Sri Lanka to Remain Unitary State but with More Devolution

New Delhi
Sri Lanka will remain a unitary state according Buddhism a primary place but will go for greater devolution of powers to provinces in a bid to end the prolonged ethnic conflict, according to proposals that have been almost finalised.

Ideas that have emerged over the months at meetings of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), which will meet for the last time Monday and Tuesday, indicate that special steps are to be taken to ensure the growth of disadvantaged communities.

The soon to be revealed APRC proposals seek to promote greater power sharing among the majority Sinhalese community as well as the Tamils and Muslims, who between them constitute the minority in Sri Lanka save other tiny groups.

The APRC brings together virtually all Sri Lankan political parties barring the main opposition United National Party (UNP), which has pulled out of the process, the Sinhalese Marxist Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the largest Tamil group in parliament and an ally of the Tamil Tigers.

There is no indication, however, as to how these proposals, if they do become law, will affect the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which is fighting for an independent Tamil state and is now locked in war with Colombo.

Informed sources told IANS that the APRC has decided not to accept persistent Tamil demands that Sri Lanka be declared a federal state although the LTTE and Colombo had decided in Norway in late 2002 to explore a federal solution to the conflict.

According to the APRC proposals, Sri Lanka will be a unitary state "in the sense ... it shall be deemed to be an undivided, integrated and inter-dependent state structure" with power being shared between Colombo and provinces and among the provinces.

The Sri Lankan state will "protect and foster the Buddha Sasana" while respecting other religions.

It has been recommended that Sri Lanka adopt a parliamentary form of government, with the executive powers exercised through the president who shall act on the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet.

It has been suggested that the transfer of executive powers to parliament shall take place at the end of the current term of office of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Until then, the president will be deemed an MP, responsible and answerable to parliament.

All Sri Lankans eligible to vote can be registered as voters even if the war has displaced them within the country or forced them to go abroad.

In line with suggestions made by a group of experts, a bicameral legislature has been proposed. This will include a House of Representatives to be elected by the people and a Senate to be elected by provincial assemblies. Each of the nine provinces shall elect eight Senators, making it a 72-member body.

There is to be a vice president who shall belong to a community other than the president's and he or she shall hold office for two years.

The number of cabinet ministers and deputy ministers shall not exceed 30 each. The proposals emphasise that the cabinet should reflect the pluralistic character of the country and be genuinely representative of the provinces.

Every province in Sri Lanka can have its own flag and emblem.

The APRC has also called for equitable representation of different ethnic groups in the public services and suitable "affirmative action" so that Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils and Moors are suitably represented in these services. But it wants such affirmative action to be for an interim period "to restore the ethnic balance in the public services". 

The APRC has drawn up detailed lists for distribution of powers between the central and provincial administrations. There will be a National List, whose subjects will be governed by Colombo, and a Provincial List that will be the mandate of the provincial legislatures.

Provincial legislatures can impose taxes, levies, cess and duties other than income tax, value added tax, general sales tax and customs duties.

There will also be a National Police Service (NPS) and a Provincial Police Service (PPS), working in close coordination. Special units of the NPS made up of members of all ethnic communities will be deployed in provinces in emergencies.

The proposals have detailed safeguards against secession, going into minute details of how the central government can react if it fears secession in any province.

The APRC has decided to leave to the larger peace talks, if and when they take place, the emotive Tamil demand for a merger of the northern and eastern provinces where Tamils dominate though the east is home to a large number of Sinhalese and Muslims. The latter communities feel they will lose out if the provinces become a single administrative unit since Tamils will then dominate.

An Indian Tamil Cultural and Development Council (ITCDC) is to be set up to serve the "Indian Tamils", who primarily live in the tea growing areas, in education, culture, health and rural development.

The APRC has suggested that local authorities such as Pradeshiya Sabhas and Municipal or Urban Councils be recognised and granted more powers. In the demarcation of Pradeshiya Sabhas, due weight will be given to geographical factors as well as minority community interests.


More by :  M. R. Narayan Swamy

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