The bridge to progress – not to India



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It is incumbent on the government to not let us down, for, last January, we thought we had achieved a great victory, saved the country from becoming a totalitarian state and begun the journey to restore real democracy and the rule of Law, along with transparency, enthroning meritocracy along with the right to information, and last but not least, taking those who had indulged in corrupt practice to task, but we the people are not yet convinced that we are moving towards those goals, leave alone achieving them.


 by K. Godage Former Ambassador


This day will be remembered in the history of our country thanks to an astrologer and an over ambitious, somewhat naïve Peoples’ President, as the day when the country was saved from a drift towards becoming a totalitarian state. The drift began with a ‘kept’ Parliament passing the 18th Amendment, and a dead loss semi-servile opposition not taking the issue to the people, not to forget the Civil Society organizations not protesting. That was certainly the first nail in the coffin of democracy.


Democracy as existed in the West did exist in our country between 1948 and 1977. The erosion of Democracy set in after establishment of the Presidential form of government without checks and balances (let us recall President JR’s statement that the only thing he could not do was to make a man a woman and a woman a man). The Electoral System was also changed, with the District becoming the Electorate, and thus it became a system where millions were needed to contest elections, breeding corruption on a scale never seen before. Yes, Democracy was eroded and we were taken on a path where, on the pretext of Development, we were losing our fundamental freedoms.


The so-called international community, which was a club of western countries, where the middle and upper class Tamils had taken refuge after the horrible acts of 1983. Western countries benefitted immensely as human capital of unbelievable worth (professionals all) settled in their countries; yes they were welcomed with open arms. Their plight, and the fact that the majority Sinhalese had shut out the minority Tamils from 1956, resonated well with the British, the Europeans and the Americans. They quite naturally showed their hostility to the government in Colombo and continued to do so till the government changed last January.


This is indeed a vital issue we need to deal with to make the Tamil people in particular (and the Muslims) feel this is also their country in which they have equal rights and suffer no discrimination in whatever form. The equality of all citizens must be tattooed in the new Constitution, which the government claims to be preparing. This Constitution must be one "by the people, of the people and for the people" and a formula should be worked out where we the people are really consulted; transforming the Parliament into a Constituent Assembly is NOT the answer. I do not expect our MPs to have the capacity or ability to study a draft of a constitution, which would no doubt go into hundreds of pages. I am sorry to say this, but to my mind, the manner in which this government brought the 19th Amendment was unfortunate and they let themselves down. We look forward to a more professional approach to the bringing of the new Constitution.


It is incumbent on the government to not let us down, for, last January, we thought we had achieved a great victory, saved the country from becoming a totalitarian state and begun the journey to restore real democracy and the rule of Law, along with transparency, enthroning meritocracy along with the right to information, and last but not least, taking those who had indulged in corrupt practice to task, but we the people are not yet convinced that we are moving towards those goals, leave alone achieving them.


As for transparency, one particular issue which is causing much concern is the matter of the bridge which the Indians are seeking to build from Danushkodi to Talaimannar, which is no doubt intended to end our being a separate island nation. There is much secrecy surrounding this matter; we have repeatedly asked the government to make a statement on this issue and to tell us their position re the Bridge, but the government has remained silent, whereas the Indian minister in charge of the subject has been making public statements that they have made all the necessary arrangement to fund the project and that work will commence soon! We must have a statement from the Prime Minister himself that this project will not be realized (for it was he who first proposed this in 2002); we must have it now.


The other issue that has raised concern is this talk of transforming our unitary state into a federal state; and the Indian model has been cited. We are relieved to learn that Deputy Minister Ajith Perera, who is not given to loose talk, has stated that the country’s status as a unitary state will not be changed under any circumstances. This statement has been made as there is an influential lobby advocating that we become a Federal Republic like India. Let us pause to see at random the sizes of just a few Indian States in their Federation, compared to all of Sri Lanka.


Would a Federal State with devolved power ever be suitable for our small country? Let us recall that the 13th Amendment was foisted on us by the Indians, it was based on the Indian devolution system: but for three ‘virtual’ States, all Indian States are bigger than countries of Europe, do we, a small country, need to have Federal System as in India? Imagine having a ‘North-East State’, which may demand the Right of self-determination as they did in Timpu in 1978, and then decide to join the Federal State of Tamil Nadu, to which the North would be linked by this wretched Bridge? Yes the government of Tamil Nadu would demand that the Tamils of Lanka have the right to Self Determination. Yes, let us reach out to our Tamil brethren, and make them say that they belong here and that this is their home country and not Tamil Nadu.


In conclusion may I state it is in the interest of the government to make us the people partners in the preparation of this new Constitution; we the people must approve it at a referendum. The Constitution must separate the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, we must reintroduce the 17th Amendment and have independent public institutions, restore faith in the Judiciary, the Police and the Public Service; here we can certainly take a page out of India’s book. In India these institutions are highly respected because of their independence and their professionalism; we must put the spine back into the Public Service in the interest of the country; we must also sell off all those loss making institutions which have been identified in the COPE report submitted to Parliament by the former Minister DEW Gunasekera. Yes, let us ensure that the eighth of January 2015 will always be celebrated and if this government wishes to go its full term, and also go a second term after that, then abandon the idea of the bridge to India and also keep our country as a unitary state.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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