(A Cure All - The Panacea)

By Adrian Wijemanne

1.     The President seems possessed of the conviction that most of Sri Lanka’s woes are due to the present constitution. That it was promulgated in 1978 under the aegis of her bete noire Junius Richard Jayawardene has not helped. To parody the famous line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in our constitution!” So we need to get rid of it and have a new one. Then all will be well or, at least, the stage will be set for us to progress in that direction. Hence the need for confirmation of this view at a referendum on 21st August 2001.

2.     It is a well-known syndrome in human life for men and women to avoid taking responsibility for their failures and wrongdoings by passing the blame to others, notably to institutions such as ‘society’. So the crimes of criminals are often attributed to the failings of the society from which they emerged. Difficult children are difficult because of disturbed family backgrounds, and so on. Psychologists have a term for this syndrome – ‘escapism’. It is not we who are to blame for our woes; it is all the fault of the institution or society in which we are. When our woes are very large ones on a nationwide scale a whipping boy of nationwide dimensions has to be found at whose door all blame can be laid. The present constitution has been chosen for that role.

3.     So, the near-total failure of governance in Sri Lanka today is due to the present constitution. The government’s lack of a working majority in Parliament is due to the electoral system introduced by the present constitution. The sweeping politicisation of every sector of the public services from their highest to their lowest levels is the fault of the present constitution. The widespread and uncontrollable corruption in the political and administrative spheres is the fault of the present constitution. The passage of ruinous and destructive legislation by Parliament, such as the Sixth Amendment to the constitution and many others of the same ilk, is the fault of the present constitution. The hideous policy of curtailing, rather than protecting and enhancing human rights during a time of war is the fault of the present constitution. The degradation of the rule of law and its corollary the breakdown in law and order are the faults of the present constitution. The electoral process at all levels has succumbed to physical violence and thuggery due to the fault of the present constitution. Our woes are not of our own making – they are all due to the present constitution. There is no such thing as personal responsibility – it is an institutional malaise that afflicts us and of which we are all the victims. So out with the present constitution and in with a new one and all will be well.

4.     Throughout her long period of public office the incumbent President has been notable for persistent abstention from rational thinking. She came to power in 1994 promising the attainment of peace as if it were a unilateral possibility. She adopted all the policies of the UNP not only in the economic sphere but also in respect of the problem of Tamil nationalism. She embraced with alacrity the UNP’s Presidential Executive form of government, which she had attacked fiercely in opposition. Throughout her nearly 7 years in office she has not had a stable Parliamentary majority but, instead, has had to cobble together, and then nurse, unstable coalitions conceding more and more of the perks of office as the price for survival. It has been a very difficult ride and she has convinced herself now that all these problems that beset her and grow more threatening by the day are due to the present constitution.

5.     The role and limitations of a constitution can best be understood by a simple analogy within everyone’s personal experience. A constitution may be likened to a family’s home. The structure affords shelter from the elements and some of the basic creature comforts of life but it does not, and cannot, determine the character and conduct of its occupants. People living in a house may act wisely or foolishly; they may be gentle and kindly or cruel and vicious; they may prosper or become impoverished and so on. How they fare in life will depend on themselves, not on the house they occupy. And so it will be if they were to move to another house or improve their present one.

6.     Likewise, a constitution does not determine the wisdom or folly of the laws passed by the legislature set up under it. Nor does it determine the nature and level of efficiency of the executive set up under it. Still less does it determine the probity or otherwise of the judicial system established by it. All the operations of governance are carried out by men and women who are elected or are appointed to their offices. It is they, not the constitution, who are responsible for, and determine, the quality of a country’s governance. It is their level of intelligence, integrity, industriousness, humanity and wisdom that are crucial to the welfare, tranquility and happiness of the society which they serve and of which they are a part.

7.     The failure of governance we have in Sri Lanka today is the failure, the abysmal failure, of the governors starting from the President herself and not the failure of the constitution. To believe that a new constitution will stop the rot is pure, unbridled delusion. It is tantamount to the universally ridiculed belief that a change of pillow will cure a headache. The meanest intellect among the Sinhala people knows better than that.

Adrian Wijemanne
23rd July 2001