In an attempt by the Northern Province to present a picture of unity on constitutional reforms in Sri Lanka, Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has fielded Leader of Opposition in the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) S. Thavarajah to place his case on the importance of adopting federal system before the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly.
Though the Province’s Education Minister, T. Gurukularajah, also took part in the deliberations on Friday, it was Mr. Thavarajah who did most of the talking before the 21-member Committee, which comprises representatives from various parties with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as the chairperson. Subsequently, he appeared before a sub-committee dealing with the subject of devolution. Mr Wigneswaran belongs to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Mr Thavarajah, the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP).
The day was earmarked for Chief Ministers of nine Provinces. Apart from Mr. Wigneswaran who has not been keeping well, a couple of other Chief Ministers did not make it to the sitting, according to Eastern Province Chief Minister Naseer Ahamed.
“Address Muslim woes in the East”
Mr. Thavarajah explained to members of the Standing Committee the background in which the federal option was arrived at. While sticking on to the merger of the North and the East, he said concerns of Muslims in the East would be adequately addressed under a merged province.
The history of Sri Lankan Tamils, experiences of the implementation of the 13 Constitutional Amendment and the tendency of the majoritarianism of subordinating minorities were cited by him as the factors behind the proposal. Reiterating Mr. Wigneswaran’s position, the NPC’s Leader of Opposition, who recently served as a member of the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms, said the intention was to keep the country united, and not to divide Sri Lanka.
“Implement fully 13 Amendment”
Impressing upon the Steering Committee the need for full implementation of the 13 Amendment, the Eastern Province Chief Minister said this was the position of other Chief Ministers as well.
While stressing the need for empowering provinces with land and police functions, Mr. Ahamed said there had to be an end to the tendency of viewing suspiciously those who demanded greater devolution. The provinces should be entrusted with the responsibility of law and order whereas the function of prosecution could be independent. On land, the National Land Commission could lay down policies at the national level. “When we are willing to adhere to the national policies, why should there be hesitation?” he asked, adding that provincial-level police commissions should be formed.
On the issue of inviting foreign investment, he floated the idea of establishing bodies at the provincial level to function as facilitators. Those sitting at the office of the Board of Investment (BOI) in Colombo may not be completely aware of ground realities in provinces. Besides, “if you have to set up a hotel in Sri Lanka, you need to get 17 approvals. This frustrates potential investors,” he said, explaining the rationale behind his idea.