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The Cabinet and Sri Lankan Tamils
2014-01-06 10:10:05
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The executive power exercisable by the Cabinet of Ministers plays an important role in the governance of parliamentary democracy. The executive power under both the Soulbury and 1972 Constitutions was vested with the Cabinet of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.




Executive Power under 72, 78 Constitutions
Under the 1972, the First Republican Constitution, the sovereignty was vested with the People and the same was exercised by the President and Cabinet of Ministers. However, the President under the provisions of the 72 Constitution had to act on the advice of the Prime Minister or of such other Minister to whom the Prime Minister has delegated his authority.

The 1978, Second Republican Constitution vested the Executive Power of the People in the hands of the elected President who alone could exercise such powers. The President may where he considers consultation necessary, consult the Prime Minister to appoint Ministers and their functions but it should be remembered that such consultation was at the sole discretion of the President. In practice, the Prime Minister and Ministers and their Deputies were by and large given a great degree of latitude to exercise the executive power of the People subject however to the directions and supervision of the President.

An unbiased examination of the ministerial portfolios held under several governments at various times would clearly demonstrate that the ultimate repository of power was so entrenched with the majority race to have more than the proportional share of the executive power.

The absence of equitable sharing of executive power by the Sri Lankan Tamils as Cabinet Ministers would naturally lead to the feeling that Tamils are not part of the Sri Lankan State. The equitable share in the Cabinet would make them feel that they are also autochthones of the Sri Lankan State. Such a feeling would lead to identifying with the State.

The Estate Tamils had in 1952 about 12 elected members. Since then they were disenfranchised by the provisions of the Citizenship Act and of the Amendment brought to the Parliamentary Elections Ordinance. S. Thondaman was made the Minister of Rural Industrial Development under the Cabinet of September 1978 and at present his grandson, Arumugam Thondaman is a Cabinet Minister. However, this discourse deals with the cabinet ministerial portfolios of the Sri Lankan Tamils who had politically agitated and entered into agreements since 1956 for political power sharing. Reference is also not made herein to the number of Project Ministers, Cabinet Secretaries, Advisors, State, Project and Additional Secretaries and other Secretaries exercising executive power.     





Pan Sinhala Ministry under Donoughmore Constitution.
By 1936 under the Donoughmore Constitution, a Pan Sinhala Board of Ministers was established. It was termed it “Homogeneous Board of Ministers” in order to cushion them to have homogeneous line of thinking to achieve independence. Europeans sincerely supported this formula but after the hour of victory, the Sinhalese reneged their solemn undertaking by appointing Kotelawela the Minister of Telecommunications and Works and G.C.S. Corea Minister of Labour.
For about 10 years the Pan Sinhala Board of Ministers was successfully governing the country without any kind of murmur from any quarter till the Soulbury Commissioners came in 1944. On the advice and guidance of the colonial masters the Pan Sinhala Board of Ministers was obviated in 1946 by opting Sir Arunachalam Mahadeva and T.B. Jayah as Ministers in the Board of Ministers.

At the time of drafting the Soulbury Constitution agitation was afoot to mention in the Constitution the proportionate numbers of ministries each community would be entitled to but this plea was successfully thwarted by the promise of DS that each community would be given more ministries than its entitlement.





By 1948 3 Tamil Ministers
In 1947 General Elections were held and DS formed government. DS had C. Sittampalam, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, C. Suntheralingam, Minister of Trade and Commerce. G. G. Ponnambalam was appointed in 1948 as Minister of Industries and Fisheries.

By 1948 there were three Sri Lankan Tamils as Ministers under DS. Upon his death in 1952, his son, Dudley Senanayake became the Prime Minister from 1952 to 1953.

There were two Ministers, V. Nalliah from Eastern Province, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and Ponnambalam, Ministers of Industries and Fisheries.
By 1953 2 Tamil Ministers

Under Sir John Kotelawala, from October 12,  1953 to April 1956 there were two ministers. Ponnambalam, Minister of Industries and Fisheries till  October 22, 1953 and thereafter, Sir Kandiah Vaithianathan was made a Senator and he was made the Minister of Housing and Social Services and S. Natesan (son-in-law of Sir Ramanathan) the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.

 By 1948 there were three Sri Lankan Tamils as Ministers under DS. Upon his death in 1952, his son, Dudley Senanayake became the Prime Minister from 1952 to 1953. There were two Ministers, V. Nalliah from Eastern Province, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and Ponnambalam, Ministers of Industries and Fisheries.





