What is our problem?
Despite being a Republic—where power is supposed to reside with the people—Sri Lanka’s system of governance is heavily skewed in favor of the ruling elites. This situation has contributed directly to many of the governance issues the country is facing. Political elites have systematically exploited the citizens' ignorance of constitutional rights to tilt the system in their favor. But before we discuss these issues, we also need to acknowledge our achievements. After a long lapse, the Sri Lankan State now has undisputed authority over all of its territory. With our heroic troops ensuring this, the stage is now set for us to establish a more legitimate and effective State on that territory. But in order to do this we need to ensure several preconditions.
First, the State has to convert the authority it has gained into nationwide legitimacy. For this, the country has to put in place a genuine post-war reconciliation process. It is the only way for all Sri Lankans to move beyond narrower group-based identities towards a broader national identity. This will be painful and difficult, but all Sri Lankans should feel that the State represents them equally regardless of their ethnicity or religion. We simply cannot wish away the legacy of war.
Second, we need to ensure that we—the citizens—are able to hold our leaders more accountable, responsive and transparent. Time-and-again, elections alone have proven to be woefully inadequate in achieving this goal. Instead, we need mechanisms to hold our leaders accountable on an ongoing basis in real-time. For this, citizens’ right to information has to be strengthened (including witness protection) and be complemented by laws allowing civil society organizations and the media to play an oversight role of the State.
Third, we need to establish independent State institutions. Starting with the independence of the judiciary and separation of powers, the entire administrative services (including the Foreign Service), police force, and the military need to be de-politicized and professionalized. This is the only way to control for corruption and to build effective and credible State institutions.
Finally, we need to ensure the rule of law to promote competition in the private sector. For this, we need to move away from discretionary and personalized system of securing property rights to one that is based on transparent and objective rules. Any Sri Lankan should be able to own property anywhere in the country as long as they abide by the law and pay due consideration, fees, taxes etc. Once that is done, no one—including powerful political goons—should be able to challenge their right over the property.
In summary, our main problem is that a handful of powerful political elites has succeeded in denying the country a system of governance that benefits the majority of the people simply to satisfy their vested interests. To that end, they have systematically exploited our ignorance about constitutional rights and manipulated information to serve their selfish purposes. Lankaforum plans to start a public discussion with the hope of addressing some of these information-gaps and distortions. But without sticking to a script we hope for an interactive exchange to collectively identify our rights and responsibilities as citizens in an organic fashion.