Why a degree must be a must for state corporation bosses
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.