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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Urgent need to abolish executive presidency – Editorial, DM

With Sri Lanka facing a multitude of crises including the effects of the prolonged drought, fraud and corruption are also increasing with one shocking report disclosing that last year alone, Sri Lankans had hidden as much as US$85 million in the notoriously secret Swiss Bank accounts.

Much black money or ‘dirty’ money is believed to be hidden in secret Swiss accounts by corrupt politicians or business magnates because the Swiss Central Bank, while disclosing the amount deposited, does not name names of those who have hidden this money, allegedly obtained through corruption or fraudulent deals. In 2002, the amount hidden by Sri Lankans in secret Swiss Bank accounts was US$22.9 million.

In one of the latest acts of corruption about one thousand million rupees in public funds will be lost because of an irregular tender for the purchase of fuel. Some politicians or officials of the CPC will obviously get a huge commission or kickback from this. How and why is this unprecedented corruption going on unchecked, though details of the fraudulent deals are regularly exposed in the media? One main reason is the absence of an independent commission to probe bribery and corruption.
 Under the 17th Amendment, widely regarded as the most progressive legislation in recent decades, an independent commission did work effectively to probe corruption and punish the politicians or officials concerned. But with the enforcement of the draconian 18th Amendment which gives unlimited powers to an already powerful executive presidency, this commission and other important commissions have lost their independence.

As in the 1978-1988 era, an all-powerful executive presidency and a 2/3 majority in Parliament for the ruling party have made a mockery of democracy and given a blank cheque especially for UPFA politicians at all levels to carry on with their corrupt and fraudulent deals ranging from Rs.85,000 on the repair of a highway to US$85 million in secret Swiss bank accounts.

While corruption and fraud go unchecked, so does the waste of public funds. The latest deplorable case is the spending of at least Rs.600 million in public funds to conduct early elections to the Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Councils. Elections are a vital part of democracy. But with the 18th Amendment, even elections have become a mockery because of the widespread abuse of human and material resources of the state, inability of the police to act independently, and the so-called computer jilmarts through which rigging allegedly takes place.

UNP front-liner Karu Jayasuriya has renewed the campaign for the abolition of the executive presidency saying it is having a devastating impact on democracy and the country. If President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself acknowledges the dangers in the executive presidential system and takes a courageous decision to abolish it,he will go down in history as a great statesman who put the interest of the country above any desire for personal power or gain.



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