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Flashbacks of reinforcing 13A

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By Austin Fernando

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has recently said that the Provincial Council (PC) elections will be held when the ground situation is conducive. Minister Sarath Weerasekara insists on scrapping the PCs. Ambassador Nalin de Silva has opined that in the absence of elected PCs, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (13A) stands abolished.

There are three competing standpoints: (a) Legally, the PM believes the 13A is intact; (b) Conceptually, Minister Weerasekara believes 13A is live, but must be “killed”; and (c) Cavalierly, Ambassador de Silva thinks it is already dead! Thankfully, sanity prevailed when Sagara Kariyawasam MP, following the PM’s statement said: “The 13A remains part of the Constitution, and elections will have to be conducted” and “PCs cannot be indefinitely run by Governors and officials.”

 

13A and devolutionary dynamism

Against this background, I read an article by my respected and adored guru, Professor Gerald Peiris. He urged abolishing the PCs and replacement by constitutional devices, to ensure: (a) genuine power-sharing, and (b) statutorily protect Sri Lanka’s sovereignty/ territorial integrity. He revisits the Dutch and British times, articulating a rich historical analysis of how the provinces evolved. There is other analysis as regards the provinces like that by Professor Madduma Bandara.

Although no government implemented the 13A in full, leading politicians and political parties, undecided or against or silent on 13A, attempted to reinforce devolution by creating Regional Councils (RCs) between 1997 and 2000.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa internationally validated 13A by incorporating it in the UNHRC Resolution in 2009, which the Yahapalana government repeated in the Co-sponsored UNHRC Resolution in 2015. Therefore, I hope PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and yahapalana leaders may not conscientiously demand the repealing of 13A.

These developments are not discussed by Prof. Peiris, while I consider them as important, because they are attached to international diplomacy, the All-Party Conference recommendations, and other influences and consequences.

Anyway, conceptually devolution has come to stay. It has also inputted political dynamism. The Tamil political parties, India, internationals and Diaspora groups, and our political leaders across the divide (excepting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was apolitically inclined then) have virtually contributed to the creation of this status. However, due to the continuity requirement, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s stand is appreciated.

One formidable influencing factor is India. She has shown interest in our devolution under successive governments. This has been clear from the policies of Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, and now Narendra Modi, who has made his position clear to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and PM Mahinda Rajapaksa. (See: “Crisscrossing 13A Abolition”- November 13th, 2020 – The Island)

These interventions are probably forgotten by our leaders who were instrumental in enhancing devolution. We hardly hear from them about such interventions nowadays. The younger generation of first timers in Parliament who support the 13A erasure proposition are either unaware of this past or being conformist.

That the aforesaid leaders did help enhance devolution does not mean that there were no hostile moves to undermine it. A case in point is the late President R. Premadasa’s Transfer of Power Act, through which the District Administration was disturbed, and the Divisions were institutionally brought under direct central control, at the expense of the powers of the PCs. Similarly, the lowest village level functionaries, i. e. Grama Niladharis were brought under the Ministry of Home Affairs by President DB Wijetunga.

 

Reinforcing devolution

One notable attempt to enhance devolution was the ‘Proposals for Constitutional Reforms’ of 1997, mooted by President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The then ministers Mahinda Rajapaksa, Chamal Rajapaksa, Nimal Siripala de Silva, GL Peiris and Susil Premjayanth were supportive of it. But they would not talk about it today!

The second attempt at the reinforcement of devolution was the Bill to repeal and replace the Sri Lankan Constitution in August 2000. The above-mentioned personages were in power and supported the changes proposed. Now, they are silent on that.

I wonder whether the former Chief Ministers who are MPs now, such as Susil Premjayanth, Chamara Sampath, Shan Wijaylal de Silva, CV Wigneswaram, and Nazeer Ahamad and former Provincial Governor Seetha Arambepola are supportive of reinforcing devolution.

