20A was Drafted by a Committee – Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 19 2020
Interviews 20A was Drafted by a Committee – Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara

State Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, Rtd. Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara spoke to Ceylon Today on various matters related to the 13th Amendment (13A), 19th Amendment (19A) and the 20th Amendment (20A) to the Constitution. He said the 13A was forced on the Government and he is currently studying the need for the 13A. “I am trying to find out whether the 13A is good for us and whether the Provincial Councils are beneficial to the public or not. If it is useful, then I would propose it to the Government and win it on a 2/3rds majority. 

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan

What strategic plans and targets does your Ministry have for the next five years?

A: I have several objectives to achieve despite Provincial Councils not functioning. I am concentrating on maintaining all cities and towns to be clean and beautiful. There are 341 local government units. Also, what will you do to digitise land permits and licence approvals which takes several months running into years. That course of action needs to be minimised through a digitised system for efficiency and speed. For example, houses are under water in the Kolonnawa area, even for a small downpour, homes get floodded due to blocked canals and drains. There are illegal squatters who have built unauthorised houses over drains and canals. Some have filled wetlands. I am going to stop such practices. 

I am also going to introduce the e-library and the public will be able to access the main Library in Colombo. Already 18 local governments have been selected to link with e-library in the next few months with the collaboration of the Information and Communication Technology Agency. In the next few months, there will be some new implementations taking place under my Ministry. 

Have you received sufficient funds for the implementation of such projects?

A: Yes, we have funds. For instance the Municipal Council of Kolonnawa there are enough workers and Public Health Inspectors but they lack motivation. They lack the political leadership and the commitment to serve the public which I can provide. About 90% of the infrastructure is available but they don’t have that political smack to serve the people.  

Who drafted the 20A to the Constitution?

A: I asked Justice Minister Ali Sabri. I was told it was drafted by a Committee. Since I was not involved in the discussion I cannot elaborate, but with the 20A what is intended is to strengthen executive power that was repealed by the 19A and I think the 20A is only a temporary measure until the fully-fledged Constitution is drafted that will be in the near future. Although the President was appointed in November 2019, under the 19A, he cannot still appoint an Inspector General of Police (IGP) and sack the previous IGP as well. What’s the purpose of him being elected as the President? So the committee wants to retrieve that executive power back to the President. (Editor’s note: the most recent information that is publicly accessible is on verification of the 19A and whether the President can remove and appoint the IGP under the 19A. 19A was passed in 2015. Article 41c(3) of the Constitution, which was included in 19A, states that the IGP cannot be removed unless provided for by the Constitution or law. There is no change in the Constitutional position before or after 19A on the requirements to be met for the removal of the IGP.)

What is your opinion on the 20A that excludes state-owned enterprises from being audited and limiting the number of Cabinet Ministers?

A: I know that is in the draft stage but I cannot comment on it as I am not directly involved in this matter. 

But as a State Minister do you approve it?

A: We are not summoned for a discussion still but the Leadership has appointed a Board comprising some nine persons. But I guess that they have drafted to do away with the Audit Commission but not to remove the Auditor General (AG). Even before the 19A, the Prime Minister and the President’s office was under the Auditor General. So the Auditor General will remain despite there being no Audit Commission. The Audit Commission comprises Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) members.  One of the treacherous acts of the 19A, which I have been opposing from the beginning, is that giving the power of the public servant to NGOs in the Commission. For example, in the early days, the Elections Commission was run by senior government servants but now it is run by the Election Commission and one Commissioner, Dr. Ratnajeevan Hoole is an NGO person who is alleged to have said that the people should not cast their votes for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna.

Is it because NGOs are involved in the Commission that it has to be done away with?

A: It means, it was drafted to gradually offer the government servant’s power to a bunch of NGOs. That’s the purpose of the 19A.

Are you for abolishing Provincial Councils (PCs) which you head now? 

A: This news was misinterpreted. I was against the 19A from the beginning, because we are a unitary country. But we were almost becoming a federal by the 13A which I am fully against too. When the Media asked me recently that since I am against the 13A I must also be against PCs hence, what is my stand now. I said my stand remains. I did not say I am going to abolish PCs. But as a State Minister, when I say something now, I must justify it. So now I am studying the PCs and how much funds have been sent to these PCs; what is the burden on the Central Government by having PCs; whether the public is benefited from the PCs; whether there is duplication of work and whether the Government is incurring unnecessary expenditure. For the last two years, we did not have the PCs and I want to find out whether the country has backtracked. Based on my findings, I will submit my comprehensive report to the Government. It is up to them to decide thereafter. Also, it has to be approved by 2/3rds in Parliament as it is going to be a constitutional amendment. Also, it involves the India-Sri Lanka Accord. We have to see the complications there too. All these issues would be taken into account. If the PCs are not there all powers will be transferred to the local government. If my report suggests that the PCs are a must, then I will submit stating that.

