Devolution a misunderstood concept

omanthai-checkpointAn eye sore during the war years was the giant checkpoint complex functioning from 2002 located on the A9 Road between Omanthai in Vavuniya, was the last vestige of military domination over its Tamil citizens by the Sri Lanka Government; was known as the corridor between Government uncontrolled areas in the North and the rest of the country during the war; as both sides were separated by a strip of no man land, that existed for well over a decade came to symbolize the war that divided the country into two parts.  The travelers had to walk under stress through the 100 m long corridor cutting through the no man land with their belongings by foot and were questioned as to why they are travelling north or south as the case may be even though they were all citizens of a unitary state as claimed by the government. It was ironic that Government continued with the pernicious institution for several years after the end of the war in 2009, showing the world that the country still was divided; was the only place in Sri Lanka where travelers were compelled by the military to get down from their vehicles at all times of the day, even late at night when they are fast asleep and carry their luggage by foot to be searched by soldiers.  This caused a lot of heartburn as the war had ended and to the harassment of travelers, the checking at the checkpoint went on was more superficial and the government said they are stopping vehicles for the country’s security.  The yearning of all citizens  whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim was to be free and to travel freely without being questioned, intimidated or bossed by persons in uniform. The military checkpoint was finally closed down in 2015 and with no military presence;  A9 is now open for free passage and 18 acres of land near the camp handed over in 2016 to the Vavuniya District Secretary, that included some plots of land handed over to families which originally had their homes there.

Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to govern at a subnational level, such as a regional or provincial level. It is a form of administrative decentralization that gives devolved territories power to make legislation relevant to the area. The essential feature of devolution is that it brings Government closer to the people and enables policies to be made to suit the territory rather than nation as a whole. It must not be seen as a way to privilege a set of regional political leaders. Regions want devolution because they believe they can manage their own affairs better than a distant National Government.

A rational distribution of powers between National and Regional Governments is of the highest importance in any devolution settlement. The balancing of the regional and national is not easy, especially if the aim is, as it out to be to enhance the quality of governance at both levels. In an ideal world, a lot of thought and planning precede any devolution, which until now did not happen in Sri Lanka; it is a mark of lack of political maturity of the legislators. Even though Sri Lanka is a small island nation, the government was never able to rule the country properly; after gaining independence the leaders were more interested in keeping power to themselves than ruling the little nation democratically and made a mess of it; which resulted in three uprisings and a bloody civil war which lasted three decades with a heavy loss of life and damages to properties that put the development of the country back by five decades that left only miseries in the mind of the people. This has happened because the need for a proper devolution of power to the regions was never understood properly by the legislators in Sri Lanka.

A form of devolution was proposed before independence, but the need was misunderstood by the people’s representatives at that time. Later after independence request for devolution was called for by the Tamil speaking minorities in the country and was rejected by the majority Sinhalese rulers as a call for separatism. Now after all the losses and miseries caused by the war an attempt is being made by the top leaders in the legislature to come up with a form of devolution for the country. This is not an easy task with some past leaders with their hunger for powers are disturbing the proceedings both inside and outside the legislator. Majority of the people accept that there is no overnight solution to this national problem, but a solution is needed if the little island is to regain its paradise status and survive as a Nation.