Chandrika Kumaratunga, when she was the Chief Minister of the Western Province, having passed a PC resolution, ably supported by Susil Premjayanth, Felix Perera et al, vehemently demanded the devolution of police powers; but she did not care to grant the PCs police powers after becoming the President. Since there is no LTTE conflict now, I wonder whether Minister Susil Premjayanth will call for devolving police powers to the provinces now.

Before the Romesh de Silva Committee to formulate a new Constitution was appointed, there were proposals made to amend the Constitution. The 13A is material to devolution and PCs. Even 17A, 18A, and 19A which mostly dealt with governance did not attempt changes to 13A.

The constitutional reform proposals which took devolution seriously were the ones presented in 1997 and 2000, and the Steering Committee proposals (post-2015). The latter did not lead to a formal consensus. One important difference with the current exercise is that the yahapalana project had a Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly, whereas the current exercise is a government affair without any parliamentary participation. The worst way to formulate Constitutions! This could be due to the two-thirds majority of the incumbent government in the Parliament.

Out of the six Sub Committees appointed by the Yahapalana Steering Committee- some headed by currently pro-government politicians such as Ministers Premjayanth (Public Service Reforms), Bandula Gunawardena (Finance), and from the Opposition Sagala Ratnayaka (Public Security), MP D Siddharthan (Center – Periphery Relations), four were related to devolution. The other two were on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights. I believe the current committee deliberating on a new Constitution could gain from these Sub-Committee Reports, without reinventing the wheel if it so wishes.

 

Years 1997 and 2000 devolution proposals

The 1997 and 2000 constitutional reform proposals are available in print. Very recently, Professor Gerry Peiris has discussed the evolutions of Provinces, probably because he was concentrating on the historical progression. Since this evolution is dynamic, I may discuss some selected aspects (due to space constraints) of reinforcing devolution. It is because the 1997 and 2000 proposals are revolutionary as regards devolution. Although the 1997 document was an internal one, the 2000 document had Opposition inputs provided by eminent persons like KN Choksy.

I refer to the Table below which shows a comparison of a few selected aspects for reinforcement.

 

 

What concerns me is the stoic silence of seniors in the government, having agreed to support different devolutionary approaches, as evident from the Table. I do not wish to discuss the nitty-gritty of land powers for instance although there are questionable issues i. e. the attempt by the 1997 proposals to abolish the National Land Commission; it was corrected in the 2000 proposals. I will limit my presentation to the issues in the Table.

PC Boundaries

Let us look at PC boundaries. Some critics are against the existing boundaries of North and East Provinces, for reasons such as sovereignty and national security. But in 1997 the then government proposed to amalgamate two districts of Eastern Province with the Northern Province subject to approval by the people at a referendum in two districts. In 2000, they agreed to the creation of the North-East Province after a referendum, as proposed by Indians by way of an option, having staged street protests against it.

They were willing to establish a Muslim-dominated South-Eastern RC, pushing aside the Sinhala majority in Ampara Polling Division to the Uva RC, disturbing the demographic status of both RCs. They knew that the remaining Sinhalese and Tamil community, nearly 40% of the population in the Ampara District, would become a split minority in the new RC. The same fate would have befallen the North Trincomalee Sinhalese population, who were not offered the benefit of joining the North Central RC as in the proposed Ampara-Uva amalgamation. Having been the Governor of East, I am aware of such sensitivities. So much for the politicians who consider themselves the savior of the Sinhalese in the North and Eastern Provinces. In a way, one may expect the indigenous Eastern Muslim politicians to clamour for the South Eastern RC in return for the votes cast for the 20th Amendment.

Governors

The appointment of Governors is a presidential prerogative under 13A. But the 1997 proposals sought to dilute it by subjecting it to the advice of the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister’s involvement was one issue used by these politicians against devolving police powers to a Provincial Police Commission. The appointing prerogative was further restricted in the 2000 proposals by making it conditional to the concurrence of the Chief Minister, consultation with PM and approval of the Constitutional Council. That proposal, if implemented, would certainly have an averse to the powers of the incumbent President.

