New constitution should prioritise the people

New constitution should prioritise the people


 By Fr. Augustine Fernando-
Diocese of Badulla
“We hold the view that the people come first, not the government”. John F. Kennedy.
There are individuals and small group of parliamentarians who do not seem to be true and acceptable representatives of the people for whom they have been nominated solely on party leaders’ choice. They disregard the people and plan to impose their views and sabotage the never-to-be-missed opportunity to adopt a New Constitution for Sri Lanka. They prioritize their individual selves under many pretexts. They presume that they, undemocratic, insensitive and short-sighted as they are, are the all-knowing masters and not the servants of the people. These saboteurs should be defeated.


The new Government campaigned promising the people a New Constitution. It should keep its promise. The President remembers, we hope, what he solemnly said before the dead body of the Ven. Sobhita Thero. The people wish to see the President and the Prime Minister and their closest supporters faithful to their commitment to draft a New Constitution and to bring about a new political culture.
The New Constitution of Sri Lanka should reflect the laboriously gathered preponderant and long-term views of the People as to how they should be governed. Drafted by experts, the New Constitution based on truth, liberty, justice, autonomy and identity of significant groups, should reflect the democratic ideals and standpoint of all the mature citizens of Sri Lanka who in national fraternity and solidarity constitute the People. This draft has to come to the Constituent Assembly for it to be adopted and presented to the people for a referendum. The draft constitution therefore needs to be so prepared as to be acceptable to all the people inclusive of the Tamil, Muslim and other significant minorities. Fortunately, for Sri Lanka, the large majority of the people of our pluralist society are a civilized collective, respectful of democratic traditions, of sober dispositions with sane and sound minds that accept the equal dignity and rights of all citizens. Unless the New Constitution is underpinned by truth, liberty, justice, equality and shared civic and social responsibility which are necessary for civilized life, the People of Sri Lanka will remain in a straightjacket and continue to walk in a valley of darkness, lies, injustice, chauvinism, brutality and deathly rivalry.
The people have genuine inter-relational human goodwill that could sustain our society, which the politicians try to cunningly manipulate. The people are respectful and appreciate the existence of a truly independent judiciary that does not succumb to the pressures of highly placed politicians wielding power capriciously. The judiciary is burdened with the unenviable onus of restraining according to law the impulsive, uncouth and erratic politicians and their camp followers. Those with questionable character when they fail to bend the law to their advantage often resort to dubious means, such as crowding courts with political muscle, to bring pressure on the judges. These erstwhile powerful politicians formerly habituated even to control judges, bamboozle the people by their declaims and stunts. They were silent when their undereducated vociferous catchers arbitrarily meted out ‘cangaroo court justice’ daring even to use filth to the face of a former chief justice. The citizens observing the camaraderie of these corrupt political cliques needs to be sober and clear headed and calm as high court judges themselves to assess, understand and downscale the exhibitionist political drama that is staged before the people.
The President, Prime Minister, Ministers, Members of Parliament, Religious Leaders, Political Party Leaders, Trade Union Leaders, and all other leaders of sections of the people, could set forth their views in keeping with the collective view of the people they represent. Many have done so. This should obviate their personal views. They should surface and mirror the aspirations, rights and the democratic views of the people they represent. The New Constitution should above all prevent the breeding by hypocritical, uncivilized politicians a false nationalism the like of which we have experienced since 1956 bringing chaos and untold disaster on this Country.
It devolves on the mature and sober citizens to bring the people confused by cunning politicians to common sense and to an appreciation of the independent and fair manner in which justice is now dispensed. It is up to the sane majority of the people to see that a truly Peoples’ Constitution is adopted as the Basic Law of the Land.
The people need to organize themselves to consolidate their aspirations and persuade their elected representatives to look beyond themselves, their political parties – the political self-serving outfits – to the future progress, reconciliation, accommodation, inclusivity and unity of all the people of Sri Lanka. What may be considered beneficial and advantageous to political parties in view of the next election are not necessarily good for the Country. Politicians in power from Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers and MPs have tended to abuse the power vested in them and prioritized their own personal, private and feudal interests, given into craving and greed and neglected upholding the rights of the people. This has gone on for too long and should be terminated forthwith. The New Constitution should preclude all that.
The 1978 Constitution was drafted with the misguided and selfish blind hunch of the UNP which planned to capture political power over and over again. The 17th Amendment though passed unanimously came to be disregarded with predictable caprice. The 18th Amendment was passed by politically castrated eunuchs to satisfy the selfish monarchical ambitions of the then President to be a dictatorial despot, an autocrat planning to perpetuate a dynasty that turned out to be corrupt to the core. One is reminded how Adolf Hitler was persuasive enough to ‘democratically’ achieve leadership – he was called Fuhrer – and establish a Nazi dictatorship that carried out socially immoral actions including genocide.
Here in Sri Lanka, even with the Right to Information in place the Minister of Justice is contesting the right to information about the wealth of the President and Prime Minister as if they are impeccable super deities. They are also citizens and the least of the citizens, even if there be such in this country, are equal in human dignity and have human rights equal to those of the President and Prime Minister. With some ministers stupidly considering and acting as super citizens above the law, the equality of all people, irrespective of their social, political, economic position, tends to get blurred. No one should possess wealth illegally and immorally gained. No one should evade just taxes. No citizen should be above the law. The New Constitution should uncompromisingly underpin these principles and become the instrument of a reformed new political culture because the one that exists is abominably evil, begets evil, nurtures evil and corrupts everyone. The vast majority of parliamentarians are set in their evil ways, enslaved in many a political illegal gain, illicit pleasure, social mischief and deceit. Enslaved as they are, how on earth could they bring any kind of liberation to the people?
