By Malinda Seneviratne –
I read with interest Laksiri Fernando’s avuncular response (‘Devolution Talk’) to a comment on the 13th Amendment I had written a few weeks ago. He’s asked me to ponder the 17th and 18th ‘syndrome’ of the Rajapaksa administration. So, first things first, I will respond to this suggestion.
I have written dozens of articles on the 17th Amendment, from the time it was passed in 2001, pointing out its errors and lacunae and suggesting corrective measures. As for the 18th, my objections were recorded in the Daily News as well as other newspapers I wrote for at the time. So the ‘political past’ that he talks of is as much an imagination-figment as the idea as ‘pondering’ is ‘difficult’ for me. I put it down to ignorance, which of course is no crime.
Fernando believes that the abrogation of the 13th would spell disaster for Sri Lanka’s external relations. I believe otherwise. He believes that the 13th ‘appears’ as imposition due to inept legal drafters. ‘Appears’, he says and it astounds me. India thrust it down our throats and JR conveniently ignored Supreme Court directive with respect to the referendum clause. The document was only part read before the vote was taken in Parliament. Fernando also ignores the fact that the 13th sought to resolve a problem that had nothing to do with territory.
I have written extensively on the ‘white elephant’ element of the 13th. Two thirds of monies allocated for the Provincial Councils go to maintain them, for instance. The logic of multiple economic centers in regions that are extremely unequal in terms of resource endowment rebels against devolution. And if devolution is taken to its logical conclusion, we could have the Western Province (which contributes close to two-thirds of GNP) asking why it should subsidize Uva (for example). A lot of regional ills can be dealt with by expanding administrative decentralization and does not require power devolution.
Fernando wants me to admit that my perspective on the subject has little to do with the weaknesses of the present system. There is nothing to ‘admit’. I’ve been clear about it. I oppose the 13th for multiple reasons, the economic ‘logic’ (or rather lack of logic) being but one element of my opposition. The only logical way to devolve would be in accordance to a model where provincial lines are re-demarcated so as to correct for anomalies in resource endowment. I’ve spelled this out many times.
It is a pity that Fernando hangs on to sarcasm and doesn’t get it either. Indeed he confuses my objections to his gonibilla posturing regarding the international community with contentions about the 13th . Sad.
And yet, Fernando is not wrong when he says, ‘The main detractors of proper development, stability and people’s sovereignty, if those are the concerns, are within the country and within the ruling clique itself’. He could also add the UNP, the JVP and many anti-regime thinkers who are slaves to development paradigm even as they object to its executors. The whines about the 17th and 18th come from those who have a sorry track record when it comes to democracy and freedom and Fernando strangely doesn’t seem to notice this.
Fernando misses the political implications of horizontal democratization via devolution in a cartography that is nonsensical and pandering to secessionist myth-makers. It is natural for someone who has blindly accepted the Eelamist position on devolution to be happy about current demarcations. He won’t use ‘white-drawn’, he says. It’s white-drawn and brown-accepted. That’s a brown sahib thing, but Fernando is perhaps not schooled enough in cultural and social politics to understand such things or how the affirmation of a colonial error when cuffed to land-grab logic of myth-mongering communalists necessarily exacerbate problem and postpone resolution.
I am happy that Fernando has put it down in black and white that there’s no connection between Tamil grievances and territory-based solution. Yes, it is unfortunate that elections for the Northern Provincial Council have not yet been held. The excuses offered are thin. Elections need to be held. It won’t erase the errors of the 13th, but there is (as I have said many times) danger in refusing the implement constitutional provisions (even if they are erroneous) or being selective in implementation. What is required is the abrogation of the 13th.
What is required, over and above that, given all the problems of the 13th, the hope and flaws of the 17th , it’s nullification by the 18th , all of which have separately and together turned an already anti-citizen document (the 1978 Constitution) into a made-to-make-and-entrench-dictatorship, not to mention widespread agitation about the Proportional Representation system and decades long calls for doing away with the Executive Presidency, is for a new constitution.