3 March, 2024


Constitution Making, Global Warming & Incorporating E-Governance

By Chandre Dharmawardana

Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana

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.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Yes Technology has changed but Power hungry politicians and Buddhist Fundamentalist racism has not changed but become more violent. Technology has changed but state corruption has its peak.

    • 0

      Dr. CD says: “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, “
      Switzerland is even smaller, but is a federal state with 3 units. Both Wales and Scotland have their own parliament’s and are smaller than SL.
      I wonder why Sinhala supremacists keep bringing up this bogus argument. In any case, if all communities are afforded absolutely equal treatment IN PRACTICE, nobody will need to ask for self-government.
      I used to think that Eagle eye, CT’s resident racist, was CD in disguise, but Eagle is not as subtle in his hang-ups.

  • 0

    Tamil demands are humbug.
    Their language and culture are live for the world to see just 20km across.
    They don’t know what they are asking.
    They don’t know whom they are asking for.
    On Colombo Telegraph I have been trying for years to elecit an answer from racist donkeys for the most basic question.
    What is the definition of Tamils in respect of a ‘political solution’?
    I mean who and who are included/excluded.
    In other words a political solution is asked for whom?
    I have given my definition as
    All Tamil speaking people scattered across the island irrespective of their religion, caste or the date of arrival.
    They have been bamboozling us with various permutations and combinations of Tamils, Tamil Nation, Tamil Speakers, Tamil People, Ealam people, Eazam people what not and then blame us for not giving them a ‘solution’ for 70 years.
    Again, solution for whom?
    Some are as ancient as the Sinhalese
    Some arrived during the Dutch.
    Some during the British
    Some practise Hindu, others Christianity and Islam
    +50% of them live scattered across the island outside North East.
    For heaven’s sake tell us who and who are included/excluded.
    Then we can sit down and discuss a model of devolution which can satisfy at least 90% of them.
    Whom are they trying to fool?


    • 0

      Dear readers
      I very well know how my labour in writing above comment will be rewarded.
      My most frequent comment on CT is:
      In respect of a political solution Tamils have two options.
      A separate Homeland
      OR ( not AND)
      the right to live anywhere in the island as at present.
      Now nothing irks the racist donkeys that my emphatic plea to live in one country.
      They shout in unison:
      Such is life.


      • 0

        Dear Soma

        Nothing wrong with your questions…we should all ask the same about ourselves always does not matter where we live in this world correct??

        In fact it is the question that is being asked of us by the National Fronts of all the countries where we live today?? look at America is a good example….then again she is only 250 years old.

        Any progressive will not have that confusion as countries generally have Citizenship/Permanent Resident/Work permit etc. So do we in SL too.

        When folks had issues or a blind leadership took up this issues and became a “host virus” in a society and use children to kill their opposition is hard for democracies to work specially when they were not taken to noose there and then…..not addressed/law not applied will lead to common people like you having these doubts as you also fall victim to the same racist mindset and believe there is a think called Tamil/Sinhala and Muslim..etc. When in fact I have no say on others choices as they are all born free and equal’s??

        No one can speak for others because they speak ones language or pray the same god?? We can always speak for each other as fellow citizens correct.

        • 0

          Anyone who uses victimising statements/talk down to others/exchange insults when some one discuss there Nation/National issues is where (why) we ended up pointing a gun at others because we could not get our message across/heard in a democracy?? that is what happened when a bunch of lawyers openly ask their opponents killed in Jaffna since 1970 against the will of the people and the rest is our history.

          The same can not make us change our cause that is to have democratic values reinstated revisit our history and to shape a future for our next generation. Hence Tamils live amongst Sinhalese and Sinhalese live amongst Tamils because we are a Nation of people who just that proudly.

          That is why when you ask what is the problem the answers you get is none….it is a foreign problem laded in our Nation as our problem and you do not know who is who in a forum too where these all could be the same foreign mafia keeping things on boiler some bitter cods do not know how to say sorry for their blunders.

          • 0

            That is why this kind of article is so refreshing we discuss what really matters to our future as a Nation. Please also note specially regard to the politics this is a CT bubble and have no reality/democracy attached too if one has a different point of view.

  • 0

    Dr. Chandre Dharmawardane
    What are the difficulties in implementing an electronic voting system using the mobile phone?
    There is no hack proof methodology around the corner?


  • 0

    Dr CD

    Thank you for such a lovely summary of our needs of the day….fir for purpose model from the moment go with all the lessons learned applied from around the world.

    We should have this approach to have edge over all things Nation Building/Daily Admin forever in all we do from now. This will help us make lost grounds so to speak.

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