Issue Brief No. 1: December 2, 2016
The Sub-Committee on Centre-Periphery Relations and the Unitary State
On November 19, 2016, the Prime Minister and Chairman of the Constitutional Steering Committee, Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe, tabled the reports of the six sub-committees of the Steering Committee in the Constitutional Assembly. Formally, these reports combined were presented as the first interim report of the Steering Committee to the Constitutional Assembly. However it has been expressly clarified that the Steering Committee was merely forwarding the reports of the sub-committees to the Constitutional Assembly and would only consider them in detail following their release. The Steering Committee’s own interim report (formally styled as the second interim report of the Steering Committee) is expected to be released on December 10, 2016, and will report on more than 40 rounds of meetings on issues that the Steering Committee has reserved for itself. The six areas that come directly under the purview of the Steering Committee are as follows: Matters covered by Chapter 1 and 2 of the present Constitution, Nature of the State, Sovereignty, Religion, Form of Government, Electoral Reforms, Principles of Devolution and Land.
The Steering Committee has assigned to itself the most important and contentious questions of the constitutional reform debate. However as will be evident on a cursory review, some of the issues assigned to the steering committee are matters that also could fall under the general purview of the Sub-Committee on Centre-Periphery Relations (CPR); particularly those subject matters of the Steering Committee titled, ‘Principles of Devolution’ and ‘Land’. The CPR Sub-Committee was aware of this overlap but still considered these subject matters in their recommendations so as to present a complete picture of their overall mandate. The report of the CPR Sub-Committee thus has recommendations on subjects including land, police powers, the constitutional court, and subjects on the concurrent and reserved lists which it has included as an ‘addendum’ to their report. Members of Parliament appointed to the CPR Sub-Committee from the ‘Joint Opposition’ and the JVP did not sign up to the report.
ACPR is cautiously optimistic about the report of the CPR Sub-Committee which contains recommendations that have the potential to positively contribute to a genuine restructuring of the State that accommodates the concerns of the numerically smaller communities vis a vis the current state of the provincial council system and more broadly the desire of the Tamil people for a genuine form of self-government within a united Sri Lanka. The CPR Sub-Committee recommends inter alia that:
- the office of the Governor of the Province be reduced to a ceremonial office with no real executive powers;
- the appointment of the Governor is made by the President acting in concurrence with the Chief Minister of the Province;
- the powers of Governor to provide assent to ordinary legislation and powers to initiate financial legislation be stripped;
- the Public Service of the province function under the control of the elected executive of the province;
- the Public Service apparatus in the Province be rearranged in such a way that the current duality in the power structure is eliminated;
- the concurrent list be abolished;
- the reserved list subject in the 13th amendment providing the of enacting ‘national policy’ on all subjects be abolished;
- State Land and Law and Order be predominantly a subject for the Provinces; and
- a fair fiscal arrangement that provides fiscal autonomy to the provinces be adopted.
This brief does not seek to analyse each of the recommendations that have been made by the CPR Sub-Committee, but as noted earlier, the spirit of these recommendations have the potential of untangling the unitary hold on the Provinces under the current constitution. However it is important to note that in the absence of information regarding the larger political framework within which these institutional arrangements will be located, it is too early to comment on the actual reach of these recommendations. The larger framework of the constitution, is a matter for the Steering Committee to address under the heading of the ‘nature of the state’. The reach and impact of the recommendations in the CPR Sub-Committee report even if they find place in the final constitution, will be demarcated by the manner in which the constitution settles the ‘nature of the state’ question. Hence much will depend on (a) how much of the sub-committee report ends up in the draft constitution; and (b) how the steering committee deals with the ‘nature of state’ question.
ACPR notes with concern that the approach taken by the CPR Sub-Committee towards power sharing is not fully shared by the other sub-committees, particularly by the Sub-Committee on National and Public Security, Public Order and Police and Law Enforcement (“Law and Order”). The recommendations of the Law and Order Sub-Committee make very little progress towards a genuine assignment of real law and order powers to the provinces.