Strengthening the Provincial Council Process

Remarks by Deputy Chief of Mission Jim Moore to the National Conference on Strengthening the Provincial Council Process, May 28, 2008 BMICH, Colombo:

Honored Governor, Chief Ministers, Ministers and Provincial Council Members, distinguished guests:

It is an honor to be with you today, to attend this National Conference on Strengthening the Provincial Council Process, and to have the opportunity to meet with high level regional government representatives from across Sri Lanka. I would like to thank the Center for Policy Alternatives and the other organizers, sponsors, and participants in this conference for the hard and thoughtful work they have invested in this important undertaking.

Your participation today gives evidence of the desire across Sri Lanka to find a non-violent, democratic and sustainable solution to the national conflict. Your presence demonstrates your commitment and that of your government to take part in building a strong, democratic nation.

How to resolve the conflict is clearly the fundamental question facing Sri Lanka today, and one to which, unfortunately, there is no easy answer.

The United States believes that the Government of Sri Lanka-like all governments-has a responsibility to protect its citizens against terrorism.

However, our experience has taught us that a purely military solution to such conflicts will not ultimately be successful. There must be a parallel political strategy to address the underlying factors, circumstances, and grievances that have given rise to the conflict.

As the President’s commitment to devolution suggests, Sri Lanka’s long running conflict will not be solved on the battlefield alone.

By articulating and implementing a vision of how power can be truly shared among Sri Lanka’s communities, Sri Lanka has an opportunity to demonstrate to the Tamil, Muslim and other minority communities that they have a place of lasting respect in this island.

Sri Lanka’s minorities need to know that they can have a role in a united Sri Lanka where they can control many of their own affairs in local regions where they predominate.

The Government has made a good start toward this by emphasizing the importance of implementing the 13th Amendment to devolve power to the provincial councils, with a particular focus on the East.

Devolution of power to the provinces has long been talked about as a potential solution to the long-standing conflict. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution has been on the books for over twenty years.

This Amendment, along with the system of provincial councils that it set up, represents an important first step toward achieving a truly pluralistic democracy throughout the island.

However, the 13th Amendment has never really been put to the test. It needs to be activated in a way that serves the people in the provinces. It needs to be enacted in such a way that it grants meaningful power and resources to those living in and governing the provinces.

The All Party Representative Committee, under the outstanding leadership of Minister Tissa Vitharana, has therefore submitted a proposal calling for the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution as a first phase in the devolution of power to the provinces and local governments.

The U.S government commends the decision by the President and the APRC to pursue the implementation of the 13th Amendment as a preliminary political step toward devolution of power in Sri Lanka.

Clearly, however, the decision on how to proceed in going about this extremely important endeavor is for the people of Sri Lanka, not the international community, to decide. The Center for Policy Alternatives and numerous other civil society organizations are prepared to assist in this process. My government supports and applauds their efforts to provide assistance in translating the decision on implementing the 13th Amendment into action.

They have done this by asking practical advice from the key partners: YOU – the members of the Provincial Council system.

Through this process over the past few months, you have taken steps to understand and debate the legislation on devolution of power. Today, you are presenting to His Excellency the President your recommendations on how to improve this legislation. Your perspective – the perspective from the provinces – is critical if the realization of the 13th Amendment is to be a success.

The elections in the East earlier this month mark another step in the Government’s efforts to stabilize eastern Sri Lanka, after it expelled the LTTE from the region in 2007. The elections gave the citizens of the Eastern Province an important opportunity to choose their elected representatives.

Peaceful political elections to enable greater representation for minorities in the context of a unified Sri Lanka are an indispensable element in the devolution of power to provincial and local governments.

The United States did not send observers to monitor the election. Many people in Sri Lanka and abroad did express concern that the elections might not be fully free and fair due to the participation of armed groups.

After the elections, there were numerous reports from observers and opposition parties of irregularities, including voter fraud, intimidation, and sporadic acts of violence, on Election Day.

We urge the Sri Lankan government to treat these allegations seriously and conduct investigations to ensure that the outcome has the support of the people in the eastern part of the country. Their support of the results and their confidence in the process will be vital in the months to come.

Let me emphasize that we sincerely believe that through the proposals you are presenting to the President today, Sri Lanka can take a major step forward toward achieving devolution.

All of us present here today hope that your proposals will impact positively on Sri Lanka’s future and on the country’s ability to realize its tremendous potential.

The United States welcomes the movement toward decentralizing power in Sri Lanka in the hope that it will contribute to achieving the comprehensive political settlement that is needed.

While the U.S. and other friends of Sri Lanka attach great importance to this process, far more important is whether the Sri Lankan people judge that these initial measures will contribute to bridging the tragic divide between Sri Lanka’s several communities.

Although 13th Amendment is a good start, further steps will be needed to provide a positive vision and a brighter future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of where within the country they live and what proportion of the local population they represent.

For that reason, we firmly hope that government and the APRC will continue to strive for consensus on a plan that will fully address the legitimate aspirations of Sri Lanka’s minorities – both national and local-to have a greater voice in their own affairs.

We continue to believe that the ongoing work of the All-Party Representative Committee can make a critical contribution to the discussion on devolution of power and to resolving Sri Lanka’s conflict.

An APRC proposal that meets the aspirations of all of Sri Lanka’s communities to have a greater say in the decisions that affect their daily lives would mark an extremely important step forward.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer these observations on what most, if not all, of us in this room would agree is the most pressing political issue facing this great country today.

I look forward to hearing and learning from your substantive discussions, and I wish you much success in this undertaking.

Thank you very much.

[Source: US Embassy, Colombo, Sri Lanka]

3 Comments »

  1. Saleem Tariq said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 11:35 am

    The US and other countries know that 13th Amendments was demonstrated to be a failure by none other than those enthusiastic about this system. In 1988 Varatharaja Perumal contested the merged N-E PC and was appointed as the Chief Minister by the (Sinhalese) president J R Jayawardene. The CM culd not carry out any developmental project because the President did not give him the power or the money need. Therefore the CM declared separate Eelam unilaterally and the president ordered his arrest.

    It was a failure because the executive powers and the budgetary control of the PC are vested with the Centre that is controlled by the president. The US wanted to show that there is something which is nothing.

  2. David said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 10:17 pm

    Instead of using the hog-wash terminology “devolution”, let them define the powers of the provcinces and degree of autonomy. Can each regional power independently develop its own economy? Or is there going to be a hue and cry about one ethinic group doing better than the other?

    What are the safeguards to prevent these problems whch are endemic to Srilanka.

  3. Sarath said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 6:38 am

    “What are the safeguards to prevent these problems whch are endemic to Srilanka. ”

    They are not endemic to Sri Lanka. Look at India. Everything might look fine and dandy on the surface but scratch a little and the divisions are immense. For example, go to the Rediff website and pick a news article and look at the comments below the article – you’ll find people from different ethnic groups from their ethnic states fight each other, call each other names and act like total bigots. That’s what Sri Lanka is going to be like if devolution on an ethnic basis takes place.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment