate its own proponent MPs and opponent MPs, based on the MPs own understanding of the Bill, irrespective of the party to which the MP may belong. The proponents and opponents are required to debate the Bill during the 19-day period of public exposure before it is voted on, the debate being posted on the parliamentary Website via the Hansard and may be televised as well if it is an important issue. This provides the basis to enable the people to decide how the MPs should vote on the Bill. The publicising of the Bill and the debate on the Bill enables the Senators to make up their own minds about the Bill (it is not mandatory for Senators to attend Parliament).

Salary and Allowances. The salary and allowances of all government servants are consolidated on a single government pay scale based on grades and levels, the latter being annual increments. On first employment, each individual is placed on a Grade depending on qualifications and ability as required by the job description. The grade may change owing to career advancement or appointment. The level increases annually based on performance and merit assessed by computerised systems that are dependent on Annual Confidential Efficiency Reports that record a person’s performance or lack thereof using performance benchmarks.

Pensions. All citizens, both government servants and non-government servants, are entitled to an Aged Pension on reaching 60 years of age. The Aged Pension is identical for all individuals and is determined annually by the Central Bank, taking into consideration changes in Cost of Living. Government servants will receive, in addition, 50% of their last gross pay. Those who do not own a residence will receive a nominal rent allowance. The Aged pension component (but not the additional 50% in the case of retired government servants) is reduced if a person has a private income from any source. Retired private sector employees who receive a pension will have 50% of its value calculated towards their private income for computation of government-sourced aged pension. The pension is a payment to each individual and is payable to all pensionable persons in a family. Guardians of orphans receive the parent’s pension plus a child care allowance. With the introduction of this system, the Widows and Orphan’s Pension scheme will be dissolved and moneys distributed to contributors. The Employee Provident Fund and Employee Trust Fund schemes may also be dissolved or may be continued to enable a gratuity to be paid on retirement. Any such gratuity shall be tax free. All pensioners are entitled to free travel on State transport and one week’s holiday per annum at a nominated holiday station where accommodation will be paid by the State. Pensioners are charged concession rates (50%) for utilities such as electricity, water, sewerage, municipal rates and licensing fees.

Social Security Payment. All unemployed persons receive a social security allowance so long as they continue to actively search for employment. Such persons shall be required to work in community and other projects as nominated by the Department of Social Security. Family units receive a family social security allowance and only one member of the family (the more able person) is required to undertake community work pending full employment. Up to two children receive an additional allowance. The social security pension will be much lower than the Aged Pension but will include a minimum rent allowance if government quarters are not available.

Disabled Persons. All differently abled persons and disabled persons including mentally disabled persons receive a special allowance depending on the degree of disability and mobility. Medication and treatment for disability is free of cost. All public buildings shall be modified to permit access and toilet facilities for disabled persons. All public transport shall be modified to accommodate disabled persons.

Rebate System. A rebate system is introduced that enables all persons to purchase essential items such as groceries, fuel, health services, etc, by paying only what a person (or family) can afford. A person’s or family’s ability to pay is determined by the income as determined through the income tax return of an individual (Personal Means Index – PMI) or returns of a family (Family Means Index – FMI). A list of essential items and services including foodstuffs, white goods and even computers will be maintained by the Central Bank. When any item on this list is purchased, the amount the individual or family has to pay is computed using the PMI or FMI and the person or family has to pay only that much that they can reasonably afford, with the balance being paid by the State. With this system, a rich person may have to pay the full price for an item, while a poor person will have to pay much less or even nothing. This system enables even poor people to provide the basic essentials required to bring up a family without penalising the children because of the poverty of the parents. Although a countrywide National Administrative Network has to be setup before this scheme can be implemented, as this network is essential for administration of the country as well, it should be possible to implement the system without much delay.

Language. English is introduced as the language for education, administration and judicial procedures. Sinhalese is the only National language. Each community is encouraged to use their respective languages for all cultural activities and in their homes. Information technology is to be taught and practiced only in English. The purpose of introducing English for education is to raise the real standard of literacy among our people. Although literacy is assessed as 92% today, in real terms it is closer to 60% as our knowledge is limited to what is available in Sinhala. The lack of English has prevented the majority of our people from accessing the massive knowledge base available free through the Internet. Modern technology is advancing at such a fast pace that it is impossible to translate text books to keep pace. Today this massive knowledge base and the opportunities that a knowledge of English provides is limited to the 5% or so of our youth who are able ti attend International schools, being the children of affluent parents. This leads to inequality on a massive scale and denies equal opportunity to more than 80% of our younger generation.

Religion. All religions are protected equally and every individual is given complete freedom to practice their religion. Protection of all religions include the banning of conversion from one religion to another including the banning of missionary and evangelical activity by any religion. Religion is removed from the school syllabus as it gives rise to segregation and teaching and examination problems. Instead, Sunday schools are mandatory for all religions for school children up to the age of 15 years. Instead of religion, Theology can be introduced where children of all faiths are taught the rudiments and principles of all faiths, without religious segregation.

Education. The education system is completely revised with English being used for all education from kindergarten level to tertiary level, so that children are not segregated by ethnicity and are mixed together in all classes and are exposed to internationally developed knowledge. The advanced Level exam is replaced by the Higher Certificate of Education (HCE) Exam. Each district is to have an adequate number of Technical Training Institutes providing tertiary level education. The Ministry and Department of Education is to ensure that adequate places are available in Universities and Technical and Agrarian Training Institutes to take in the annual influx of students. Entry into Universities and Technical and Agrarian Institutes will be based on marks achieved at the HCE Exam in particular subjects. Sri Lanka History is to be introduced as a separate subject from primary school to tertiary level after it is re-written by Sinhala scholars assisted by Buddhist priests as the first step to generating patriotism among our children. Central schools and all existing major schools in every district shall be upgraded to Grade 1 level, that is, with laboratories, workshops and library facilities, facilities for all games and sports including a gymnasium and swimming pool and extra curricular activities such as electronic and photography clubs. All Grade 1 schools will also have hostel facilities and a State housing scheme for teachers. Teachers are elevated to a higher grade with higher pensions, the better to educate our young generations. Tertiary education must be paid for, but only after the student has completed the course of study and has obtained employment, after which the cost is to be repaid via the income tax of the person in very small instalments over a long period of time.

Information Technology in Education. An educational computer network is established to provide internet facilities to all schools and libraries to enable students to access the global knowledge base for their studies. It is proposed to locally manufacture cheap computers that families can purchase through the Means Test Rebate system to permit students to use computers for study purposes at home. Teaching of IT and computer technology is to be only in English and computer terms are not to be translated into Sinhala.

Public Library System. In addition to the school libraries, every Municipality will have one or more public libraries providing fiction and research books, newspapers, periodicals and a section providing public-use computers.

Tuition and Tutories. Tuition classes and tutories are banned and the onus for proper education placed on the education system with principals and teachers penalised for poor performance. This also provides time for all students to take part in games and sports (compulsory) as a way of developing character while giving children spare time for relaxation rather than pressurising them through constant study.

Health Services. All District Hospitals are to be developed and expanded to provide the same standard of services and facilities as available in the General Hospital in Colombo. These standards are to be upgraded to provide the highest standard of medical, dental, psychiatric, ophthalmic, etc services as possible, as good as or better than international standards, as we had as recently as the 1960s. As public hospitals will become of the highest standard in Asia, and as there will be enough to meet all medical needs, every individual will be guaranteed proper medical services throughout the country. Health services are to be paid for through the Means Test Rebate system mentioned earlier, including payment for private consultations thereby encouraging private practice by doctors. Nursing services through private nursing homes can also be paid for through the same system, at rates pre-determined by the Ministry of Health. Where foreign medical services are essential because the service is not available in the country, the expense can be paid for through the rebate system, thus making the cost affordable to even the poorest person. No person should therefore have any fear that their loved ones will not be able to obtain any required medical service because of lack of financial resources.

Income Tax. The revenue system is to be revised with all individuals above the age of 18 being required to declare their local and overseas income, outgoings and assets annually and as soon as any changes occur to their financial situation. This includes all adults, whether employed or not. The only persons exempted from income tax are covert operatives of the National Intelligence Service. The Personal and Family Means Index will be determined by the Department of Income Tax based on the declarations. Very heavy penalties including jail terms are specified for persons making false asset declarations or not making declarations in time.

Relocation of Ministries. All Ministries will be relocated in various District capitals together with respective departments in order to encourage the development of the districts. This will happen only after the District Hospitals and District Central Schools have been upgraded as discussed before, so that the children of employees of these ministries and departments will not be penalised by having to move to a rural district. As government servants will not be transferred except under exceptional circumstances, this should enable the families to relocate in their entirety and on a permanent basis.

