Country has realised need to unite

Country has realised need to unite


(Speech made BY OPPOSITION LEADER R. SAMPANTHAN during the debate on the interim report of the Constitutional Council Steering Committee on Nov. 01 in Parliament.)

Our first Constitution was the Soulbury Constitution enacted by the British under which we obtained independence. The second Constitution was the 1972 Constitution, the first republican Constitution. The third Constitution was the 1978 Constitution, the second republican Constitution. These latter two Constitutions were enacted by the party and the Government in power and not on the basis of a consensus. The current process is based on a Resolution of Parliament; Parliament has been converted into a Constitutional Assembly; there is a Committee of the whole Parliament; there is a Steering Committee comprising of Members of Parliament of all political parties; there have been six multi-party subcommittees appointed which have submitted their reports; a team of experts have assisted the process. There have been public consultations and public representations have been received. All these have taken place. There is a marked difference between the procedures being adopted now and the procedures which prevailed when the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions were enacted. All this take place almost 40 years after the enactment of the second Republican Constitution. All these steps, I submit Sir, add to the credibility and the legitimacy of the process. After wide consultation and consensus, the Constitution will have to be enacted and adopted by two-thirds majority of Parliament and approved by the people at a Referendum. It will reflect the exercise of the sovereignty of the people, by the people to the fullest degree. The supreme law of the land would have been made by the people and would command the respect and recognition of all the people; its credibility and legitimacy shall be unassailable.


All others, whether it be the President, the Prime Minister, the Parliament, the Judiciary, the Provincial Councils and the Local Government institutions, are only organs of Government – custodians for the time being of the power of the people exercising power on behalf of the people, in terms of the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land enacted by the people.

Sovereignty of the people would have been exercised so comprehensively that no question can be asked pertaining to the impairment of the sovereignty of the people.

All the people would be involved. It is for the first time in the history of the country that such an exercise is being undertaken, the totality of the people being involved. The Constitution, the supreme law of the country, will be framed so as to ensure and guarantee an undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka, belonging to all the people of Sri Lanka. This Constitution is being made to ensure that the country remains undivided and indivisible for all time and that the country proceeds on a path of development and progress. The objective of the Constitution is to create a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka, so as to achieve its fullest potential for the benefit of all the people in the country.

The reasons for this occurrence are the lessons that we have learnt in the past 70 years. We have seen the devastation and destruction the country has gone through during the war that lasted 30 years. Government’s resources were extensively expended in fighting the war. The country was starved of resources for economic development. Consequently, the people were unable to be the beneficiaries of their true entitlements.

The country has realized that for it to survive and progress and maintain its status in the world, it needs to unite and come together on the basis of equality and justice. Anyone attempting to disturb the process would do great harm to the country. Such people would be acting not in the national interest, but to advance their own personal political future on sectarian and narrow grounds.

Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multilingual plural society. The proposals envisage that Democracy and the Franchise co-exist in harmony without distortion and that pluralism receives meaningful respect and recognition. Democracy and pluralism, Mr. Chairman, are inextricably interlinked and must be so structured as to strengthen each other so as to ensure justice and equality. This strengthens and consolidates an undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka. That is the foundation of the whole exercise.

This is a prerequisite to sustainable peace, development and progress. Under the scheme of power sharing, there will be power exercised at three levels:

(i) the National Level,

(ii) the Provincial Level and

(iii) the Local Level.

The subjects and functions assigned to the three levels would be unambiguously and clearly defined on a rational basis; legislative and executive power shall be exercised in their respective spheres of competence at the different levels.

This arrangement will prevail throughout the country. Constitutional provisions will ensure that the devolved power is not undermined or taken back. If for any reason such a step becomes necessary, it can only be for very special reasons and in terms of specific constitutional provisions in that regard. This will ensure that the sharing of power is durable and also genuine. Such arrangements will be applicable throughout the country.

This is to ensure, Sir, that governance is in keeping with the tenets of Democracy that there is recognition of diversity in unity, that there will be easy access to governance, that governance will be transparent, that there will be ready accountability in governance, that there will be greater people’s participation in governance, that governance is consequently more effective and expeditious and that governance is also consequently less corrupt. There would be contentment and satisfaction amongst all people in all areas. This would contribute to unity in diversity and national cohesion and integration.

