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Experts suggest genuine power sharing in Sri Lanka

The report says that as a form of genuine power sharing between different ethnic communities, provincial institutions would be set up.

india Updated: Dec 07, 2006 13:22 IST

An experts' panel set up by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has called for wide-ranging "genuine power sharing" to end the ethnic conflict, suggesting among other things a bicameral legislature and two vice presidents from among the minorities.

In a 37-page report to be submitted in Colombo Wednesday, excerpts of which were made available to the agency, the experts have also come up with four ways of deciding the future of the Tamil-majority northeastern province, which the Sri Lankan Supreme Court wants broken up into the north and east.

Another significant suggestion is to create an Autonomous Zonal Council (ANC) and an Indian Tamil Cultural Council (ITCC) to cater to the needs of what in Sri Lanka are known as "Indian Tamils" employed in the country's tea industry.

The report was prepared by 11 of the 17 experts. Of the 11, six are from the majority Sinhalese community, four are Tamils and one Muslim. All six dissenting members are Sinhalese.

The experts, who studied several constitutions, including India's, to frame suggestions to act as a viable alternative to Tamil separatism, have admitted that the failure of minorities to have their due share of power has alienated them from the Sri Lankan state.

The report says that as a form of "genuine power sharing" between the different ethnic and religious communities, provincial institutions and local authorities would be set up and all communities shall share power in the central government, "integrating them into the body politic and strengthening national integration".

The group has suggested that the country would be called "Republic of Sri Lanka" and described as "one, free, sovereign and independent state", avoiding any contentious tags such as unitary, federal or union of regions or provinces.

Going closest to the right of self-determination the Tamil Tigers seek, the people of the country shall be described in the constitution as being composed of "the constituent people of Sri Lanka".

"The right of every constituent people to develop its own language, to develop and promote its culture and to preserve its history and the right to its due share of state power including the right to due representation in institutions of government shall be recognised without in any way weakening the common Sri Lankan identity," the report says.

"This shall not in any way be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of the Republic."

The report covers all areas of governance including constitution, provinces, unit of devolution, judiciary, national security, law and order, relations between Colombo and provinces, local governments, public services, language, land as well as safeguards for provincial powers.

The experts have suggested two directly or indirectly elected vice presidents for Sri Lanka who shall belong to two different ethnic communities distinct from that of the president, who has always been a Sinhalese since the country became independent in 1948.

The group has recommended that the strength of the Sri Lankan parliament be limited to 180 MPs, down from the present 225, and a second chamber be elected by provincial assemblies to give the provinces a sense of national belonging.

All legislation, with the exception of Money Bills, may be initiated in the second chamber.

The report wants that the cabinet should reflect the pluralistic character of Sri Lanka and be representative of all provinces.

It says a unit of devolution should be, as much as possible, consist of geographically contiguous territory but ultimately ethnicity should not be the sole criterion for the establishment of units.

Among others, it has suggested a single northeastern province with two internally autonomous units to address the concerns of the Muslims and Sinhalese who live in the Tamil-majority region.

The group suggests that Sinhala and Tamil shall be the official languages and languages of administration while Sinhala, Tamil and English shall be the national languages of Sri Lanka.

It wants Sinhala, Tamil and English to be made compulsory subjects at the school leaving examination over a period of time.

There shall be a National Police Service and a Provincial Police Service, which would work in cooperation.

Local bodies, the report says, should have power to make by-laws so that ethnic communities in the areas are in control of their living environment. It also favours an Indian type "Panchayat" system for villages with modifications.

It wants that public service in a devolved system of governance must be organized at the national, provincial and local levels.

The suggestions would be put up before an all-party grouping that is to submit changes in governance to the Sri Lankan president so as to try end a separatist campaign that has claimed more than 65,000 lives in the island since 1983.

But it remains to be seen if these recommendations would secure the approval of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whose leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has vowed to step up his campaign for an independent homeland.