Of course, these changes in 1997 and 2000 will be attractive to minority party politicians. If the 2000 proposals were adopted, the names of those to be appointed Governors would have to be submitted to the Parliamentary Council, for its observations and endorsing the President’s choice. The removal of Governors in the 2000 proposals was the same as under 13A and 1997 proposals, but the setting up of another committee of inquiry was incorporated into the 2000 proposals [Art 129(d)(iv)] to check on the capacity of the Governor to perform his duties.

Provincial Executive Powers

Executive powers are given in one Article in the 13A and enlarged in 1997 and 2000 proposals. Extra responsibility for contracts is mentioned in Art 130(2)(a) and personal immunity from contract liability is given in Art 130(2)(b). The 1997 and 2000 proposals sought to introduce the Executive Committee system, which empowers discussion of subjects and functions assigned to an RC Ministry. More emphasis is given to the selection of the members than functioning in the proposed Article.

Committees are more powerful in the Indian States. The Committee system is preferred due to the time constraint for the members study the Bills, allowing an informed debate. Apart from scrutinizing legislation, Indian committees also examine budgetary allocations for various departments and other policies. These “mini-legislatures” provide a forum for lawmakers to develop expertise, engage with citizens, seek stakeholder inputs, provide a platform for building consensus on various issues, and strengthen policy management.

Of course, for a government that wishes to prevent committees from overviewing legislation in Parliament, such improvements at the PC level may be anathema. However, this discussion aims to highlight fact that positive and constructive propositions have been attempted.

Statute-making

There was no constitutional provision under 13A to support statute making. Therefore, the PCs had to depend on the generosity of expertise in the Attorney General’s Department. The two PCs in the North and the East, where devolution was to make an indomitable mark, we find slow progress in statute-making. The PCs in general did not have the expertise for statute-making. The clarification of any legal arrangement was always delayed.

A solution was found in the 1997 and 2000 proposals through the appointment of a Regional Attorney General (1997) and an Advocate General of the Region (2000). The provision in 13A for statute-making is reinforced with these two propositions.

Clamour for elections

I will not argue whether the PC elections should be held or not, or whether PCs should exist or not. I only attempt to show that the devolution concept has been expanded from 13A, and those who once agreed to reinforce devolution should not forget their past actions.

Of course, one may argue that the 13A was intended to resolve the armed conflict, which ceased in 2009, and therefore a new mechanism should be constructed to suit the present situation. However, their opponents may argue that the causes of the conflict have yet to be obviated and thus among other things, strengthening 13A is a prerequisite for national integration and reconciliation. Importantly, political commitments by leaders of the incumbent government should not be forgotten. Of course, this may create an issue for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has not included national reconciliation and integration in the 20A.

The PC administrations have also been wavering as regards the powers they already have. I am reminded how all Peoples’ Alliance Chief Ministers challenged Land Minister Rajitha Senaratna’s attempt to pass land legislation and won. These PCs were silent when President Mahinda Rajapaksa once insisted that the centre held the land powers. It is noted that former PC Members supportive of the government have organized themselves demanding PC elections. They represent the government’s grassroots support like the Local Authority Members, who were responsible for the SLPP’s victory at the local government polls in 2018, which made the party’s electoral wins in 2019 and 2020 possible.

Some believe that the PC elections need not be held because its fate can be determined when the new Constitution is drafted. The very same commentators were silent when the 19A was replaced by 20A, without waiting for the new constitution!

Conclusion

This article has attempted to emphasise that we should not only consider the 13A as the basis for future decision-making as regards devolution.

Secondly, it aims to highlight the less-discussed issues that cropped up from 1987 (13A) to 2020 (20A). These are in the public domain and should be seriously considered by politicians as well as those who advise the government.

Thirdly, some of the incumbent government leaders have been exponents of devolution and were instrumental in the drafting of the aforesaid documents. Therefore, they need to remember the good they had done towards developing institutions and try to do something better. This is an exercise not only in politicking but also in bringing about reconciliation, which is necessary for the wellbeing of the country.

