Friday, February 24, 2017

Socio-economic rights in Sri Lanka's constitution may backfire on the poor

ECONOMYNEXT - Inserting socio-economic rights into a constitution has backfired on the in several developing countries that has tried it, a political scientist has warned as Sri Lanka considers following on the same path.

Well intentioned people generally wanted to constitutionalize socio-economic rights after looking at areas like Scandinavia, where people have high living standards and the state appear to have a hand in it, which seems to be lacking in developing countries.

"We have a fascination with constitutionalising this because we think in the absence of a justiciable constitution right, our legislature, ministers, and the Parliament, will not create the conditions to achieve these rights," Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, told a forum organized by Advocata Institute, a freemarket think tank and Echelon Magazine.

"The idea that that constitutionalising these rights is a necessary condition for achieving a particular goal is simply a false idea."

"Most countries that have achieved these rights in Scandinavia and in advanced developed countries have done so without constitutionalising them."

Professor Mehta is a political scientist from India who has taught at Harvard University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and the New York University School of Law. He leads the Centre for Policy Research, an India based think tank.

State Tyranny

The first constitutions were built in the West to protect people from tyranny and contained robust measures to restrain the state or monarch (expand individual freedom) and provide absolute guarantees of equality (outlaw discrimination).

Among the most basic concepts governing individual freedom and sovereignty was the right to life, liberty and property. Such rights, allowed Western so-called capitalist nations to grow fast and their people attained high living standards.

Such rights were mostly negative rights, which prevented the armed (or violent) state and sections of society with more power (armed robbers or the rich and influential) to take way the most basic rights of others (usually weaker sections of society) by force. 

Classical liberals and freedom advocates, have generally objected to socio-economic rights (a so-called positive right where the government gives something) as it empowers the state to grab property from one citizen and redistribute to others. They fear a drift towards a Marxist or socialist state, which were entirely built on such concepts.

The US constitution provide only one key such right, the right to a fair trial, for which the government has to build and maintain a court system.

If economic rights are included it is necessary to specify some mechanism to provide those rights at the same time, Mehta said.

In India, the architects of the constitution kept economic rights out of the constitution, but the Supreme Court has interpreted the constitution over time to include such rights.

Perverse Outcomes

One problem was that large sums of may be needed to give some economic rights, which may not be available without many new taxes being charged from everyone.

But one of the biggest dangers of socio-economic rights was that constitutionalizing economic rights with good intentions may result in basic rights of weaker sections of the population being undermined.

In India the right to property was interpreted to enable re-distribution of property. This has resulted in undermining property rights overall, threatening poor people in particular.

"But looking back over the last 70 years it allowed the state to dispossess the poor much more than it dispossessed the rich. 

"The state used its powers of eminent domain to help all manner of property developers to evict the poor."

Eminent domain refers to taking over private property to build public infrastructure like roads with timely and adequate compensation. But it should not apply to private projects, which should be based on free exchange.

In Brazil, the healthcare system has been mired in litigation, after constitutionalizing such rights, with the rich and powerful going to court to demand the most expensive treatment, resulting in the system becoming regressive.

In Sri Lanka freedom advocates say the Urban Development Authority and the Board of Investment already has excessive powers to expropriate citizen's land for private purposes.

Sri Lanka is also a country which has a constitution which has expanded the arbitrary powers of the rulers, violating a basic principle of constitution making, other analysts have said. 

The people were even denied a fair trial with rulers interfering in the judiciary. There is now a social pushback to re-draw a constitution of liberty to take back lost freedoms.

Mehta says the fascination with constitutionalising socio-economic rights "come from a feeling of deep state failure," but simply putting such rights will not make them happen.

"The discourse on economic rights in developing countries emerges from a history of state failure," Mehta says. 

"We want to go to court because legislature does not give us these rights. 

"Paradoxically if we live in a country where the legislature does not deliver these rights in the course of normal give and take of representative politics, it is highly unlikely to even if constitutionalised it is unlikely to have  the effective institutions to deliver these rights."

In many countries, and also in Sri Lanka healthcare and education is provided through normal legislation. Mehta says this is the right way to do it as requirements may change over time.

Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva says in Sri Lanka education and healthcare has reached a large number of people using ordinary legislative procedures.  He said more improvements are planned.

