If I was running a school for logic and reasoning, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka provides me with a surfeit of case studies in bad logic. To be fair, Dayan is eminently educated. His problem is that he has a horrible bee in his bonnet: Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. In order to discredit Ranil, Dayan seizes anything he can get his hands on. Besides, he sees in every little crisis in Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe’s impending downfall.
The article purports to show the inadequacy of the reintroduction of the former Westminster inspired model of Parliament running government with a Prime Minister and cabinet at the head- the key change offered by the proposed new constitution. DJ wants the Executive Presidency kept. His above quote reveals why he wants that: it is the key platform of Ranil Wickremesinghe!
DJ sets aside the fact that sixty two lakhs of people, who ousted the former regime had been fed up of Presidential Executive rule and wanted and wants it done away. He forgets that the broad civil movement for yahapalanaya originally led by the late Revd Maduluwawe Sobitha, which was the hard back of the political campaign for ousting the former regime, wanted it and wants it as a precondition for anything that can be called good governance.
In the quote, DJ smuggles in a bit of racism by aligning Ranil with the TNA! That is Dayan Jayatilleka – our political analyst.
Unfortunately, in his enthusiasm DJ cites the recent Meetotamulla garbage tragedy as a God-given lesson of the need for the retention of the pure Presidential Executive system of Mahinda Rajapaksa. DJ slips his foot on this attempted high jump from the garbage to the need for the Executive Presidential model. Why? Because it is a terribly flaky example that cracks as one touches. The garbage dump was 100 meters high and could not have been built during the last two years of the new government. It had been building surely and steadily under the absolutist dictatorship of the Rajapaksa presidency. Sure, the responsibility of the current government was not to have quickly detected this time bomb and acted on it.
The Island editor asks: why did the previous regime not act on it for ten long years? I ask, why did such a strong Executive Presidency that invested itself with virtually unlimited power under the 18th Amendment and was noted for acting with immunity not act decisively to rid the area of this danger?
DJ brazenly connects his case with the recent referendum win by Turkish President, Erdogan. The bee in his bonnet deceives Dayan Jayatilleka again by seducing him to get hold of a wrong handle, once again. Erdogan asked for absolute power where he can appoint judges and act, on personal decree disregarding an elected Parliament. He won the referendum but that was a pyrrhic victory because almost fifty per cent of the electorate said,”no.” Even that near-fifty-fifty result was eked out by electoral fraud, the arrest of thousands of “no” supporters and the murder of some of them-all by the incumbent President, Erdogan. A secondary school kid will recognise that far from justifying a Presidential executive this Turkish illustration undermines any possible justification.
The mythical argument for Presidential Executive rests on its alleged efficiency and quickness in capacity to act. DJ clings on to this folklore. Let’s see why this argument does not hold: One can place different forms of public policy decision-making on a spectrum with one end being the practice where decisions are made by one person and the other end being the practice where decisions are made openly after broad consultation. Better decisions are more likely to come by under an open system as it is bound to capture the collective wisdom of a large group of people rather than relying on one or a few people. In the open process, exemplified by the Westminster system of a Prime Minister working with a cabinet of Ministers-all responsible to Parliament, the decision-making process tends to be highly inclusive allowing for consensus to emerge.
Under good leadership it is not a difficult thing to arrive at a decision after an open discussion. On the other hand, everyone is likely to cooperate in implementing a decision taken that way rather than arbitrarily by one person.
The institution of the Executive President belongs to the arbitrary end of the spedtrum. The claims for quickness and efficiency under such a system simply does not hold. The very ten year rule of the Rajapaksas is good enough illustration to demonstrate how allocative decisions were poor; how projects meant to show up the ego of the ruler were preferred to more urgently needed ones. This produced appalling White Elephants and reduced the country’s economy into an unsustainable position with a mounting foreign debt (US $ 57.4 billion) unable to be serviced given the revenue that the economy can yield. If not for receiving the first branch of the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) it would not have been possible for the present government to go on. That, plainly, had been the final economic and fiscal legacy of the Executive Presidency under Malinda Rajapaksa. Sri Lanka never had a single year of trade surplus. Economic growth was, basically, debt -based.