Fourthly, since there are measures that have received approval from the incumbent government leaders previously, the Opposition should look at them positively and contribute to further improvement instead of putting for political arguments.

Finally, the government should make a genuine effort to usher in reconciliation and reintegration, which will help it in Geneva come March 2021.

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SLAF on hazardous wall, Sri Lanka Air Force has sent us the following statement……

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Sri Lanka Air Force has sent us the following statement in response to an article (That hazardous Ratmalana Wall) published on 21 Jan.

It is with regret that I would like to inform you that the newspaper article titled “That Hazardous Ratmalana Wall” published in The “Island” newspaper of 21 January 2021 contains false information which has not been clarified from the Air Force Director Media nor any other official channel of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).

It should also be highlighted that the Sri Lanka Air Force does not wish to challenge the freedom of reporting information by journalists. However, news articles of this nature published with the use of unsubstantiated information tarnishes the image of Sri Lanka Air Force.

The newspaper article in concern has caught the attention of the Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force. As alleged in the article, the Commander has not declared on behalf of the SLAF that there is no objection for the removal of the wall and replacing it with a fence. On the contrary he had in fact stated that a collapsible wall could be put in place of the permanent wall which should have a solid finish obstructing the view from outside due to security reasons.

In addition, to date there has been no incident/accident reported at the Ratmalana Airfield related to the wall along the Galle Road. Further, vehicles such as passenger coach/container etc; travelling on the main road would be taller than the wall in concern and according to the article, the main road would also have to be closed each and every time when an aircraft approaching of taking off from that end of the runway. International runway due to limitations which is also can be considered as hazardous to flight safety, SLAF consider Flight Safety is a paramount important factor as an organization which operates different types of aircraft over the years from this airfield.

It is pertinent to mention the wall in concern was erected by the SLAF before year 2009 with the consent of the Airport and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL) to address the security concerns at that time and maintained to date. The outer perimeter security of the Colombo International Airport at Ratmalana is being provided by the SLAF free of charge over years. As a measure of gratitude, with the consent of AASL and the approval of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), SLAF authorized to erect hoardings along this wall and to utilize the funds generated for welfare measures of airmen.

Further, publishing of an article which has an author with a fictional name will have serious and adverse effects on the newspaper as well as the goodwill which prevails between SLAF and AASL. The goodwill which prevails between the SLAF and your esteemed Organization will also be adversely effected by articles of this nature. SLAF Directorate of Media always provide accurate and precise information to media institutions which has an impact on general public as well as to other organizations. Undersigned is contactable any time of the day through mobile (0772229270) to clarify ambiguities of SLAF related information.

In conclusion, I would like to express our displeasure regarding the newspaper article in concern and the damage which has been done to the good name of the Sri Lanka Air Force and in particular to the Commander of Air Force.

 

WADC WIJESINGHE

Group Captain

DIRECTOR MEDIA

for COMMANDER OF THE AIR FORCEs

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Dog-eat-dog culture

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By Rajitha Ratwatte

There is an old joke that goes around regularly about Sri Lankans’ in hell. How absolutely no guards are needed to keep Lankans in hell because they do a very good job of pulling each other down into hell when anyone even looks like they will escape. When you extrapolate that into real life in the Pearl, the examples are plenty. All of us have personal experiences of neighbours, peers, relations and even our bosses “cutting us” as the popular phrase goes. It is mostly those who either realise and watch out for these pitfalls or those who clearly identify a powerful figure to “bum suck” for want of a better word that display pure unadulterated sycophancy to, that “progress” to propagate these trends in the future. This I believe is something that is triggered by the basest of all human emotions, jealousy, and probably egged on by a sense of insecurity as well.

One would expect that in a nation of devout Buddhists such reprehensible behaviour would be addressed and controlled. Alas it is not to be and looks like it never will be.

