Several authors have recently discussed constitution making and governance. A constitutional committee is working hard. While the unpopular Yahapalanaya government delayed elections as far as possible, others seem to rush for provincial elections.
Dr. Nirmala Chandrahasan, and the veteran constitutionalist Neville Ladduwahetty in their Island articles discussed the unit of devolution – Province versus the district. Professor G. H. Peiris had also discussed these questions recently. They examined the constitutional and politico-legal issues, paying attention to the “lessons of history”. However, perhaps history is moving into its proverbial dustbin due to rapid technological change. Looking towards the resources of the 21st century, and to the new threats of the new age may be more important.
Many of the insoluble political questions of humanity got solved or became irrelevant due to developments in technology. The elimination of slavery due the mechanization is a well-known example. Unfortunately politicians and constitutionals theorists tend to ignore what is technically possible and actually necessary. Sri Lanka, even with a high level of education hasto deal with uneducated politicians, while the educated politicians parrot past glories, and borrow their “vision” from ancient kings, Ravana and Arasu myths. Re-affirming old ethnic identities is not enough to face face rising sea levels, rising temperatures, environmental catastrophes and shortages in energy and employment, food and water.
The call for a devolution of power, or the so-called Ethnic question of Sri Lanka goes back to the separatist aspirations of the Colombo-Tamil leadership who were land owners of the North, and wished to retain their power in the face of Donoughmore reforms granting universal franchise. The subsequent Soulbury constitution of a unitary Ceylon rejected the call for a 50-50 ethnic division as a travesty of democracy. The 1949 Ilankai-Tamil-Arasu-Kadchi narrative of “Tamil aspirations” became mainstream only after the 1956 Swabasha policy that led to language riots and the Eelamist wars. Even today, a continuing complaint is that Tamil language services are not available to Tamil speakers, even though Tamil has become “more hegemonic than Sinhala” in holding sway over all nine provinces.
Unlike in 1956, or even in 1976 (the year of the TULF-led Separatist resolution), today mobile-phone browsers provide good computer translation for most languages. “Apps” for voice outputs are available. So anyone can use his preferred language. In articles written some years ago I outlined how all this simply solves the “language problem” that has plagued Sri Lanka since 1956 (Island. 22-11-2011). Instead of implementing such avenues via ICTA and the Universities, the government embarked on a quixotic plan to make everybody tri-lingual! Constitution makers should legislate that language services provided electronically via cell phones, browsers and voice synthesizers are legally acceptable.
In 1905, when the Jaffna-Colombo rail link was opened, well-to-do Northerners moved to Karuvakaddu (Cinnamon Gardens), while the more affluent even had homes in London or Chennai. Instead of prioritizing highways, we need to prioritize high-speed trains. They typically run at 200-300 km/h. So Jaffna or Point Pedro will become mere suburbs of Colombo, given that it takes two hours even to get to Mt. Lavinia from Colombo in typical daytime traffic! Given a network of electrified high-speed trains, “devolution” becomes irrelevant.
The Eelamist wing of Tamil nationalists demand territorial separation “in order to preserve their language and culture”. However, their own brethren in the Trans-National Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTA) have demonstrated a complete electronic model of a Tamil cyber-state without even having a territory! Furthermore, bibliographyic studies show that more Tamil literary and cultural creations have come from multi-cultural Colombo than from the Jaffna province.
Sri Lanka is a country with a mere two-third the population of Tokyo, and occupying a land mass smaller than Hokkaido, one of the islands (not the biggest) comprising Japan. I mention these not because I wish to discuss Japan’s Governance structure, but to emphasized that Sri Lanka is a SMALL, compact country by any standard. It needs NO devolution of power what-so-ever, either to districts, or to provinces, as e-governence is the way of the future.
Sri lanka is within a typical single “area code” for cell-phone communication, and it will shrink even more when 5G networks with huge bandwidths arrive. So, forget about devolution of political power, and study how best the needs of a fully centralized, electronically instantly linked e-governance can be enshrined in the constitution.
The Sri Lankan Parliament met in an electronic session mediated by webinar technology. This would never have happened if not for the Pandemic. But it already proves that e-governance with the whole country as the unit, with MPs sitting in Bintanne or Batakotte (Vaddukkoddai) is a fait accompli.
The “constitution” is a legal document. But, viewed from control theory, it is also a an “organigram” with a FLOW DIAGRAM. Power centers like the parliament, the supreme court, the president, the elections commission, ministries, etc., appear as nodes in a flow diagram which shows how legislative power and executive power are distributed and run down the network, with its critical paths, re-enforcement loops, sources and sinks.
If the constitution is free of errors and ambiguities like those found in the amateurish Yahapalanaya version, then its flow diagram will obey standard laws of continuity and flow, information laws of Shannon and others. The constitutional committee must engage an Information Technology specialist to do a systems analysis of the proposed constitution. The effect of more complexity (adding nodes for “provincial councils”, district councils etc.), can be studied quantitatively. The theory of complex systems tells us that the simpler the system, the less likely are “black swans”.
Conventional elections are very costly and contentious. We are already in an e-society with opinion-recording systems always in place (and not just during “elections”). The online vending systems used by Amazon.com or Pizza Hut know people’s food choices and shoe sizes! They accurately identify and service client demands. The client ticks a choice which is delivered 99.9% of the time. Similarly, a vote chooses an MP, the choice is reconfirmed and the voter identity is verified via a vast data base. Such elections cost little and are trust worthy when well-tested e-commerce methods are used, instead of the outdated “voting machines” used in the USA.
E-commerce all over the world is in the hands of tech giants like Amazon.com and Alibaba. It is centralized and instantaneous, while also being localized – a realization of David Bohm’s concept of implicate order? It is rapidly moving to 5G capability. The Chinese government alone has developed a technocratic platform of e-Governance. The power of the conventional state sector, slow to act, clumsy as an octopus thrown on land, is being usurped by the tech giants. This can only be reversed by the state sector using e-governance. There has to be centralization of governance and decentralization of administration.
If effect, my message is that today, governance is a major technological effort. The need for such centralized governance and authority – a single electronic brain – over-arching district and provincial boundaries is already recognized in large technological undertakings like the Mahaweli project. The flow of power as given in the constitution must account for this new reality.
The immediate task facing the government is daunting. It has to feed a growing population. Its resources and its environment are threatened by shortages and epidemics caused by deforestation, global warming, rise of sea level, shortages of energy and power. A devolved system of government, lacking central direction and lacking over-arching authority over its territory cannot implement the long-term programs needed to handle these daunting issues.
I had proposed the need for a 10th province, or a 26th district purely to have over-arching authority along the coast and encircling the Island. Then rising sea levels can be handled within a simplified administrative structure (see DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.27092.30085). While central planning has to face the occasional uncertainty of “black swans” (unpredictable events), increasing the complexity of the system by adding many levels of “devolved Governance” will increase the possibility of such black swans. Hence, constitutional re-writing must aim for simpler governance structures with robust flow diagrams.