Both publicly supported education and healthcare started under British rule and has been progressively expanded.

Rohan Samarajiva, head of LirneAsia, a regional think tank, says he was once asked whether internet should not be made a basic right. 

But a few decades ago, people may have said a sewing machine was a basic right, when internet was unknown, he pointed out. (Colombo/Feb25/2017)

Let’s pray for the Family Silver

Don’t you think the recently established National Asset Protection Centre would be better named as the Family Silver Protection Centre?

C’mon…what has family silver to do with national assets?

I’m only going by what former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the brains behind National Asset Protection, has said.
What has he said?
He says the new centre is necessary because the selling of Family Silver was the only strategy the UNP knows to develop the country.
So what has National Assets got to do with Family Silver?

One thinks he must know it best, because of all that Family Silver acquired in his time,  had so much to do with National Assets.
But don’t you think he is looking at the Nation as a Family, when he considers the UNP’s National Asset sales – or privatization policies, as Family Silver sales?
Of course, he knows best the link between National Assets and Family Silver. Look at one big example he gives. SriLankan Airlines.
Why, what about SriLankan? Is it not a national asset?
Of course, it is. He says they acquired SriLankan instead of selling it or privatizing it.
Isn’t that true?
It is true in parts. It was acquired because he could not get a seat on it on a return flight from London. It was making a profit in partnership with another airline at the time. And since then, it has been making big losses, and continues so to this day under the Silver Selling UNP, too.
But isn’t it the right of a National Asset that is publicly owned to be making losses? Surely, you must know that profit is to do with capitalism and the liberal economy, while losses are part of a national economy.
But why don’t you look at the family side of the SriLankan national asset?
What family side are you talking about?
I’m just thinking of the Family Silver side. The Chairman of the state acquired SriLankan was his brother-in-law. No doubt he had great trust in his family…so the choice was obvious. But don’t you think it was a National Asset going waste, while the Family Silver was getting more value?
But what about the UNP’s selling of the Hambantota Port to a Chinese company…isn’t that the loss of a National Asset?
Don’t you know that everything built in Hambantota was kept as part of Family Silver, with the country having to bear all the losses on the huge loans taken from the Chinese themselves?
Alright. Hambantota was the hometown and had much to do with Family Silver.
But what else can you say?
If you must know, the Family Silver extends a very long way…It runs through the whole family. Just look at the CSN assets that came to one son. That surely is a whole lot of Family Silver, whether you consider it a National Asset or not.
Why not…It was the National Sports TV broadcaster.
Have you forgotten how Sri Lanka Cricket and ITN  so readily handed over the telecasting to CSN, and the unknown sources of funds for its equipment worth millions. That is certainly a whole lot of Family Silver.


You want to know anymore…What about all those millions that came for the promotion of Rugby? It was a huge asset gained by the elder son, who scored big tries, with no challenge at all. That is surely another huge lot of Family Silver.
Hold on…What do you have to say about the UNP and its SLFP ally wanting to sell our national assets through privatization? Shouldn’t we put a stop to that?
Of course, we must raise a cry against that. But isn’t it better if the first shouts come from those who have never been associated with the huge acquisition and accretion of national assets as Family Silver?
Isn’t it better if the call to protect National Assets or Family Silver comes from those who were not involved in Divi Neguma, which was one huge means of diverting national assets to actual Family Silver, and spread over immediate, close and distant members of a family of acquisition?
With the UNP in an assets selling mood, while Rajapaksa and the Joint Opposition are in the assets protection mood today, we are caught in a quandary between the sellers and gatherers of Family Silver. The trouble is that Family Silver hoarders are in power today, just as earlier. There can be little hope for the Family Silver being kept safe from these ravagers and plunderers on either side of the political divide.

Just pray for the Family Silver to be safe.
The Island

High perks poor man’s burden!

By  - The Nation

Some people say stupid things. Others with a measure of public prominence believe their position gives them the right to say incredibly stupid things and get away with it. Welcome to the Hall of Shame, peopled largely by a number of our nit-wit legislators.

The fact that a bunch of them has been spewing out such inconsequential irrationality should not be a surprise. They are, after all, politicians. That is why Sri Lankan political theatre has become welcome grist for the humorist mill. It makes life so much easier for us satire writers and analysts. Meaning their larking around has our work cut out for us. All one has to do is to observe the antics of many elected jokers and report the facts. And while the free media are not wrong in focusing on the shock-value side of these elected officials’ asinine propounding and transgressions, the most relevant question to the public is left hanging in the air: Are these politicians, just too daft to be good at their jobs and govern our nation?