It is rather disconcerting to observe that this behaviour is ‘going strong’ among the Lankan community in this the land of the “long White Cloud” as well. The more I live here and mix with the community, the more I hear about people who try to start new projects or give fruition to new and possibly brilliant schemes who have been stymied by fellow citizens born in the Pearl. They indulge in the anonymous letter method (that dates back from time immemorial) made even easier by using false identities, and “one-off” e mail addresses on the web. They inform all government authorities of what they believe are attempts to break the law of their adopted country. If there are bilateral trade agreements, they diligently contact the other parties and try to cast aspersions on the people concerned. They even inform the management of any company that these people with the new ideas may be working at, that their employee may be breaking a sub clause in his contract and thinking of doing some other business while working for them. All triggered by a wonderful sense of self-righteousness from people who don’t think twice about breaking the law when it concerns their own affairs!

As a result, those who have had a measure of success, guard their positions very carefully and a few who have tried to include other Lankans in their operations have learned hard lessons from those who stole their trade secrets and started rival businesses on their own. I daresay this happens in other communities too, but among the Chinese and Indian communities that form similar minorities in Aotearoa, there are official networks formed to help new immigrants. There are schemes and methods in place to help their people do business, especially in the field of imports, to try and reach some sort of equilibrium with regard to the balance of trade between Aotearoa and their home countries. Sri Lanka imports so much milk from New Zealand but almost nothing of our spices, gems and jewellery, tourism products or even our tea that used to have a much larger share of the market, are imported.

In these desperate economic times, shouldn’t the government be looking at ways to improve our export trade? There are so many pockets and communities of Lankans in so many different countries who are doing well enough to be able to afford some luxuries from their home countries but have to pay exorbitant prices or do without. A recent import of ‘sweet meats’ for Sinhala New Year saw such a massive offtake that great plans for expansion were disrupted by Covid-19, before the Lankan rivals could put paid to it. Although such plans were in place!

Something that is rather obvious to those observing the antics in the Pearl from outside is that there seems to be no plan. Innovative thinking, especially in the field of ‘non-traditional’ exports does not exist. We have all seen how fickle tourism is. Using our fertile soil and the artistic skills of our people to build a reputation for quality exports has been totally neglected in recent times. I daresay the relevant ministries and export bodies exist, but it is a well-known fact that they simply serve as JOBS for political catchers, who do nothing except enjoy a foreign junket or two every year on account of the taxpayer.

That brilliant marketing idea of the Ceylon Tea Centers was so far ahead of its time that no one really understood it. We had the best retail locations in some of the greatest cities in Europe and the UK and were building up a great reputation for serving quality tea and promoting our cuisine. It should have been expanded to handle handicraft products on the lines of Laksala and even spices. Of course, promoting our culture, hospitality and tourism would have followed. There are two ways to handle a crisis. We can either put up our shutters and slide deeper and deeper into the mire of debt and economic ruin, or take some bold steps, make innovative investments and take a gamble on products and ideas that are endemic to our country.

 

Even if the latter method fails the end result couldn’t be much worse! Go down fighting I say! Rather than ask expatriates to come back and try to work in a totally corrupt and politician dominated society, approach expatriates with ideas in other countries and back them to promote those ideas if they show real economic benefits to our land. Not everything will work but even a 5% success rate is better than nothing at all.

It is also acknowledged that RANIL has been reappointed as leader of the UNP. Now then, what does this mean? Is it that the Uncle-Nephew party has stuck to tradition or does it mean that at least some people have realized that an experienced politician with world recognition and a certain amount of credibility in the first world, is useful to have around? Search your minds all you critics who blamed absolutely everything on Ranil. Have a dispassionate look at the Muppets in parliament and think for yourself what sort of account they would give of themselves on the world stage. After you do this, place Ranil on the world stage next to those morons and realize for yourself the DIFFERENCE!

 

fromoutsidethepearl@gmail.com

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Lenin comes to town (again)

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By Gwynne Dyer

When Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny returned to Moscow on Sunday after convalescing in Germany from an attempted poisoning by the FSB domestic spy agency, the regime-friendly media loyally failed to mention his arrival. With one striking exception: Vremya, the flagship news show of Russian state television.

