Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, on Sunday, issued a statement criticizing the government’s constitutional reform process which was launched in line with the President Maithripala Sirisena’s election manifesto, in January, 2015. It was no secret that the former President and his allies were against the constitutional reform process. Addressing various public meetings in the recent past, they said the government was planning to divide the country by introducing a ‘Federal solution’. This was the first time the Rajapaksa camp came up with a policy statement, explaining its official position on the constitutional reforms process.
The national unity government’s economic development plans for the next five years, relies heavily on the success of the Chinese funded Colombo Port City project.
The new government, led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has pledged its commitment to continue with the project, which, at one point, was at the center of a major controversy in the political sphere. The Development Strategies and Investment Promotions Ministry, the Western Province Megapolis Development Ministry and several other state bodies are now entrusted with the task of facilitating the Port City project and ensuring its proper implementation.
One of the biggest challenges for the government, at this point, is to manage local elements protesting against the Port City. A large number of fishermen in the Negombo area have already taken to streets, claiming the Port City project would deprive them of their livelihood.
Their main concern was the government’s decision to allow dredging of sand in the deep seas along the Negombo–Dikovita area to provide sand to build the proposed Port City project.
The disgruntled fishermen held a series of protests in Negombo and Colombo to draw the government’s attention to their issue. Several protests were held in Negombo and some in Colombo. “According to the current plans, four Chinese ships can mine sand in the area for three years. Many believe that the sea wouldn’t survive the mining,” President of the All Ceylon Fishery Folks Trade Union Anura Roshantha told media recently.
Protests against Port City
The People’s Movement against Port City, led by Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda, also supported the protests. Fr. Iddamalgoda’s organisation has been vociferous about the Colombo Port City project for over two years. The protests and demontrations by these organization have created a strong sense of insecurity among fishermen in the area. A section of them believes that the sand mining will affect fish breeding areas and the corals protecting the beaches.
However, the Chinese company handling the port city project and several other ministries of the government and state-run bodies have launched a comprehensive campaign to allay the fears of fishermen.
They have already allocated Rs. 500 million to protect the beach and the livelihood of fishermen in the Negombo area. A fishermen livelihood support office has also been set up. A government source said Rs. 150 million has been already distributed among 75 fisheries associations in the area to implement their plans.
“No one can say that the Port City project will have zero impact on the environment. What we can do is managing the negative impact. That’s why comprehensive measures have been taken to protect the coastal line. Aquatic experts have already said the fish breeding grounds in the area will not be affected. But, we need to work hand in hand with the fishermen in the area to implement our solutions. But, it is clear that some parties with vested interests are determined to stand in the way,” the government source added.
When the Supplementary Environment Impact Assessment (SEIA) was presented to the Government and put up for public viewing, the government decided to remove an entire block of sea area, which was two kilometres away from the shore line.
An agreement was signed between the Government and Port City project company, that dredging would be done approximately 4.1 kilometres away from the shore line, which was referred to in the Assessment as dredging ‘Site 2.’
Whilst the agreement was done and dusted with this action by the government, the Peoples Movement Against Port City, once again started a protest, openly vowing to continue the action until the project was stopped.
At a recent meeting held with the Fisheries Associations of Negombo, Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said he was fully aware that there were a number of organisations that are working to stop the Port City project. He indicated that a foreign arm could be behind those trying to stir up public anger against the Port City project.
Those supporting the Port City say the government must investigate whether these NGOs are getting foreign funding, as implied by the Minister. When the Port City was launched, there were multiple media reports saying regional giants were utterly dissatisfied with the project. It was against this backdrop that the Minister said there could be a foreign hand behind the anti-port city protests in Colombo and Negombo. While the Minister made these comments, seated at the head table with him was former Fisheries Minister Felix Perera and Parliamentarian Nimal Lanza.
Another cause for concern is the constant shifting of goal posts by the protesting fishermen. An inside source of the Megapolis Ministry said that the dredging agreements have moved from 2 kilometres, to 4 kilometres and on further protests by fishermen, a further move up to 10 kilometres has been made. But, when this was done, a group suddenly emerged saying they were not referring to 10 kilometres but 10 nautical miles, which is almost double the 10-kilometre distance.
What the authorities will do to manage the local elements will ultimately determine the success of the 15 bullion US dollar project.
MR policy statement
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, on Sunday, issued a statement criticizing the government’s constitutional reform process which was launched in line with the President Maithripala Sirisena’s election manifesto, in January, 2015.
It was no secret that the former President and his allies were against the constitutional reform process. Addressing various public meetings in the recent past, they said the government was planning to divide the country by introducing a ‘Federal solution’.
This was the first time the Rajapaksa camp came up with a policy statement, explaining its official position on the constitutional reforms process.
