We, the undersigned, issue this public statement to urge the Government to adopt a transparent and consultative approach to its ongoing constitutional reform process. We make this request in light of the following:
1.In September 2020, the Cabinet of Ministers appointed a committee of experts to draft a new constitution. This committee received submissions from the public for several months and is presumably now drafting a new constitution. The President has indicated that a new constitution will be adopted in 2022. However, there is no information in the public domain as to the process that is being followed by the committee at the present moment, in developing its draft. The principles that should guide the content of the proposed constitution have not been made public either. Moreover, it is yet unknown whether the draft will be made available for public discussion before being presented to Parliament.
2.We recognise that previous attempts at amending the Sri Lankan Constitution and previous efforts to adopt a new Constitution have almost always been problematic. They have been unsatisfactory, in terms of process as well as substance. However, we would like to note that we all should strive to learn the lessons that a critical study of past experiences in constitution-making teach us and aspire to improve.
3. Constitution-making is a challenging task. Ensuring effective public participation and consultation that goes beyond a box ticking exercise is challenging, yet necessary. Some aspects of constitutional reform will be the subject of contentious political negotiation and bargaining. Even the best of efforts, made in good faith, often yield unsatisfactory results. Nevertheless, elected representatives of the people are duty bound to consult the public who give them a mandate to draft and authorise a new constitution and therefore engage them in this process to ensure that their views are also counted. In any event, a process that involves no consultation or transparency is not acceptable within a democratic society.
4. Despite the importance of the task of drafting a new constitution for Sri Lanka, the public is disengaged from the process. Other reform processes, including reforming the electoral system, are underway. Meanwhile, the recently announced proposal for a ‘One Country, One Law’ initiative gives cause for concern. It has the potential to create much anxiety among the ethnic minorities. The committee appointed for it fails to inspire confidence due to the lack of representativeness in its composition. Moreover, these processes seem to run parallel to the drafting of a constitution which is the supreme law of the land. It is not clear as to how these parallel initiatives will align with the constitutional reform exercise.
5. We also express our deep concern about the long-term negative consequences of the very idea of ‘One country, One Law’ for a multi-ethnic society. Sri Lanka’s national unity requires the recognition of pluralism within a framework of democratic constitution and a Bill of Rights.
Therefore, we urge the Government:
1. To ensure that a strong degree of accountability and transparency is maintained in the ongoing constitutional reform process. This could be ensured through regular reporting by the Committee to the Parliament and to the public.
2. To make the draft available to the public in all three languages, to accompany its distribution by a meaningful and effective constitutional literacy programme aimed at supporting the Sri Lankan citizens to engage with the draft, and to ensure that adequate time will be afforded for public debate and discussion on the draft.
3. To design a process whereby the public will get an opportunity to respond to the draft and provide inputs.
4. The constitution which is in force requires that a new constitution be approved with 2/3 majority in Parliament and by the People at a referendum. Such a referendum must be carried out in a context where Sri Lankan citizens can exercise their vote in an informed, critical and responsible manner.
1. Prof Abeysinghe Navaratne Bandara
2. Geoffrey Alagaratnam PC
3. Dr Lionel Bopage
4. Dr Visakesa Chandrasekaram
5. Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy
6. Dr Priyan Dias
7. Rohan Edrisinha
8. Ameer Faaiz
9. Marshal Fernando
10. Dr Mario Gomez
11. Dr Kumaravadivel Guruparan
12. Tissa Jayatilaka
13. K W Janaranjana
14. Dr Sakuntala Kadiragamar
15. P Muthulingam
16. Prof Arjuna Parakrama
17. Prof Harshana Rambukwella
18. Sanjayan Rajasingham
19. Dr. Ramesh Ramasamy
20. Shreen Abdul Saroor
21. Dr Dinesha Samararatne
22. Kumudini Samuel
23. Dr Kalana Senaratne
24. Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu
25. Prof Sumathy Sivamohan
26. Emeritus Prof Jayadeva Uyangoda
27. Dr Asanga Welikala
28. Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne PC
Building trust, a better investment
The government has allowed private companies to import chemical fertilisers. The farmers had been holding many a street protest against the government’s blatantly unwise policy of shifting to organic farming overnight, but to no avail. The Minister concerned and others repeatedly said that they would not change the government’s decision as it had been made for the good of all the people. The farmers had no problem with organic farming but insisted that the transition had to be phased out to avoid serious adverse effects. But no! The government never relented and tried to show that the street protests were instigated by interested parties including chemical fertiliser companies, to make the government unpopular. The government insisted that chemical fertilisers have caused many ailments including the dreaded kidney disease and turned a deaf ear to the farmers’ grievances.
