By S. Krishnananthan –
The article of Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole in the Colombo Telegraph, “An evening in Jaffna with Hon. Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne”, has many inaccuracies and distortions and as the Chair of the meeting I should clarify what was actually said.
Dr. Wickramaratne was in Jaffna as a resource person for a workshop for senior officers of the Northern Provincial Council on “Provincial Administration and Finance” conducted by the Institute for Constitutional Studies. Whenever he visits Jaffna he makes it a point to meet the members of the Jaffna Managers’ Forum and this was another such occasion. The persons who accompanied him were the other resource persons who had come for the workshop and not “LSSP cohorts” as Prof. Hoole describes.
Dr. Jayampathy quoted Dr. Colvin as saying, “When a constitution is made, it is not made by the Minister of Constitutional Affairs”, meaning that the final product depends on the strengths of the various political forces involved. Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama, who was the Secretary of the Ministry of Justice at that time, has said that the first draft prepared by Colvin did not have the phrase ‘unitary state’. But Felix Dias Bandaranaike had insisted on a ‘unitary state’. Dr. Jayampathy explained that the basic resolution approved by the Constituent Assembly was for Buddhism to be given its ‘rightful place’ but, again, the rightists succeeded in giving Buddhism ‘the foremost place’ in the final version. The balance of power within the Constituent assembly during 1970-1972 was clearly against the nonracial forces. With regard to Dr. Hoole’s reference to a Professor of Sinhala who helped Dr. Colvin with the translation, it was true that Prof. P.E. E. Fernando helped in the translation.
According to Dr. Hoole, Dr. Jayampathy said that the Tamil MPs contributed to the lack of legitimacy of the 1972 Constitution by being absent at the final vote. What he actually said was that the United Front failed to respond to MP Dharmalingam’s request to at least abolish Kachcheris and establish elected bodies at District level if it could not go outside the unitary state. Yet, the Tamil MPs continued to participate and kept away only after there was no agreement on the language issue. Dr. Jayampathy blamed the United Front for this and said that if the Tamil MPs stayed on, the 1972 Constitution would have had greater legitimacy even if the Tamil MPs would not have finally supported it.
This time his son Mr Siddharthan MP is in the constituent assembly but not a member of Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reform, as erroneously stated by Prof Hoole. However Mr Siddharthan is very knowledgeable and has an important role to play in drafting the new constitution, Dr Wicramaratne added.
Prof Hoole exhibits ignorance on Dr Jayampathy’s stand on devolution and I can say without any hesitation that Dr. Jayampathy is one of the foremost consistent supporters of devolution in the entire country, coming under attack by Sinhala extremists for his stand.
On the nature of the State, Dr. Jayampathy’s view was that the content was more important than labels. When people of the South say that Sri Lanka should be a unitary state, what they mean is an “indivisible” state which is different from the meaning of “unitary” in traditional constitutional law.
On the new electoral reform, Dr Wicramaratne said that the consensus is now around first past poll within the overall proportional representation system
On the controversy regarding national policy, Dr. Jayampathy explained that when a Bill to amend the Agrarian Services Act was challenged for not being sent to Provincial Councils, Justice Mark Fernando, an eminent judge, had held that the Bill declared national policy when even the Attorney-General did not claim so. This led to the AG giving a twist by saying that agrarian services was not a devolved subject and all provincial departments being taken over by the Centre. Even though the Supreme Court clarified subsequently in 2003 that matters relating to tenant cultivators are devolved, the Centre still clings to the subject and Provincial Councils have not been interested in getting the departments back. He said that it is essential that Provincial Councils be involved in the making of any national policy so that they take ownership of such policy and it must be clearly stated in the Constitution that even when national policy is made, the subject continues to be a devolved subject administered by the provinces.
On secularism, Dr. Jayampathy was clear that as a Leftist, he was for a secular state. The Supreme Court had in two cases stated that notwithstanding the foremost place for Buddhism in the Constitution, Sri Lanka is essentially a secular state.
However I should add here that a secular state means almost irreligious and officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion and hence religious leaders are right in demanding that the state should not be secular, but be non-secular and the denomination head from a dominant religious community is correct in calling for the state to be non secular but non-partial for a particular religion and opt for equality of religions
On shortcomings in the 19th Amendment regarding the Election Commission, Dr. Jayampathy humbly accepted his responsibility as a member of the drafting committee but stated that the relevant part was sent to the Commissioner of Elections who had approved the same.
On the question of competency in drafting a new constitution Dr Wicranmaratne assured that the draft will be on the web and comments from everyone will be welcome, thereby any unintentional lapses could be minimized.
While thanking profusely Prof Ratnajeevan Hoole for publishing the proceedings at the Jaffna Managers Forum in some detail,. My effort is only to put matters in the correct perspectives, .
*S.Krishnananthan who chaired the meeting when Dr Jayampathy Wicramaratnae spoke at Jaffna Managers Forum on 12 June 2016, is also the Secretary, Jaffna Managers Forum and a retired Deputy Secretary/Director, North East Provincial Council, Eastern Provincial Council and finally at the time of his retirement, the Northern Provincial Council.