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The SLFP Devolution Proposals – an ACSLU Comment
The long anticipated devolution proposals of the ruling party the SLFP was released on May 1, 2007. They are to be placed before the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) looking int the question of Constitutonal reforms. These proposals were foreshadowed in the SLFP election manifesto the Mahinda Chintanaya, but it has taken an year and half for them to be published. Even in the present form (see document below) is it claimed that it is the position of the Party and not of GOSL. This is a comment on the proposals and an attempt to compare it to the ACSLU Proposal tp resolve this question. Because of the widespread criticism of these proposals it has been announced that they will be revised further.
The fundamental fallacy in this proposal, as with all the other proposals that have been advanced to solve the so-called "ethnic conflict", is that it advocates a system of racial devolution. The racist nature of the solution is camouflaged by calling it one of terrtorial devolution as happens in countries like the United States or Australia. The idea behind all Sri Lankan devolution proposals is to give the Tamils a part of the country for them to rule as they will. This means that Tamils in their area will enjoy some advanges not available to non-Tamils in that area. For if Tamils and non-Tamils enjoy the same privilges in their area as in other areas then there is no need for devolution. So the very idea of racial devolution is that non-Tamil are discriminated against in the Tamil area. Whether this allows for discrimination against Tamils in the non-Tamil area is not clear. This is essentially a system of racial separation, and it could be called the apartheid solution. This may be contrasted with the ACSLU proposal which is not an apatheid solution involving racial segregation but one which ensures all people, despite their cultural or racial background a common set of rights and obligations in a single polity.
The differences between the various devolution schemes relate to such things as the unit of devolution, the division of powers between the centre and the units of devolution, etc. The SLFP proposal involves devolution to districts (which are to be increased from the current 25 to 30), but there is provision for contiguous districts to merge that are within a given Province. Devolution to districts has been a feature of some of the early devolution proposals, some going back to Solomon Bandarainke himself. Solomon had made the first blunder by giving into the Hela demand to make Sinhala Only as the official language. Later on he compounded this error by offering devolution based on Districts to the Tamils. It was a feature of the Bandaranike-Chelvanakam pact. But it was never to be, as Bandaranaike yeilding to the pressure of the Hela loccy ditched the plan. Now the situation is far less favourable than in Chelvanakam's time. Chelvanakam was not a terrorist and did not advocate action.. But today's Tamil extremists are terrorists and they have klled thoousands.They are cetainly not going to be fobbed off with Rajapaksa's District Devolution Manthra. Even Chevanaualam's party (Federal Party) has taken a more militant stance.
The role assigned to Districts as units of devolution may be compared to the role in the ACSLU proposal. There the districts woud be units of local governement, and may comprise a number of Munical, town and village councils. Theu wo;; pm;u ne servoce [rpvoders for loacal matters and their revenue raising will be cofined to fees they charge for their services. On could where these are not adwquate to mintain a standared level of service they will be entitled for a subsidy from the Cetral Government channelled though the District Council. This system cannot be called a system of devolution and is similar to the delivery of local srevices as is done almost any country.Many of the critics of the SLFP proposal want larger units of devolution, for example covering the whole of a province.
The Sri Lanka freedom Party is not unmindful that it placed the Mahinda Chintanaya before the people at the last Presidential Election along with other parties that supported its candidate. The Mahinda Chintanaya states that "It is my intention to critically examine the merits and demerits of the step taken so far to deal with this complex problem and consider a fresh approach. In doing so, the fundamental platform that I would base my initiative would be an undivided country, national consensus and an honourable peace. Where there appears to be disagreement, I shall endeavour to develop a national consensus. In developing such consensus, the sovereignty of Sri Lanka, the territorial integrity, the unitary structure of the State, the identities of the different communities, the need to ensure peaceful coexistence amongst such communities, would be preserved". It is in this spirit that these proposals are submitted to the APRC.
In keeping with the aspirations of our people , the SLFP as a responsible political party in Sri Lanka, wishes to place before the All Party Conference these set of proposals, through which a lasting and a honouable solution to the on - going ethnic conflict is to be realized. These proposals are for public scrutiny and discussion. We sincerely hope that these proposals along with the proposals submitted by other political parties would pave the way a lasting solution to this unfortunate conflict in this country. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party firmly stands for a negotiated settlement based on a scheme of devolution of power.
Sri Lanka is a State, which is sovereign and independent.
The State shall be obliged to safeguard the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic and to preserve and advance a Sri Lankan identity, recognizing the multilingual, multi- religious and multi- cultural character of Sri Lankan society.
The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, which assuring to all religions the rights grated by Articles 10 and 14 (I) (e) of the present constitution.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party believes in the restoration of the Parliamentary model of Government, in the absence of the Executive Presidency, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party proposes a Cabinet System of Government led by a Prime Minister having given thought to the experiences and traditions of the past. It would be an indigenous model of Government based on this principle. The SLFP would also seek national consensus, for the abolition of the Executive Presidency. In the absence of such consensus, the Executive Presidential system would continue with appropriate amendments.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party wishes to put forward a new set of proposals, based on an indigenous model, to establish a new unit of devolution with extensive devolution of power.
