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Province unsuitable as a unit of governance

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by Neville Ladduwahetty

The government is reportedly planning to hold the provincial council elections while an expert committee is actively engaged in the making of a new constitution. Holding elections before the drafting of a constitution imposes a constraint on the expert committee since it cannot afford to drift too far from existing arrangements if it is not to incur the ire of the elected members following an election. This means that the expert committee cannot take into account the prevailing antipathy towards Provincial Councils (PCs), for whatever reason, and propose a fresh approach to devolution

This would be the unfortunate outcome if elections to PCs are held prior to the promulgation of a new constitution. If elections are held after a new Constitution is in place, it will give the expert committee an opportunity to propose a fresh approach after taking into account the lessons of historical experiences Sri Lanka has had to endure. Therefore, the plea to the government is to give the country the opportunity to evolve a system of government that serves them best, free of constraints.

 

LESSONS OF HISTORY

Having gained control of the whole of the island following the Kandyan Convention in 1815, the British attempted to administer the island as a single unit under a Governor. It did not take long for the British to realize that consolidation of power through an effective administration required the island to be sub-divided into smaller units as recommended by the Colebrooke-Cameron Reforms of 1833. The process of sub-division that started out with five (5) Provinces ended up with nine (9) provinces in 1889. Throughout this process of sub-division each province was further divided into districts and even smaller units in order to better administer the province. Thus by 1889 the nine provinces ended up being divided into the 25 districts.

With the introduction of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1987, which created Provincial Councils, the lessons of history were ignored. Although the lesson of history was that smaller units are more effective as an administrative tool, the reversal to the larger unit of the province ignored the colonial guidelines of administration. The plea to the framers of the New Constitution is that these lessons of history are not ignored. What history has demonstrated clearly is that the province as a unit is ineffective as a unit of governance.

Although the administration of the island was based on the provinces under an all-powerful Government Agent for each province from 1833, his powers underwent significant derogation with the introduction of the Donoughmore Commission recommendations of 1931. Affirming this trend, the citation presented below states: “The status of the GA after the Donoughmore recommendations could be portrayed through the following note. ‘The division of government’s activities into ten ministries with a minister in charge of each activity, in place of general surveillance by the colonial secretary reduced enormously the power and responsibilities of the GA and led to the appointment of the departmental organizations responsible to the minister to manage many of the executives formerly entrusted to GA’. Thus the power and status of the GA, who was once an unquestioned authority in the district, underwent gradual erosion with the acquisition of his powers and authority of local administration by the departmental field agencies (Leitan p.41) Local administration for instance, under which Sanitary Boards and Village Committees were formerly supervised by the Kachchery organizations was now under the Department of Local Government. Education, Agriculture, Health and Public Works that were the subjects under the purview of the GA were the responsibilities of relevant departments under the executive committee system. (Ranasinghe R.A.W, “Role of Government Agent in Local Administration in Sri Lanka, International Journal of Education and Research, Vol. 2 No.2 February 2014).

Commenting on the process of division and sub-division during the colonial period where the powers of the provincial Government Agent become increasingly marginalized, Dr. Peiris in a characteristically scholarly article states: “Intra-provincial administrative adjustments were made at various times bringing the total number of Districts in the country from nineteen in 1889 to twenty-five at present. Government Agents of the provinces, holding executive power over their areas of authority, coordinated a range of government activities in their respective provinces. It is important to note, however, that in certain components of governance, while the related regional demarcations did not always coincide with provincial and district boundaries, the Government Agent had either only marginal involvement or no authority at all. This was particularly evident in fields such as the administration of justice, maintenance of law and order, and the provision of services in education and health care, in which there is large-scale daily interaction between the government and the people. (Dr. G.H. Peiris, Province-based Devolution in Sri Lanka: a Critique, December 17, 2020).

As Chairman of the Executive Committee responsible for Local Government it was Hon. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1940 who advocated the district as the most suitable unit from a Local Government perspective. His recommendation to the State Council was: “though the word ‘provincial’ is used here, I would point out that this body would be restricted to a revenue district, not necessarily to a province as we have it now, but to a revenue district. The Galle District, the Matara District, the Nuwara Eliya District and so on…” (Hansard {State Council}, 10 July 1940, pp. 1362-1371).

