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It was President Rajapaksa who Wanted to Devolve Power Urgently so People could Take Charge of Their own Destiny

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M A Sumanthiran M.P – pic courtesy: YATV

by M A Sumanthiran M.P

I have argued on this forum and elsewhere that Sri Lanka needs to take deliberate steps in a new direction. I have contended that stability is contingent upon the distribution of power away from the Centre.

I cited several examples to illustrate that the de-evolution of power need not come at the expense of security or as the harbinger of secession. I presented international examples of de-centralized government utilized for social and economic advantage.

I made fiscal arguments for community planning over central planning –specifically that resources will be put to their most valued use and people will be allowed to take responsibility for their productivity.

The truth is, these arguments are not novel. In fact, here is an excellent exposition of very similar arguments from the inaugural meeting of the All Party Representatives Committee (ARPC) and it’s multi-ethnic Experts Committee on July 11, 2006:

“People in their own localities must take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment. Central decision-making that allocates disproportionate resources has been an issue for a considerable time. In addition, it is axiomatic that devolution also needs to address issues relating to identity as well as security and socio-economic advancement, without over- reliance on the centre … In sum, any solution needs to as a matter of urgency devolve power for people to take charge of their own destiny. This has been tried out successfully in many parts of the world.

There are many examples from around the world that we may study as we evolve a truly Sri Lankan constitutional framework including our immediate neighbor, India … Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution without sacrificing the sovereignty of the country given the background of the conflict.”

Those are the words of His Excellency, President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Talk the Talk

The Sri Lankan government recognized the need for devolution even before the war was over. After the war concluded, the government only reiterated what they could not deny –devolution was a matter of urgency. At the 10th Session of the UNHRC, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said, “we are also trying to forge a sustainable political solution acceptable to all Sri Lankans. . . on a recommendation of the All Party Representatives Committee, we are able to properly implement the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which was passed in 1987.” The Honorable Minster made that statement in March of 2009.

In May he provided the following update to the same body: “We have always said that the only durable and lasting solution is a political process which addresses the socio-economic and political grievances and expectations of our citizens through a home grown process acceptable to all sections of our multicultural society. The efforts in this direction Mr. President have already commenced.” Three years after the Minister’s testimony and six years after President Rajapaksa declared it a “matter of urgency” Sri Lanka still does not have a fully implemented 13th amendment. Sri Lanka does not have anything resembling a “home grown process acceptable to all sections of our multicultural society.”

Empty Echoes

In May 2011, a joint-press statement of Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris and the Minister of External Affairs of India stated that Minister Peiris had “affirmed his government’s commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue”

On 17 January 2012, in another joint press conference with Minister Peiris, the Indian Minister of External Affairs stated the following: “The Government of Sri Lanka has on many occasions conveyed to us its commitment to move towards a political settlement based on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and building on it so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers.”

The government continues to make empty promises both at home and abroad in an attempt to placate; instead, they will find that their words provoke.

An Embarrassing Transcript

Devolution is a structural change that was promised and never delivered. The government’s misgivings are not limited to institutional overhaul; empty promises are liberally dispensed on all levels. In 2006 Sri Lanka’s centrally controlled Police Force came under intense scrutiny for allegedly abducting and ransoming Tamil speaking denizens of Colombo.

A one-man Commission of Inquiry known as the “Manhanama Tillekeratne Commission” was tasked with examining the allegations. After a dubious inquiry the one-man Commission supposedly handed over a report to the office of the President. This report, if it exists, was not made public and has not resulted in a single charge, arrest or prosecution.

In September 2010, before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) released their full report, they made several interim recommendations. The Sri Lankan government assured the UNHRC in it’s 17th and 18th sessions that the interim recommendations would be implemented. The government’s refusal to make good on this promise prompted the LLRC to note the following when it released its full report:

“The Commission regrets that full effect has not yet been given to its Interim Recommendations. Delay in taking effective remedial action would only result in a breakdown of law and order and the consequent erosion of the Rule of Law and the confidence of the people in the reconciliation process.”

Despite even this admonishment, Delay appears to be the government’s modus operandi. The government had the opportunity to implement one of the simplest interim recommendations, the singing of the National Anthem in Singhala and Tamil, during the National Day celebrations held on 4 February 2012. Instead of implementing recommendations when they can, the government is satisfied with chasing these steps labeled “do not delay” down bureaucratic channels.

The government has recently released an “Action Plan” to implement the LLRC recommendations. Careful consideration of the Action Plan reveals that only a fraction of the LLRC recommendations are cited. Among the few that are cited, key issues are often addressed tangentially, deliberate language is omitted, and convenient timeframes are set pushing off the date of actualization and accountability.

Many of these recommendations are mere reiterations of issues raised by past commissions (like the Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa Disappearances Commissions) over 10 years ago. The government has never been confused about what it needs to do. What the government has always lacked is the will to do it.

The Past is the Future

The TNA response to the position of the Government of Sri Lanka at the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council has many more examples of “Broken Promises”. What is most tragic today is the government’s attitude when confronted with these blatant incongruities.

The government acts as if the speech of yesterday has no relevance today, and they speak as if the acts of yesterday have no relevance today. In this, the government could not be more mistaken.

Relegating a word or an act to the past does not in any way diminish its enduring consequence. The people of Sri Lanka will always share a troubled past; we cannot escape history. In what manner we share the future depends in large part on how we deal with that shared past. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. That is not a novel concept. And neither is this:

“In sum, any solution needs to as a matter of urgency devolve power for people to take charge of their own destiny.” – His Excellency, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, 11 July 2006.

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