ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s system of devolved power provided by the Provincial Councils should be enhanced and activated to create a more participatory government, a statement by the National Peace Council (NPC) released today said.
The NPC finding is timely as a new debate as to whether the country needs the Provincial Councils has emerged during and soon after the recent elections.
Supporters of the government including Milinda Moragoda now the country’s High Commissioner in New Delhi have called the PCs White Elephants and a drag on the economy.
Elections to the PCs have been postponed time and time again and currently, the terms of all of them have expired.
The NPC which has a wide network of civil society organisations it works with had consulted with a number of these bodies across the country to prepare submissions for the new constitution that the current government says it is drafting.
Although the government rushed through the 20th Amendment to the country’s basic law just months after it won a two-thirds majority in this year’s Parliamentary General elections removing key provisions that empowered the legislature, it is going through the process of drafting an entirely new constitution.
Submissions from the public have been called for by the committee entrusted with the task.
The NPC said that the organisations it consulted had said that from “the United States to Europe to India, devolution has been the answer to many developed and developing nations solving their problems.”
A new constitution offers the possibility of developing a framework of governance that could address the conflicts between the ethnic and religious communities that have marred the post-independence progress of Sri Lanka, the NPC said.
The “inability to forge a unified polity, and ensure a feeling of equal belonging and participation in national policymaking, led to decades of conflict. Politicians over the past seven decades have to take responsibility for the current state of decline. Even today, with the three-decade-long civil war ended more than 11 years ago, Sri Lanka has yet to find a consensual solution to its ethnic and religious conflicts,” the statement pointed out.
The NPC says it asked what the people believe is necessary to include in constitutional reform proposals to build a just, harmonious and pluralistic society with strong institutions that would prevent conflict occurring in future.
The NPC heard that the time given for submissions was insufficient for obtaining a wide enough range of opinions and the government should be more involved in the process of creating public awareness about the issues involved in constitutional reform.
Apart from the proposal on the devolution of power, the NPC is also making three other proposals for consideration in the new constitution, the release said.
• The Constitution to have provisions to safeguard the independence of state institutions from partisan political interventions. State officers should be protected from the risk of politically partisan victimization and harassment. Everyone to be accountable, answerable and treated equally before the law.
• Establishment of a Pluralism and Equal Rights Commission on the lines of other independent commissions, such as the Human Rights Commission and mandated to propagate the idea of pluralism in society and to work on issues that are identified in the fundamental rights chapter of the constitution.
• Establishment of District Reconciliation Committees to address the incidence of inter-religious and inter-ethnic tensions and to promote national integration and reconciliation in all 25 districts.
The Council said that it believes that the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who has the popular mandate and trust of the majority of people “offers the best chance to overcome the previous failures of constitution-making processes and reach a consensual solution for the benefit of the country at large.”
It added that “the post-war need for national reconciliation requires a constitution that is pluralist in its vision and obtains the concurrence of the ethnic and religious minorities and the necessary support from the ethnic and religious majority.” (Colombo, December 29, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana