The subject of Devolution of Power has come to the fore again. It has been reported that a committee has been appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena to formulate a new set of proposals on the devolution of power to replace the current Provincial Council system. But is anyone confident that it would succeed? Does anybody believe that at least the President is confident that his committee would find a lasting solution to the ethnic problem, through a new devolution plan?
The answer for both the questions might most probably be an emphatic “no.”
It was reported that the President has appointed this committee after a discussion with the party leaders on the subject. Lack of confidence among the people on such committees is not totally unfounded.
They do not believe in such committees in the light of their experience throughout the last 35 years, during which they have seen hundreds of such efforts in the form of committees, discussions, Parliamentary Select Committees and international negotiations on the subject with and without the mediation, facilitation and even intervention of foreign leaders, especially those from India.
Sometimes these deliberations had been among leaders of various communities of the country, sometimes between various groups of a particular community, sometimes between foreign leaders and leaders of a particular community and at times between government to government delegations.
But pathetically and also ridiculously no community has changed its stance for the past three and a
half decades. Tamils believe in a devolution package that would give maximum powers to the unit of devolution, but they do not seem to know where the limit of power sharing should lie. Therefore they always expect the Government to tell what its offer is. And ludicrously they always seemed to hope to reject whatever the Government offer as an insufficient package. On the other hand, the Government, no matter which party is in office, has been of the opinion that the power devolution is synonymous with the division of the country. Only President Chandrika Kumaratunga who had always been a Liberal leader with Leftist inclination in respect of the ethnic problem had the genuine desire to end the ethnic conundrum through a proper devolution package.
She had presented one in 1995 which in fact was commonly known as the “Package” then which even the political advisor to the LTTE Anton Balasingham had told eight years later that they could have accepted. But it was too late and it was treated as Balasingham’s personal view.
We have had discussions, All-Party-Conferences, Parliamentary Select Committees, peace talks and peace accords with India for the past three and a half decades. But unfortunately, none of these deliberations had been conclusive, leave alone being fruitful.
Some efforts such as the Mangala Moonasinghe Committee appointed during President Premadasa’s tenure and the All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa ended abruptly but in a positive note. Both committees had presented their interim reports but only to gather dust, due to the indifference of the leaders of the time towards the problem, despite the fact that it had claimed thousands of lives.
Tamil leaders must tell the Government and the world in clear terms what really they want, without playing politics. And also they must show that they really mean business. As far as the devolution is concerned, Tamil leaders should have proved by now that they were serious in their demands while allaying fears of Sinhalese people that devolution would lead to the bifurcation of the country. And also they should not think that their demand should always be far ahead of what the government prepared to offer. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a meeting point for the demand and the offer. On the other hand, leaders of the Governments must not use the ethnic issue to earn brownie points from the voters of the southern parts of the country.
Power devolution had always been in place in the country since 1987. Only the degree of powers to be devolved had been the bone of contention. Tamil leaders have failed to show the world that they had used the devolved powers to the maximum level. The funds allocated to the Northern Provincial Council have sometimes returned to the treasury. With their intermittent rhetoric, they have also failed to show that there was no danger to the territorial integrity due to power devolution.
Therefore, both Sinhalese and Tamil leaders must be serious in resolving the ethnic issue putting aside the electoral gains or disadvantages when it comes to the devolution of power.