Why a de­gree must be a must for state cor­po­ra­tion bosses

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT -

Even as Maithri­pala Sirisena cel­e­brated the fourth an­niver­sary of his elec­tion to the pres­i­dency on Wed­nes­day, what are the out­stand­ing feats of ac­com­plish­ment he can boast of dur­ing his ten­ure at the tail end of his of­fice?

Well, stand­ing like a soli­tary palm in a bar­ren desert given to sand storms and ever shift­ing sand dunes, is his wel­come en­act­ment of the 19th Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion which, as he him­self proudly said, was the first time a sit­ting pres­i­dent vol­un­tar­ily clipped his own wings.

Any­thing else? Oh yes. Dur­ing these last four years his sin­gu­lar achieve­ment has been to strengthen the in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­ciary. As the Sun­day Punch com­mented on Oc­to­ber 28 last year, two days af­ter the con­sti­tu­tional coup took place, “if there’s one blessed thing that he has done dur­ing these past four years, it is to have used all the four chances that pre­sented be­fore him to ap­point the na­tion’s chief jus­tice with great sagac­ity. To have cho­sen the best for the task, ir­re­spec­tive of his own po­lit­i­cal agenda. To have re­stored the in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­ciary and sal­vaged the re­spect from the depths which, in the pub­lic eye, it seemed to have fallen dur­ing Ra­japaksa times.”

His ap­point­ment of three Supreme Court Chief Jus­tices was done solely on the ba­sis of se­nior­ity and merit; and even his po­lit­i­cal foes could scarce fore­bear to clap or find any iota of fault or po­lit­i­cal bias in his ap­point­ments. First it was Jus­tice Sri­pa­van and on his re­tire­ment Jus­tice Dep and on his re­tire­ment Jus­tice Nalin Per­era.

The tril­ogy stands to Sirisena’s ev­er­last­ing credit. And has con­trib­uted in im­mense mea­sure to re­store pub­lic re­spect and con­fi­dence in the in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­ciary. Sirisena may have failed in many as­pect, but one must give credit where credit is due.

And last week saw him de­clare his in­ten­tion to do his sec­ond blessed act. He is­sued a pres­i­den­tial fiat declar­ing that hence­forth all chair­per­sons and di­rec­tors of state cor­po­ra­tions and state in­sti­tu­tions must hold a de­gree from a recog­nised univer­sity.

In an ex­clu­sive re­port pub­lished in the Sun­day Times last week, it was re­vealed that the Pres­i­dent had is­sued a di­rec­tive that state en­ter­prises chiefs, in­clud­ing di­rec­tors, who will be ap­pointed by the new United Na­tional Front Cab­i­net will be able to re­main in of­fice only if they have a de­gree from a recog­nised univer­sity. Also con­tained in the di­rec­tive were the fol­low­ing:

an age bar­rier of 70 years

the re­quire­ment that the chair­per­son or the Chief

Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer serve full time.

the CEO will not be el­i­gi­ble to be a di­rec­tor.

Age re­stric­tions will not ap­ply “for dis­tin­guished

pro­fes­sion­als or man­agers.”

Di­rec­tors of pub­lic en­ter­prises will have a term of three years and will only be el­i­gi­ble if they are on the boards of not more than three com­pa­nies in the pri­vate sec­tor.

an­nual eval­u­a­tion of ap­pointees. Those con­sid­ered hav­ing a con­flict of in­ter­est in their ar­eas of ac­tiv­ity will be de­barred from serv­ing.

de­barred are per­sons de­clared by courts as in­sol­vent or a per­son found guilty by court for moral turpi­tude, cor­rup­tion or any other se­ri­ous crime.

an­nual eval­u­a­tion of ap­pointees. Those con­sid­ered hav­ing a con­flict of in­ter­est in their ar­eas of ac­tiv­ity will be de­barred from serv­ing. Also de­barred are per­sons de­clared by courts as in­sol­vent or a per­son found guilty by court for moral turpi­tude, cor­rup­tion or any other se­ri­ous crime.