Transfers and Postings. Transfers and posting are minimised and may occur only if essential as a career move as all public servants are encouraged to settle down in the area where they work. Even if a career move may require a transfer, this may be refused if the person desires to remain at the present location and suffer no loss of pay as a result. If both parties of a married couple are working, employment will be found in the same area so that the couple can remain together, particularly when schooling children are involved. In most instances, people may never be transferred.

Assessment System. The performance of all government servants will be assessed every 12 months based on Confidential Efficiency Reports prepared by their superiors. The performance of clerical and administrative staff is gauged against performance benchmarks established by the departments. The report by the superior is vetted by other superiors and is shown to the employee concerned before it is finalised to permit the employee to register any dissatisfaction if any, and have such matter resolved before the report is finally registered.

Electricity. The country is to be converted from petroleum to electricity as the primary source of power within 20 years or earlier if possible. Households and offices will be supplied with solar power supplemented by grid supply. Wind power, mainline hydro and mini-hydro power plants will be maximised to provide all the grid power the country requires. All factories and industries shall be converted to electricity. All households, down to the poorest will be provided electricity, to enable conversion from firewood and kerosene to electricity. With development of small industries, the country should be able to produce all the white goods necessary for even the poorest family and all such household goods and the supply of electricity can be paid for through the rebate system. Electricity cannot be privatised and will be generated only through sustainable and renewable sources such as wind, hydro, waves, solar, etc.

Water Supply. Water supply cannot be privatised, and can be paid for through the Means Test Rebate system. All new households will have two systems, rainwater plus irrigation water and potable (town) supply. Households receive an initial quantity at a very low rate depending on the number of people in each household. Any quantity above has to be paid for at a higher price. Existing households can convert to the new dual system at very low cost.

Public Transport. The railways will be electrified within 20 years (the timeframe for full generation of electricity through renewable resources). Both rail and State-run bus services will be cheap enough to be affordable by even the poorest person as these are not expected to run at a profit but to provide high quality safe transport. The transport board buses will all be converted to electricity as and when electrical technology is able to support heavy vehicles, until which time they will be converted to run on LPG, being far cheaper and environmentally cleaner than diesel.

Police department. The police are placed under the Department of Justice to prevent interference by politicians and will be disarmed and completely re-trained as a civil police department, taking them completely out of security-related activities. During the last 30 years the police were given military-type training to deal with terrorists and have become offence-oriented like the armed forces, a mental and psychological state quite unsuitable to deal with civil problems (this is why the armed forces are not permitted contact with civilians). They must now be brainwashed and made suitable for civil police duties. The Special task Force only will be retained as an offensive force and will be converted to become SWAT teams to assist the regular police in apprehending armed criminals. The police are also to be provided with IT and Forensic departments to facilitate investigations. Police officers will be required to produce results and those who do not will be marked down or dismissed. The police will be required to solve all crime, including white collar crime and be required to provide reasons why if they are unable to solve a crime. Victims of crime shall be compensated through the courts, preferably by making the criminal pay the damages. Punishments awarded to criminals are to be punitive rather than corrective, except in the case of juveniles.

Industrial Development. Five-year and 10-year plans are suggested in outline in the MV to ensure that small industries develop within five years and larger industries such as vehicle assembly and manufacture develop within 10 years. Tax adjustments will be made to provide incentives for local manufacture and the infrastructural needs such as steel and aluminium mills established. A very high priority is given to industrial development to create an export industry. Tax relief and incentives are provided to encourage small businesses and small industries. Supermarkets and chain stores are banned as these kill off small businesses. Shopping centres are encouraged for every village and town. The fishing industry including boat and ship building is prioritised.

Agriculture and Animal Husbandry. A Five-year plan is suggested in outline to make the country fully self-sufficient in food and milk production. Safeguards will be set up to prevent sabotage of these ventures by vested interests as happened in the past. Agriculture, being the primary product of the country, is given a high priority. The CWE, Paddy Marketing Board and Marketing Department are brought under State control with the employees becoming public servants in order to provide guaranteed prices to producers and ensure proper distribution of foodstuffs.

Conclusion

These are just a few items covered in the proposed New Constitution. It is designed to move the country into the 21st Century and to provide a fair deal to all citizens based on equality and equal opportunity in all spheres. It is also designed to ensure the sovereignty of the country by providing a strong National Intelligence organisation and Defence forces.

However, as this Constitution will be rejected in its entirety by all politicians, it can only be promulgated by a unanimous demand by the public to hold a referendum to implement it. This is a Constitution prepared by the people for the people rather than one prepared by the politicians for the politicians, as all past Constitutions have been.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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