Thus, the lesson of history confirms the unsuitability of the province by itself as a unit of administration /governance. It is the sub-division of the province to districts that made administration effective during the colonial period. Furthermore, even though the population in the island in 1889 was only three million (Dr. G.H. Peiris), if the colonial powers deemed it appropriate to structure the island into nine provinces and twenty-five districts for reasons of administration, what kind of logic would justify reverting back to the larger unit of the province when the population is more than nearly six times what it was in 1889?

The reason for the reversal to the province was definitely NOT motivated by governance. The motivation for the reversal was clearly political. It was triggered by the need to find a solution to the Tamil national question based on claims of a traditional homeland involving the Northern and Eastern Provinces following the riots of 1983 and the intervention of India under the guise of the Indo-Lanka Accord. The history lesson that had come from colonial times to recognize the district and sub-divisions of the district, was ignored. What was introduced instead, was the province as the unit of governance in 1987, under the 13th Amendment. It is therefore understandable why the reversal to a province is as unworkable today as had been recognized by the colonial rulers.

LEARNING from HISTORY

No amount of additional powers and resources would make the provincial council system work, because the intention of the arrangement was for all power to be retained by the provincial councils. Such a centralized top down approach is inherently unworkable; a lesson the colonial administrators had eventually learnt. The only way to make it work was to devolve powers from the province to districts and to sub-divisions of districts such as pradeshiya sabhas and other local government units. This would derogate the powers currently exercised by the Chief Minister and the provincial council. Consequently, it would not be any different to the erosion of the powers of colonial Government Agents (GA) until the Donoughmore Commission recommendations were implemented and districts and its sub-units directly handled peripheral issues, thereby underscoring the irrelevance of the GA. Therefore, there is little or no prospect of PCs elected under current provisions devolving powers to districts and local governments within the province. Consequently, the current ineffective arrangements under the 13th Amendment would continue unless transformed rationally.

Although the province lost its relevance from an administration perspective, the British continued to identify the territory of the island in terms of provinces and districts. Even independent Ceylon and the Republic of Sri Lanka continued to identify the territory in terms of provinces and districts. However, it was only Article 5 of the 1978 Constitution that identified the territory of the Republic in terms of the district.

Notwithstanding the identification of the territory of the Republic of Sri Lanka in terms of the district, the reference to province resurfaced following the Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976 that called for a separate state involving the Northern and Eastern Provinces. With this and the three-decade long armed conflict to create a separate state, the province has once more assumed importance to the point of not only becoming a threat to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, but also bequeathed an administrative nightmare that needs to be addressed without any further delay.

That nightmare is that every province in Sri Lanka functions under two parallel systems. One system administers functions relating to line ministries of the central government and a second system administers functions relating to the powers devolved to the provinces under the 13th Amendment. Reverting back to the decentralized system that existed prior to devolution is not a satisfactory arrangement either, because of the remoteness of the center from the priorities of the periphery. Devolving power to the provinces is akin to a centralized arrangement because it is as remote from the periphery. The problem with the current arrangement is not so much due to the two parallel systems, but primarily due to the choice of the unit to which power is devolved. Therefore, accepting that two parallel systems need to function concurrently because of its

in-built merit that power needs to be shared, one way to mitigate its negative aspects is to devolve appropriate power to districts and the local government entities in keeping with the concept of subsidiarity, instead of the provinces as exists today.

POSSIBLE OPTIONS

The choice for the Government is either to live with the current ineffective arrangement as per the 13th Amendment despite the denial of human rights of the overwhelming majority for improved governance, or actively promote a change to current arrangements notwithstanding a possible backlash from those who benefit from current arrangements.

