Sri Lanka government lacks sincerity, says ex-official

March 2nd, 2008 - 1:28 pm ICT by admin  

By P.K. Balachandran
Colombo, March 2 (IANS) Sri Lanka’s constitutional advisor, Jayampathy Wickramaratne, has resigned, saying the government does not seem to be interested in devolving power to the Tamil minority. Wickramaratne, who was working on a new power-sharing system for the strife-hit country, told IANS that there was no need for him to be in the government after it decided not to go beyond the devolution formula in the existing constitution.

“I felt that I was not doing anything useful when the government decided not to go beyond the provisions for devolution contained in the 13th amendment of the constitution,” Wickramaratne said.

“The Lanka Sama Samaj Party (LSSP) to which I belong is for extensive devolution, and the acceptance of internal self determination for the Tamils in Sri Lanka,” he said.

“The LSSP does not see the 13th amendment as a solution to the ethnic question. We are for a devolution package that will appeal to the moderate Tamils at least. The 13th amendment is not acceptable even to the moderates.”

For over a year, Wickramaratne had been hopeful that the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), which President Mahinda Rajapaksa had set up to draft a consensus-based new devolution package, would succeed in its effort.

In fact, the APRC was well on its way to doing so. It was working on a preliminary report when its chairman, Tissa Vitharana, also from LSSP, succumbed to pressure from the president and recommended the full implementation of the 13th amendment, he said.

“We wanted the preliminary report to be submitted and Vitharana was also for it, but it was not (to be),” Wickramaratne recalled with a mixture of anger and sadness.

If the government merely wanted full implementation of the 13th amendment, it did not need the APRC, he pointed out.

“The 13th amendment is already part of the law of the land and needs only a political will to implement it,” he said.

Asked if the government had the political will do so, he shrugged his shoulders, and said: “I hope so!”

The other problem Wickramaratne said he faced in the constitution making exercise was the inordinate power which some parties opposed to devolution enjoyed in the APRC.

He was alluding to the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), which besides being Sinhalese nationalist parties are also influential members of the Rajapaksa government.

The MEP and JHU are now boycotting the APRC till the anti-Tamil Tiger and pro-government Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) is made a member of the committee. The TMVP is made up of those who quit the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2004.

Experts say this demand cannot be entertained because the TMVP is not a party with representation in parliament. The APRC is a body of parties that have members in the 225-seat parliament.

President Rajapaksa had earlier rejected the application of the Akhila Ilankai Tamil United Front (AITUF) led by K. Vigneswaran and the Democratic People’s Liberation Front (DPLF) led by D. Siddharthan on the grounds that they had no representation in parliament.

“The idea in seeking membership for TMVP now is only to delay the APRC’s work,” Vigneswaran separately told IANS.

It is also feared that the absence of the MEP and JHU will hamper the task of reaching a consensus on any devolution package that the body may discuss.

Although President Rajapaksa has taken the decision to implement the devolution suggested by 13th amendment, implementation is yet to begin, because the matter has been handed over to a cabinet sub-committee for further discussions.

Tamil political leaders fear that the cabinet sub-committee, dominated as it is by ministers opposed to devolution, will take its own time to come to a conclusion and what it may propose at the end of it all will fall far short of Tamil expectations.

While disregarding its work, President Rajapaksa has allowed the APRC to continue its search for a new consensus-based constitution. Wickramaratne welcomed this, and said he would continue to be on the APRC’s expert panel though he confessed that he had “little or no hope” that anything worthwhile would come out of it.

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