20th July 1997

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Back to package

As most reasonable people would agree with the hindsight of hun-dreds of years of turmoil that our world has seen, war alone most definitely cannot be the final solution to issues concerning peace and this would apply as much to us in Sri Lanka today. By the same token devolution packages riddled by controversy will not bring peace either. To us it would seem that both these issues although they have a vital immediacy and urgency for every citizen of this country can never be solved as long as they remain linked to the personal good fortunes of political leaders, politics and sectarian interests along the party divide. Politicians need to look beyond their personal and party interests and take the interests of the country at large to heart for there to be any final solution.

In this context it would be interesting to look at what took place at this week’s SLFP seminar at the southern Tangerine Hotel to get the approval of its parliamentarians for the devolution package.

At the much ballyhooed Kalutara conference where all SLFP MPs and organisers were supposed to be given an in-depth awareness of the proposed draft constitution including the devolution package, a Cabinet Minister is reported to have asked what this package was all about. After all these months - articles in newspapers, Select Committee meetings, seminars and lectures - a Cabinet Minister asks someone for a basic explanation on the package. What does one expect the ordinary people to know then?

The devolution package is meant mainly for the minorities, but most people still don’t know what is offered and what is not offered. Loosely it is said to be a peace package. Well, who doesn’t want peace? To call it a peace package is a good selling line, but is it authentic or a misnomer?

The package is essentially a political battle, with the bi-partisan accord between the PA and the UNP promising much but producing little. It seems that dissent is being suppressed within the government, with the whip being cracked on at least one MP who openly expressed his fears about the package. Others too are known to have reservations but for different reasons they decided to shut up and stand up to avoid trouble at the Kalutara pow-wow.

In 1987, UNP MPs were bundled into a hotel, transported by bus with armed escorts to Parliament and asked to raise their hands for the Provincial Councils Bill. This week SLFP MPs were also virtually bundled into a hotel, ‘educated’ in two days about the ‘proposals’ and when asked to vote stood up in support.

There are of course some aspects of the package that are only all too well known and there are others still less known or altogether unknown.

For instance, the abolition of the Executive Presidency, the appointment of appellate court judges by a Constitutional Council rather than by the President are among those known proposals that already have the support of the Opposition and could be implemented straightaway. Other proposals however like the unit of devolution are the messier ones which probably have been left to be dealt with later.

We are therefore unable to comment on the unknown - except to say that the government must not only think of devolution of political power as a means to giving political power to the Tamils. It must also ask whether devolution of the administration has been proved to be effective during the past ten years. Has it helped or confused the masses in the South, West and Centre on whom was foisted a form of provincial government that has proved to be dubious and duplicative.

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