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    Governance in Sri Lanka

    September 30, 2019

    Cynical wags ask why it seems the country is in constant election mode. When we look back to 2015 and the promises of Yahapalanaya, advances on the promises made have but faded from memory due to shambolic events since late last year. Ten years after 2009 we seem to be at war with each other on newer sets of issues. Faced with another Presidential election there is considerable dust raised on the elections and the powers of the President. This piece paints a canvass of necessities demanded from those standing.
    Weaponised race and religion
    The horror of Easter bombings underscore the lurking destruction posed by twin horrors of weaponised race and religion. A nascent Tamil-Hindu movement has emerged in recent times; it maybe premature to comment on the precise potency of this movement with any real certainty. Yet an organisation called Siva Senai was recently formed.
    Although the Easter attacks were unprecedented, the reprisal violence targeting Muslims was not. While there is a case for asking the Muslim community to stop some of the divisive religious and cultural practices that have gained currency due to the excessive influence of Wahhabism in recent times, there is also an unseemly tendency among a growing section of Sinhala-Buddhists to make unreasonable demands from the Muslims.
    The Buddhist clergy remains a powerful socio-political force that state law is often subordinate to. This monastic exceptionalism has led to a culture of impunity, as law enforcement agencies have remained reluctant to hold perpetrators of ethno-religious violence to account – particularly at the local level where such violence is often at the behest of Buddhist monks.
    Evangelical Christian groups and even the Methodist church have come under attack. It does not augur well for us if right wing slogans are borrowed and applied here by fringe elements as a means of defence.Hindu-Christian, Hindu-Buddhist, Buddhist-Muslim and Buddhist-Christian attacks and clashes have occurred in different parts of the country. These trends need to be contained. Lastly the impact of Climate Change has to be taken far more seriously than seen to date.What this means is we need a President for the whole country, not merely for particular segments of society. Do or would any of the candidates standing either seek to or care to pay attention?
    It’s worth asking what he or she can do once elected.
    * The next President can implement his promised manifesto?A transitional provision in the 19th Amendment enables President Sirisena to assign to himself the Ministries of Defence, Mahaweli and Environment. The next President will, therefore, not be entitled to assign to himself any Ministry or any subject or function of government. He may, if he wishes to, chair the meetings of the Cabinet, offer his opinion on Cabinet memoranda and even initiate a discussion on a subject close to his heart.
    * The next President can assign to himself the Defence Ministry?
    Prior to the 19th Amendment, the President was entitled to “assign to himself any subject or function and, for that purpose, determine the number of ministries in his charge”. That power was expressly repealed by the 19th Amendment. Article 43(2) states quite explicitly that, on the advice of the Prime Minister, the President shall appoint Ministers from among the Members of Parliament. The fact that the President is entitled, by virtue of his office, to attend Parliament once in every three months, and is entitled to all the powers and privileges of a Member of Parliament when he does so, except the right to vote, does not make him a Member of Parliament. In fact, Article 91 expressly states that the President is disqualified from being elected to Parliament.
    * The next President will be able to change the composition of the Cabinet?
    The power he previously enjoyed of removing the Prime Minister from office has also been repealed. Article 46(3) which states that a Minister or a Deputy Minister may be removed from office under the hand of the President only “on the advice of the Prime Minister”. The Constitution does not provide for the dissolution of the Cabinet following a presidential election.
    (Taken from “The next president: four constitutional fallacies” by Dr. Nihal Jayawickrema)
    What might he then do?
    I borrow from a paper titled ‘National Policy on Reconciliation and Coexistence’, from February, 2017.
    Some of key messages in it were:
    (i) NATIONAL COEXISTENCE AND DIVERSITY - Address the needs, empower, and engage with vulnerable groups affected by the conflict, including but not limited to, female heads of households, war widows, and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, children and youth, internally and externally displaced communities, families of the missing and disappeared, families of ex-combatants and soldiers and differently-abled and resettled communities.
    (ii) SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT - Emphasize that all development processes must be underpinned by the tenets of a rights-based approach to development. These include sustainability, empowerment, inclusion, equity and dignity.
    (iii) CROSS-SECTORAL PRINCIPLES - Ensure that reconciliation and coexistence interventions do not feed conflict or exacerbate tensions but rather alleviate it. This involves systematically taking into account the positive and negative impacts of interventions, the contexts in which they are undertaken, and conversely the impact of these contexts on the interventions.

    (iv) GENDER RESPONSIVENESS - Proactively look for gender relevance at every step of policy implementation and when designing reconciliation and coexistence initiatives so as to ensure that women’s human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled; build a culture of respect between women and men through all reconciliation initiatives; and while recognizing that large numbers of women have been victims of conflict and violence and require redress and reparation, they must be actively engaged as equal partners in the reconciliation and coexistence process with space to contribute and participate in dignity.
    The policy proposes to promote and implement programmes with the themes of; “Equality, human rights, linguistic rights, national coexistence and diversity” where it makes special mention that the “State shall reinforce all patriotic forces by law, policy and spirit to explore the notion of active citizenship in Sri Lanka and what it means to be Sri Lankan, strengthen the notion of Sri Lankan identity identifying the values enriched by the nation’s diverse cultural pluralism and heritage and thereby recognizing the existence of more than one religion, language and ethnicity in this country as the natural prerequisite for national coexistence”, ownership, justice and rule of law, sustainable development, civil consciousness and transitional justice.
    It also proposes to, “Identify the segments those have become marginalised over the years since independence within the social layers of the Sri Lankan society due to ethnic, religious, linguistic, social, political and economic factors”, “Develop affirmative action programmes for the marginalised within the National Action Plan on Reconciliation and Coexistence”, “Launch public awareness and education campaigns on the National Policy on Reconciliation and Coexistence and the National Action Plan”, and “Mainstream the values defined in this National Policy on Reconciliation and Coexistence within government institutions and existing national initiatives through annual work plans”.
    It’s also worth noting some of international undertakings when Sri Lanka co-sponsored the resolution promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council in March 2017. E.g. The Bill to give effect to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; to ensure the right to Justice and Reparation to Victims of Enforced Disappearance; and to provide for matters connected therewith, on incidental thereto, entered in the Order Paper of Parliament. A Pledge for National Integration and Reconciliation was taken by all Sri Lankans in public institutions, schools, and in Parliament. The Cabinet of Ministers approved draft legislation enabling the issuance of Certificates of Absence–Registration of Deaths (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment) – Bill to amend the Registration of Deaths (Temporary Provisions) Act No 19 of 2010. Prescription (Special Provisions) Act No. 5 of 2016 passed by Parliament and certified on April 26, 2016. The Act enables special provisions in respect of persons who were unable to pursue their rights in court for the recovery of any immovable property including land due to the activities of any militant terrorist group which prevailed in Sri Lanka and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) provided technical expertise in the drafting of laws to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The Cabinet of Ministers approved the establishment of the Secretariat for the Coordination of Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) tasked with the design and implementation of the mechanisms envisioned in the Resolution 30/1 as per the proposals of the Government of Sri Lanka.The key messages remain valid and should be forensically audited for measurable progress.

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