However, hot on the heels of Mr. Modi’s U-turn last week, the Minister has changed track and tells us that the government, being one which is always ‘sensitive to people’s concerns’, has decided to make chemical fertilizers available through private imports, but would not import them on its own or change its policy of going fully organic. Questioned by journalists, another ruling party spokesperson quipped that the government’s decision came about neither due to the Indian PM’s ‘example’ nor in response to the loud protests. It is a result of the discussions held within the party, he assured.
However, it is unfortunate that the government had to wait for more than seven months to be ‘sensitive to peoples’ concerns’. If the ruling party members had only taken a few minutes to watch TV news headlines, they would have proved their ‘sensitivity’ months earlier, not waiting for Mr. Modi to steal a march on them, so to speak. To any reasonable person, the government obviously has responded to the rampant protests that were actually the climax of a prolonged process, which began with pleading, explaining their predicament, reasoning, chest thumping, expressing disbelief, which gradually culminated in loud protests, burning of effigies and threatening to come to Colombo in numbers. Surely, Mr. Modi didn’t make it any easier for the government to justify its ‘sensitivity’ to farmers’ grievances!
Thus, to any reasonable person, the government had actually responded to the unbridled anger of the helpless farmers, not to their grievances. What’s more, looking at how the government had handled the previous issues of a controversial nature, it is hard to recall any instance where it promptly responded to people’s concerns; it was always a case of responding to people vehemently protesting as a last resort- be it the Port City issue, Eastern Terminal, Teachers’ salary or Yugadanavi Power Plant issue, not to mention the pathetic state of innocent villagers being perpetually traumatized by wild elephant attacks often taking their lives wantonly. In each of these cases, the government, wittingly or unwittingly, seemed to regard the voices of concern, not as appeals worthy of serious attention, but as attempts at disruption or politically motivated interventions. This, surely, does not augur well for the government or support its claim to ‘sensitivity’ as regards people’s concerns.
The government’s decision to compromise on its strict chemical fertiliser ban, which has come soon after Mr. Modi’s reversal of sorts, allows room for the discerning public to make obvious inferences, despite the government’s claim about its decision not being influenced by that of the Indian PM. In fact, the government reps have nothing to gain by pretending to blush when journalists suggest that they perhaps took a leaf from their neighbour. Even at this juncture, people’s representatives seem reluctant to prefer sincerity to affectation; hence the government’s growing aloofness, which is causing a “severe trust deficit”- to borrow a pithy phrase from The Island editorial of November 19.
As the representatives of the public, what any government needs to foster are sincerity and empathy. It is this tacit bond between the people and the government, which will consolidate trust in the long term. Being the party that holds power, the onus is on the rulers to secure people’s faith. Instead, every party that has come to power since Independence has always helped the Opposition to make a five yearly ‘ritual cleansing’ in the eyes of the people. So, the wheel turns.
Don’t harass whistle-blower
Thushan Gunawardena, who alerted the authorities and the media to a serious fraud taking at Sathosa should not be harassed by the Police as it is clear that he has no political motives and has acted in the public interest.
The Cabinet minister concerned is attempting to show a conspiracy against him when he has failed to prevent such frauds at Sathosa and let it continue as there were benefits flowing to him in addition to his being able to employ family members and manipulate the system for personal profit.
It is patently clear that he is trying to take the investigation in a different direction and prevent changes that would clean up the mess that is contributing to the massive losses at Sathosa.