One way to mitigate a possible backlash would be to absorb all the elected members in each PC into a District- based Council and divide the powers currently devolved under the 13th Amendment excluding powers relating to Law and Order, Land and Land Settlement and any others based on the concept of subsidiarity between such District-based Councils and the Local Governments. Such an arrangement would empower the districts with powers it did not have and enhance the powers currently assigned to Local Governments. In addition, it would give many more members currently elected to PCs an opportunity to directly engage in District-level activities than they are today.

For instance, under the current PC system, on an average, only the Chief Minister and four others form the Board of Ministers in each of the nine provinces. This means a total of forty-five are actively engaged in all the nine provinces with the majority of the Council members not having an opportunity to play a meaningful role. Consequently, the arrangement is undemocratic since the majority of elected members do not have the opportunity to contribute their views and express their concerns. If as proposed herein, a five-member Board of Minister is created in each district a total of one hundred and twenty-five Councilors in the twenty-five districts would be in a position to engage themselves meaningfully. According to a website as of 2017 there were 455 PC members. Accommodating all of them in the 25 districts would mean each district-based council would have an average of 18 to 19 members. On the other hand, if the district-based council is made up of a minimum of 2 from each of the nearly 260 Pradheshiya Sabahs (not including the 14MCs and 37UCs) the number in the 25 district council would be 520 i.e. more than from all the PCs. Therefore, whether the district council is formed from members of PCs or from members of local governments, the numbers involved would be similar. The only difference being the cost of conducting an election to elect the district-based council. Therefore, regardless of how the district based council is elected, it is imperative that if Sri Lanka is to prosper it has to transfer powers currently devolved to the provinces to district-based councils and local government entities.

CONCLUSION

The Province as a territorial unit is of relevance to the Tamil political leadership, while it is of no relevance to the overwhelming majority of citizens. To the Tamil leadership the province provides them the opportunity to merge the Northern and Eastern Provinces and carve out a single political unit on grounds of a dubious Tamil homeland claim despite the absence of any physical vestige of such a claim. To the average citizen the province with all power vested in it, is an impediment to improved governance that affects his/her well-being. Furthermore, the province is an ever present and a constant threat to Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity and national security as demonstrated by a three-decade long armed conflict followed by continuing threats by the Tamil leadership to go it alone.

Although colonial administrators started out to govern the island by creating five provinces in 1833 under Colebrooke-Cameron Reforms, they soon realized that effective administration was not possible without creating more provinces along with districts within each province. This process continued until 1889, when the territory of colonial Ceylon was divided into nine provinces and twenty-five districts. However, with the introduction of Donoughmore Commission reforms the relevance of the Government Agent of the province and the province as an administrative tool gradually faded and the smaller unit of the district became the more effective territorial unit for effective governance. This trend is quoted in the references cited above. The district as the unit of administration was also recognized by the State Council for purposes of Local Government even prior to independence in 1940.

These lessons of history were ignored when power was devolved to provinces under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1987. The true intent for resurrecting the province with political power was clearly political because it provided for the Northern and Eastern provinces to be merged into a single territorial unit to be governed by a single PC. For this to happen the province has to survive and its survival depends on how it delivers on governance. The fact that the province has failed as a viable devolved unit means that the province has lost its purpose and therefore the justification to exist.

If Sri Lanka is to prosper it is imperative that the province as a territorial and political entity is abolished for three vital reasons.

One – That powers devolved to the provinces under the 13th Amendments excluding Law and Order, Land and Land Settlement and any others based on the concept of subsidiarity, should be divided between the districts and related local governments with a view to facilitating greater economic development and for reasons of fostering enhanced democratic governance.

Two – That the province represents a clear and constant danger to Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity because its size tempts separatist aspirations.

Three – That because the province was created in order to meet political exigencies and not for reasons of good governance, the time and opportunity have come to abandon serving parochial political imaginings of a few and create a system that focuses on human development for the benefit of all citizens.



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Rev Fr. Eugene Herbert’s loss should result in breaking down societal imbalances

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The river we step in is not the river we stand on

By B Nimal Veerasingham

Years ago, when visiting New Orleans, Louisiana, I found myself wandering through the sprawling campuses of Loyola University. It is not far from the mighty Mississippi river flowing almost 6,000 km and economically powering significant parts of US Upper Midwest. In an unassuming quite corner under a well branched shady tree I noticed a memorial structure commemorating the killing of eight people in El Salvador, including six Jesuit priests in 1989. The six priests were also professors at the university of Central America in El Salvador at that time.

