Currently, the most crucial discussions centre around the topic of the report of the Delimitation Committee. In this interview, the Chairman of the Committee Ashoka Peiris expresses his views.
QCould you explain to us the present status of the delimitation committee report?
The Committee had taken a decision to hand over the Delimitation Committee report on December 27, 2016. Though it was not a constitutional requirement, we felt that it was getting dragged on. I with my experience in a government department, we know that the date for an election is decided early, and we strive together to hold that election. Following in this same procedure we decided to hand over this report on the above date. There are three sections to this report. One about the changes to the electorates and our comments, second the gazette notification showing the composition of the electorates, and the third, the relevant map which refers to the gazette. We finalized all these, including the criteria of delimitation. But in accordance with the State language policy this had to be translated into the Tamil and English languages. It was apparent that certain individuals were keen in delaying this.
QWho is keen in delaying this?
The Ministry or better to say the government. Both the main parties in the government are keen to delay this.
Q What do you think is the main reason for these groups to delay it?
There is a political need. It is very clear but it does not apply to us. Due to an administrative issue, the Tamil translations were not available in five districts up to December 27. This has happened in the most essential districts such as Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitheevu and Vavuniya. Without the Tamil translation, introducing the report was very unjustifiable. We had only two translators and that was was inadequate. These facilities were to be provided by the Ministry of Local Government and Provincial Councils. I am not levelling allegations, but the Ministry failed to provide these facilities well in time. I made a request about two months ago for additional translators as two were insufficient. As we failed to get the two translators whom I knew personally were attached to the Ministry of Lands were taken by us for this job. Even after acting in this manner, and if someone is trying to delay it, it is an act against the people of this country. Despite all these drawbacks we are continuing our efforts to hand over the report as early as possible. The failure to hand over the report on December 27 became a topic of discussion. This was not a deliberate action to delay in releasing the report, but it was due to certain administrative hiccups of the time.
Q How would you relate the delay in releasing this report to Minister Faizer Mustapha’s journey overseas?
I cannot say anything positive on that now. The Minister knew that this report was to be handed over on December 27. I cannot express any opinion on the Minister’s travel abroad.
Q In the absence of the Minister, what prevented you from handing it over to the Ministry Secretary?
According to the Act, this report has to be handed over only to the subject Minister and not to the Ministry’s Secretary. As there is now an acting Minister, there won’t be any such issue.
Q You had a discussion with the Acting Minister Piyankara Jayarathne. What was the outcome?
We met him on December 27, and after that we issued a media release stating that due to administrative shortcomings there had been a delay.
Q The general public is clueless on this delimitation issue. Could you elaborate on the role that you all are playing on this?
Good question. As you say people do not have a good knowledge about this subject, following a Census, delimitation of the electorates takes place. Accordingly in our country, several delimitations had been effected. There had been changes in the population levels in the electorates. Earlier it was 75,000 persons for every 1,000 square miles. Later it was increased to 90,000. Presently the action is based on Act No. 22 of 2012. There was a Parliamentary Select Committee headed by Dinesh Gunawardene. They proposed - instead of the proportional system - a combination of the proportional representation and ‘first past the post’ system was suggested. Basing on this, the Act No. 22 of 2012 originated. This Act introduces four ways of delimitation. Diversity of population, density of population, level of economic development, and the geographical and physical factors were the matters that were based in the delimitation proposals. A committee was established, and after two-and-a-half years of deliberations, it released a report. But this was held back and shelved in the Ministry during the time of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. At that time, Athaullah was the subject Minister. With the establishment of this government, President Maithripala Sirisena made a Gazette notification and with its release, there was much dialogue among the political parties and the public urging that there should be room for expression of views by both the public and all political parties on the delimitation. There was criticism that the former government acted unilaterally on this issue. Resulting from this, the subject Minister appointed a review committee, which was assigned with the task of finding out whether the earlier delimitation was done accurately and also to obtain the views of the people. This committee was established under my chairmanship. As from 1947 in all delimitation committees, the Commissioner of Elections functioned as the secretary. During the previous regime there was no representation by the Elections Department. The Secretary to the Local Government Ministry became the secretary of this committee. Something special in our committee is that, except for myself, all the other members are representatives nominated by political parties.
Q Who are the other members of this committee?
Senior Attorney S. Misbah was nominated by the UNP, former governor of Sabaragamuwa Saliya Mathew from the SLFP, the JVP recommended Attorney Upul Kumarapperuma and Balasundaram Pillai from the TNA. In sincerity of these members, I could say that none of these representatives had shown any political bias. They always acted in a non-political manner and their main concern was the public opinion.
Q How were you able to receive the public’s views?
We created an awareness programme over the Media. Those who expressed their views were summoned to Colombo and their proposals were obtained. In addition to this, we visited all the 25 districts and held district meetings and received views and suggestions from all who showed a keenness on this matter. There was an appreciable public participation at these meetings. People from various strata of society were present. In the past, the public’s views were never honoured.
Q Were there any hiccups when the committee was preparing this report?
There were no intimidations by anyone, not even from the President or the Prime Minister. The PM once requested me to come to Parliament and discuss this matter with representatives of all parties. A few days back, the President summoned me for a discussion. At any of these meetings there were no intimidations from anyone. Both of them were keen to have this report early.
Q What about Minister Faizer Mustapha? Was he attempting to back track?
We were given three months. It was actually insufficient. Therefore we planned it for July. But the Ministry wanted it to be delayed. The Minister, while asking us to drag it for some more time, informed the Media that we were pressing for time. This was the beginning of the conflict. The Minister is expressing a different view to the media. We did not resort to having a dispute with the Minister as it was unethical and with the Supreme Court case it ignited. Their lawyer argued that we were delaying, and the dispute emerged from this point.
Q However, the message was that things were happening as per the agenda of a leader above the Minister....
That could be possible. Because the two main parties wanted it to be procrastinated.
Q The people are waiting to see what would be the ultimate outcome of this report. Any comments on this...
After we hand over this report, the Minister has to Gazette it with the number of councillors. This has not been done as yet. There should be an end to this issue without dragging it further.
Q In your exhaustive exercise involving your time and concern, don’t you feel that you are in a precarious situation?
The way things are happening around, it is doubtful whether this would bring in the results that eventually bring benefits to the country. Actually we are living in uncertainty.