Is it the Constitution alone that is at fault? (Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka))

In 1786, Alexander Hamilton, a lawyer and a politician from New York took steps to convene a convention to discuss the need to draft a Constitution. The drafting of the U.S. Constitution began on May 25, 1787 and ended on September 17 1787, a period of approximately 16 weeks.The delegates met from 10 a.m. to 3p.m., 6 days a week and with only 10-day breaks during the duration of the entire convention. The Constitution was ratified in December, 1787.

A five-member team led by James Madison, who is referred to as the Father of the U.S. Constitution had said that the U.S. Constitution was not the offspring of a single brain. It had been regarded as a masterpiece creation – the result of dedicated, passionate and thoughtful deliberations of the convention delegates.

The Framers of the U.S. Constitution when they were drafting it, would never have thought that their Constitution would serve the nation for centuries.The longest lasting, most enviable, and most imitated Constitution had been amended only on 27 occasions, where American Congress plugged in minor loopholes later without changing the focus or the general structure of it, during a period of over two centuries. John Adams referred to their Constitution as the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen. George Washington had written that the Constitution was little short of a miracle. The Constitution has guided the evolution of governmental institutions and has provided the basis for political stability, individual freedom, economic growth and social progress.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, nearly one and a half centuries after the promulgation of the U.S. Constitution said Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangements without loss of essential form. That is why our Constitutional system has proved itself the most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world has produced.

There had been 55 delegates, who attended the convention; 34 were lawyers and the rest: revolutionary war veterans, judges, physicians, planters, educators and those highly eminent citizens of the country.

The Indian Constitution has been written and developed within a period of 2 years 11 months and 170 days, having met on 9th December, 1946 for the first time. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on 13 December, 1946, while moving the Resolution said their firm and solemn resolve was to proclaim India as an independent Sovereign Republic and to draw up for her future governance a Constitution. On 29th August, 1947, the Constituent Assembly set up a drafting Committee, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, as the Chairman, and now regarded as Father of the Indian Constitution. The Assembly, thereafter, has moved, discussed and disposed of as many as 2,473 amendments out of a total of 7,635 tabled.

“According to Leftwhich (1993),good governance involves an efficient public service, an independent public auditor responsible to a representative legislature, respect for the law and order and human rights at all levels of government, a pluralistic institutional structure and a free press”

The Constitution of India was approved on 26th January, 1950 transforming itself into the provisional Parliament of India until a new Parliament was constituted in 1952. The Indian Constitution has a preamble which highlights a few fundamental values and guiding principles on which the Constitution of India is based. The Indian Constitution is full of various provisions borrowed from different countries in the world.

Parliamentary form of government, single citizenship, Rule of Law, institution of Speaker had been copied from the United Kingdom. Fundamental rights, federal structure of government, power of judicial review and independence of the judiciary have been borrowed from the United States. Idea of concurrent list has been taken from the Australian Constitution. Many other features found therein are from several other countries all over the world and the drafters have taken great care and immense pain to implant necessary provisions with skill to suit the Indian requirement and for the greater benefit of the country and its diverse responsibilities. However, compared to the U.S. Constitution, Indian Constitution has been amended a 100 times so far.

U.S. and the Indian Constitutions have adopted the principle that their governments come from below and not from above, and that it derives its powers from the consent of the governed; that individuals have certain natural, inalienable rights; that it is wise and feasible to distribute and balance powers within the government, giving local powers to local governments, and general powers to the central/national government; that all persons are born equal and should be treated as equal before the law.

May I put it simply that the rulers in the past in Sri Lanka since the 1970s did the opposite.They have deprived all our people of their enormous potential. They took steps to consolidate power to the top and ruled the country from the top for their own benefit. They disregarded the famous quote by President Abraham Lincoln – that a democracy is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

It is a pity that we have had two Constitutions since Independence. The country had to go through a thirty-year war and two insurrections due to misrule. I even wonder why we blame the Constitutions for our failure and whether it is because we did not have good leadership compared to countries like Malaysia and Singapore.

Nelson Mandela had said It always seems impossible until it is done. Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and a multi-linguistic country with a heterogeneous population. The diversity of people is one of the several serious issues which causes disunity, instability and brings unbearable pressure to make a choice about our future constitutionally. There have been all types of promises by the politician at every single election that our Constitution will be suitably changed. This has been so intense and passionate and the present President has, therefore, taken necessary initial steps swiftly to fulfil his promises.

In my view, it is not a matter of making a fake democracy stronger and it is in order to improve the lives of people. People are going through immense hardships due to poor governance. There is corruption in all areas beginning from the politician down to the lowest public servant. The culture of impunity, if it continues, will ruin the country and its resources, which we should preserve for the future generations.

Successive governments since independence have miserably failed to achieve sustainable growth and economic development. It is indeed a sad story how we have fallen to such a despicable state of affairs having been a country which had enjoyed adult suffrage, democratic rights and an elected Legislature for nearly a century, well before our other Asian neighbours..

We need to produce a good Constitution of our own as well, which will eventually ensure two political moralities, namely morality of law and the morality of government.

In this context, the Constitution should prescribe a set of laws, to establish the relationship between the people and not for its own. Government for this purpose needs to be effective and good if it is able to fulfil its basic commitments efficiently, effectively and economically. The basic goal of governance is to establish quality relationship between ‘good government’ and the ‘governed’ or citizens. Good government has been defined by John Healey and Mark Robinson as a high level of organizational effectiveness in relation to policy formulation and the policies actually pursued, especially in the conduct of economic policy and its contribution to growth, stability and popular welfare.

Good government also implies accountability, transparency, participation, openness, and the rule of law. Governance means maintaining law and order and in other words, it is a participative system in which those who are called upon to govern on behalf of the people, solving their problems and making their lives more livable, satisfying and enjoyable.

According to Leftwhich (1993),good governance involves an efficient public service, an independent public auditor responsible to a representative legislature, respect for the law and order and human rights at all levels of government, a pluralistic institutional structure and a free press.

Since the 1970s the country has been led on the wrong path by our leaders. Mother Lanka is weeping as the majority of her children, irrespective of their caste, creed or religion, are fighting hard for existence.

A few weeks ago French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, (left-wing French Socialist Party) was under fire in the media and on Twitter when he took a government jet to Germany to watch the Champions League football final with the two children. Opposition politicians accused him of wasting public money during difficult times. An opposition member described this as a form of indecency and a political and moral error. We must extend our best wishes for a job well done by the Opposition, electronic and print media, Facebook, Twitter and the general public, since their attack continued until the big spender reimbursed the cost of the trip. What are we doing in Sri Lanka?

I must add having won the devastating war which lasted for thirty years under the previous regime, the new government is busy taking necessary steps to amend the Constitution to draw up necessary plans, to improve our system of governance in order achieve economic growth, development and stability. It is sad the Opposition is trying to scuttle these moves perhaps because they have their own agenda.

In a democracy, we Sri Lankans too, the civil society, including the knowledgeable citizenry and the media should play their role in public life to criticize unwise or oppressive government officials/politicians, big wasteful spenders and policies etc. – may I say openly, publicly and repeatedly – both in speeches and in writing. We know, based on the past experience, that we can never put a democratic country right if we allow the politicians to run the country the way they want.. We should, therefore, blame ourselves too for the predicament of this country at present.

Let us always follow the French example if we need to take the country forward without blaming the Constitution. If so, we could surely be on the right track even belatedly.