Stanley (Sam) Samarasinghe
A TRIBUTE TO A PATRIOT
Even with the prior knowledge that the end was near, when the news of the passing away of Sam on the 23rd of November 2021 was conveyed to me, it was difficult to bear. Though living the better part of his adult life in the United States, to those with whom he had regular contact and dialogue, he was ever present. He succumbed to an illness that he bore with courage and fortitude for several years. In that time his enthusiasm to live his life to the full did not diminish. Except family and close friends none had even the slightest inkling that he was battling an invasive enemy within.
I have described Sam as a Patriot, if its definition is “one that loves his country and zealously maintains its interests”, then it fits him well, as he did that in full measure.
Having schooled in Kandy at Dharmarajah College, Sam completed a special degree in economics at the Peradeniya University where his father worked. Having being accepted by both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he turned to his mentor, Professor H. A. de S. Gunasekera, who had advised him to take Cambridge. He went there with his wife Vidyamali, whom he had met at Peradeniya and obtained his Ph.D. in Economics. They both returned to Peradeniya and Sam became a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics. He taught there until 1989, when he left for the United States with his wife and two sons, Mevan and Ranmal. He was appointed Professor of the Development Studies Programme at the USAID, a position he held for many years in Washington. But what is remarkable, is that he continued his abiding interest in the many facets of Sri Lankan life, especially in education and politics and of course, Kandy. He returned to Sri Lanka at least twice a year. While others would spend such breaks as a let up from work, Sam vigorously involved himself in many spheres of activity.
Along with Prof. Kingsley de Silva, he created the only intellectual hub outside of the Peradeniya University in Kandy at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES). As Director, he secured funding for many academic projects that the Centre did. Sam was instrumental in the ICES buying its own place and then constructing a tarred road leading to the Center. The way he set about it will give the reader an idea of the man Sam was. The road served at least 12 houses. He arranged a meeting of all the householders and sold them a deal that none could refuse. Each household was asked to pay proportionately to the distance from the main Peradeniya Road to their house. At the end of the exercise. Sam refunded the excess in that same proportion!!
Sam was an academic, researching and writing extensively, sometimes collaborating with other academics such as Prof. Kingsley de Silva and Prof. G.H. (Gerry) Peiris. On several occasions, he brought out his post graduate students from the Tulane University, New Orleans (where he was Visiting Professor of Economics) to Sri Lanka and to Kandy, arranged field trips and had them interact with academics and professionals.
His particular interest in Kandy made him do a study of its traffic congestion and organised a public seminar with other experts on the subject. As the President of the Senkadagala Lions Club, Sam obtained funding for many of its projects. In fact, Sam had a penchant for writing up project proposals, an expertise he ungrudgingly shared with anyone who asked for it. He started a monthly local newspaper in 1994, the “Kandy News”, becoming its Chief Editor and its main sponsor. The last issue was a special supplement done in the run-up to the Kandy Municipal Council election in 2018.
When the tsunami stuck the country in 2004, Sam was the lead Consultant of a World Vision programme designed to make a qualitative assessment of tsunami and non-tsunami villages from Kalutara in the Western Province to Kilinochchi in the Northern Province. A task he successfully completed with his team under the aegis of the ICES.
He was an advocate for cooperation and harmony among the races. His involvement in the post tsunami work in Jaffna and Trincomalee with the Lions Club is proof of that, as much as it was when he asked the guests to the nuptial reception of his son Mevan, not to give presents but to contribute towards the project initiated by Mevan and himself in giving school books and equipment to the Tamil Primary School at the Gomorra Estate in Panwila.
My own association with Sam goes back to the time I ran for office as Mayor in 1997. He threw his weight behind me helping out in ways too numerous to mention. That friendship grew and grew and it embraced my family as well. He would ask me to criticise his writing especially on politics. He was a stickler for accuracy and uncompromising on facts. His opinions were rational, practical and unbiased. A bubbly personality, he was always a believer that there are better times ahead. His enthusiasm was infectious. His criticism of events and people were never personal. There is much to take from the life and times of Sam Samarasinghe.
We share his loss with his wife, the two boys of whom he was justly very proud of and his siblings whose welfare he always had. The country is poorer for his passing.
May he find peace in Nibbana!
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