An Open Letter To The Left Parties And The SLMC: Don’t Vote For The Divineguma Bill
By Laksiri Fernando –
It is quite unfortunate that the Government is determined to impose the Divineguma legislation through a two third majority on the people of the North without consulting them at all through an elected Provincial Council. There is a major difference between the use of a two third majority to pass such legislation with consultation of the people and without consultation. Under the system of devolution, it is like ‘taxes without representation.’ This is particularly so when considering the specific situation of the Northern Province, politically, demographically and historically.
The Bill is inimical to all provinces and Provincial Councils although this was not properly understood when it was hastily referred to the existing Provincial Councils. There are however major repercussions in the case of the North we all should be concerned about. This is the time to correct it.
The Government has completely failed to hold elections for the Northern Provincial Council without any valid reason, even after three and a half years since the end of the war. People are aggrieved about the situation, to say the least. This is a deprivation of a fundamental right that the people of other provinces are exercising. While the majority of the people are obviously in complete disagreement with the Divineguma Bill, they are not in a position to legitimately express or protest, because of the virtual Army Rule in the province. Before deciding on your vote on the Bill, therefore, there are three major issues that you specifically need to consider.
1. Is the Bill so important to risk another cycle of conflict in the North?
Absolutely not. The impact of the Bill in essence will be like the impact of the Sinhala Only Act or much worse given the recent past history. It is discriminatory on the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese population living in the North. Passing of the Bill and imposing it on the people in the North, by a two third majority, will particularly alienate the Tamil people from the Sri Lankan polity further and give a possible opportunity for the separatist and extremist elements to organize themselves again in the near future. The imposition of the Bill is undemocratic and goes against all the tenets of religious, cultural and democratic traditions of the country.
2. Can the Divineguma be implemented under Samurdhi as it is done today?
Yes it can. No one would oppose the ‘objectives stated’ in the Bill. But the structures proposed are quite detrimental to the very objectives. There is no reason to create a Super Class Department instead of the existing Authority. More importantly, it is high time to implement all development programs in the country in coordination and cooperation of the Provincial Councils. The present Divineguma Bill not only by passes the provincial structures but also creates different structures at the community, divisional and district levels, completely detrimental to the existing administrative structures of the country. These structures would lead to large scale corruption and mismanagement of funds which are meant to be for the poorest of the poor people.
3. What are the implications of the Bill passing haphazardly on Devolution in the country?
Implications are quite tremendous. If this Bill is passed especially with a two third majority, it would be the end of devolution in the country. The Bill takes over many functions that could be jointly and cooperatively implemented by the Centre and the Provinces. These are the functions of the Concurrent List. Under this Bill, these functions are centralized and would be implemented bypassing the Provincial Councils. There had been so many clauses directly and indirectly going against the 13th Amendment. The Supreme Court has highlighted the main. Even with the suggested amendments, the Bill will remain in opposition to the spirit of the 13th Amendment and many other fundamental norms of democracy. Also consider the political atmosphere created in support of the Divineguma Bill. The proponents are advocating complete abolition of the 13th Amendment and the Provincial Council system.
There are other background factors that the Left Parties and the Sri Lanka Muslims Congress (SLMC) should take into account not necessarily in any priority order. (a) The rise of intolerance against minorities and minority rights. (b) The curtailment of welfare (i.e. health and education) and the disregard for workers’ and peasants’ rights. (c) The breakdown of rule of law and the assault on the independence of the judiciary. (d) The general deterioration of democracy and the failure to bring a political solution to the ethnic conflict. (e) Violence and violations with impunity.
In the midst of all these developments, if the Divineguma Bill is imposed on the Northern Province, it would be the death knell of devolution in the country. The best option for the country would have been to ask the Government to withdraw the Bill. As it is too late, oppose the Bill in order that the Bill would not receive a two third majority and would not be imposed on the Northern Province. This appeal is made for other MPs as well.
Don’t Vote for the Divineguma Bill.