The Thirteenth Amendment, Sir, was the first step in power sharing through constitutional provision. The genesis of the Thirteenth Amendment were extensive discussions between the Government of Sri Lanka headed by President J.R. Jayewardene and the Tamil United Liberation Front led by Mr. A. Amirthalingam in July and August, 1986. Our Prime Minister was a member of the Government Delegation; it was my privilege to be a member of the Tamil Delegation. In fact, there are only two Members of Parliament who are alive from the Government side: Hon. Prime Minister and Mr. Ronnie De Mel and there are only two Members alive from the Tamil side: Mr. V. Anandasangaree and myself. President J.R. Jayewardene tabled in Parliament the proposals of the Government based on those discussions in February, 1987. There is a belief in this country that the Thirteenth Amendment was imposed on Sri Lanka after the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was signed in July, 1987. I want to specifically state that President Jayewardene tabled the proposals outlining the Thirteenth Amendment in Parliament in February, 1987 and those proposals were based on discussions that took place between the Government and the TULF in July and August, 1986.

The Thirteenth Amendment was a significant beginning but inadequate. This was recognized by all subsequent Governments and subsequent Presidents: President R. Premadasa who succeeded President J.R. Jayewardene, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who assumed Office after President Premadasa and President Mahinda Rajapaksa who succeeded President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

During President Premadasa’s time, there was the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee Proposals, during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s time, there was the 2000 August Constitutional Bill tabled in Parliament with Cabinet approval without any dissent whatever – which Cabinet also included former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and present President Maithripala Sirisena.

During President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term, there was the remarkable and meaningful speech made by President Rajapaksa on 11th of July 2006 at the inaugural meeting of the APRC – All Party Representatives Committee – and the Multi-Ethnic Experts Committee appointed by him, the majority report of the said Multi Ethnic Experts Committee and the report of the APRC headed by Professor Tissa Vitarana; all of which under all three Presidents and Governments contained proposals for sharing power that went far beyond the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution and all of which were based on a substantial consensus between representatives of different political parties. They were all domestic and home-grown processes based upon a wealth of experience of local conditions. There were no slogans but there was substance. It would perhaps be pertinent to clarify what exactly the position of President Rajapaksa was during these periods.

I would like to quote, Sir, from the speech made by President Rajapaksa when he addressed the APRC and the Multi-Ethnic Experts Committee on the 11of July 2006. He addressed that Committee under three subparagraphs. The first was “Unity, Territorial Integrity and Sovereignty” and this is what President Rajapaksa said in the course of his address.

“The unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of our country must be preserved. This cannot be open to bargain. Our approach has been widely endorsed by the international community, notably India and the Co-chairs have clearly stated and have clearly ruled out any form of division of this country. Our objective must be to develop a just settlement within an undivided Sri Lanka.”

Those were the words of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President at that time. He further said,

“Our objective must be to develop a just settlement within an undivided Sri Lanka. Each party represented here has its own solutions to the national question. We will discuss and synthesize these different approaches and develop our own Sri Lankan model. We must explore past attempts from the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact onwards. We must draw appropriate lessons from the experience of other countries.”

Those were the words of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and that is precisely what we are trying to do now. He went on to say, I quote:

“I will not impose a solution on the country. But, you will through your developments, through your deliberations provide a solution to the national question.”

His speech next dealt with the point relating to “Devolution for the People by the People” and this is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa said on that very important subject of “Devolution for the people by the People”.

He said, I quote:

“People in their own localities must take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment. Central decision-making that allocates disproportionate resources has been an issue for a considerable time. In addition, it is axiomatic that devolution also needs to address issues relating to identity as well as security and socio-economic advancement without over-reliance on the Centre. In this regard, it is also important to address the question of regional minorities.”

So, he wanted the issues of identity, security, socio-economic development to be addressed and for people to determine their destiny in the areas in which they lived so that people would be in control of their own affairs and this, Sir, is precisely what we are presently engaged in doing.

Then, finally, under the heading “Some Concluding Thoughts” this is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa said on that date. I quote:

“Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution –

He wanted maximum possible devolution granted.

-without sacrificing the sovereignty of the country”.

He further said, I quote:

“…given the background to the conflict, it therefore behoves on particularly the majority community to be proactive in striving for peace and there must be a demonstration of a well-stretched hand of accommodation.”

He wanted the majority community to be proactive in striving for peace and there must be a demonstration of a well-stretched hand of accommodation. Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution. Those were President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s words. Are we doing anything different now?

