From open govt partnership to forestry: Global recognition for Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

From open govt partnership to forestry: Global recognition for Sri Lanka

22 July, 2018

The week just ended, earmarked with two global events in which Sri Lanka received high level international recognition for good governance on the one hand and environment conservation on the other. The week began with President Maithripala Sirisena delivering the inaugural address at the 24th Sessions of the Committee on Forestry, of Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome on Monday (July 16), and on Wednesday and Thursday, he attended the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Global Summit in Tbillis in Georgia where the government’s relentless efforts to break the unholy nexus between absolute power and corruption was hailed by the international community. It is the first time that a high profile Sri Lankan leader took part in the OGP Global Summit. Sri Lanka was invited to be a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2015, following the victory of the common candidate Maithripala Sirisena, who ran an electoral campaign based on a vibrant anti-corruption platform. His electoral success and subsequent action to fight corruption and curtail his own executive powers by enacting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution made him a desired international figure in the fight against corruption. Sri Lanka stands out as an example of a government action to fight corruption by curtailing excessive powers vested in the Executive Presidency to strengthen Parliament. This is in contrast to the general view that fighting corruption is mostly an activity of civic bodies. The Global Session, was chaired by Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze with the participation of Presidents, Prime Ministers, Speakers, Ministers and other representatives from 75 member countries. The Open Government Partnership is a mechanism formed to enhance transparency and accountability to the public and people’s participation in governance.

The distinguished delegates attending the OGP Global Summit focused their full attention when President Sirisena gave his frank opinion about corruption and authoritarian rule while responding to a question on how Sri Lanka has progressed during his tenure in terms of the principles of OGP. “When you talk about the principles of Open Government Partnership with regard to eradicating corruption, misappropriation and waste, it is important to understand the link between corruption and power. They go hand in hand. It is critical therefore that the power concentrated around politicians or public officials is checked and shared constitutionally.”

President Sirisena’s statement received wide approval from the audience and fellow members of the panel, as an example of a government taking leadership to fight corruption and strengthen democracy. The framework which has been put in place constitutionally by the government, has started to bring positive outcomes as reflected in International Indexes as well as in high profile invitations such as, OGP and Forestry Committee of FAO. In some of those indexes, Sri Lanka ranking has improved only by a tangent. But some actions don’t bring immediate results.

Quoting Nelson Mandela, Civil Society Co-Chair, Mukelani Dimba said, “Fighting corruption is a long walk”. This summarizes the fact that corruption is a deep-rooted cultural phenomenon that needs perseverance to fight and President Sirisena easily fits into that role. “When I became the President of Sri Lanka, the Presidency in Sri Lanka was vested with so much executive powers that no other elected leader in the world enjoyed. It was under that absolute power that corruption spread. Before I strengthened the Parliament, it was according to the arbitrary liking of the President that the Chief Justice, other judges of the Supreme Court, Attorney General, Inspector General of Police, were appointed. Although there were some commissions established, all the commissioners were appointed to the liking of the Executive President, thereby keeping total control over them,” President Sirisena explained to the attentive OGP audience at the Tbillisi Conference Hall in the Georgian capital.

He said, unlimited power creates corruption and during the last three years, Sri Lanka has taken several important steps to break the link between power and corruption in the country. The President, expressing his views said, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka was introduced within a few months of assuming office by him and it became a key factor that strengthened transparency, accountability and the rule of law in the country. With the passage of this important constitutional amendment, the open government partnership with the executive, legislature and judiciary was transformed to yield progressive benefits. Earlier in the week, in Rome, he spoke about the imperative need to sustain the forest cover. Speaking about the subject close to his heart, he said that forests provide many socio-economic benefits, including food, energy and shelter which are basic human needs and to sustain the products and services that help meet these and other needs, forests must be sustainably managed.

Delivering the inaugural speech at the opening ceremony of the 24th Sessions of the Committee on Forestry, of Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome on July 16, President Sirisena said, the Committee on Forestry is the right platform for the forestry experts to share knowledge, discuss, debate and take decisions for the progress of the global forestry sector.

Briefing the FAO Forestry Committee about the situation in Sri Lanka, he pointed out that more than 50 percent of the land area in Sri Lanka had been covered by forests two centuries ago and now the total dense forest cover of the island is estimated at 29.7 percent of the total land area. He said the government has launched several programmes to enhance it to 32 percent. Forest destruction has caused severe environmental hazards in many parts of the country, affecting rainfall patterns, soil erosion and destruction of agricultural products. President Sirisena said, the government has mobilized children for environmental activities. Currently, Sri Lanka has approximately 4.3 million children attending school. “We are commencing a project under the sponsorship of the Government to motivate and encourage schoolchildren to plant at least a tree in their home gardens or school premises. We will help and support the plant growth by helping the children financially. This will encourage and make the children aware of their duty to conserve and preserve Nature,” the President said.

While the two invitations from FAP and OGP reflect the recognition of President Maithripala Sirisena as an environmentalist and a crusader of anti-corruption drive, the two conferences became immensely helpful to boost Sri Lanka’s image internationally.