Peace memorial

This May, as per Loyola’s ‘Maroon’, at the memorial event held at the Peace Quad at Loyola university New Orleans, now dedicated as a memorial to this tragedy, Prof Alvaro Alcazar addressed the gathering. ‘The colonial power that is still very much in place in Latin America has created a ‘faith’ that is blind to or silent about injustice. It was this faith that inspired the Jesuit’s activism, but it cost them their lives’.The involvement of US in this tragedy was also addressed by Prof. Susan Weisher something the United States has never taken accountability for.

US Foreign Policy

The many contradictions and positivity of US foreign policy and its vast turns and switches in reaching many parts of the world is like the mighty Mississippi that prowls almost through or parts of 32 US States. The depth and power of this vast river cannot be estimated by mere width and length. Hurricane Catarina breaching the dikes nearly destroyed the entire city of New Orleans.

Fr Eugene Herbert memorial

Early this year a memorial statue of Rev Fr. Eugene Herbert SJ was declared opened by Rt Reverend Ponniah Joseph, Bishop of Batticaloa in the outskirts of Batticaloa town right by the shores of Batticaloa lagoon. The statue was placed midway between the Batticaloa town, where he lived and taught, and the town of Eravur, where he ‘disappeared’ along with one of his students at the Eastern Technical Institute, where he was a Director. He was on his way on the scooter to arrange a safe way for the nuns trapped in a convent in the nearby town of Valaichchenai engulfed by ethnic riots.

Rev Fr Eugene Herbert was born in Jennings Louisiana. He joined the Jesuits on 14 Aug. 1941, while still in his late teens. He volunteered to join the ‘Ceylon Mission’ and arrived in Sri Lanka in 1948. As in the traditions of Jesuits as providers of high-quality education from their founding of their first school in 1548, Rev Fr Herbert served particularly in two schools in the East, St. Josephs College Trincomalee and St. Michael’s College Batticaloa. It is well known that Education in the Jesuit tradition is a call to human excellence. It develops the whole person from intellect and imagination to emotions and conscience. It approaches academic subjects holistically, exploring the connections among facts, questions. Insights, conclusions, problems and solutions. It has succeeded in a variety of cultures because it adapts to the context of the learner.

Multi-talented

Rev Fr. Herbert was a multi-talented genius excelling in music, science, technical studies, vocational studies and to be outdone of it all, in the basketball courts. In all disciplines, he brought a stricter structure that is besides excelling in the fundamentals, incorporating situational strategies encompassing critical thinking and adaptation. This was greatly visible none other than in the basketball courts where he injected exuberance and counter strategies to conventional wisdom. Saint Michael’s College Batticaloa up until his arrival in 1974 just was crawling in all Island Championships more so maintaining the status-quo. But Rev Fr Herbert revolutionised the outcome when Saint Michael’s started winning All Island Championships almost in all age groups against much more resourced Colombo schools.

Excellence in Basketball

Human excellence as we all know is not rocket science but striving to be the best with practice, discipline and endurance. But Rev Fr. Herbert’s presence provided the boys from the East who often lacked a concentrated leadership with clear and precise roadmap. The structural imbalance whether it be not so well built or barefooted at matches, didn’t determine the outcome. Rev Fr, Herbert provided energy and leadership both morally and corporally to the boys of the East who faced systemic roadblocks by not getting the direction and leadership. This was further evidenced by Rev Fr. Herbert’s active and emotional coaching that led the College teams to ignore opponent’s big city environments and large support base, but to keep concentrated on the final execution, the championship.

The referees in matches, where Saint Michael’s played paid greater attention to their decisions something that became standard when dealing with someone who knew the rulebook top to bottom. Rev Fr. Herbert quite often, if not in all matches, where St. Michaels College played could be seen challenging the referees for their inaccurate or missed calls. He always carried a basketball rulebook and could be seen feverishly waving the exact page of the rule and exclaims at top pitch when the referees failed to observe especially when the game was heated, and the difference between was swinging by one or two points.

