By Laksiri Fernando –
If I try to sway the ‘Harvard Boy’ to my side of thinking, not necessarily on devolution, then I would ask him to ponder further on the “17th and the 18th syndrome” of Rajapaksa administration. I know it is not an easy task given his political past. Anyway, this is in response to his “Devolution Talk and Devolution Talkers” and his comments on my previous article, “Gotabhaya’s Talk About Abolishing the 13th Amendment,” in it.
The difference between us seems to be mainly based on (a) how we assess the connection between the ‘internal’ and the ‘external’ and (b) how devolution could best be synchronised with ‘grievances,’ development and democracy. Perhaps because of the first factor, he has got rather carried away by my, what he calls ‘gonibilla.’ I do believe that the abrogation of the 13th Amendment would spell disaster for our external relations, especially with India, and ‘gonibillas’ are the things that unfortunately people like GL Peiris understand best. See what Keheliya Rambukwella has been uttering since the controversy.
The 13th Amendment ‘appears an imposition’ because our legal drafters just started copying what is in the Indian Constitution without any creativity, otherwise the essence of the Indo-Lanka Accord could have been transformed into an indigenous product with little ingenuity. Then it would have suited the devolutionary thinking evolving in our own country for some decades. There are no pure indigenous things without external influences.
I am by nature is not a status-quo person, also in relation to the 13th Amendment or devolution, but the ‘as-is situation’ of the provincial council system is not that bad as Seneviratne attempts to picture. He has not given any examples, partial or otherwise. It is not at all a ‘white elephant’ as some people repeat to argue. Corruption is less in the provinces than in the centre. Main weaknesses are mainly due to insufficient resource allocation (around 10 per cent) and the centre grabbing provincial functions like in Divineguma or Agrarian Services. There are alternative possibilities of ‘cooperative devolution,’ even without amending the present constitutional provisions, but those are not pursued for reasons best known to the powers that be. Those were proposed, but not accepted.
Seneviratne should admit that he has substantially a different perspective on the subject which has nothing much to do with the weaknesses of the present system. I have even characterised the 13th Amendment once as ‘bad law.’ But at present, I don’t want to see the situation goes from bad to worse. It is simple as that. It might not be that difficult to analyse a ‘to be situation’ from the present ‘as-is situation.’ But the attempts at present are completely different. Seneviratne says, after agreeing that the present as-is situation is amendable, “that devolution to provinces is antithetical to current economic theory in terms of resource endowment and allocation.” What economic theory he is talking about? This is not clear or explained.
On this debate, there is no need to go to “Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or the Arctic.” That perhaps shows an attitude, if not a phobia on his part. 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. It is not even the SLFP or the UPFA.
I have no disagreement to admit that grievances, particularly socio-economic ones, are across ethnicities (mainly class and rural), and happy to note that Seneviratne clearly recognizes that Tamils have grievances which needs to be addressed. No problem in accepting that ‘different ways’ should be employed to address the grievances (i.e. devolution, equal opportunity, second chamber, human rights etc.) but difficult to understand however the apparent distinction that he makes between democratization and devolution. What is important at this stage in Sri Lanka is to promote ‘horizontal democracy’ through devolution, for both reconciliation and development. Here is a reference in that respect: http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2011/07/01/strengthening-horizontal-democracy-can-be-way-reconciliation-sri-lanka
Seneviratne seems to be fancy about several ‘academic theories’ on geographical or ecological demarcations of the country for devolution but to me present demarcations are by and large sufficient irrespective of them being ‘colonial-drawn’ unless there are clear suggestions. I myself would not use a term like ‘white-drawn’ as he has used.
Of course, no one can draw an ultimate and direct connection between grievances and what he calls ‘territory-based’ resolution. It is not necessary. It is a question of matrix. His ‘wager’ is largely redundant when other measures are accepted and devolution is also appreciated for other reasons than ethnic grievances. But I dispute his claim that “the majority of [Sri Lankan] Tamils live outside the North and East.” This is not a fact. This is a claim based on 2001 Census which counted only 18 districts. We are still waiting for correct figures for the 2012 Census. I am not a person to jump on other people’s mistakes. Therefore, I leave the matter just there, for him to verify.
The principle that devolution is not only for ethnic grievances is already accepted in the present system of provincial councils, whatever the other weaknesses. That is why we have Provincial Councils in other areas. If a re-demarcation is necessary, then a proper claim has to be made in that respect. The most unfortunate matter, however, is that even three years after the end of the war, elections are not held for the Northern Provincial Council. Why? He should express his opinion.
Seneviratne’s end or conclusion is rather confused. He simply jumps from reform to ‘scrap.’
*The writer is former Senior Professor in Political Science and Public Policy, University of Colombo, and currently Visiting Scholar, University of Sydney.