Jaffna, February 1 (The New Indian Express): The elected council of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province on Tuesday unanimously rejected the Central government’s bid to centralize decision making on national economic policy and strategies through the Sustainable Development Strategies Bill.
The Northern Provincial Council (NPC) felt that the bill is eating into the already limited powers provinces enjoy under the 13 th. Amendment of the constitution, the Leader of the Opposition in the NPC, Sinnadurai Thavarajah, told Express.
Earlier, speaking on the matter, Northern Province Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran said that the NPC will not allow any such changes to be made before the new constitution is drafted and approved. He feared that the enactment of such laws is a surreptitious way of thwarting efforts to bring about far reaching changes in the Sri Lankan constitution to devolve more power to the provinces.
The Sustainable Development Bill has been in the public domain since July 2016 and the cabinet had even approved it. But it has been held up because the majority Sinhalese see it as a bid to hand over all economic policy matters to a “Super Minister” as it was the case in the Rajapaksa regime. Since Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is in-charge of economic policy, it is assumed that he would be the “Super Minister” assisted by a Development Council of “yes men”.
However, the Northern Provincial Council has seen the bill from a very different angle – from the point of view devolution of power to the provinces. In its view the bill will be an infringement of the provinces’ rights.
The bill envisages the setting up of a Sustainable Development Council with eight members of which three will be representatives of the country’ nine provinces. But the three places reserved for the provinces will rotate among the nine provinces every three years.
Thavarajah said that this will be unfair to the provinces both collectively and individually.
This Sustainable Development Council will formulate national policy on all economic matters and the provinces will have no say in it once a policy is formulated . The minister in charge is empowered to issue directions to secure compliance.
Where a statute passed by a Provincial Council is inconsistent with the national policy framework, the Secretary to the Ministry can make an application to the Supreme Court for a declaration to invalidate the statute.
The Minister is empowered by a Gazette notice to set apart any area which can be developed for economic activities such as manufacturing, tourism, science and technology, finance services, logistics, business and services, and modern fisheries/ agriculture or agro business.
The bill envisages large scale manufacture and development when the Northern Province is rooting for small-scale developmental enterprises to benefit large numbers of people.