Reaching the stars

I can remember that Rev Fr. Herbert once refused to participate in a Consolation Finals of a tournament. The team wanted at least to bring home a Consolation Finals Trophy, having failed to reach the finals. Rev Fr, Herbert looked at it differently. ‘We came here for nothing else but for the Championship trophy. Now that we couldn’t, we are catching the 8.00 PM night train tonight back to Batticaloa – and by the way, the practice for the next tournament will begin tomorrow evening, be on time’.

Rev Fr. Herbert’s humanity was visible in practically everything he exemplified, calculating the speed of the travelling train to explaining the mechanism of automobiles and the melodies from his clarinet. Between the matches and practices in Colombo he said mass at the Jesuit residence at Bambalapitiya. As teenagers with expectations we got confused sometimes with his message from the pulpit. ‘We strive to become the best and win. But at times that is not possible, and we have to accept defeat gracefully. But we have to rise again learning from our mistakes’.On another occasion, the security person refused to allow us to sleep on the floor of an enclosed classroom.

The train was late, and it was late in the evening; there was no one to instruct the security to open the classroom. He was ready to allow only the priest to the reserved quarter upstairs. ‘I will stay with the team and do not need any special arrangement,’ said Rev Fr without blinking, sleeping the entire night with us on the ground of an open but roofed half basketball-court, using his cassock as the bedsheet.

Rev Fr. Herbert exemplified through his life the true meaning of his calling and forging a future full of hope to a population that was at the receiving end of things for a longest while.

Last letter

In one of his last letters to his fellow Jesuit in New Orleans he wrote,’ Enough for our trials. The Lord continues to take care of us. I had really planned to write to USAID for another grant. We are running rehabilitation courses for ex-militants and other youth. Every four months we train 20 boys in welding, 20 in refrigeration repairs and 25 in house wiring. Every six months we train 15 in radio and TV repair. This is in addition to our regular three -year course in general mechanical trades’.

‘Pray for us. God willing the current instability and disturbances will be changed by the time I write again. We are used to vast fluctuations in fortune’.

Rev Fr. Herbert’s letter foretells several aspects of humanity that he was called upon to uphold.

The US continues to provide resources to ensure economic wellbeing, stability and peaceful existence across the Globe. The rule of law cannot be simply behavioral codes or identifying the cause or the culprit but ensuring resources and direction for the citizenry in general to break the cycle and rise above injustice. The rule of law cannot be applied differently to different set of people or on a best effort basis.

Breaking down societal imbalances

El Salvador and Sri Lanka were victims of a vicious violent cycle, where Jesuits lost their lives in obeying to their calls from above in their attempt to remake what it ideally should be. Many lost their lives in these cycles of hatred and violence both ordinary and clergy, including my well-liked and ever smiling classmate Rev Fr Savarimuthu Selvarajah. Fr Herbert’s disappearance galvanizes the distrust in our own destiny; many thousands were killed by fellow citizens than in the nearly 500 years of combined occupation by the foreign colonial powers.

The mighty Mississippi River, which travels almost 6,000 km is hardly comparable to a mere 56 km-long Batticaloa lagoon. Yet the son who was born on the shores of Mississippi became the true son by the shores of the Batticaloa lagoon.

This August 15th marks the 32nd anniversary of Rev Fr. Eugene Herbert’s ‘disappearance’. Ironically, at the time of his disappearance he was a year less a day from celebrating his Golden Jubilee in joining the Jesuits (14th August 1941). No one has been brought to date to justice or rather under the clauses of the ‘rule of law’. The one who held the rulebook up above his head is still denied justice.Batticaloa and the entire Sri Lanka lost one of its true sons, and he just happened to be born in the United States of America.

