Is the new draft constitution giving powers to the Provincial Councils beyond 13amendment asks Dr. Wasantha Bandara?
Some points highlighting the dangers to Sri Lanka’s national sovereignty is highlighted by Dr. Wasantha Bandara. The sinhala version of his article is attached.
Dr. Wasantha claims 26 countries have been divided to fulfil strategic objectives of Western imperialists with the intervention of UN making the necessary demarcations in territory that have even divided rivers & mountains. How sovereign are sovereign countries especially the weaker ones like Sri Lanka?
His warning is that Sri Lanka cannot underestimate or overestimate the international geopolitical influence & interventions in governing Sri Lanka. The international agreements that ended up legally demarcating territory, drawing boundaries elsewhere are not necessarily advantageous to any party in Sri Lanka. The signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord under virtual duress and the 13th amendment that followed turning a unitary state into a quasi-federal one is a good example of external forces deciding how Sri Lanka should be administered. Dr. Wasantha Bandara also takes us back to 2002 with the India-Norway approved ceasefire agreement that also set out boundaries giving LTTE terrorists territory which was an initial attempt to carve out a virtual separate state. The nationalist forces rose to the occasion to defeat this move. The failure of Kosovo and South Sudan are examples for Sri Lanka to realize that external solutions are not solutions for us but for their strategic advantage. The newly created nations are fighting to survive. Sri Lanka should not end up one of them.
As Dr. Bandara points out no policy makers or drafting committees can ignore ground geopolitical realities in formulating national policy or draft constitutions. India’s strategic objectives on Sri Lanka has been drawn out since 1932 by Panikkar and promoted via Indian intelligence agencies to weaken Sri Lanka so as to subtly control Sri Lanka eventually. Part of that ploy was to use of the “Tamil” card after encouraging Tamil militancy against the Sri Lankan state. It was following this that the infamous Indo-Lanka Accord was signed creating provincial council system & even merging 2 provinces. Dr. Bandara points out that even President Jayawardena had protested against power devolution. That the unitary state was turned into a quasi-federal one was not with the wishes of the Sri Lankan public nor even the elected politicians at the time. This is the basis on which anti-13A sentiment continues to hold sway. Therefore, it is preposterous that a new draft should not only maintain the PC system but bolster it with additional powers.
Separation is happening incrementally & by a flurry of forces not necessarily working together but making use of the opportunities.
First armed militancy was created – then came the peace talks in Thimpu that set out 3 key demands (accepting Tamils as a nation, recognizing Tamil homeland in north & East & recognizing right to self-determination) The self-determination & separate state remains alive with the 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution, its main party ITAK formed in 1949 by a person who was not even a citizen of Sri Lanka & couldn’t write a word of Tamil. The Indo-Lanka Accord made Tamil an official language and included the bogus “Tamil homeland” theory while temporarily merging North-East after creating the provincial council system. Where was the international community voicing concern over a unitary state being turned into a quasi-federal one under duress? It was left to the astute President Jayawardena to take stock of the situation & insert the legal barriers to prevent the forcibly created quasi-federal system going beyond what was forced. The drafters of the new constitution appear to have ignored these ground realities & dangers that continue to lurk.
India’s stooge Varatharaja Perumal was even trained to lead a new army after orders were given to eliminate Prabakaran. This eventually led to Perumal’s unilateral declaration of independence that led to the annulment of the merged province in 1990 by President Premadasa. Elections to the Eastern Provincial Council was held only in 2008 while elections to the Northern Provincial Council was held in 2013.
The barriers that President Jayawardena & H W Jayawardena included to the 13th amendment are noteworthy as they did so to prevent Sri Lanka being made into a federal state which was a stepping stone to being separated. This questions why, drafters have decided to do just that!
The barriers incorporated to the 13th amendment:
- Creation of 3 lists – Concurrent / Provincial / Reserved (India was against a Concurrent list) – the new draft constitution has removed all 3 lists & included only one Provincial Council list that places all subjects under the provincial councils – 67 subjects. The powers over subjects held by the Central Govt has been removed by the new draft constitution. Under the existing 13th amendment the approval of the Governor is required to pass a statute. The draft constitution allows PCs to pass & gazette statutes even special instances for passing statutes have been given. Imagine the current TNA ruling Northern Provincial Council under the new draft system! The existing constitution lays out a specific method to pass statutes related to the Concurrent List & this makes it difficult to circumvent constitutional provisions when a statute is passed. Such does not exist in the new draft. The Central Govt cannot prevent the province from passing statutes. The President may have powers to order a statute to be corrected if it is against existing law or contrary to national policy but the President’s order can be challenged in the Courts thereby undermining & weakening the Executive Powers of the President. This is a fertile ground for plenty of future troubles. While the existing system prevents to a great extent separatist tendencies & kept the separatists in check, under the proposed new draft giving powers beyond what is now being enjoyed is going to aggravate the situation & lead to greater calamities.
- Position of the Governor as the Presidents representative
- Powers to make National Policy given to only the Central Government
- Preventing full-financial power to the provinces
- Power to alienate land held with the President though he could lease land.
