TamilWeek Apr 2, 2006
Federal States II

by Dr. Devanesan Nesiah

I understood from Douglas Jayasekera's
lauding of the role of Malaysia in problem
solving in relation to the Philippines,
followed by his urging that we turn to our
giant neighbour than to the West to find a
solution to our problem, that he was
pointing to Malaysia and India as
constitutional models. I stand corrected.
Unitary and
States I
Feb 26, 2006
Model of
Mar 12, 2006
Dr. Devanesan Nesiah,
Former GA, Jaffna
Douglas goes on to refer to decentralized subjects. When
administration is decentralized, political decision making and control
may remain with the centre. It is dissatisfaction with such
decentralization without devolution that led to our civil war. District
administration in Sri Lanka, down to the village level, was
decentralized under the British and remains decentralized. From the
Government Agent to the Grama Sevaka, the officers of the district
administration are appointed and transferred by, and are responsible
to Colombo; the role of the Provincial Councils is marginal. This is so
in respect of most sectors. Devolution is minimal.

If indeed winds of change are blowing, would it be possible, as a
starter, for the centre to transfer control of the subjects, institutions,
and personnel of the district administration to the Provincial Councils?
Adopting the Scottish model would involve much more substantial
devolution (not decentralization). If devolution is indeed acceptable to
our political leaders and the judiciary, what is stopping the state from
drafting the required legislation covering Health, Education, Justice,
Police, Agriculture, Irrigation, Forestry, Fisheries, The Environment,
Tourism, Economic Development, etc and pushing them through
Parliament? The response from the North and East will, surely, be
overwhelmingly positive.

My assessment is that without the adoption of a federal constitution,
substantial devolution in Sri Lanka will continue to be impossible. On
the other hand, once a federal constitution is adopted and citizens in
every region begin to enjoy the right to determine their priorities, there
will be increasing support for further devolution and decreasing
demand for secession- as in some tribal areas of North East India.

For those Sri Lankans who are concerned about peace and territorial
integrity there is a further compelling factor in favour of overt
federalism as against the UK model. Apart from prolonging the
cease-fire, the most significant breakthrough in the peace talks is
contained in the Oslo declaration. For the first time, the Oslo
declaration referred to an agreement to explore federal options. It is
prudent to build on that foundation than to reject the Oslo declaration
and seek to construct a devolution model from scratch; and if that
objection to the term federalism is based on an aversion to devolution,
such an exercise would be inherently and fatally flawed. The
alternative to federalism is not a reversion to the pre-civil war unitary
Sri Lanka; it may be de facto or de jure secession or, most likely,
reverting to indefinitely prolonged civil war with de facto secession.