How long will this study take?

A: My report will be ready in one month.

Who proposed the banning of cattle slaughter to the Prime Minister?  

A: I think it was at a group meeting this was proposed. It’s about banning beef.

Is that a wise idea?

A: In Saudi Arabia, you cannot eat pork. This is a Buddhist country; why can’t we ban beef?

Isn’t Sri Lanka a secular country?

A: It’s a Buddhist country. I don’t see it as a secular country because the majority are Buddhists and they are the Sinhalese. So it’s a Sinhala Buddhist country. Sinhalese built the civilization of this country. It does not mean we disrespect other communities and their religions. Although we are one big family when we say Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country nobody should be offended. So prohibiting cattle slaughter is in line with the Buddhist way of thinking.  

Isn’t it contradicting to ban beef and import beef when the President is keen to promote domestic products to be self-sufficient? Even leather products will have to be imported if cattle slaughter is banned. Have you given a thought to it?

A: It’s a certain category of people who want beef and that can be imported. The cost must be recovered from the customer. Have you seen how cattle are slaughtered? If you see, you will say no to beef. In other countries, cattle do not know when they are taken for slaughter. In our country, slaughter is very disturbing. The cattle tear knowing that they are going to be killed.

The argument on social media is what about banning the slaughter of animals like goats, chicken fish etc.?

A: I am not going to justify that but the way cattle are being slaughtered I don’t think anyone would accept it. If you argue about the killing of animals there is no limit to it. If you go to extreme thinking, we won’t be able to even cultivate because live worms can be killed. So can we stop cultivation? In a Buddhist country cattle slaughter should be prohibited.

But we would miss the byproducts like leather which is costly  to import?

A: That is correct. There are other complications I see. But before the Europeans came to Sri Lanka, we never ate beef. 

The 30-odd-year war was over securing land from the LTTE but after the war ended most of the forests are subjected to deforestation. That greenery is not seen any more in the north and other parts of the country.  For instance, in the buffer zone of Wilpattu, there is aloe-vera cultivation, deforestation in Vanathivillu, Hanthana, Knuckles, Sinharaja and Anavilundawa by private companies for business. Will you stop them?

A: I am fully against that and I don’t even like to cut a branch of a tree. We have already submitted our views on deforestation and I have my reservation on prawn farms as well. In the next meeting also we are going to talk about it.  We have already taken action against lands taken by some politicians. 

Do you support mandatory trilingual education from Grade One to Grade 12 in all schools including international schools?

A: We have our culture. Sinhala, Buddhism and Sri Lankan history must be taught in all schools including international schools. If you want US citizenship one has to sit for a US history examination. We should know all languages spoken in Sri Lanka. Trilingual education we can suggest.  

What do you favour more: Decentralisation or Devolution of State administration to towns, villages, districts or provinces?

A: I am never for devolution and devolve power to any provinces but we can decentralise the powers of the central government which can be a very effective mode of administration. As an example for devolving of power, consider MP C.V. Wigneswaran, who openly says Sinhalese and Muslims cannot live in Jaffna. He was educated in Colombo, studied law and became a Supreme Court judge and lives in Colombo and has the audacity to say such a thing!

So you go by his opinion when making decisions? 

A: It’s an isolated incident I mentioned. Our country is small. A federal system could be good for bigger countries like the USA which has 50 States. The population in Tamil Nadu is around 80 million compared to our 22 million, so such suggestions are not welcomed.

Didn’t SWRD Bandaranaike once propose federalism in Sri Lanka? 

A: Those are takes by politicians who were eyeing for power. 

Is there a national ethnic question in this country?  

A: There is no such thing called national ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. If there is, there won’t be 50% Tamils in the South among the Sinhalese. Trade and business are also handled by the Tamils like the rest in the South. There are a few Sinhalese and Tamil politicians projecting that there is an ethnic question in Sri Lanka. If there is a problem, it would have reflected in the Constitution and our law. We don’t have extreme laws like in Malaysia where the majority is given the priority even when buying land or a car. The other communities in Malaysia don’t grumble about it. They don’t fight for a separate state or a federal system.