This is most wel­come. Far too long both UNP and SLFP gov­ern­ments have used peo­ple owned state cor­po­ra­tions and in­sti­tu­tions as na­tional play­grounds to in­dulge their party sup­port­ers with chair­man­ships and di­rec­tor­ships, ir­re­spec­tive of their aca­demic qual- ifi­ca­tions and proven track record to per­form the oner­ous du­ties such posts en­tailed. Party hacks have been be­stowed these na­tional in­sti­tu­tions as their per­sonal fief­doms, to en­joy a hefty salary, to en­joy its perks and priv­i­leges, to travel in state owned lux­ury ve­hi­cles, to fly to for­eign lands at the cor­po­ra­tion’s and thus the peo­ple’s ex­pense – in short to have a whale of a time, enjoying to the ut­most the thrills and frills and the spins of cor­po­rate of­fice, an­swer­able to none.

Three ex­am­ples will suf­fice. Dur­ing the Ra­japaksa regime

Su­manadasa, an astrologer from Galle was ap­pointed as a di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Sav­ings Bank. His qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the post: He is a close friend of Mahinda Ra­japaksa and his per­sonal astrologer. Su­manadasa also re­ceived a car for his per­sonal use val­ued at over Rs. 8 mil­lion from Mi­hin Lanka on a di­rec­tive from the then Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japaksa

Prasad Kariyawasam was made the Chair­man of the Na­tional Sav­ings Bank by Ra­japaksa. He was a planter. His qual­i­fi­ca­tion to head the bank: He was the hus­band of the then Chief Jus­tice Shi­ran­thie Ban­daranayake and in Mahinda’s own tele­vised words ‘one of us’ whom I shaped’ when Kariyawasam was ac­cused of fraud.

Nis­han­tha Wick­remesinghe who was a planter was ap­pointed Chair­man of Srilankan Air­lines. His qual­i­fi­ca­tions: He is Mahinda Ra­japaksa’s brother in law, the brother of Mahinda’s wife Shi­ran­thie. Those presently serv­ing as chair­men and di­rec­tors have been asked to step down so each case could be ex­am­ined by an of­fi­cial com­mit­tee headed by for­mer Pres­i­den­tial Sec­re­tary W.J.S. Karunaratne.

Good. The sov­er­eign peo­ple of this coun­try have the sov­er­eign right to elect whom­so­ever they wish to rep­re­sent them in the House of par­lia­ment ir­re­spec­tive of their ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions. But those they elect have no sov­er­eign right to ap­point their catch­ers to head state in­sti­tu­tions as they wish. Even as Pres­i­dent Sirisena ap­pointed three Chief Jus­tices solely on their se­nior­ity and merit, Min­is­ters of the cab­i­net must only ap­point chair­men and di­rec­tors to state in­sti­tu­tions based solely on their aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions and past track record.

Such a di­rec­tive by Pres­i­dent Sirisena will do well to keep out the riff raff, the po­lit­i­cal cronies and see pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions headed, gov­erned and di­rected by qual­i­fied per­son­nel and placed on a pro­fes­sional foot­ing, pro­fes­sion­als whose tar­get must be to turn these gi­ant white ele­phants into gi­ant profit mak­ing en­ter­prises for the peo­ple’s ben­e­fit; not po­lit­i­cal cronies whose aim is to suck the ud­ders dry for their per­sonal grat­i­fi­ca­tion.

UNF House Leader and Pub­lic En­ter­prise, Kandyan Her­itage and Kandy De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Lak­sh­man Kiriella has ques­tioned the pres­i­dent’s move to im­poses a de­gree qual­i­fi­ca­tion to be el­i­gi­ble to hold the of­fice of chair­man or di­rec­tor in a state owned in­sti­tu­tion. He asked whether the move was le­gal.

He told the Sun­day Times that, “the usual prac­tice is that sub­ject min­is­ters make the ap­point­ments. We don’t know the le­gal­ity of this.”

Well, if it’s not le­gal, isn’t it time to make it le­gal for the weal and wel­fare of all Lanka. And make manda­tory by law, not only for the present but for the fu­ture that all who head pub­lic en­ter­prises must be armed with a de­gree qual­i­fi­ca­tion from what­ever field be­fore they can chair­men or be di­rec­tors in pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions.

For un­like en­try to par­lia­ment which is a pop­u­lar­ity con­test and a cit­i­zen’s free­dom ir­re­spec­tive of his aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions, those ap­pointed by those elected to run state owned busi­ness must have the nec­es­sary ed­u­ca­tion to run them ef­fi­ciently. What may be sauce for the par­lia­men­tary gan­der must not be sauce for the state cor­po­ra­tion’s gan­der.

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