Consensus on devolution

By Easwaran Rutnam

A consensus has been reached on devolution of powers following key discussions held between President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sampanthan, and other Tamil political parties.

Sampanthan told The Sunday Morning that the agreement was reached at a discussion held on Thursday night.
“It was a preliminary discussion pertaining to the constitutional process,” he said.

He said that there was an agreement that devolution of powers must be looked into as part of the process to draft a new Constitution.

“There was a general consensus that the issue of devolution be addressed in the first instance and that the matter be pursued without delay,” he said.

Sampanthan said that a committee was later appointed to handle the issue and submit recommendations at the next meeting.

The consensus on devolution of powers is seen as a major breakthrough as most members of the Joint Opposition as well as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) had opposed devolving extensive powers to the provinces in the past.

The process to draft a new Constitution stalled after the political crisis erupted in October last year and momentum on the matter has been slow ever since.

Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella told The Sunday Morning that there was broad consensus at the meeting on Thursday to take forward the devolution process.

“At the meeting Sampanthan noted that, despite several discussions on the proposed new Constitution, very little has been done to ensure the process moves forward,” Kiriella said.

Sampanthan had urged the President to support the United National Front (UNF) in the process to bring forward a political solution acceptable to all communities.

Kiriella said that while abolishing the executive presidency and the electoral process had been discussed at the meeting, there was no agreement on the matter.

However, there was a consensus that all sides can agree on devolution of powers as there was no division on the matter even in the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly.

“So the TNA urged the Sinhalese parties to put aside talks on abolishing the executive presidency and discuss proposals on devolution of powers,” he said.

The committee appointed after the meeting will now look at the proposals put forward on devolution of powers during the Steering Committee meeting as well as during the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) meeting when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President.

“The committee will draft some proposals and submit a document and we will take things from there,” Kiriella said.

The committee comprises Parliamentarians Sarath Amunugama, M.A. Sumanthiran, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, and Dilan Perera.

Meanwhile, Kiriella said that no one from the Mahinda Rajapaksa camp attended the meeting on Thursday.

Experts Panel report on the draft constitution

In January, the report of the Experts Panel on the Draft Constitution was submitted to Parliament, but there was clear division on the proposals.

The report proposed that some powers be devolved to the provinces, including police powers.

The report also proposed that Parliament may by law, subject to the approval of such law at a referendum of the people of each of the provinces concerned, provide for two or three adjoining provinces to form one administrative unit with one elected provincial council, one governor, one chief minister, and one board of ministers, and for the manner of determining whether such provinces should continue to be administered as one administrative unit or whether each such province should constitute a separate administrative unit with its own provincial council, and a separate governor, chief minister and board of ministers.

It also proposed that the Provincial Police be headed by a Provincial Police Commissioner who shall be of the rank of Senior Deputy Inspector General, appointed by the National Police Commission on a recommendation made by the respective chief minister from among those who the National Police Commission recommends to the chief minister as being available to hold the position of Provincial Police Commissioner.

The SLFP had agreed to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment as the basis for devolution of powers but opposed the merger of provinces.

The TNA, on its part, had proposed that the powers and functions to be assigned to the provinces/ states should be in conformity with the recommendations of the Report of the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee, the Constitutional Bill of 2000, and the report of the Multi-pethnic Experts Committee appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the report of the All Party Representatives Committee chaired by Prof. Tissa Vitharana and approved by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.