The Supreme Court ruled recently that the ‘Divi Neguma Bill’ should be referred to the provincial councils for approval before being enacted in Parliament. The Court’s ruling was communicated to Parliament by Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa last week. The Bill was the brainchild of Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa who, according to the critiques of the Bill, sought to centralize powers already devolved to local government bodies and provincial councils, under a new department called ‘Divi Neguma’.
The Bill provides for the amalgamation of the Samurdhi Authority, Udarata Development Authority and Southern Development Authority to form the Divi Neguma Department.
But now it has hit a snag. The Bill must get the green light from the provincial councils since it deals with powers already devolved to provincial councils.
The Court ruling has reportedly shocked Minister Rajapaksa, who sought to implement the ‘Divi Neguma Project’ throughout the country. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the two major parties, which challenged the Bill, are elated over the ruling though it has disappointed the subject minister. Daily Mirror reliably learns that the attempt by the Economic Development Ministry to introduce this Bill is also not to the liking of some senior members of the government.
After the court ruling was communicated to the House, one such senior minister who holds parliamentary responsibilities on behalf of the government shared his happiness on the ruling with an opposition bencher when the two encountered each other in the corridor of the parliamentary complex.
The Supreme Court made a determination in terms of Article 120 of the Constitution that the Bill in question is in respect of matters set out in the Provincial Council List and shall not become a law unless it has been referred by the President to every Provincial Council as required by Article 154(G) (3) of the Constitution.
As the Bill has been placed in the Order Paper of Parliament without compliance with provisions of Article 154 (G) (3) of the Constitution, no determination would be made at this stage on the other grounds of challenge.
The court ruling is yet another setback for the government, which tried to concentrate power in the hands of a single Ministry, with regard to rural development and welfare.
Critiques of the Bill say it has a clause which seeks to gag officials of the proposed Divi Neguma Department from divulging information to the general public. Also, it is argued that the parliamentary power over public finances is infringed upon by this legislation. Despite such criticism against the provisions of the new legislation, it was sent for approval to the Western Provincial Council (WPC) on September 25, 2012. The WPC endorsed the Bill with a majority of 40 votes. Altogether, there were 64 for the Bill and 24 against it. It was to be referred to the North Western Provincial Council yesterday (September 26). The Uva Provincial Council is expected to take it up today. The Bill, if enacted after due court and parliamentary procedures, will be a step towards the centralization of power, at a time when the clamour is for devolution. In that context, the decision of the Eastern Provincial Council where the cry for independence from the centre is stronger and is eagerly awaited by those interested in the subject.
Striking dons and university students divided
The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) and the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) were to start their protest marches together on Monday. But, the IUSF opposed the FUTA’s decision to involve the United National Party (UNP) in the protest rally. Therefore, the IUSF which is politically aligned with the JVP-breakaway group called the ‘Frontline Socialist Party’ started its rally from Kandy whereas the FUTA started from Galle. Despite political differences, the IUSF did not oppose the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) being part of the protest march. The UNP joined hands with the FUTA actively, along with the JVP.
For lunch, the UNP leaders stopped at a restaurant near Hikkaduwa. Rice, with coconut sambol, dhal curry and sprats curry, were served in parcels for the UNP leaders. UNP stalwarts such as Ravi Karunanayake, Mangala Samaraweera and former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka enjoyed these meals. But, one UNP office-bearer aspiring high was having a different meal. Seated alone, he was having a sandwich with a soft drink, for reasons known to him only.
After lunch, UNP MPs who are keen to have a common opposition with Mr. Fonseka arranged a brief chat with this office bearer in the restaurant. Seated in an armchair facing the sea, this office bearer did not move when talking to the former Army Commander. Anticipating that Mr. Fonseka would misunderstand his attitude, he said in lighter vein, “When I am seated like this, I feel like being in the chair of the President. That is why, I did not move.” His remarks were followed by ripples of laughter among those who were present.
UNP MPs rallying behind Mr. Fonseka has been an issue of concern for this office bearer’s mother. She apparently rang some of the MPs and asked, “Please don’t leave my son politically alone at this critical time.”
Bid to woo JVP
A group of UNP MPs met JVP MP Vijitha Herath recently and asked the party to join the common opposition once again. It is learnt that Mr. Herath did not give the nod to such an alliance, but agreed to work together in areas of common interest. The UNP and the JVP were on the same stage at the last presidential election. The two parties fielded Mr. Fonseka as the common candidate.
Rajitha hints at Ravi
In the corridor of Parliament, COPE Chairman Senior Minister D.E.W. Gunasekara was talking to UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake. Mr. Gunasekara was on his way after the COPE meeting when Mr. Karunanayake spotted him.
“Oh god, I did not know that there was a COPE meeting. I could have attended. These officials made a mistake by not informing me,” the UNP MP complained to Mr. Gunasekara.
By the time, Fisheries Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne happened to pass by them. He causally told Mr. Karunanayake, “Ravi, you cannot convince the Communist Party by whispering that way.”
US and Indian Missions at it
While the students and lecturers were leading their protest marches from two different directions, the United States Embassy and the High Commission of India held meetings with the representatives of the UNP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in Colombo during the last few days. According to political sources, the two missions discussed matters pertaining to the reconciliation process in the post war period. Apparently, their intention is to ascertain how far the government has progressed in this aspect.
The US moved a resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva in 2012, and it was adopted with the support of majority member states including India.
During President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recent visit to India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed the need for an expeditious approach to work out a credible power sharing arrangement for the north and the east. Soon after the President’s visit, the Indian government invited the TNA for talks in New Delhi. Before departure for India, the President held talks with TNA leader R. Sampanthan. Unfolding events suggest that India is applying renewed pressure for the resolution of the national question. It is already declared that Sri Lanka’s national question is no longer an issue of concern only for the state government of Tamil Nadu, but also for the central government.
ITAK disputes Pilleyan’s election
The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi (ITAK), the largest party of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had its working committee meeting on 22nd September 2012. The TNA won 11 seats in the Eastern Provincial Council election, and seven of them belong to the ITAK of R. Sampanthan. There were two elected from the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization of former MP M.K. Sivajilingam, one each from the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Party (EPRLF) of MP Suresh Premachandran and the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) of V. Anandasangari.
The ITAK carefully analyzed the election results. The party said that the decision of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress to support the Government at the provincial level is clearly in violation of the mandate given to it, by the voters, and is unprincipled and opportunistic.
“It gravely harms the short term safeguards and the long term interests that the Tamil speaking people- the Tamil and Muslim peoples need to secure in order to live with dignity and security in the territories that they have historically inhabited,” a statement from the party said.
The ITAK said that the election of Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan on the UPFA ticket was the highly questionable.
The party said, “He is alleged to have received the highest preferential vote on the U.P.F.A. list, but no other Tamil candidate on the U.P.F.A list came close to winning. It is the belief of the voters in the Batticaloa district, that the alleged vote in favour of the former Chief Minister was manipulated to ensure his victory, and also show that at least one Tamil member was elected on the U.P.F.A ticket.
SLMC woos not yet over
The SLMC which compromised the chief minister post for two ministerial posts in the east are in for a rude shock again. The party wanted to have two ministries of its choice. But, according to SLMC sources, the government has not responded positively to this request. Also, the SLMC did not want the government to appoint any of its defectors to any post. The party’s rank and file is now angered because of the decision to appoint a member of the National Congress of Minister A.L.M. Athaullah to a post. Currently, SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem is in London to participate in a conference. Once he is back, the matters are to be discussed.