By 1953 2 Tamil Ministers
Under Sir John Kotelawala, from October 12,  1953 to April 1956 there were two ministers. Ponnambalam, Minister of Industries and Fisheries till  October 22, 1953 and thereafter, Sir Kandiah Vaithianathan was made a Senator and he was made the Minister of Housing and Social Services and S. Natesan (son-in-law of Sir Ramanathan) the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.






No Tamil Ministers from 1956 to 1970 70
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (SWRD) was the Prime Minister from April 12, 1956 till he was assassinated on  September 26, 1959. No Tamil whosoever was appointed as Minister. Though SWRD became Prime Minister on the cry of Sinhala only within twenty four hours, yet there were Tamils who were supporting him. SWRD never made any one of them Senators or gave them ministerial posts.

Under W. Dahanayake from September 1959 to March 1960, no Tamil was appointed as Minister. Dudley Senanayake became Prime Minister from March 1960 to July 1960 and no Tamil was appointed as Minister. Under Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike from July 23, 1960 to March 26,  1965, no Tamil was made a Minister.

The UNP formed the National Government with the political support of the Federal Party. It lasted from March 27, 1965 to May 30, 1970. M. Tiruchelvam, Q.C. was made a Senator and was appointed as Minister of Local Government. He resigned his ministerial post on  September 16, 1968. From 1968 to 1970 there was no Tamil Minister in the Cabinet. Besides the Prime Minister, there were 16 Ministers, including Tiruchelvam under the national government.

Under Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike from  May 31, 1970 to July 22, 1977, there were 20 Ministers. Out of them a Tamil was appointed as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. Chelliah Kumarasurier was made a Senator and accordingly was appointed a Minister.

On July  23, JR Jayewardene (JR) became Prime Minister.  One Tamil from the Eastern Province, K.W Devanayakam, was Minister of Justice. JR took oaths of office as Executive President on February 04, 1978 and K.W. Devanayakam remained as Minister of Justice

 In the February 1980 Cabinet, President JR appointed two Sri Lankan Tamil Ministers, namely K.W. Devanayakam Minister of Home Affairs, and C. Rajadurai Minister of Regional Development.





No Tamil Ministers from 1989 to 1994.
In President R. Premadasa’s Cabinet of February 18, 1989, no Sri Lankan Tamil was appointed as Minister.

Under President D B Wijetunga’s Cabinet of August 1994, Lakshman Kadirgamar was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge became the Executive President in November 1994 and Lakshman Kadirgamar continued to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs.





Presently one Tamil out of more than 100 Cabinet Ministers.
Though there are more than 100 Cabinet Ministers at present there is only one Tamil Cabinet Minister, Douglas Devananada, Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise, enjoying less power and function. Most of the Tamils were Ministers of Posts and Telecommunications, a ministry with insignificant power and function.   

There are many elected Members of Parliament in the Government Group. Some of them could be easily absorbed into the Cabinet. There are many educated and political conscious Tamils supporting the Government. Some of them could be elevated to the Cabinet through the National List.

The separatist war is over. The terror and hate, the people of Sri Lanka had experienced four years ago, has dissipated. At present development and reconciliation are lurking in the political horizon. It should be remembered that WILL is the essence of the need for reconciliation.





A little understanding and forgiveness.
T. Somesekeram, a retired Survey General had in one of his articles published in the Island Paper with regard to Development Package, speaks of a couplet he has copied from a book. It runs thus: “A little explained, A little understood, A little forgiven, the quarrel is cured”. Now, a little understanding and a little forgiveness become essential and necessary to cure the quarrel.   

Why then an obdurate reticent to give equitable power sharing to the Tamils in the Cabinet? Does the South postulate that affording ministerial posts to Tamils in the Cabinet would bring harmony among the communities or culminate the parting of the ways?

Reference is made with thanks to (1) Communal Politics under Donoughmore Constitution by Jane Russel, (2) Tenth Parliament compiled and edited by W.G. Goonerathne and R.S. Karunaratne, (3) What Buddhists Believe by K. Sri Dhamananada, (4) Emergency ‘58’ by Tarzie Vittachi and (5) Articles on the Development Package – Problems of Sri Lankan Tamils by T. Somasunderam, Retired Survey General.   

Comments - 1
N. Ethirveerasingam Tuesday, 7 January 2014 17:34
Sounds like a funeral oration.
The Tamil Ministers also Served while standing and waiting!
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