Sri Lanka New Constitutional Proposals – Comparisons with GL-Neelan Package
Posted on December 13th, 2016
Shenali D Waduge
Efforts to tweak Sri Lanka’s constitution is nothing new. Several mischievous attempts had been made to dilute the sovereignty of Sri Lanka by creating issues, hyping these to levels where solutions had been to dilute the sovereignty. Language issue was flogged to create the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957 followed by the Dudly-Chelvanayagam Pact in 1965, then came India’s Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 introducing the 13th amendment and the provincial council system. A load of false history was included and not challenged by those in power. Thereafter the 1992 Mangala Moonesinghe Parliamentary Select Committee Proposals, followed by Gamini Dissanayake’s vision for the 21st century. However we are looking at the GLP-Neelan 1995 and the subsequent proposals made by Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Government in 1996. Though, we have been told that a Constitutional Committee has been appointed in looking at the clauses of the Union of Regions proposals against the current set of proposals it looks to be a copy and paste proposal. We will take up other proposals like ISGA, PTOMs etc to see how the present new constitution is actually a pick and choose of all of the detrimental proposals that the people had previously rejected.
It is important for us to understand that the eelam project is no brainwave of the LTTE or its leader Prabakaran. DBS Jeyraj writing on the assassination of Neelan Thiruchelvan says “Neelan’s failt in Tiger eyes was the co-authoring of a set of constitutional reform propsals with Prof. G L Peiris”. It is ridiculous of any nation to be going ahead with proposals when two provinces have a history of attempting to separate and the representatives are members linked to that separatism. Moreover, their demands are virtually incorporated into the new constitutional proposals.
It is a total sell out of the country to a handful of people who only desire to control and be in power. Why should the aspirations of separatist ideology help carve out a small island nation when no one can explain how more Tamils are living, working among Sinhalese than they prefer to live among their own. Those that live among their own are suffering caste and class discrimination none of which they experience living with the Sinhalese.
The GL-Neelan Package proposals were released on 3 August 1995. It was formally introduced by the GOSL on 16 January 1996. Ironically, the package was accused of promoting separatism by the Sinhalese while LTTE accused the package of betraying Tamil interests! The Parliamentary Select Committee diluted the devolution and tabled it on 24 October 1997. LTTE assassinated Neelan in July 1999.
Chandrika amended this draft in 2000 and presented it as the original version which it was not. Chandrika did not even mention Neelan’s name when she introduced it to Parliament. Ironically UNP did a volte-force and refused to support the Bill going so far as to burn copies of the proposals inside Parliament. Fast forward to 2001, UNP comes to power and starts talking about power sharing and devolution!
According to DBS Jeyraj no sooner the proposals were released (though LTTE were not sent a copy of the proposals) LTTE held a press conference in Jaffna and Anton Balasingham condemned the package. In other words neither Prabakaran nor LTTE were in favour of any solution. But then why did he sign the CFA of 2002?
For LTTE & Prabakaran to refuse it and for segments of society to claim it was the ‘best possible scheme of power sharing’ it clearly points out to the reality that Tamils are not united in what they want nor are they upfront about the truth of what they problem is except that they want only their solution.
The striking resemblance between the new proposals and the GL-Neelan proposals are the devolution of power to the regions. (Union of Regions/Regional Councils) The new proposal gives more powers to the regions than that which is given by India to its States.
- Regional Councils are vested with Legislative and Executive powers
- Article 76 repealed – Article 76 prohibits the abdication or alienation of legislative powers of Parliament (which does not require a referendum) However Article 83(a) requires a referendum plus 2/3 majority of all members in Parliament. Article 2 specifically says Sri Lanka will be a “Unitary State” under the proposed Union of Regions under Article 83(a) should require referendum and 2/3majority vote.
- 45 areas listed in the Regional List of powers and 58 listed in the Central Government list.
- Devolution – Inclusion of a Board of Ministers headed by Chief Minister.
- 1995 package includes provisions for a separate police forcein the Northeast region Para 3.1 “There will be a regional police service headed by a Regional Police Commissioner appointed by the Chief Minister, in consultation with the Governor of the Region. The Regional Police Commissioner will be responsible to, and function under the control of, the Relevant Chief Minister. The Regional police service will investigate all offenses against persons and property.”