Ministers should first of all grasp and understand the meaning of ministering. ”
” in Latin means ‘to serve’. Minister means servant, just that. ‘Minister’ does not mean a flamboyant, crafty, clowning showman who displays his self importance by the number of vehicles going ahead and after his, wasting tax-payers’ money. Certain security measures are accorded to the Head of State and Head of Government. Ministers who get swollen headed and posture like the head of state are wanting in sobriety and level headedness. All of them tend to flatter themselves and one another in their public postures even while stinking and dead within. If you cannot be servants of the people and genuinely serve them honestly and be accountable and transparent, it is better that not only the ministers, including the minister of justice, but the President and Prime Minister as well pack up and go home.
The Minister of Justice willfully ignoring that the former President and his gang were sent home due to their uncontrolled irresponsibility so evident in their ways of acting devoid of accountability, wishes to accord a new immunity and a cover of impunity to the President and Prime Minister that they have not asked. He should show his loyalty to them not in a foolish manner of providing immunity from accountability but by being an honest minister.
The New Constitution should preclude politicians and public administrators from abusing state property, arbitrarily wasting national resources and arbitrary interpretation of the law of the land. Those who abuse state resources and allot them to their kith and kin and party men should be asked to reimburse the money spent and duly punished. When they are in power, politicians abuse and wantonly expend state resources in a highly irresponsible manner and they think they are accountable to no one. When they are ousted from power and asked to explain their behaviour they try to play the role of innocent victims ‘persecuted’ by those upholding the law in the name of the people. This charade must cease.
The New Constitution should make all citizens subject to the law and not be protective of anyone who acts above the law with impunity, be it ordinary citizen, parliamentarian, minister, Judge, Prelate, Chief Justice, Prime Minister, or President.
Persons who do not have an understanding of themselves, their capacities and their limitations, yet consider themselves beyond the law and accountable to no one, should never be chosen to govern a country or for any position of responsibility. Just as there is a minimum age (35 years) to be eligible to be elected president, there should be a minimum age of at least 25 years to be a parliamentarian, in addition to other educational qualifications. It is for this basic reason of suitability for a job that in former times, those who applied for any position of responsibility / public service – be that of a cleaner of public drains, public inspectors of health, nurses, doctors, teachers, principals, policemen or soldiers or anyone coming forward for a public duty – were individually interviewed by higher authorities and given appointment only when found qualified and suitable.
As always, unqualified, rough and corrupt politicians have messed up in all these matters by taking upon themselves the appointing of their favourites and supporters as policemen, police inspectors, teachers, principals, directors of education (!) chairmen of corporations, Governors of the Central Bank, grama sevakas, estate superintendents and what not. And they harm the common good, throw public money down a drain that ends up in a fat bank account of a crony.
Yet politicians in power make a political show of giving appointments. It is tragic that political party top men and leaders too interview hundreds of candidates only to nominate some rotters also as candidates instead of good, suitable and public spirited ones; no wonder the Country has been thrown into depths of distress and contempt. The people need to be circumspect and never be subject to deception and hyperbolic election propaganda nor surrender their interests to self-absorbed deceptive politicians who canvass for votes.
At present, a good number of the members of the Constituent Assembly show themselves to be hugely self-absorbed and short-sighted. They seem to be incapable of transcending themselves for the good of the Country and its people. Their main concern seems to be the next election and saving themselves from the condemnation that is coming on them, due to corrupt practices they have indulged in. Yet they are intent in prolonging and perpetuating themselves in office by getting elected by any means, however immoral or illegal. This is the main reason why they are shying away from adopting a New Constitution and going before the people for a referendum. These political fraudsters cannot be brought to their senses. They should be hounded out and discarded in the next election by the people. The preferential vote that is a source for corrupt deals should not have a place in the new Constitution.
As political parties tend to nominate undesirable individuals to some electorates, the people should have more options than they have now. The New electoral system could provide for the voters to vote for a party on the whole whole, and yet desist from voting for that party’s candidate if the candidate is considered unsuitable. Therefore people should be free to vote for a political Party of their choice as well as an individual from a different party in the eventuality of the Party putting forward undesirable candidates. This measure will prevent parties nominating well known scoundrels and their getting elected on party tickets. In the Constitution there should not be the least semblance of a possibility for any political party to provide a cover-up of fraud and corruption to any party cadre. Political parties and individual candidates should be compelled to declare their assets and liabilities to qualify to be a candidate at elections as well as annually, if elected, be transparent in their election expenditures and generally in their finances. Presently the JVP which has democratized and transformed itself far more than other political parties seems the most honest and stable party with committed members, according to the financial accounts they have submitted. They shame all others.

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