A collective effort
The All Party
Representatives Committee (APRC) has given their proposals to
the President and they have also been released to the media. As
expected, the proposals have generated a healthy debate among
not only the intelligentsia but also among the general populace.
This is a sign of a vibrant democracy and we expect that over
some time, the proposals would be enriched by positive
contributions from political parties and other stakeholders.
A broad agreement has already emerged that devolution or
power sharing is essential as a core element of a political
solution, although there may be various ideas on the unit and
extent of devolution. The APRC has also suggested that the
unitary framework of governance be continued. Again, there is a
majority consensus on this issue.
Consensus will indeed be required in far greater measure in
the implementation of some of the proposals which essentially
call for a new Constitution. The present electoral system
ensures that no single party commands a two-thirds majority in
the House. Thus there will be a need for Government-Opposition
unity on resolving the ethnic conflict.
Moreover, the people’s mandate will be directly required for
some proposals to come into effect. This will call for an
awareness drive on the APRC proposals and any eventual peace
proposal, especially among the Southern masses.
Most political parties agree that Sri Lanka does need a new
electoral system to replace the existing flawed electoral system
and in the end, a new Constitution. As APRC Chairman Prof. Tissa
Vitarana has said, the APRC can be a firm and reliable
foundation to develop a new Constitution for the nation.
It is a long-term process, requiring a step-by-step approach.
Where possible, the good elements of the present Constitution
should be retained and refined.
In this exercise, it will be very important to listen to the
views of the residents of Northern and Eastern provinces who
have borne the brunt of the conflict, although people in nearly
all the provinces have felt the adverse effects of terrorism.
The Batticaloa Local Government Election will give
policymakers an opportunity to hear the collective voice of
voters at this crucial juncture. Elections should eventually
encompass the whole Eastern and Northern provinces.
Peace will be a prerequisite for such an exercise. With the
Government’s twin objectives of defeating terrorism and evolving
a political solution, that day should not be far away.
Popularising rice-based products
It was just
yesterday that we commented on the importance of rice in these
columns. With the Government attempting to bring down the price
of rice, it is vital to reduce the consumption of wheat flour
around the country as well.
It is with this aim in mind that President Mahinda Rajapaksa
will launch a new programme to popularise the consumption of
rice and rice flour within the estate sector.
The consumption of wheat flour is very high in the estates.
But most estate workers increasingly cannot afford to buy and
consume wheat products. This is a timely opportunity to
popularise rice and rice flour products in the estate sector.
Rice will thus be provided to the estate sector at
concessionary rates, benefitting around 200,000 people. At the
same time, the cooperatives in the estate sector will benefit
under this programme.
It is also heartening to note that the Government has
prohibited the sale of rice and paddy to various traders and
companies for making animal feed. Although the farmers have
benefitted by being able to command higher prices for their
harvest, it is believed to have led to an artificial increase in
the retail prices paid by the consumer.
In this context, the ban imposed on the sale of paddy and
rice for animal feed production is a timely move. Tough action
must be taken against farmers and traders violating this
In any case, balancing the farmers’ and consumers’ interests
has always been a difficult task, be it rice or any other
commodity. In the past, there have been many instances of
farmers committing suicide because they were unable to sell
their stocks of paddy even at very low prices. The glut of rice
in the market was nevertheless a boon for the consumer.
Sri Lanka has achieved near self sufficiency in rice and it
is the duty of all those concerned to evolve a satisfactory
mechanism to ensure fair prices for both the consumer and the
The elimination of middlemen, plus an increase in the
guaranteed price, could benefit both parties. The newly revived
Paddy Marketing Board should also be heavily involved in this
exercise. It must be a win-win situation for both the farmer and