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Good governance, panacea for all ills

[Part 3]

The next wise man who expressed his views on this vibrant topic was a legal guru who claims to be a jurist, certainly not in the class of Johannes Voet or Jermy Bentham. He appeared wise and just. I was amazed by the breadth of his knowledge and fluency in the basic principles of the law.

He seemed to be very cautious and choosy. He said, 'The last Presidential Election showed in no uncertain terms that the people's vote is mightier than the axe's edge which befell on Charles 1, the King of England who claimed to be above the law. He smilingly showed me an excerpt from the Chief Justice's ceremonial court speech made on the February 9.

It is to the following effect 'It is now well settled law that rule of law demands that powers vested in the State are not to be used in a capricious, unreasonable and arbitrary manner'.

The learned jurist said that the Chief Justice did not mince his words when he declared, 'The strength of the Judiciary entirely consists in the moral allegiance which it can evoke by the hold it has over the hearts of the people'.

Rule of law

The wise man went on 'Mind you the Rule of Law go hand in hand with the good governance [Yaha Palanaya]. It is a necessary prerequisite of good governance. Of late, abuse of power, bribery and corruption which should be an anathema to the concept of good governance have been the order of the day. Just a lip service that the new regime would put an end to it won't do.

The wrongdoers should be exposed and adequately punished. That was an election pledge. That has to be given effect to. The new regime should be mindful to restrain and check any form of abuse of power, bribery and corruption under their regime. The people who are the King Makers will remain vigilant'.

To buttress his view as to what is Good Governance he quoted an excerpt from an explanation made by Lord Bingham, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales when he was asked 'What makes the difference between Good and Bad Government'? His answer was to the following effect, [quote] 'The Rule of Law, specially in a world divided by nationality, race, colour, religion and wealth is one of the unifying factors'.

The grand old man learned in the law was emphatic on the requirement that the streams of justice should be clear and pure and that powers to be should recognise the supremacy of the law. Otherwise the Law of the Jungle will prevail. I thought he was becoming little uneasy. So I left him at that saying that I would meet him again to discuss on the dark shadow that befell on the Judiciary.

Lacuna

I thought that there would be a lacuna if I fail to capture the views of a Constitutional expert. I thought his doctorate was from an English University. He has written many books on Constitutional Law. He believed in the hallowed principles of the separation of powers first expostulated by the famous Frenchman Montesquieu.

He said, 'In the just concluded Presidential election the people made up their minds to sink their differences and work towards a common aim of rejecting a type of monarchical rule which totally ignored the vast majority of the people and made a mockery of the constitutionally enshrined concept of the sovereignty of the people'.

He underscored the fact that a high concentration of power in one of the principle organs of Government, namely the Executive, it would lead to vitiation of freedoms and guarantees enshrined in the Constitution.

It will lead to disequilibria in the fundamental tenets of good governance. It is beyond my purview to spelt out how it should be done because it is the prerogative of the Parliament'. He said the present regime should not betray the trust 6.2 million people have reposed in it.

But the Constitutional expert gave a warning. He said' Vital Constitutional amendments must not be introduced in a hurry. They must be properly planned with the concurrence of the stakeholders'.

Wise men

When studying the views of the aforesaid wise men I felt that each one of them had his own perception and was absolutely careful not to step out of their fields of study. I was puzzled myself. Any way I consider it is wiser to leave it to the readers to go through the totality of their views and arrive at your own conclusion what Yaha Palanaya is all about.

Anyway you need not bother much. The President in his well formulated Independence Day address to the nation reiterated and spelt out his pledges to the people and explained what Yaha Palanaya is all about.

He lamented that even though the brave armed forces defeated the brutality of the terrorists and freed the motherland the government has yet to 'bring together the minds of the people of the North and South'. He quite rightly identified the bringing together the minds of the people living in the North and South through of reconciliation as the biggest challenge the new regime faces. He posed the question [ quote] 'Can we be satisfied at what has been achieved after the restoration of peace?' Secondly, the President referred to the income gap prevailing between the 'haves' and 'havenots'. Ways and means of closing this gap need to be looked into and attended to.

Poverty

The President underscored his pledge given to eliminate poverty. He pointed out that the level of poverty in the country stands at 6.7 percent. He said he will pay special attention to this with a commitment to bring it to a minimum. He very well knew the importance of agriculture in our economy and promised to infuse scientific knowledge to raise national agricultural standards.

The President emphasised the need to strengthen the public service and to make it non partisan and productive. He also reminded people of the pledge to follow a middle path regarding foreign relations. I am reminded of the famous non alignment policy of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the First woman Prime Minister.

To achieve the target of bringing in the much expected Yaha Palanaya the rulers should be selfless and committed to work for the community at large. This calls for a change of heart and attitudinal transformation.

Going back memory lane I recall a gesture and utterance by the first Prime Minister Maha Manya D.S. Senanayake while addressing a gathering of colonists at Gal Oya. He said, 'I do understand and feel the hardships you face by the drought and mosquito bite when ploughing your fields to feed our stomachs. I owe a salutation to you for all that'. So saying, he brought his palms together and humbly saluted them.

Next generation of politicians took a different turn. While demanding their vote proudly said 'Open your eyes and see. We have given you everything you want, food cities all over, high ways where you can 'walk about free', apples and grapes. It is your duty to cast your vote and make us to retain our Crown'.

Nevertheless, the peers namely, the voters needed a change. They thought enough is enough and brought one from their fold to be their President. They hailed it as a victory for the people.

In one of his addresses the President categorically said, 'My vision is not to be the King. I want to remain a good human being'. After Maithripala Sirisena was elected President, he repeatedly maintained that he is Sri Lanka's number one public servant. These welcome words from their new President will no doubt appease the minds of the electors.

Concluded

The writer is a former Director of the Sri Lanka Judges Institute.

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