Hardly surprising then that in Sri Lankan politics an absurdity is not a handicap. Of late we have witnessed certain politicians, Cabinet Ministers no less, come up with the most mind-numbing brainless quotes that would make George Bush seem a genius in comparison.

Many of them, of late have taken a firm and permanent step into either being simply stupid or insanely arrogant in proffering their own bizarre suppositions. They are so far out of touch with reality while living in their own wealthy world of profligate privileged perks and power.

For instance there is Joint Opposition MP Bandula Gunawardena who has earned himself the dubious distinction of propounding the most illogical political and economic theories imaginable. Last week he defended the right of lawmakers to receive massive duty exemptions on luxury vehicles as well as the recently introduced Rs 100,000 special allowance despite the national economy being in desperate straits.

In December last year Parliament passed a Resolution to pay all Parliamentarians a monthly allowance of Rs. 100,000 to cover the expenses of maintaining an office and also to increase the allowance of Rs. 500 for attending Parliament sittings up to Rs 2,500. All Parliamentarians are entitled to the increased allowances from January 1, 2017.

MP Gunawardena underscored the point that lawmakers shouldn’t be deprived of their legitimate perks and privileges endorsed by Parliament. The UPFA MP was responding to a query at a media briefing on whether lawmakers representing various political parties weren’t embarrassed to benefit from duty free exemptions ranging from Rs 30 to 44 million to procure luxury vehicles and obtaining special allowances in addition to pay and a range of other payments at a time the country was heading towards a financial crunch. MP Gunawardena maintained that he wasn’t ashamed. And more to this effect, his answer was uttered in the heated language of righteous indignation that he would gladly accept even higher perks and allowances. He asserted that the crisis in the national economy couldn’t be addressed by lawmakers depriving themselves of what they were entitled to. One of the nation’s most respected and outspoken economists Dr. W. A. Wijewardena strongly disagrees, contending that tangible measures were urgently needed to restrict taxpayers’ money being spent on members of Parliament. Dr. Wijewardena, a former Deputy Central Bank Governor, responding to Bandula Gunawardena’s declaration that lawmakers couldn’t be deprived of perks and privileges in spite of the prevailing economic crisis claimed that a recent study by him had revealed that the cost of maintaining a cabinet minister amounted to Rs 8.5 million a month.

Dr. Wijewardena has been highlighting such deficiencies for quite some time and has been playing the apolitical ‘Lone Ranger’ with admirable efficiency and forthrightness. No one in his right mind could ever doubt his integrity or professionalism as an economic whiz with no political attachments. The nation owes a personage of his outstanding calibre a huge debt of gratitude.

In fact, our politicians over the last four decades or so have disagreed on most everything. Everything that is, except when it comes to ladling out the biggest share of the nation’s wealth to themselves. At that crucial juncture they all agree to vote in accord to give themselves too much of everything.

Let’s be honest about the whole issue. Over the last few years our ‘slobby’ legislative and ministerial enclaves have become nothing short of obscene. And just imagine their perks! The staff, the bodyguards, the luxury cars, the first-class flights, the food, the office refurbishments and the five-star hotel stays. Yes, it amounts to all status, no substance and at a cost of billions of bucks.

For sheer exclusivity nothing beats the elite ‘Diyawanna Oya Club’ comprising the nation’s politicians, whose perquisites and standard of living have become as breathtakingly opulent and straight out of the ‘Arabian Nights’. They live, entertain, feast, travel, are provided protection and indulge themselves like superstars at the expense of the people. And all this has emerged amid disclosures of corruption all around them, intensifying the evidence of economic pillage and the improper use of government funds for personal political purposes. Much of the economic damage may be too deep to reverse. But then, the politicians and certain bureaucrats themselves too are largely to blame because they have never been any good at moderation.

Everything at this point calls for harsh budgetary measures in an effort to bridge the colossal Budget deficit, generate more revenue, decrease expenditure and to honour both staggering domestic and foreign borrowings.