Presumably, somebody there was hoping to win favour with the Kremlin, because they briefly mentioned Navalny three-quarters of the way through Sunday’s two-hour programme. In fact, they compared Navalny’s trip home to Vladimir Lenin’s famous return to Russia in 1917, and suggested that he was as great a danger to Russia as Lenin had been.

As every Russian knows, the Germans plucked Lenin from exile in Switzerland in the middle of the First World War. He was sent across Germany in a ‘sealed train’ (so he wouldn’t spread the infection of Communism there) to St. Petersburg, then in the throes of Russia’s first democratic revolution – and he did just what the Germans had hoped he would.

Lenin overthrew the fumbling democratic ‘Provisional Government’ in a military coup, took Russia out of the First World War – and launched a 73-year totalitarian Communist regime that cost at least 20 million Russian lives in purges, famines and lesser acts of repression. Is Navalny really that great a danger?

The ambitious presenter at Vremya probably won’t get the job he wanted, because President Vladimir Putin really won’t have liked seeing his noisiest critic compared in stature to Lenin, a genuine world-historical figure. Putin himself never mentions Navalny’s name at all.

Russians cannot even put a name to the system they live under, as the poor Vremya presenter’s confusion illustrates. It’s certainly not a democracy, although there are regular elections. It’s definitely not Communist, although most of the regime’s senior figures were Communists before they discovered a better route to power and wealth.

It’s not a monarchy, although Putin has been in power for twenty years and is surrounded by a court of extremely rich allies and cronies. And ‘kleptocracy’ is just a pejorative term used mostly by foreigners, although Navalny does habitually refer to Putin and his cronies as “crooks and thieves”.

In fact, Putin’s regime is not a system at all. Its only ideology is a traditional Russian nationalism that is lightweight compared to blood-and-soil religious and racist movements like Trump’s in the United States and Modi’s in India. It’s a purely personal regime, and it is very unlikely to survive his dethronement or demise.

Putin has been in power for twenty years, and he has just changed the constitution with a referendum that lets him stay in power until 2036. But that seems unlikely, partly because he is already 68 and partly because the younger generation of Russians is getting restless and bored.

Navalny is a brave man who has gone home voluntarily to face a spell in Putin’s jails. (He missed two parole appointments for a suspended sentence on trumped-up embezzlement charges because he was in Germany recovering from the FSB assassination attempt.) But his role in Russian politics so far had been more gadfly than revolutionary.

His supporters do their homework and make clever, witty videos detailing the scandalous financial abuses of the regime (the latest is a virtual tour of Putin’s new $1 billion seaside palace on the Black Sea near Novorossiysk), but he is probably not the man who will finally take Putin down. What he is doing to great effect is mobilising the tech-savvy young.

Since 2018 the average age of protesters at anti-Putin demos, mostly linked to Navalny one way or another, has dropped by a decade, and their boldness has risen in proportion. Moreover, their attitude to the regime now verges on contempt. Rightly so: consider, for example, the last two assassination attempts by regime operatives.

In 2018, the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency, sent two agents to England to kill defector Sergei Skripov and his daughter Yulia. The agents made two trips to Salisbury because they couldn’t find the right house, they were tracked by CCTV every step of the way, and in the end, they left too little novichok (nerve poison) on the doorknob to kill the targets.

Equally crude and bumbling was the FSB’s attack on Navalny in Tomsk, where the novichok was put on his underpants. Once again, the target survived, and afterwards the investigative site Bellingcat was able to trace FSB agents tracking Navalny on forty flights over several years before the murder was attempted.

Neither agency is fit for 21st-century service, nor is the regime they both serve. Russians have put up with it for a long time because they were exhausted and shamed by the wild political banditry of the 1990s, but Putin’s credit for having put an end to that has been exhausted. He may still be in power for years, but this is a regime on the skids.

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