by Gomin Dayasri
The 18th Amendment is like a see saw that swings up and down. It could bring shame or fame to a President. The verdict will come two years into the operation when the people can determine whether the commissions are functioning smoothly or otherwise.
Living under the 18th Amendment will not be worth, if known servile sycophants are appointed
Under the previous Amendment, the Constitutional Council members were accountable to none - or if at all, only to their wives at home! Now the appointment of the prime functionaries and commissions of the land are within the sole purview of the President and he is solely responsible and accountable, if they function as badly as they did under the 17th Amendment. It is a slow handclap instead of three cheers for democracy - the sound of the siren for the President that can develop into a Mexican wave.
Previously the accusing finger could also point to the political parties in the opposition. With the 18th Amendment, the All Party Liability clause has ceased to exist. They are all President’s babes in High Office and Commissions.
They carry the brand name of the President as much as cows do with the initials of their owner inscribed into their hide to save them from cattle thieves. Their good and bad deeds or more likely ‘their do nothing but enjoy the benefits of office’ behaviour will reflect on the President. If they perform well the glory will accrue to the appointees and the President. Otherwise, they will walk hand in hand in a street of sin.
Whatever its critics may say, the 18th Amendment does not augur well for any President for he personally underwrites their performances in High Office and in the Commissions. In a capsulated form, they are the President’s Men. It is for sure an improvement on the previous number of the serial constitution awaiting further serialization, as the 17th Amendment gave birth to fatherless children. Now the birth certificate establishes paternity.
The 18th Amendment has enhanced the powers of the Presidency yielding more likely to its ruin than to its rise in the public perception. Criticism to the 18th Amendment originated from the literate intelligentsia but did they reflect the mood of the electorate?
No, is the answer - but such is public opinion in a constituency that is politically alert and mature, if there is less money in the hip pocket and life becomes harder, the civic consciousness of the people will boom and bloom.
The source of every conceivable evil may then fall into the lap of the 18th Amendment though the lapses may originate elsewhere. The state in which the President manages the country for the benefit of the common man will matter most. Intellectual issues excite a handful.
President Rajapaksa’s appointments hardly reached the required grade on past practice. The President sincerely and genuinely laments that he does not have a reservoir of proper persons available to select - with the good, shirking responsibility to accept office, when offered. Where have all the good men and women gone?
Understandably, the worthy decline to join the motley crowd or are uninvited being unknown. How many honourable men are prepared to place their name on the ballot paper? The few, who did so, have long ceased to be honourable - except possibly Lakshman Kadirgamar, he died early.
Do not be too harsh on a President. The search for people for positions is indeed an onerous task. Yet, is that justification to pick a donkey or a buffalo or an obedient puppy, if meat is not available in the market? Finding the Right People for the key positions is a tough proposition, with the system over -heated, politically. Hardly is that an excuse for a poor choice.
A Nomination Committee packed with head - hunters from the public, private, academic and business sectors, is a prime need to assist a President to unearth talent to make the selections but again servile sycophancy may fill such a vacuum too. It should not be the exclusive domain of the fossils and the decayed as the not - so - young with their skills and talents have much to offer to the nation. Often commissions are a sanctuary for ancient mariners.
Remember it was always the Prime Minister or President that appointed the key nominees and the members of commissions since the time of independence, until the birth of the 17th Amendment. Most often, such appointments were proper and correct. It is in recent times that political interference has raised its ugly head. For a government that badly needs the support of the public sector to achieve its endeavours in the second term of office, it will be suicidal to have a disgruntled public service if a Public Service Commission slants itself politically.
Last time the public servants voted overwhelmingly for the President. The work of the Presidential nominees to the Public Service Commission may determine the next election result for him.
The 17th Amendment looked well on paper but was slippery on the floor. The full blast of it, struck like lightning with some of the appointees nominated by the Constitutional Council performing disastrously.
A President elected by the people has a legitimate right to make key appointments to prime positions to administer the country - rightly or wrongly - rather than have the task entrusted by the constitution to a flock of lame ducks whose claim to fame is that they constitute part of civil society. Indeed a weak substitute to an elected President - though that class modulates public opinion of the miniscule English educated in Colombo whose culture and voting pattern is an anathema to the rest of the country.
That was an elitist exercise to restore the lost power back to the cream of Colombo. If the Constitutional Council faulted, they were answerable to none; there was no check on them, unlike on the President who can be despatched home at an election.
Provided elections are free and fair - a legitimate fear entertained is the emergence of a Ferdinand Marcos or Idi Amin in the future as a potential candidate at a presidential election since he may appoint the Election Commissioners.
The image of a referendum held under the UNP and the disturbed Wayamba Provincial Council elections held during the PA administration still lingers. A dominant public opinion calibrated by a freed media is the safeguard. Neither the UNP nor the PA due to the barrage of subsequent public criticism thereafter disrupted elections. The foreign observers or the Supreme Court has never determined the many elections held subsequently were not free and fair.Sirima Bandaranaike government illegally extended its life - time from 5 to 7 years without the people’s mandate. The masses angrily reacted and a government that held a 2/3 majority in parliament was reduced to 8 members at the next election. It is the people’s power and an unkempt media that can overcome dictatorship as shown in the many coloured revolutions in Europe.
The constitutional circus has come to town with more on parade soon. With the 18th Amendment, the President is in a tangle like a trapeze artiste under the Big Tent balancing delicately on a rope with a free hand while the crowd watches from the stands beneath a net. Will he walk the full distance gracefully or will he take a tumble and fall on to the safety net under the ropeway? It will not take long to know.
It’s the 19th Amendment which is lined up next that needs watching. The 18th is the mere appetizer before the main course.