 

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Vijaya Nandasiri : Losing it in laughs

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By Uditha Devapriya

Vijaya Nandasiri left us six years ago. The epitome of mass market comedy in Sri Lanka, Nandasiri belonged to a group of humourists, which included Rodney Warnapura and Giriraj Kaushalya, who redefined satire in the country. Nandasiri’s aesthetic was not profound, nor was it subtle. It was not aimed at a particular segment. Indeed, there was nothing elitist or pretentious about it; if you could take to it, you took to it. It was hard not to laugh at him, it was hard not to like him. Indeed, it was hard not to sympathise with him.

In the movies, Sri Lanka’s first great humourist was Eddie Jayamanne. Typically cast as the servant or bumpkin, Jayamanne could never let go of his theatrical roots. More often than not his laughs targeted a particular segment, so much so that when Lester Peries cast him as the father of the hero’s lover in Sandesaya, he still seemed stuck in those movies he had made and starred in with Rukmani Devi. Many years later he was cast as a close friend of the protagonist in Kolamba Sanniya, in many ways Sri Lanka’s equivalent of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Even there, he could not quite escape his origins.

In Kolamba Sanniya, Jayamanne played opposite Joe Abeywickrema. Hailing from a different background, more rural than suburban, Abeywickrema had by then become our greatest character actor. Dabbling in comedy for so long, he found a different niche after Mahagama Sekara cast him in Thunman Handiya and D. B. Nihalsinghe featured him as Goring Mudalali in Welikathara. Yet he could never let go of his comic garb. Cast for the most as an outsider in the cities and the suburbs – of whom the epitome has to be the protagonist of Kolamba Sanniya – Abeywickrema discovered his élan in the role of the man who falls into a series of absurd situations, but remains unflappably calm no matter what.

There is nothing profoundly or intellectually funny in Kolamba Sanniya. Like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the humour emerges from the characters’ imperfections and foibles: their way of looking at the world, their accents, their lack of polish and elegance. The dialogues are not convincing, and some of the situations – like the hero’s family discovering a bidet for the very first time – are downright silly, if not condescending. What strengthens the story is Joe Abeywickrema’s performance; specifically, his ability to convince us that, despite the situations he is being put through, he can stand on his own. Like the protagonist of Punchi Baba, left to take care of an abandoned baby, he is helpless but not lacking control. He often makes us think he’s losing it, but then gets back on track.

Vijaya Nandasiri was cut from a different cloth. In many respects he was Abeywickrema’s descendant, yet in many others he differed from him. Whereas Abeywickrema discovered his niche playing characters who could conceal the absurdity of the situations they were in, Nandasiri’s characters could only fail miserably. Abeywickrema convinced us that he was in control; Nandasiri could not. As Rajamanthri, the politician who for most of us epitomised the silliness and stupidity of our brand of lawmakers, he frequently parrots out that he’s an honest man. Abeywickrema could say the same thing and get away with it. Nandasiri could not: when he says he’s honest, you knew at once that he was anything but.

Nandasiri revelled in having no self-respect even when we ascribed to him some sense of honour and dignity. In Nonawarune Mahathwarune the ubiquitous Premachandra flirts with the woman next door (Sanoja Bibile), though we don’t get why the latter never returns his affections. As Senarath Dunusinghe in Yes Boss, the situation is reversed: he has to suffer another man flirting with his wife, the issue being that the man happens to be his employer who doesn’t know that they are married. The whole plot pivots on two things: the fact that his boss doesn’t like him, and the fact that he has to disguise himself as an older husband of his own wife to conceal their marriage from his boss.

In his own special way, Nandasiri went on to represent our contempt for womanisers, cuckolds, and politicians, by turning them into easily recognisable and easily mockable stereotypes. In Nonawarune Mahathwarune he was the womaniser, in Yes Boss he was the cuckold – though his wife only pretends to give in to their employer’s advances – and as Rajamanthri, easily the most recognisable comic figure here during the past 20 years, he was the politician. It was as Rajamanthri that he prospered, even when playing characters who only vaguely reminded us of him, such as the antihero of Sikuru Hathe.