What is unacceptable is that every successive government has been spoiling its politicians and bureaucratic flatterers rotten in budget-slashing times where ordinary citizens are being entreated to exercise austerity which now appears to border on bare hand-to-mouth existence. Take for instance, the dishonesty, the neglect, the incompetence and the sinful waste which have become the norm in most every utility, state-owned enterprise and the bureaucracy.

Utilities charges today have become outrageously unaffordable. Take into consideration the reality that the consumers of this nation are already paying among the highest electricity and water tariffs in the world. In a nation where poverty and inequality remain disappointingly widespread, perhaps nothing is more destructive of public trust in a democracy than belief that nepotism and corruption are flourishing as never before. The last few years will go down in the annals of our nation’s history as the era that witnessed the largest number of political mouthings of abject inanity. The assertion is reinforced by the statements of certain high-ranking Cabinet legislators such as the same Bandula Gunawardena when he was minister of education. He actually theorized that a family of three could live a comfortable life with an income of Rs.7,500 per month if they used their money wisely.

Clearly, a seventh grade student with a knowledge of basic economics would have been able to rebut the Minister’s nonsensical theory with a single X flourish of his pen. And the more perceptive among them would question as to how he could function as the minister of learning when he has a heck of lot of learning to do himself.

But on the other hand, allowing loose cannons to fire such unintelligent salvos indiscriminately may sound as if this is their party’s general view? Party whips must start a crackdown on allowing these small minds to wander. Indeed, they are far too small to be let out on their own.

Besides being an embarrassment to their party and a mill-stone around the nation’s neck, they are ill-equipped to make intelligent statements. They are positively expendable. They are a monumental reminder to everyone that there is no surer way of leading a party to electoral extinction than having them on board.

But as with our Parliament, every time they make a joke, it becomes a law! And every time they make a law, it becomes a joke! Elected jokes are a very serious matter, legislatively speaking that is.

Government has very little support left in the private sector

Today the General feeling within the private sector is that the Ranil - Sirisena government is doing very poorly, that there is indecision and the President and Prime Minister cannot agree on most things. The news papers also Highlights this over and over again in their editorials. The Hiru and Sirasa News only focus on the negative news. The protest in the Colombo city continue on a daily basis, without any action. At every business forum the ineffectiveness of the government is highlighted.

Not a single person appointed by the government other than Ministers Ravi Karunanayake, Dr Rajitha Senarathne and occasionally Malik Samarawickrama and the Prime Minister defend the government. The private sector has happily forgotten the way Rajapaksa's ruled the country and a lot of good things have happened post jan 8th, like the 19 th ammendment. No body dared to talk then and the fake stories spread by Dr P.B Jayasundara and Nivard Cabral were cheered on by the Private Sector elite led by Susantha Rathnayake, Delith Jayaweera, Mano Selvanathan, K Wegapitiya, Dhammika  Perera , Thilak De Zoysa,, Nimal Perera, SanTh Ukwatte, Sumal Perera and Ashok Pathirage. These people defended the Rajapakse's publicly and at every forum. That is why the government held on for 10 years, until Mahinda Rajapakse got greedy and decided to go for the third term.

Ironically the UNP has no one other than a handful who have been effectively sidelined by the fly by night new heroes to defend the government at any forum. Where is Charitha Ratwatte, Paskaralingem, Saman Ekanayake, Dr Coomarasawmy  and Mangala Yapa? They do nothing while the government walks from one crisis to another any get lambasted. Why are they silent? They are only there to look after their interests. The Rajapakse's were smart, they appointed people who were loyal to them and the party. They would do anything to protect the Rajapaksa government.

The government now according to experts has no control over the financial sector as a result of bad appointments,  the Rupee continues slide( 2015- 132, 2017- 152) and interest rates keeps moving up( 8% to 14%), simply because the Governor has no interests in protecting the government other than himself, the HNB Chairman Rienzi Arseculrathne , Seylan Bank Chairman Ravi Dias, Commercial Bank Chairman Deerathne, NSB Chairman  and People's Bank Chairman Fernando did nothing for the government and they have no love for the government. They are there only for their survival and what they can take out.

Many of the key appointments made by this government has been short sighted and done at the whims of people like Ratwatte and Samarawickrama. If the government hopes to run for four years, changes have to be made now. The government is about to crash land for want of leadership at certain key institutions. (LankaNewsWeb)