If these were/are the obstacles that prevented Sri Lanka becoming a federal state, removing such naturally raises dangers especially when we cannot fool ourselves to thinking the eelamists have given up their goals for a separate state after end of Prabakaran. That goal for a separate Eelam state is very much alive and no Govt, official or drafting committee can ignore these ground realities when formulating anything as important as a new constitution that aspires to overturn the 1978 constitution.
Even under the 13th amendment whatever barriers, there are unexpected situations. When C V Wigneswaran became Chief Minister, who would have thought he would attempt to strenghten the financial power & if not for an astute Governor (C A Chandrasiri) he may well have achieved his goal. However the new draft gives greater financial powers to the Province.
Dr Bandara claims that the new draft has also given room to run private schools, universities as investments. With the road/rail/ferry/airline links with India, have the drafting committee considered the scale of influence that Sri Lanka will be facing even when currently, the government finds difficulty handling diplomatic onslaughts!
Though the position of Governor was introduced to protect the Centres’ interest in the province, what if a Chief Minister aligned to separatism is appointed by a President who is also sympathetic to the separatists? This together with the scale of foreign influence, the dangers of attempting to produce a pragmatic constitution to please all & sundry against the lurking dangers is committing hara kiri and unfair by the future generations who will have to bear the burdens of shortsighted decisions & drafts.
We have to connect the dots. A bogus conflict was created. From that a set of bogus demands emerged. This led to the demand for territory & ethno-religious self-rule, thus the claim that North & East are “Tamil-speaking peoples”, Sinhalese are being subtly chased out of North & East, they are denied to work, discriminated and not given proper school facilitates. Now the archaeological sites are targets & theros are not even allowed to enter Buddhist temples. Historical Buddhist sites are being destroyed, vandalized or taken over.
Notice how they are building up the narrative to claim self-rule for one ethnic group in the North & East & when a new draft constitution removes concurrent list and even allows the Provinces to challenge in courts decisions by the Centre, is this not helping the separatists to carve out an independent federal state after Sinhalese are chased out of NorthEast completely?
Dr. Bandara also provides more clues. International conventions are kept ready. All that is required is a certain territory to be given right to self-governance with additional legislative powers devolved to the province. It is silly to fool the masses that police & land powers are not given in the new draft when ample legislative powers are given that meets the criteria for the future call for self-governance. With additional powers devolved to the province, if a separatist province goes on a collision course with the centre – all they need to do is to go crying to the international community who are anyway backing them & claim the right to self-governance. They will happily help because the deal is to use that as their base after carving out a separate state.
Notice the manner USAID and other international agencies are unusually involved in agriculture / SMEs and Women especially in the North & East of Sri Lanka.
The draft constitution does not give land rights but it is giving investors the ability to be granted land to implement agriculture projects! Now connect the dots!
Blackwater played a key role in Iraq, Afghanistan & US-intervened Africa. We know the role of Wagner Group in Russia. Though police powers are not given, the new draft enables creation of such large-scale private security to ‘protect provincial govt institutions, ministers & MPs’. Dr. Bandara says that the Chief Minister can directly bring police under his authority by a mere proposal.
When the separatists have been demanding land & police powers & continue to do so, when India has been demanding full implementation of 13a – can anyone be naïve to think that India or the separatists can be fooled by a draft, unless the new is including elements more advantageous to them!
The new draft is formulated by a team of majority lawyers, so naturally their focus is on the role of the legal fraternity & explains why every matter is directed to the Courts as the final decision body. The Supreme Court under the existing system is given to only determine the constitutionality of any issue. With the sponsored foreign travel itinerary of the 3rd pillar under scrutiny, it begs anyone to wonder the outcome.
No separate Provincial Council elections
Though there is no separate provincial council elections, the local governments are brought under the purview of the provincial councils under the new draft. The separatists will be very much in agreement to the establishment of a new provincial council system (though the argument that it is not the existing 13a is an eyewash as the powers given over new sugar-coated provisions are more dangerous than the existing set up)
As Dr. Bandara argues, whatever side the coin falls, the advantage is to the separatists but the new draft provides it greater means to advance the federal to separatist agenda.
JR Jayawardena inspite of the odds against him managed to instill barriers. Indo Lanka Accord, 13A or LTTE has not been able to form a separate state or pass land or police powers in 36 years. But they have laid their eggs and these eggs can be hatched if an entity like the new draft is accepted and passed. There is no reason to harp on the good & ignore the bad. It is the bad eggs that will end up a bigger headache to Sri Lanka. The good has to be ignored over the bad & it is the bad that has to be weighed against the existing 13A. No new draft should foresee more dangers than what we have weathered for 36 years relating to PC while giving 100% independence to the AG’s department is inviting trouble for a Govt & nation & also questions why a trade union like the BASL should be included into a new draft constitution.
While there are a handful of good features in the new draft, why can’t these be incorporated into the existing constitution with amendments?
Shenali D Waduge