CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS: SRI LANKA NEEDS ECONOMIC FEDERALISM AND POLITICAL ADMINISTRATION IN A UNITARY SYSTEM
Posted on August 17th, 2020

BY EDWARD THEOPHILUS

Sri Lanka has been confronting critical issues in constitutional reforms since independence, and many issues were underwater until 1970, in spite of receiving a dominion status in 1947 with a written constitution, constitutional reforms seemed to be a demand of academic and students.  The constitutional reforms had been limited by the lack of parliament power (a two-third majority), and the election in 1970 gave the essential power in the parliament to a coalition government with SLFP, LSSP, and CP then began constitutional reforms. Although the ruling party gained a two-third majority in the parliament, a large volume of people represented the opposition with supports for constitutional reforms or without support for reforms. Constitutional reforms have contributed to political talk shows of loquacious people, and neglect the public demand for government intervention in policy-making for economic prosperity with the balanced growth process.

A large sum of funds spent on constitutional reforms and economically Sri Lanka gained nothing from the constitutional reform process than creating political differences and racial hates. The plurality of the population had no understanding or interest in constitutional matters and the contents of various clauses of the constitution are not apprehended by the public as they are related to legal matters.  

The concept of constitutional reforms has created internal conflicts, armed struggles, and hate within a small volume of population.  Now many people say constitutions reforms relate to personal matters or family matters than the requirement of the country.  After the general election held in 2020, constitutional reforms have come again to doorsteps of people, and the new minister appointed for justice affairs has publicly expressed that cabinet papers are ready to dismiss the 19th amendment to the constitution replaced by the 20th amendment. As the amendment has not published, nobody knows what are contents in the amendment. The major question is, could the proposed constitutional reforms be united the divided community and if so how could be done it.

In addition to the basic idea, some people clamor to cancel the 13th amendment that created the provincial councils with a view to satisfying the Tamil community as the government at that time wrongfully believed that the creation of provincial councils would be an effective solution or a viable alternative to eradicate racial hates, and the war had been in the country between the government forces and LTTE terrorists mainly focused on creating a separated state in the North and East or a creating a combined provincial council with numerous power. Practical results reflect that the Tamil community has divided with the result of creating provincial councils than they were under a unitary structure of the constitution. Ordinary Tamil people in North and East gained nothing from constitutional reforms in the 13th amendment, but few leaders may have gained for job opportunities.   

Tamil leaders expected more power to provincial councils such as the power to combining councils and others when enacted the 13th amendment, the police power and land powers to councils were not given, and many others such as the power to borrowing from overseas and to maintain the relationships with overseas countries reflecting a federal status or beyond the federal framework ignored as it was a creating a separate state. Mr.J.R.Jayawardane, the president of Sri Lanka at that time refused additional demands and agreed only to the delegation of central government power that considered appropriate to provincial councils for economic, social, and cultural developments in the area with strict supervision of the central government. A concrete argument of Mr.J.R.Jayawardane was Sri Lanka as one country should allow North and East to accommodate for people in the Western and Southern provinces when population explosion experience in these provinces.  If additional power is given to provincial councils it would be creating problems in the country.  The Indian advisors also viewed that allowing more political power to the provincial council could be a threat to India because LTTE terrorists intended to recreate the Vijayanagar Empire with a part of India and other Asian countries. 

The reality of the 13th amendment was economically disadvantaged to the country because a large sum of government funds absorbed into unproductive provincial councils administration and economically provincial council administration created fiscal problems, inflation, and many problems to the monetary policy of the central bank. When compared to ideological gains received by the North and East people they cannot equalize the economic gains received by the country. The purpose of creating the provincial council was to helping economic decisions to improve the life of poor people in North and East as well as people in other areas of the country.  The experience is more than 30 years in the past indicates that provincial councils are a whited sepulcher.  If provincial councils dismissed the government can save a large sum of money and use them for the development purposes of the provinces. However, it may be a problem not only for people in the North and East but also to people in other areas too.

The 13th amendment has not supported to procreate economic federalism despite the support to maintain a unitary system in political administration.  Economic federalism radically supports economic decision making at the provincial level and supports for balanced growth in the country. Since Donomore ameliorates economic decision-making at the provincial level was neglecting while the balanced growth has been gone to a unitary system that means economic decision-making and planning have gone to government bureaucrats, who are in the Colombo city. Top to bottom budgeting has been the priority Sri Lanka has become an economy depending on foreign debt, importing all items that could be produced in the country but the colonial government wanted a centralized system to control the country using bureaucracy.  Several members of the state council (Mr.D.S. Senanayake, Mr.C.W.W Kannangara) wanted economic federalism giving justice to regional Sri Lanka.  People in Sri Lanka want economic federalism that supports for economic planning and decision-making in regional.  To provide water to rural farmers, open schools to educate rural kids, provide language skills (English) to rural people, and the ability to convert the current depending economy to a production economy. The economy cannot manage properly giving benefits to regional Sri Lanka by a unitary system that makes decisions from Colombo.

Under the reign of Kings and Queens, Sri Lanka had strong economic federalism and a unitary system in political administration. The economic federalism supported King Parakramabahu the great to export rice and the unitary system in political administration supported King Gajabu to invade India and bring back Sinhala people and additional South Indians and settle near the seaside area. Therefore, constitutional reforms in the country should be supporting task that strengthens economic federalism and political unitary system to keep Sri Lanka as a strong country.

Some people express that the protection of peoples’ sovereignty is a major expectation of constitutional reforms and for this purpose, appointing members from the national list and bonus MPs should be dismissed and the number of members to parliament limits to 100. The election system should be maintained based on electorates and not proportional representation. After the election in 2020, there are complaints that some electorates have no members. The president and representatives to legislature must be elected by votes of people.

The 19th amendment degraded the concept of people’s sovereignty helping to appoint representatives from a national list, who cannot obtain required supports from people. If people want to elect professionals to parliament it would be an issue because many professionals in various fields don’t like to engage in politics.

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