1) The Unit of devolution would be the District. Two districts could amalgamate and form one unit; however, the amalgamating units should be in the same geographical division and also be contiguous. Amalgamation will be implemented in consultation with the people of the relevant districts. In forming and amalgamating the district, due consideration would be given to minorities concentrated in those districts. The structure of the districts unit will be as follows:
1.1 There would be a Chief Minister for each district and he would be the Chief Executive for the said district and in the amalgamated district. Each district Council would have three Executive Committees in - charge of the affairs of the district. The Chief Minister shall head the Finance Committee. The District Chief Minister would be appointed by the President with concurrence of the District council; The Chief Minister shall be a member of the District Council. Having assessed the experiences of the past, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party is of the view that devolution of power becomes meaningful only if people are adequately empowered. In addition, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party is of the opinion that this scheme of devolution would ensure good governance and more power to the people.
2) Pradesiya Sabha/Municipal Council/Urban Council
3) Grama Sabhas
The present process for parliamentary and Presidential elections to be preserved in the same form or an amended form as determined by the Select Committee of Parliament on Electoral Reform. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party advocates the introduction of a mixed system of representation, combining the First Past, the post- system and the system of Proportional Representation.
The demarcation of the Grama Sabha areas should be a matter for a Delimitation Commission and should be effective with due to attention to the geographical and demographical data of the areas.
In developing power to the aforesaid units, power should be devolved to the people. In that effort power should be granted to the people at grass root levels, especially Grama Sabha, to enable them to manage their own affairs, within their realm of capability and competence. Among others, subjects such as Defence, National Security, Foreign Affairs an Citizenship immigration, Communication, National Transport, International Commerce, and Trade Maritime Zones, Harbours and Airports, Shipping , Navigation, Land, National Planning and all such aspects which ensure the safeguard of the concept of Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity, Economic Unity and National Unity of Sri Lanka shall be reserved exclusively for parliament.
In developing power in this manner, the administration in respects of all Airport and Harbours shall be a matter for the Central Government
In developing power, all of the aforesaid Units shall be given additional power on the guidelines set out above, with substantial power devolved to the Grama Sabhas.
However, in devolving power, the supremacy of Parliament, the Executive Powers and the power of the judiciary should be safeguarded. The Sri Lanka Freedom party strongly believes in the independence of the Judiciary. At present, though there are 25 districts recognized by the present Constitution, the number of districts could be increased to 30 by a Delimitation Committees on the bases of geographical and demographical factors.
The President, may if he is satisfied that there is a failure in the administration of the District, assume control over the functioning of the administration of the district and Parliament may confer on the President the power to make statutes for the district until normalcy is restored.
There must be a parallel exercise of de - commissioning of arms in the hands of any group in the District other than the State Forces along with the implementation of a programme for demobilization and re- integration of such armed persons into society.
The president's power and powers relating to Public Security should remain.
Power should be divide into three lists, namely reserved, district and local, In addition, there will be powers conferred by statute to the Municipal Council and the Urban Councils by necessary amendments to those Acts.
The intention is to confer substantial devolution to the People and not necessarily, the political authority so that the People at grass - root level can exercise power and have control over their own affairs.
There should be built in mechanisms to discourage secessionist tendencies and to preserve the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the State.
The election to Municipal Councils and Urban Councils shall be on the Ward system, subject to recommendations of the present Select Committee on Electoral Reforms.
It is advisable to consider giving Municipal and Urban Council status in the Eastern province to areas where there are Muslim and Sinhala majorities, so that minority interest will be safeguarded.
The Pradeshiya Sabhas to be maintained as at present. However, instead of holding Pradeshiya Sabha elections, the Pradeshiya Sabha will consist of members who are Chairmen of Grama Sabhas.
Grama Sabhas should be recognized by the constitution as a tier of Government and given powers in the constitution as set out in the local list. The Grama Sabhas will constitute an amalgamation of several Grama Seva Wasam on a geographical and demographical bases. Gram Sabha would not have legislative powers but hold executive powers. They would however, have power to make by-laws.
Such an arrangement would help in the empowerment of the people in their own localities. Further, this would also enable localized ethnic communities to be in better control of their living and working environment, and its improvement. It will also give an opportunity to the special interest groups or minority community groups living in an area where a majority community or a minority constitutes a majority living in that area, enabling them to administer their own affairs. This would permit Muslims and Sinhalese in the Eastern province or Plantation workers living in majority Sinhala areas to have control over Grama Sabhas where they are a majority.
Grama Sabha shall have members selected by process of election and the elected members will select a Chairman and a Vice Chairman . The Chairman by virtue of his office will be a member of the Pradeshiya Sabha.
From ancient times, our people have been used to self-governing village units and it is on this tradition that a concept of Grama Rajaya is proposed. Such a concept, we believe, would adequately empower the people at the grass-root level.