Following are some salient points from the former President’s statement.
“The Subcommittee on Centre-Periphery Relations has made recommendations to strip the provincial Governors of all their powers. The Governor’s discretionary power to sign into law statutes passed by the PC is to be abolished and that authority given to the Chairman of the provincial council. His discretionary power to refer statutes back to the PC suggesting amendments or to refer a statute to the president to be sent to the supreme court for review is to be abolished. The Governor’s authority over the provincial public service is to be transferred to the chief minister and the provincial board of ministers. Furthermore, the Governor is to be appointed only with the concurrence of the chief minister and will have to perform his duties on the advice of the chief minister and the provincial board of ministers. Our system of devolution is modelled on that of India and the Governors of the Indian states have exactly the same powers as the provincial Governors in Sri Lanka. It is through the role of the governor that the provinces and the states are bound to the centre. If the powers of the Governors are taken away, both India and Sri Lanka will cease to be unified nations.
The list of concurrent powers which are wielded by both the central government and the provincial councils is to be done sway with and those powers transferred to the provincial councils so that the PCs and the central government become ‘distinct spheres of authority’. To further this objective, it has been recommended that the District Secretaries and the Divisional Secretaries who now function under the central government be placed under the authority of the provincial councils. Furthermore, the provincial public services commissions are to be allowed to decide on their cadre need including that of the local authorities, without Treasury oversight.
The Subcommittee on Centre Periphery Relations has also suggested that powers over state land be transferred to the provincial councils. The central government will be able to utilise state land in the provinces only with the concurrence of the provincial authorities. In India, the central government can use any state land with or without the concurrence of the state concerned.
One of the principal recommendations of the Sub Committee on Fundamental Rights is that both Sinhala and Tamil be recognised as the official languages of Sri Lanka. In 1957 S.J.V. Chelvanayagam proposed to make Tamil the language of administration in the North and the East with ‘reasonable provision’ for the use of Sinhala for the Sinhala minority living in those areas.
This was same the policy that S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike applied to the whole country with Sinhala as the official language and reasonable provision for the use of Tamil especially in the north and east. In India too, Hindi – the language of the largest linguistic group – is the official language while reasonable provision has been made for the use of other languages like Tamil, Malayalam etc. These are arrangements that should not be disturbed with ill-advised experiments.
I call upon the government to act more responsibly in this all important matter of constitutional reform and to take up the two main electoral reform pledges they gave the people first, before dealing with matters that are of interest only to separatists and certain interested foreign parties. None of the recommendations mentioned above should be in the final draft of the constitution.
The fact that the government sent an SLFP delegation to mislead the Ven. Mahanayake Theras about the constitutional reform proposals shows that they are trying to use the nationalistic credentials of the SLFP to deceive the Maha Sangha and the people to push through a constitution which will divide the country without using the word ‘division’. I request all members of the SLFP serving in this government not to allow their enslavement to the UNP to go so far as to betraying every principle that the SLFP has stood for in the past six decades.”
Interestingly, this statement, which heavily panders to the sentiments of the ultra-nationalist political bloc, came from a man who promised to “go beyond” the 13th amendment to find a solution to the national question.
Current Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, after meeting Rajapaksa at the Temple Trees in 2012, said the Sri Lankan President was ready to enforce provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and “go beyond it”. The same sentiments were expressed by former Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna.
Krishna said Rajapaksa had assured him that the Sri Lankan government would implement the “13th Amendment plus,” meaning further concessions. However, during a meeting with national newspaper editors a few days later, President Rajapaksa disputed the claim saying there was no assurance. The Sri Lankan President said he had only “discussed the 13th Amendment plus” with the Indian authorities.
It is interesting that a former President who went on to discuss the possibility of going beyond the 13th Amendment to devolve power has now aligned himself with the opinion of ultra-nationalists, without trying to engage in a constructive dialogue. Sources close to the Rajapaksa camp told the Daily News that former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris was instrumental in drafting this policy statement. Peiris too played a major role in introducing a power devolution package under Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency.
On the other hand, Rajapaksa’s policy statement also contradicts the current constitution of Sri Lanka.
Article 18 of the constitution states,
“The official language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala.
Tamil shall also be an official language
English shall be the link language
Parliament shall by law provide for the implementation of the provisions of this chapter
The national languages of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala and Tamil
Use of national languages in Parliament and in local authorities
A member of Parliament (a member of a Provincial Council or a local authority) shall be entitled to perform his duties and discharge his functions in Parliament (Or in such Provincial Council or local authority) in either of the national languages”
Therefore, the former President’s argument about the sub committee’s proposal does not hold water as it is already included in the current constitution, which Rajapaksa was supposed to uphold during his 10-year Presidency.