By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
The communal riots which began from 1958 in Sri Lanka demonstrated that the Unitary form of government has proved to be a futile exercise in not complying with the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils. Ethnic conflicts had plagued Sri Lanka because successive governments have been in the practice of encouraging intolerance for minority Tamils, commencing from the passing of the Sinhala Only Act, Standardization, forcible colonization commencing from Kantalai-Minneriya, etc. Laws were enacted in Parliament by the ruling politicians who abused them to harass the opponents including the Tamils and posed as a threat by way of poor governance. Good governance was never expected especially after 1956. The Land Acquisition Act was a case in point. Though the affected person could seek remedies in the courts, it proved to be procedural constraints for development. Meanwhile the growth of Wahabbism in Sri Lanka especially after 1989 diverted the attention of the Muslim community from the concept of Federalism, which could have been suitable remedy.
The requisite of neutrality cannot be expected where the conduct of the Executive possess full powers in a country with uni-cameral system. Federalism is a system of government in which power is divided between a central authority (national government) and constituent political units (provincial government). No sooner the politicians assume power, they are keen to take revenge on the opponents and not on the development of the economy of the country. If any economic development takes place, Ministers are heavily benefited by it, in addition to their pensions and other privileges. A comparison of economic development with other developing countries, would show how Sri Lanka’s politicians were instrumental for the deterioration of the economy.
Further, after the introduction of the 1972 Constitution, the protection of the civil liberties of the ethnic Tamils has been a recurrent problem in Sri Lanka which even affected the economy of the country. The British failed to realize the consequences of the confrontation that would take place between the Sinhalese and Tamil leaders before granting independence. The British had in mind about the need for a relatively centralized economic and political government units to facilitate rapid economic development and national control but ignored the desire for self-determination of the minority Tamils. The Soulbury Constitution that afforded constitutional protection for the minorities was done away with the replacement of the 1972 and thereafter by the 1978 Constitution both of which were framed by the political leaders in power and aimed at oppressing the minority Tamils. The process of oppressing the minority Tamils paved way for poor governance. Now, the question of economic freedom under the 13th Amendment appears to be a question mark. The forward thinking in strengthening the protection of the minorities was lacking among the politicians.
In Sri Lanka, it is the central government that administrates over the subordinate levels of government in legislative ability and power. India realized that the centralized system of Sri Lanka government should not fail to put it out of touch with the needs and demands of its ethnic Tamils and was instrumental for the introduction of the 13th Amendment for the formation of Provincial governments. The Sri Lankan unitary government deliberately ignored such needs of those Tamils on various pretexts. This demonstrates that power balance is very minute in unitary system of government and can eventually lead to dictatorship resulting in the collapse of various institutions.
However, the expectation of India was that Sri Lanka would take adequate steps to build a confident building measure on the 13th Amendment by providing good governance. Generally, good governance is based on political theory of liberal individualism. Federalism plays a significant role in the growth of democracy especially in the articulation of the representative form of government. Instead JR was shrewd in not providing anything under the 13th Amendment other than the mere merger of North-East Provinces. Both the JR-led government and the LTTE failed to realize various factors such as the UN Charter, the SAARC and the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord. Though the UN Charter discouraged intervention into the domestic affairs of another member country, there were exceptions for countries to intervene in matters relating to genocide, etc. Further, the rise of China after 1990 in Asia and its relations with smaller countries coupled with the competition with India for supremacy had been an advantage to Sinhalese politicians who conveniently evaded the issue of legitimate rights of the Tamils. Apparently the SAARC was not established on the EU model, where there was a European Parliament with the enshrinement of Human Rights Charter. Moreover, the Sinhalese never fought a bloody war like the USA or India to realize the implications of an ethnic dispute in the future.
One of the major obstacles placed by Sinhalese politicians was and is still the denial of participation to the Tamils in a meaningful manner and getting involved in decision-making processes. If however, Tamil politicians are given due importance in the Cabinet, they are given minimal participation in relation to the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils. No doubt that Luxman Kadirgamar was an efficient foreign Minister, but evaded the issue of special rights of minorities which was addressed by the UN, when the Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic Religious and Linguistic Minorities was adopted in the General Assembly in 1992. When he told the BBC at an interview that ‘we have to live in Sri Lanka as Sri Lankans tolerating all races and religions’ then it is implied that he accepts Federalism as the only solution. In Canada, first they call themselves as Canadians. Similarly in USA, India, Switzerland people call themselves as Americans, Indians and Swiss respectively.
