The public was once again treated to the disgusting spectacle of the continuing foot dragging on the long overdue appointment of the Constitutional Council when Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle told Parliament last week that there was a problem over the widely acclaimed nomination of former Auditor General S.C. Mayadunne. According to the Chief Government Whip and President Rajapaksa s troubleshooter in Parliament, the nominee was currently ``employed by Parliament as a consultant to a UNDP funded capacity building project for two watchdog parliamentary committees, the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) and the Public Accounts Committee. This matter is under the purview of the Secretary General of Parliament, the minister said, arguing that Mayadunne was therefore working under this official who has to be appointed by the CC.
It looked very much like a return to square one. Fernandopulle urged that Mayadunne s emoluments are paid by the Treasury and ``there was a problem over this appointment. The minister, of course, took pains to praise the nominee as an ``eminent public servant, no doubt to convey the impression that the government had no problem about the man it is all a matter of principle! The public will not swallow that drivel. Even those who are government partisans will admit that all the clowning that has been going on around the non-revival of the Constitutional Council, created under the 17th Amendment unanimously adopted by Parliament, has everything to do with the president not wanting to forego the power he now enjoys of appointing his own choices to positions that must be manned by independent people. It has nothing to do with principle.
Since the consultancy that Mayadunne is serving is paid for by the UNDP and not by the Government of Sri Lanka, which is only a conduit of channeling these funds to people working for the project, there does not seem to be any great problem on the score presented in the House by Fernandopulle. It may also be asked that if this is really the case, why can t Mayadunne resign from his consultancy? No doubt building capacity in COPE and the PAC is important, but most people will agree that it is more important to get the CC going. It may well be that the argument adduced in Parliament was a means of pressuring Mayadunne to stand down or for organizations like the OPA which laboured hard and long to get the various minority parties that have agreed to make Mayadunne their nominee on the CC, to look around for somebody else. We are told that Mayadunne is standing firm and will not volunteer to step down. The OPA too is not going to backtrack. If it does, it would suggest that it did not do its homework sufficiently before coming up with a name.
We see absolutely no reason for Mayadunne to give up his consultancy. He has a very useful contribution to make in helping to make bodies like the PAC and COPE more effective. These overlooking organizations are very dependent on the Auditor General s input in getting about their work and his long experience will make his input invaluable. The CC does not select a Secretary General of Parliament but is merely required to approve a nomination made by the president. The current SG may have had a hand in recruiting Mayadunne for the consultancy he is now serving. But the CC, of which Mayadunne is not yet a member, had no hand in her appointment. If there is a conflict of interest on the approval of a successor to the present SG whose retirement is due in the short term, Mayadunne can well excuse himself from participating in that decision and we have no doubt that he will do so.
One thing is very clear from the continued foot-dragging about getting the CC up and running: the pressure must be relentlessly maintained to ensure that this body is quickly appointed. The OPA did well in finding a suitable nominee and persuading the minority parties to agree to this nomination. But it cannot rest on its laurels until the appointment is made and the CC is functional. The first council unfortunately lost the membership of Mr. H.L. de Silva on the issue of whether a practicing lawyer should serve on the body. In a situation where the country lacks good people of unimpeachable integrity to do many of the jobs that have to be done, that was a great pity. We are glad that the parliamentary opposition is playing its due role in pushing for this appointment. It was reported yesterday that a senior UNP MP, Mr. John Amaratunge, has written to President Rajapaksa in this regard.
It is important that all concerned lobby the president whenever they get the opportunity as Amaratunge had done on the occasion of the unveiling of the Premadasa portrait in Parliament last week. He had claimed in a letter to Rajapaksa that the president had said on that occasion that the delay was due to some objections by certain parties. Amaratunga says he had made inquiries and found this was not the case. Hopefully those UNPers who have now taken office in the government will also use their muscle to persuade the president not to further delay the appointments. The JVP which must be credited for putting a lot of effort into getting the 17th Amendment through, but later allowed itself to get embroiled in the useless controversy on the choice of the minority party nominee to the CC, must also push hard. Given the president s dependence on his former allies to ensure a parliamentary majority for his government, they have a lot of influence to wield.
Fernandopulle said in Parliament that some of those nominated to the CC in 2006 are now over 75-years old and will not be suitable for office. Given the old fogies placed in various positions including Sri Lanka s overseas missions, it is indeed rich to bring in the age factor to this discussion. The minister also was brazen enough to tell Parliament that the president cannot ``accept any nominee straightaway, as a morning paper reported yesterday. ``He has to check their characters, political affiliations and whether there are pending court cases against them. From an outfit that has anointed Mervyn Silva as a minister, bringing him to Parliament on the National List after the voters had rejected him, this takes not just the cake but the whole bakery. It is obvious that President Rajapaksa is not easily letting go of the power now in his hands with regard to appointments to several vital public bodies where independence is a sine qua non. Public opinion must make itself heard and the president s hand forced to do what is right and not what is politic.