So you think Tamils are still seeking a separate state? 

A: It’s only those separatists and supporters of separatism who are aiming at that.  

Do you think a small group of separatists can fight and get what they want? 

A: Normal Tamil people don’t want such separate land. So what I think is that we should have one national language for a country and not two or three. The national anthem should be sung only in Sinhala too and that’s our identity. The national anthem in India is sung in Bengali.

But the National language of India is not Bengali? 

A: Yet, they treasure the language they wrote the national anthem and that’s their identity. So, all communities including the Tamils should sing the national anthem in Sinhala. That’s official now. Those days Tamils may have sung it in Tamil but at that time there was no separatist thought among the Tamils. Now they are trying to make a point.  During the war, Sinhalese and the Muslims were chased out and killed by the LTTE and that is the reason why we oppose it.

But those were activities carried out by the terrorist group isn’t it?

Definitely. But if you make the Tamil community sing the national anthem in Tamil, it would also be a stepping stone to create a separate land for them being the biggest population in the north and east. That is why we are against letting all this happen. 

What is wrong with the 13A? Isn’t this a bilateral treaty signed between India and Sri Lanka – which cannot be abrogated by one side without mutual consent? 

A: When we were about to destroy the LTTE and terrorism in 1987, India violated our airspace and later on, our national leaders succumbed to their pressure and that is how the 13A was passed. Curfew and martial law was imposed and JRJ signed letters which had no dates or signature placed. It was forced on us.

So you want the 13A removed? 

A: As a State Minister now, I must justify my claims whether we should abolish it or not.  I will justify it with my findings and make a report in one month. 

When you call for the repeal of 13A, is it not fair for minorities to ask for the repeal of 6A? The 6A came in 1983 banning calls for separatism and Amirthalingam refused to take an oath and re-entered Parliament only after 13A became law. Tamil politicians such as Douglas Devananda, Dharmalingam Sithadthan, Varatharaja Perumal, Suresh Premachandran etc., all disarmed in 1987 only on the assurance of 13A including police and land powers being implemented. So 6A and the 13A are connected. All theTamil United Liberation Front MPs stopped coming to Parliament between 1983 to 1987 until 13A was passed. Can your study prove otherwise?

A: Those were political games. Everything was forced on us in that manner. We won the war in May 2009 and three weeks before that Bernard Kouchner of France, UK’s David Miliband forced us to stop the war and our new President, rejected their demand. There was a conspiracy to topple then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Also when Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in 2015, US State Secretary John Kerry said that the US is part of the victory. So that incident was also similar to brining in the 13A.

Although the Government has withdrawn from the co-sponsorship of the UNHRC resolution, the resolution itself is still valid and the Government agreed to a local mechanism. There is also the fear of a travel ban for military and trade sanctions coming our way. How will the Government bring a closure?

A: The resolution was uncalled for. It was based on former UNHRC High Commissioner Zeid Ra´ad Al Hussein’s charge sheet that we committed war crimes. Six world-class reputed international lawyers dismissed it. It was Mangala Samaraweera who accepted and co-sponsored it without a vote or a debate. We were committed when we cosponsored the resolution and after the withdrawal, there is no binding. Hussein rejected Paranagama’s report that dismissed the 40,000 death toll of Tamil civilians claim by UN experts. How can Hussein condemn our report? How unfair is it to harass Sri Lankan soldiers like this? It’s a conspiracy. When we co-sponsored not a single country came in our favour. We won the first resolution.  They praised the Sri Lankan Forces. 

Commemoration for war victims has been banned. Is that official? 

A: I reject the Office of the Missing Person (OMP) because it does not differentiate the soldier from a terrorist. When Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was killed along with 14 others in a suicide attack, we had no clue of the identity of the suicide bomber. If his mother goes and tells the OMP that her son is missing do we have to pay compensation for his family? This I say because when a national identity card of a suicide bomber was found at Hilton, we traced that number, and found out that the mother of the man was in Trincomalee who had complained that her son was abducted by a white van. So we should not encourage memorials for such people. 

So are commemoration events taboo also for those who took arms, like the JVP? 

A: Yes. I don’t think they too should be commemorated. Only those who have rendered service to the country and sacrificed their lives for the motherland should be commemorated. Memorial services and commemoration events for terrorists are taboo. In the name of Tamil victims, terrorists should not be commemorated. 

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By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 19 2020

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