Similarly Dr.Neelan Thiruchelvam was instrumental in attempting to introduce a Draft Constitution on the Canadian model. Again the Tamil politicians missed an opportunity to get around him and bridge the gap between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Unfortunately he too was murdered by a stupid suicide bomber. Two precious lives were lost on account of the arrogance of the extremists, after the murder of Rajiv Gandhi, A. Amirthalingam, V. Yogeswaran, etc., who all held the views of the minority Tamils should be taken into account in the process of decision-making.
The feature of Federalism is participation by all citizens in a meaningful manner and involvement in decision-making which sends the signal for reconciliation. Otherwise it would lead to anarchism and lays down the foundation for the erosion of democracy and independence of judiciary. Politicians who had studied law would have known the concept of representative government especially in countries practising pluralism. Politicians have a moral obligation to make necessary arrangement to have meaningful discussions at frequent periods. As such C.V.Wigneswaran should accept the invitation and participate along with other Chief Ministers in the meeting of cabinet of Ministers chaired by the President and stressed the significance of involvement in decision-making processes, which is found in Federalism. Let this be the beginning of reconciliation process.
In a Federal system of government, Provinces with different language, culture and customs can feel at home when Provincial government passes laws that suit their personal legitimate aspirations, without affecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity which can be monitored by a powerful Upper House and Judiciary. Moreover, Provincial government can look after the economic development of its territory while Central government can look after the entire economy and defence of the whole nation. It is for this reason that the Provinces should be empowered to have its own Police for a limited purpose and land for development in the Provinces. Therefore, there should be room for the ethnic Tamils in respect of participation and decision-making process. Federal countries like Canada, Switzerland and India, have demonstrated this practice successfully. Even in Great Britain, there are separate Acts for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which allows room for this practice to be exercised successfully. There is a necessity to make amendments in the constitution on the Canadian model for the distribution of powers between the Centre and the Provinces and not to make amendments to weaken the 13th Amendment. What is required is positive thinking. This will in no way affect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of the country. Any allegation that such participation and decision-making process by the minorities will lead to separation is baseless and without any foundation. It will only strengthen the unity of the country.
In order to allay the fears that federalism would lead to separation, the system of Checks and Balances play a contributory role to ensure that political power is dispersed and decentralized. Checks and Balances is a system of approvals by different branches of government that prevents any one branch or elected official from making laws without approval of the others. System of checks and balances means that no branch of the government can overpower the other of government. Each has a check on the power of the other branches. The unconstitutional impeachment of the Chief Justice Dr.Shirani Bandaranayake demonstrates that the system of Checks and Balance has become a question mark in Sri Lanka, is a case in point. It is prudent to remind what James Madison, the central figure in drafting the US Constitution, wrote, “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands …… may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny”. Federalism is the division of government between the national and provincial. Federalism is the dividing and sharing of power between the National (Federal) and Provincial government. It implies limited power which means the government is restricted by the laws and constitution and it has to operate within the framework of the laws and constitution.
Sri Lankan political leaders pay visits to various religious places of worship such as Thiruppathy, Madurai Meenatchi Amman Temple, Sai Baba Centres, St.Peter’s Church, Buddha Gaya, etc, to show that they are religious-minded, but it is not clear whether they intend to acquire material wealth or spiritual wealth. Spiritual wealth is permanent, the principal characteristic of which is service-orientation by which the people are benefited. Lord Buddha was of the view that without spiritual wealth growth and maturity, greed and endless craving will eventually result in unhappiness and suffering. Spiritual wealth has the force of forward thinking that leads to paying more attention to the unsettled rights of the minorities by respecting their legitimate rights which Lord Buddha consistently emphasized. Later even Emperor Asoka followed the Buddhist teachings after the Kalinga war. If the material wealth is acquired improperly then such wealth would be utilized for destruction of others and would eventually be temporary. Both the terrorists and the MR-led government failed to realize the significance of spiritual wealth. The need of the hour is to win the hearts of each other (Sinhalese and Tamils). Good governance can be provided by people with spiritual wealth which indicates a selfless service which are beneficial to the people. As Sri Lanka is a country practising pluralism, there is a moral obligation on the part of the government to demonstrate the concept of avoiding majority tyranny both in words and actions. Has these politicians ever realized that we are souls emanating from the Supreme Soul and that we should respect each other.
