A major cause for some of our failures as a nation has been lack of consensus at least between the two main political parties on key issues facing the country. Perhaps, that is why we have agreed that country should be governed with consensus at least for the next five years.
Disagreement, debate and discussion are key elements of such an administration. Acting through consensus is better than fast tracking things without debate, even if it takes time. After all, accommodating views of others is a feature of democracy and good governance.
However, reaching consensus became a contentious issue in the recent budget when it was presented in the parliament. The problem was no consensus had been reached at all between the two governing parties at the cabinet level before it came to the parliament.
In consensual politics, a certain degree of consensus has to be manifest at every level of governance, be it the local council, provincial administration or the cabinet of ministers. Without such understanding, reaching consensus at parliament at last will be a difficult task.
This is exactly what happened in the budget. There had not been any consensus even on the fundamentals of how to raise revenue in the budget. The reaction it received in parliament was as if some strange set of proposals had fallen into the well of the parliament from the heavens. There was opposition to it even from the government benches.
So much so, some of the major revenue proposals had to be amended changing the very essence of the budget and causing a huge revenue gap which is yet to be bridged with new proposals. No budget in Sri Lanka’s political history would have been amended so much before being approved by the parliament.
Much of this could have been avoided if the two parties had agreed on the basic framework of the budget before it was presented in parliament. That would have been the proper way to display the true spirit of consensual governance.
While we all agree on the need for consensus, it is also noteworthy to remember that it is no easy task to reach consensus on some of the main issues facing the country. Such consensus has to be gradually built through discussion at different stages of the governing process if the country is to reap the full benefits of consensual governance.