TNA Leader and parliamentarian R. Sampanthan says the proposed Divi Neguma Bill is a clear instance of the government’s insensitivity to the concept of devolving power to the provinces and fully implementing the 13th Amendment and build upon it to bring a meaningful devolution. He said the TNA delegation that was recently in India had pointed out the Bill as an example to the government’s failure to bring about a meaningful devolution of power. According to Sampanthan, the TNA will carry on the campaign against the insensitive conduct of the central government to centralize all powers in the center.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: What concerns does the TNA have on the proposed Divi Neguma Bill?
A: The Divi Neguma Bill entrusts development activities in the whole country to the Economic Development Ministry. Amongst the powers that would be vested by this piece of legislation in the center are a wide range of powers that have been devolved to the provinces related to development activities, which the provinces could easily handle and much better than being remote controlled by the central government. If these powers are handled by the provinces, greater importance would be given to the sensitivities of the people and the democratic wishes could be much better implemented and fulfilled.
Centralization of power does not contribute to the democracy flourishing in its true sprit. We see no reason why there should be an effort to centralize power to the center where a large amount of monies would be allocated. It appears the government is of the view that development could only be implemented by the government of the center and not by provincial governments. The concentration of power in the center, particularly in one minister, is undemocratic and undesirable and lead to a great deal of partisanship and misuse of power by central ministers for purposes of political expediency. The notion of power being exercised by the people is completely lost when power is excessively centralized by taking powers from the provinces. There are other aspects of the Bill that are being dealt before court. Therefore, I do not want to comment on them. We are opposed to the policy of concentration of power to the center and depriving the provinces of the powers given to them by the Constitution.
Q: Are powers on development issues the only area the Divi Neguma Bill would take over from the provincial councils?
A: It is not only in development. There are several aspects of the Bill that violate features in the Constitution in respect of finances, in respect of both legislative and executive powers of the provinces and in respect of the province’s capacity to function as an institution providing basic services to people of the provinces in a more effective way than the central government.
Q: The TNA has said the issue of the Divi Neguma Bill was raised with the Indian government. What was the response from the Indian government?
A: The Divi Neguma Bill was not the main issue that was discussed with the Indian government. But we mentioned it as a clear instance of the government’s insensitivity to the concept of devolving power to the provinces in such a manner as to fully implement the 13th Amendment and build upon it to bring a meaningful devolution as the government has continuously committed to do. We stated that the taking away of powers given to provinces by the Divi Neguma Bill is a clear indication of the lack of commitment by the government to bring about a meaningful devolution of power sharing.
Q: Do you think the Indian government would put pressure on the Sri Lankan government on the matter?
A: The Indian government has been continuously interacting with the Sri Lankan government. India is doing this to see that the conflict ends in an honorable way. The impression we get is that the commitments made by the Sri Lankan government to India and the international community is not honored.
Q: The TNA has filed a petition before Supreme Court challenging the authority of the Northern Province Governor to approve the Bill in the absence of the provincial council. Have there been any other bills that have been approved earlier by the Governor? If so what are they?
A: I won’t be able to answer definitely since the matter is before court. Our view is that the consent that is sought from a province related to matters over the province and legislative and executive process. It is only a democratically elected provincial council that could give consent to a bill such as the Divi Neguma Bill, which takes away powers of the province, both legislative and executive, over subjects which under the Constitution have been given to the provinces. It’s our submission that the Governor, a Presidential appointee and not elected by the people of the province, cannot be vested with the authority to give consent to a bill presented by the central government. Such a step would be inconsistent with the letter and spirit of devolution of power to the provincial councils as said in the Constitution.
Q: How confident is the TNA of receiving legal redress on the matter?
A: We have placed our case before court fairly and squarely. We believe that the court would deliver a judgment based on the merits of the issue.
Q: What more does the TNA plan to do in relation to the Divi Neguma Bill and the issue of the central government taking over powers vested with the provincial councils?
A: We will certainly carry on the campaign against the insensitive conduct of the central government to centralize all powers in the center. The government is able to do this at present because it is in control of many provinces in the country. This position need not continue for all time. People in different parts of the country are greatly prejudiced with regard to provincial government to which they have much better access being able to implement programmes in line with the democratic wishes of the people.
The government, which has managed to muster a two-thirds majority in parliament, not through a democratic process, but through various devious methods, is seeking to misuse the two-thirds majority to achieve its political objectives.