He further went on to say, I quote:

“Any solution must therefore address these expectations as well. The role of the All Party Representative Committee, as well as the Panel of Experts is to fashion creative options and satisfy the minimum expectations that I had enumerated earlier as well as provide a comprehensive approach to the resolution of the national question”.

So, Sir, it is unfortunate that President Rajapaksa and Members politically affiliated to him are today taking up a position which is diametrically opposite to what President Rajapaksa in his capacity as President told the APRC and the Experts Committee on 11th July, 2006, shortly after he assumed the Office of President.

While I am on the question of President Rajapaksa, it may also be relevant for me, at this stage, to quote what Professor G.L. Peiris in his capacity as the Foreign Minister of this country had to say in Oslo when he attended the Oslo Conference and to also refer to the Oslo Communique to which he was a party.

“Responding to a proposal by the leadership of the LTTE, the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution had to be acceptable to all communities…. Guided by this objective, the parties agreed to initiate discussions on substantive political issues such as, but not limited to: Power-sharing between the centre and the region, as well as within the centre; Geographical region; Human Rights Protection; Political and administrative mechanisms; Public finance; Law and order.”

That was the Oslo Communique to which Professor G.L. Peiris in his capacity as the Foreign Minister was a party where he agreed to address a solution based upon the principle of internal self-determination under a federal arrangement within a united country acceptable to all the communities in the country.That is precisely what we are engaged in.

Prof. Peiris went on to address the press conference at the end of that Oslo Meeting. The Meeting was on the 02nd to 05th of December, 2002. This is what Prof. Peiris said. I quote:

“The LTTE is no longer insisting on a separate State but …. is looking at a different concept in earnest and that is internal self-determination.

And he went on to explain what he meant. This was power sharing, extensive power sharing within the framework of one country. No question of secession, no question of separation but power sharing within the framework of one country.”

These are the words of Prof. G. L. Peiris himself in his capacity as the Foreign Minister of this country. He stated that his Government was prepared to find a solution on this basis. So, I am a little surprised, Sir, that these gentlemen are taking up different positions. But, I state these facts, because I think it is necessary for the country to know what President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his spokesman, the Foreign Minister did while they were in power. The inability of leaders to stand by what they accept and keep their commitments after they cease to hold power has been a major setback in our country.

The present process in Constitution making under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is in a true sense a continuation of the process commenced by President Premadasa continued during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s term and also continued during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term – for a period of more than 25 years – but not finally concluded in view of a lack of consensus between the two major political parties which unfortunately were unable to work together on a national issue and also on account of the fact that a very fierce war was in progress and was an impediment to resolution. These two impediments have now been overcome and we now face the issue in a very different and much more conducive environment. It is more than eight years since the war came to an end but the causes for the commencement of the war have not yet been addressed.

It would be a tragedy for the country if the conclusion of the war is not utilized to bring about genuine and permanent peace. All the above proposals during the tenure of the three Governments and the three Presidents that I have referred to, were put forward when the war was being fiercely fought. It would be a tragedy not to realize that the war commenced due to a non-resolution of the national question and that the national question yet remains unsolved.

This is an opportunity to frame a Constitution on the basis of a national consensus between the different political parties and also amongst all the people of the country irrespective of their ethnic or religious differences and it would be to the country’s extreme detriment if this opportunity was missed.

Having referred Sir, to the statements of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris to demonstrate how much their former statements while in office are fully supportive of the present Constitution making process and also demonstrate how diametrically different and contradictory their current statements are, I want to refer to the actions of three outstanding leaders who held the highest office in this country. The first was Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike; the second was Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake and the third was President J.R. Jayewardene.

Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike signed a Pact with the Tamil leader, Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam in 1957.

This is what the Pact states. I quote:

(A) Regional areas to be defined in the Bill itself by embodying them in the Schedule thereto.

(B) That the Northern Province is to form one regional area whilst the Eastern Province is to be divided into one or more regional areas.

(C) Provision is to be made in the Bill to enable two or more regions to amalgamate even beyond provincial limit; and for one region to divide itself subject to ratification by Parliament. Further provision is to be made in the Bill for two or more regions to collaborate for specific purposes of common interests.”

The next point in the Agreement Sir, was in regard to colonization. The pact states, I quote;

” ‘(F) It was agreed that in the matter of colonization schemes the powers of the Regional Councils shall include the power to select allottees to whom lands within their area of authority shall be alienated and also power to select personnel to be employed for work on such schemes.”

That was the Agreement between Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the Tamil leader, Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam.

To be Continued

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Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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