Many years ago, I watched a mini series on Rupavahini revolving around a politician and his driver. Vijaya Nandasiri played the politician, Vasantha Kumarasiri’s driver. Early on I sensed something odd about them. Their voices were different. The dubbing team had synced one actor’s voice with the other, a trick that survived the first 10 minutes of the first episode, after which these two meet a horrible accident that (inexplicably) leaves onlookers and relatives confused as to whose body belongs to whom.

Both are near dying. A quick surgery is hence followed by a quick plastic surgery, in which the wrong face is placed on the wrong body. The voices now revert to the correct actor. In hindsight this was an unnecessary gimmick, but also a useful trick, since for the rest of the story the driver becomes the believer in authority and the politician the believer in Marxist politics. Crude, and rather one-dimensional, but fun. And it wasn’t just a change of voice: it was also a change of spirit, of two contradictory personalities transplanted to each other. That was Nandasiri’s charm. You could never anticipate anyone other than him when he was there. For the mini series to work, hence, he had to be himself.

If Joe was redeemable because he was at the receiving end of some confusing dilemma (like the baby he raises in Punchi Baba, or the lifestyle in Colombo he gets used to in Kolamba Sanniya, Vijaya was unredeemable because he was at the other end, always provoking if not unleashing some havoc. It’s not a coincidence that, in this respect, his characters were always middle class, consumerist, very often in professions that called for security, stability, and status: as a Junior Visualiser in an ad agency in Yes Boss, as the chief in a security firm in Sir Last Chance, and as a police sergeant in Magodi Godayi. These symbolised a lifestyle that Nandasiri’s antiheroes sought to subvert and to defy.

Where he was his own man – the magul kapuwa in Sikuru Hathe or Rajamanthri in so many movies and serials – he wasn’t a provocateur, but a lovable antihero. And like all antiheroes, he conceals goodness because he despises it: in Sikuru Hathe, for instance, he commits one deception after another for his family’s sake, especially his daughter’s.

Where he was paired with another actor, I think, Nandasiri failed. He was his man, so when in Methuma he and Sriyantha Mendis are mistaken for two lunatics by a veda mahaththaya in a village, he could not really shine the way he had in Ethuma. Even in Magodi Godayi, he was less than he usually was whenever he was opposite Gamini Susiriwardana. Yes Boss and Nonawarune Mahathwarune had him among a plethora of other actors, to be sure, but then he was on his own there. There are moments in Yes Boss when Lucky Dias nearly outshines him. But Nandasiri gets back on track; he exerts his dominance again.

In other words, Nandasiri could give his best only if his co-star was alive to his range, or if his character was of a lesser pedigree than his co-star. That is what happens in King Hunther, where he could be himself opposite Mahendra Perera for two reasons: because Mahendra was a fairly good comic actor himself, and because Nandasiri’s character, Hunther, hails from such a different world that the present (in which Mahendra is an escaped convict) appears outlandish to him. Hunther to get used to this world, and that means getting used to the first two people he befriends: Mahendra and Anarkali Akarsha.

Vijaya Nandasiri’s ultimate triumph was his gift at getting us to feel for unfeeling antiheroes. Sometimes he could trump us, as Abeywickrema often did, like in King Hunther, when he hears that the politician who befriends him to further his career has decided to kill him off, and surreptitiously escapes. You never thought he was capable of upping the antagonist, but he does just that, providing us with the final twist in the story.

He couldn’t behave this way as Rajamanthri because he was not reflecting our contempt for figures of authority, but downright embodying it. When, towards the end of Suhada Koka, he is killed off by an assassin acting on the orders of the second-in-command to the Prime Minister (the latter played by W. Jayasiri), the film preaches to us a homily on the corrupting influence of power, a warning for all politicians. But then, just as you come to terms with this conclusion, he wakes up; the whole scene, it turns out, was a nightmare.