- Land devolution– Para 4.1 Land will be a devolved subject and State land within a region will be vested in the Regional Councils. This denies State land belonging to the Centre. The Centre will have to seek permission from the Regions for its use! Regions will have control over buying and selling of land – even to foreigners resulting in dangerous situations. With the prevalence of Thesavalamai law – prejudice to the other ethnic communities prevail. Regions hold governance over private lands too. Para 4.2 Priority in future land settlement schemes will be given to persons first of the district and then of the Region. Can regions decide who owns and who cannot own land and whether a person in region A can buy property in region B? These are all matters that need discussion and deliberations.
- Imposition of taxes and leviesby a regional council Para 2.2 stipulates that “Regional Councils will have the powers of taxation in certain specified areas, and the Constitution will require other revenue-sharing arrangements” While Para 2.3 states that “Regional Councils will have the power to borrow as well as to set up their own financial institutions. International borrowing above a prescribed limit will require the concurrence of the center.” Para 2.4, “Regional Councils may regulate and promote foreign direct investment, international grants, and development assistance, subject to such conditions as may be specified by the center.”, Regions can collet excise duties, turnover taxes, wholesale and retail sales taxes, betting taxes, taxes on prize competitions and lotteries, motor vehicle license fees, stamp duties on transfer of property of land and of motor cars, court fines, court fees, land tax, taxes on mineral rights. Regional Councils have power to engage in domestic and international borrowings with concurrence of National Government if it exceeds a certain amount (amount not given) Regional Councils have no restrictions on foreign direct investment, international grants and development assistance (conditions can be specified by centre – but not mentioned)
- Justice – litigations will be in the Region upto Supreme Court level. The expenditure for this expansion to be shared between Centre and Regions.
- Education & Higher education – devolved to the regions. Certain schools and universities may be declared ‘national’ and administered by the centre. Recruitment, transfers, disciplinary action against teachers will be by the Regions. Training of teachers responsibility of both Region & Centre. Curriculum development will we by Regions (imagine when presently the Northern CM says Buddhist archaeology/history not allowed and Sinhalese get out of the North – what will he demand included or excluded in the school syllabus?) History may include a curriculum that is not part of our history or exclude the 2600 history we should be proud of.
- Regions have full control over industries & industrial development.
- Regions can control media, broadcasting and television
- Powers of the Centre – defence, immigration, citizenship, currency, foreign exchange, foreign affairs, national rivers, shipping and navigation, maritime zones (historical waters and territorial waters), exclusive economic zone, continental shelf & Buddhism.
- Though the proposals did not advocate a merger of the north and eastern provinces it did propose a redrawing (redemarcation) of the provinces.
- A regional Attorney General for each region appointed by the Governor
It is important that people imagine how Chief Ministers vested with these powers will rule to understand the dangers of these proposals most of which have all been secretly incorporated into the new constitution.
Some noteworthy comments by Chandrika Bandaranaike as President in 1994
“A political solution to the Tamil problem could be achieved based on a form of decentralisation of authority which includes an institutional mechanism for centre-region interaction.” (she excluded devolution of power)
According to GLP in 1996 “Sri Lanka will be a UNITED and sovereign Republic and shall be known as the Republic of Sri Lanka. The Republic of Sri Lanka shall be a Union of Regions”. Notice the constant reference to UNITED Sri Lanka by key players involved in dividing our island.
Why should we be devolving sovereignty of an island nation that too, to please players linked to terrorism and separatism. Moreover, Sri Lanka faced a terrorist problem not an ethnic problem. Remember how language issue was falsely used to usher the B-C Pact in 1957, the bogus discrimination allegations against Sinhalese when it is Tamils who discriminate against their own because of class/caste. These factors and reality cannot be omitted in particular the racism of the minorities – wherein by their actions and statements they showcase they are not seeking to live in peaceful coexistence but create mono-ethnic enclaves. These will sow the seeds for future divides and chaos and invite in a host of conflicting players who will use Sri Lanka as a playground for their power politics. Sri Lanka will become a ground no different to how the Western world are battling for supremacy while the innocent people of these countries are suffering.
We must all stand up and refuse to accept any of the clauses in the new proposals as they are detrimental to the nation and to the future of our children.
Shenali D Waduge