Opportunities and risks of devolution

By Bandula Nonis

Prof. G.H. Peiris of the Department of Geography, Peradeniya University gave an informative lecture at the Mahaweli Centre recently on power sharing and its impact on the political and social fabric. He, being a Geologist, gave a very scientific approach to the problem the nation is facing today with special reference to the Indian factor. The symposium was organized by the International Organization of the Peace Movement affiliated to the World Peace Council under the Chairmanship of Bimal Ratnayake MP.

Prof. Peiris cautioned the effectiveness of the advances of the sub-continent neighbour India and her advocacy for devolution of power, as a solution to the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka. Many local political parties also prefer this claim.

Prof. Peiris compared the conditions prevailing in both countries, where, he argued, that the emerging of three new states in the Indian Union was an alternative to dilute the terrorist action in such areas. The Assam and the Punjab situations are not under control, Prof. Peiris emphasized. He requested the audience to take note of this history of the case in India.

Our ethnic problem remains unresolved for the last half a century and cost the nation much wealth, human carnage and destruction. We could have competed with one of the Asian tigers economically had this problem been resolved once and for all. There seems to be diverse opinion on the devolution of power, although this mechanism was thrust upon us under the hand of the Indian Union. The resources factor plays a key role in the advance of India in this crisis.

We had to digest this concept as a mechanism to devolve state power to overcome India using force to do so during Indira Gandhi’s regime. It is in this context that we sat to draft a home grown constitution of our own, with power sharing prescribed in the draft in 2000, although it did not get through as expected.

The draft constitution was a result of a lot of homework by Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam and Prof. G.L. Peiris during the regime of Chandrika Bandaranaike who was interested in finding a federal solution to this problem.

The political fabric has changed since the last Parliamentary Elections. The JVP and the JHU have a larger percentage in the House. It is a notable feature that the JVP has the backing from notable professionals in their approach to resolving national issues.

We have a galaxy of professionals in the government and the Opposition who could pool ideas to find a lasting solution acceptable to all sections of society to end this ethnic crisis. It is important to take note of the emerging professionalism advocated by the JVP and the JHU in propagating their opinion by comparing their merits and demerits on the matter.

We feel that resource personalities of the calibre of Prof. Tissa Vitharana, Minister D.E.W. Gunesekera, Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, Prof G.H. Peiris and S.L. Gunesekera, who have vast knowledge and experience in this matter, should come together as a pool of thinkers to discuss and address the general public as was done during the introduction of the draft constitution of 2000.

The Ministry of Constitutional Affairs should take the initiative to launch this programme. There is nothing stable than to arm public opinion on the merits and demerits of the power devolving mechanism. Time is running out for Sri Lanka. Better late than never.

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