Ordinarily, you’d think he would learn from such a nightmare. But he doesn’t. Even after that harrowing fantasy, he is soon back to being the pompous figure he always was. Yet in that brief sequence he told us everything that needed to be told about how the corrupt remain corrupt, and how irredeemable they are. Was it a cruel coincidence, then, that the only time Rajamanthri was killed off like that marked the last time Vijaya Nandasiri played Rajamanthri? We may never know, but perhaps it was more than a coincidence. Perhaps it was the only fitting end to such a career that could be filmed.The writer is an international relations analyst, researcher, and columnist who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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22A: Composition of CC problematic; ensures government domination

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By Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne
President’s Counsel

The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government’s new Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution Bill was presented to Parliament on 10 August 2022. The earlier Bill, which was published in the Gazette in June 2022, lapsed as it was not presented before the recent prorogation of Parliament.

The August Bill is an improvement on the June Bill from a Nineteenth Amendment perspective. Under 19A, Ministers and Deputy Ministers were appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. This was done away with by the Twentieth Amendment. The June Bill sought to bring back the requirement of the Prime Minister’s advice, but that provision would not apply during the present Parliament. The August Bill does not have such an exception.

According to the June Bill, where the President is of the opinion that the Prime Minister has lost the confidence of the present Parliament, the Prime Minister can be removed. Such a provision is not found in the August Bill.

Under 19A, the Speaker, Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition were ex officio members of the Constitutional Council (CC), while the President would nominate one MP. Five persons were nominated jointly by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, two of them being MPs. In making such nominations, they were required to consult the leaders of political parties and independent groups represented in Parliament to ensure that the CC reflects the pluralistic character of Sri Lankan society, including professional and social diversity. One MP was nominated by the MPs belonging to parties other than those to which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition belonged. The three persons from outside Parliament shall be persons of eminence and integrity who have distinguished themselves in public or professional life and who are not members of any political party. Parliament shall approve their nomination. In practice, such approval was a mere formality as they were nominated jointly and after a consultative process.

The August Bill, like the June Bill, proposes the re-establishment of the CC but makes a crucial change. The five persons referred to are not appointed pursuant to the joint nomination of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. One MP is nominated by the Government Parliamentary Group, and the other MP is nominated by the party to which the Leader of the Opposition belongs. The three persons from outside are nominated not jointly by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition but by the Speaker in consultation with them. The smaller parties are not consulted.

This deviation from 19A gives rise to several issues. If the Speaker is partisan (and there have been several such Speakers), the Government could ensure that all three CC members from outside are their own nominees. The Government, by virtue of its majority, would have no difficulty getting Parliamentary approval. The smaller parties would have no say in the nomination of these three persons. Thus, in the current Parliament, parties such as the TNA, NPP, EPDP, TNPF etc., who together account for twenty-five MPs, would not be consulted.

The 22A Bill says that in nominating the two MPs and the three persons from outside Parliament, Members of Parliament shall ensure that the CC reflects the pluralist character of Sri Lankan society. This would be most difficult as they would be nominated by separate processes. Under 19A, on the other hand, that was ensured as the nomination was jointly by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition after consulting the leaders of all parties in Parliament.

The composition of the CC is of crucial importance for the achievement of a national consensus on high-level appointments. The approval of the CC is a pre-requisite for the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal and appointments to high positions such as the Attorney-General and the Inspector-General of Police. Appointments to independent Commissions are made on the recommendation of the CC. As the other seven members of the CC are all Members of Parliament and may be swayed by political considerations, the three members who are appointed from outside have a vital role to play. They should be persons acceptable to all and who can have a moderating influence on the politicians.

An argument that has been adduced by the Government is that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition may not agree on the to be nominated jointly. No such issue arose both under the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Amendments. Members of Parliament nominated jointly acted with responsibility. Distinguished personalities appointed by joint nomination included Justice Dr A.R.B. Amarasinghe, Professor Colvin Gunaratne, Dr Jayantha Dhanapala, A.T. Ariyaratne, Shibley Aziz, and Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy, Javid Yusuf and Professor N. Selvakkumaran.

That the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition may not agree is no reason to give the power of appointment to the Speaker. The writer proposes that the 19A provisions be re-enacted with the addition that if the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition do not agree on the nominees within a stipulated period, the Speaker will make the nominations in consultation with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the smaller parties.

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