Demystifying System Change General Principles

Apr 17, 2024 - 07:58
May 10, 2024 - 07:07
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Demystifying System Change General Principles


System change got currency after ‘Aragalaya’. For duration of the ‘Aragalaya’, it was probably single word that was mostly used in print, electronic and social media in Sri Lanka. It continued only for some time after Ranil Took over as President, but now for than one year even the people who hijacked Aragalaya have forgotten ‘System Change’. No one talks or thinks about ‘System change’. Now everybody is on the election fever. Nothing changed. Same old vague promises by everyone both by old guard -some may say old rogues - and new guards. Some completely new faces may come still no system change many clamored for.

Only system change that is talked about by some is “abolition of Executive Presidency’’ as if things were good Pre Sri Lanka. Very same people in the same breadth, blame the Political leaders of the past saying for 76 years Politicians have ruined the country. What a the “abolition of Executive Presidency’’ slogan.

We are a nation very good in creating slogans without understanding the meaning of it. System Change was not an exception. Everybody said System Change but nobody knew what the system change they want is. This multi part article tries to establish a framework for discussion regarding ‘Governance system change’

Designing a system - An experience

I recollect my first system design, of course not Governance system, I attempted in 1972 while studying Electronic Engineering in Peradeniya University. I had to design a electronic amplifier that will amplify the input signal by a factor of ten. Those days no integrated chips only discrete components of transistors, resistors and capacitors. These components are mass produced in standard specifications. One need to choose from these standard components and produce the required amplifier system or any electronic system.

I did lot of work of referencing literature and came up with a design with eight transistors and took the design to Professor Gunawardena. He just dismissed it and said to design a modest one with two transistors. I was angry that he rejected the design and all the hard work that went to it. But I had no choice because he is Professor and an excellent one. I redesigned it with two transistors. When I tried to construct the amplifier, I understood what he meant.

In those days, electronic components were unreliable. When you buy a component, actual attribute values could be 50% of the specification or 150% of the specification. For example, if the resistor specified as 100 Ohms by manufacturer, a specific resistor bought may be even 50 ohms or 150 ohms. But the design should be such that the amplifier gains should be 10 independent of component values.

That is how I learnt the challenge of System design. Designing a reliable system using unreliable components.

Reliable System using unreliable components

When I look at systems design of different discipline, there are established principles in ensuring reliability of system despite unreliable components from which they are constructed. In civil engineering, it is safety factor in Design. Civil Infrastructure system should be reliable despite variations in skills of construction workers, possible variations in building material characteristics otherwise lives will be lost.

Similarly in power system, single outage - one component failure - computer simulation is performed all the time to ensure power system reliability. Despite single component outage such as one generator or one transmission line failure, the power system should be stable. Only Ceylon Electricity Board can say with ‘pride of successful diagnosis’ that a single transmission line failure has caused island wide power failure for 4 hours with no accountability, for ensuring power system stability in case of single component failure. I do no think entire country not having power does happen in UK or US except 8 Hour power failure for * hours, as each state is managed by different companies but connected by tie lines. In Sri Lanka it is not an rare event.

When you send vehicles for space travel the computer is critical. To make sure computer does not fail, two computers are put do same thing and the results are compared and same thing is done with another pair. Finally, if there is mismatch within any pair, other pair results are taken as correct and mismatch pair is marked as bad to be fixed.

This is the extent to which system designers go in ay discipline to ensure system reliability despite failure of unreliable components

All the examples I have given above are in the engineering discipline. But the same thing is done in social science disciplines as well

In Management, segregation of duties principle is applied to avoid frauds committed. Normally at least two people should approve things; one person does it while other person review it. If the actions is very critical, three people may have to be involved in approval. Two people may connive and commit fraud but If a fraud is committed by two people, things may come out in the dispute that may arise on the dividing the spoil

In Law of evidence, cross examinations excluding hearsay evidence and corroborations are principles of reliability of the justice system depend on determining the facts reliably. In fact computer evidence was rejected as hearsay evidence as the computer systems ‘cannot be cross-examined or who operates do it without their full consciousness’ to be cross examined to verify the truthfulness or lack of it. It was admitted later after the procedure for determining the reliability was established by the act of parliament.

Therefore, in all system where individual components are unreliable, principles are applied the system design that made of the system constructed or implemented using unreliable components are reliable.

Principle of Reliable Governance system

System should be designed such that nobody can break the system and make it favorable to them at the expense of the rest of the society, This should happen even if a ‘Rogue is elected. We need to understand some systems work well in some countries because the components or the elected representatives people choose were good not that the system was good. We should look at systems that worked well despite unreliable people were elected.

German system that prevailed at the time Hitler can not be good. It allowed a rotten egg to spoil whole country and spoil spilled over to other countries as well. The system in Malaysia cannot be good since it caused havoc to citizens under Premiership of Tunku Abdul Rahman (race riots) and Najib Razak (corruption) while it worked well under Dr.Mahathir. An almost similar system worked well in Singapore because 58 Years two good prime minsters were chosen by people. On the other hand in US, Nixon was fixed in Watergate, Clinton almost fixed in Monica despite it being a personal affair nothing to do governance of the country, Trump cold not do much damage.

Principles for Reliable Governance system

My search for reliable governance system principle brought me to a book published in 1748 by the French Jurist Montesquieu. He wrote that book in French after researching for 21 Years and it was titled “De l'esprit des lois’ It was translated into English in 1750 by Thomas Nugen with the title “Sprits of the Laws”. In 1751 the Roman Catholic Church added “De l'esprit des lois’ to its Index Librorum Prohibitorum ("List of Prohibited Books").

He has enunciated the principles Separation of Governmental powers for good democratic governance. It is similar to segregation of duties for Management for a good management system or Separation of Prosecution/Petitioner accused/Respondent and Judge clearly in a good Justice system.

in his book he said, “In every government there are three sorts of power namely Legislative-Drafting of the rules of the Country, Executive - implementing the rules and Judiciary - resolving disputes arising in the implementation of the rules”

“There would be an end of everything, were the same man, or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals.”

He further stated “The executive power is better administered by one than by many, on the other hand, whatever depends on the legislative power, is oftentimes better regulated by many than by a single person”

Most Notable thing he stated, that would aptly describe the Sri Lankan situation is this, “Should the executive power be committed to a certain number of persons, selected from the legislative body, there would be an end of liberty, by reason the two powers would be united; as the same persons would sometimes possess, and would be always able to possess, a share in both.

Doesn’t this explain how Sri Lankan unreliable politicians got Executive power and share in the Legislature to bankrupt the Country. More than third of the Legislature is designated executive. Today not only the Cabinet of Ministers and deputy/state Minsters but Members of Parliament also have executive power due to various arrangements.

Montesquieu said whether of the nobles or of the people, i.e even of Nobles they would be corrupted by absolute power of Executive and Legislature combined. what will happen to lesser mortals.

By Kugathas Ramathas / Colombo / Sri Lanka

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