The Sri Lanka freedom party is family committed to the preservation and protection of Fundamental Rights. In the pursuit of the strengthening of Fundamental Rights, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party stands for its expansion Any infringement of fundamental rights and violation of human right could be field in the Supreme Courts.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party stands for the preservation and protection of Human Rights . It is committed to preserve and give effect to all international Covenants, Protocols and Conventions pertaining to Human Rights.
The existing Human Rights Commission will be strengthened with a view to introducing more and better safeguards for the protection of human rights. In addition, new constitutional and administrative safeguards would be recommended.
The Senate would be the second chamber. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party advocates the introduction of a bi-cameral legislature with the second chamber. This would facilitate sharing of power at the centre and it would also afford adequate representation to minorities and minority parties. In constituting the cabinet of Ministers, two Ministers should be appointed from the Senate. The suggestion in that there shall be a Senate consisting of 75 members, and 25 members would be appointed after a General Election by political parties on a scheme devised according to the aggregate polled by each party at the election with a possible cut - off point. This would enable even parties with the low poll to appoint a members to Senate. All District Chief Minister would be ex - officio members of the senate. The balance of the membership would be appointed by the President. Adequate representation would be accorded to women in the Senate.
Every bill passed by Parliament should be submitted to the Senate for scrutiny and consideration prior to becoming law. The Senate will have the power to delay legislation by a period of three months (except money bills and matters affecting national security and emergency power) or - resubmit it tot the Parliament for re-consideration with or without suitable suggestions. The aforesaid power be restricted to one or two occasions. The Senate will also be entitled to formulate and pass Bills and submit it to the parliament for approval or disapproval.
Provision of Chapter IV of the present constitution provides for the use of Sinhala and Tamil as the national language of Sri Lanka and these provisions should be strictly complied with and properly and effectively implemented.
The Sinhala and Tamil languages should be the direct link between the communities and the two languages should be taught in schools from the most appropriate point. The inadequacy of teaching staff would be hindrance and will require rectification.
The State will encourage students to study English.
No community should be discriminated in matters pertaining to land and provision should be made for the setting - up of a Permanent Independence Land Commission which is vested with far reaching powers over all aspects of policy relating to land - conservation and development of land and related resources, regulating ownership and tenurial relation and land utilization.
Selections would be on merit to all State Institution
The Relationship between the Central Government and the President The relationship of District Chief Ministers chaired by the president would be an effective coordinating mechanism. Such as council should meet, quarterly or more frequently if the need arise. The cabinet Secretariat should service this council.
The establishment of two permanent Commissions for Land and Water must be included in the constitution with appointments of permanent members thereto made by the Central Government with district members to be attached where aspects of land and water touches a district/s. There should be permanent members and districts nominees in the two Commissions with the district members nominated by the district Council Chief Ministers to enable members to act independently and be not subjected to political pressures. Guarantees similar to those offered to Supreme Court judge should be written into the Constitution for these members
No nominees to these two Commissions could be from members off Parliament, District Councils or any elected political body. The preference could be given to retired Supreme Court, Appeal, or High Court Judges.
The sittings for the two Commissions must be also held in the district to enable local representations to be made.
In constituting the Land Commission, due weightage should be given to the appointment of members from the minority communities.
Land should be alienated after formulating a land policy by the Commission with due consideration to the alleged disadvantages caused to any ethnic groups with recommendations for rectifying the grievances , if any. The distribution of state land can be undertaken by land Kachcheris under the supervision of the central government.
The grievances, if any and any remedies for such grievances, should be determined having the national interest and national policy rather than considering purely parochial interest. The Commissioner of land should be ex-officio member of the land Commission.
Most rivers commence in the district (Nuwra Eliya and Badulla) and flows through many district before entering the sea therefore waters must be a subject under the Central Government as it could be a controversial issue in the future with recourses becoming scarce.
Water would be considered a national resource. The sharing of water resources should not cause friction and disputes among district. The commission shall decide any dispute considering the national interest. The decision of the Commission shall be final and conclusive. If the commission so desires, it could obtain expert advice on sharing of this resource.
Therefore the commission requires experience and expertise together with adequate independence to formulate policies years ahead and should not be left totally in the hands of the District.
An ethnic Ombudsman to be appointed for each district by the Minister of Justice in consultation with the president.
In the vent of any dispute or grievance based on or in respects of the ethnicity of a citizen a complaint would be made to the Ethnic Ombudsman who must be vested with powers to inquire and make recommendations for its settlement to the relevant authority
This exercise is to enable effective and early settlement of issues that can otherwise reach dangerous proportions.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party believes that people should adopt new measures and provisions to make a fresh start the system of governance considering the experience of the past. New measures are break from the past, but they should echo sentiments that would reflect a new beginning in the life of our people
In pursuance of this concept, the Sri Lanka freedom Party recommends and indigenous model based on the ideal Grama Rajaya