Self-determination is the right of a national group to be sovereign within a specified territory, but within a united country. In Sri Lanka Tamil and Sinhalese nations in existed since time immemorial before the arrival of the West to Sri Lanka. The devolvement of decision-making power within a specified territory is the best method to avoid secession and creation of a new State. This is the beauty of Federalism. Constituent units can exchange ideas for the betterment of the entire country. S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike who favoured Federalism as the suitable solution, later did a U-turn for greed of power. Even the JR-led government failed to realize this concept at the Thimpu Talks, where emotions were exposed by both parties, but not diplomacy.
Good governance and federalism are interwoven with one another so that the exercising power and decision-making go hand-in-hand for the well-being of the people. Federalism promotes the granting of to such diversity of organizational structures such as NGOs, Religious Associations, co-operatives, etc., for service-orientation. Even the UN has outlined eight characteristics of good governance such as accountability, effective implementation and efficiency, participatory, transparency, responsive, consensus-oriented and equitable and inclusive as major characteristics of good governance, all of which are in conformity with the aspects of Federalism. The question is whether Sri Lanka had followed this principle to defeat corruption and answered the grievances of the Tamils. The moment politicians assume power they become egoistic.
Federalism allows room for all sectors of every community to participate in an atmosphere of friendship and brotherhood for the establishment of local economies that are economically viable, environmentally sound and socially responsible. This method ascertains the need of the ethnic community and to identify and implement appropriate solutions in areas such as Agriculture, Fisheries, Health, Transport, Technology, etc. Moreover, some of the benefits are the granting of pension to all the seniors, whether they are employed in Government sector or not, providing Senior homes, Caring Service Centres for the aged and disabled, providing public transport especially facilities to Seniors and disabled persons, providing facilities to religious affairs, etc. Federalism allows room for good governance because it encourages participation of all communities at all levels with mutual understanding of one another’s concern (including the promotion of high standard of living), which are a healthy sign for the unification of the country. These are the sweet taste of Federalism. This is the strong message the Tamils have sent through Northern Provincial Election not only to other Provinces, but also to the members of the CHOGM.
The operation of successful Federalism also depends on the system of maintaining a Tax file for every citizen (including the politicians) which has to be maintained by the Provinces in collaboration with the Central or Federal government. This will enable the Provincial administrators to look into the affairs of the Seniors, disabled, single mothers, widows and orphans without the interference of unscrupulous ruling politicians. It is the duty of the government that all people whether in government service or not (including cultivators, farmers, etc) are entitled to some benefits when they reach the age of at least 65 years. If citizens ponder about the colossal waste of monies spent on the mega cabinet, a battalion of delegates, the interference of Ministers carried out by educated and professionals in projects thus incurring heavy losses, import of unauthorized items which are harmful to the people, etc., they will realize how western democratic countries look after their citizens. The Tax file for the politicians can be a checkmate for his clumsy handling of public money.
Though C.V.Wigneswaran is well versed in the subject of Federalism, there is also a moral obligation on the part of the Sinhalese leaders to have a clear idea of Federalism and its benefits. Neverthless the tug of war between the MR-led government and C.V.Wigneswaran-led Northern Province Council begins here, even though the Government allocates sufficient fund because the President still could exercise his discretionary power through the Governor who is all out to carry out his orders. It will be interesting to watch the tussle between the spiritual wealth acquired by C.V.Wigneswaran and the material wealth acquired by Mahinda Rajapakse whether money can buy a happy home. There is a moral obligation on every citizen (including politicians) to realize what is good for the public and not what is detrimental to the public by way of placing barriers to the 13th Amendment and weaken it thereof. This is where the birth of the type of governance germinates. After all politics is meant as lofty ideals for the benefit of the public.