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Thank you.  My neighbor, Catharine MacKinnon’s, befuddlement is probably infectious because I’ve wondered what I’m doing on this panel.  Is it because Sri Lanka, apart from acquiring an international notoriety for having perhaps the most savage terrorist group in the world, has also acquired notoriety for having the most number of  constitutions since it has regained its independence in 1948?  Because we have, in fact, had three constitutional changes and we are going on making the fourth.  Or is it because we have the most number of broken electoral promises in our very rumbustious electoral politics which has resulted in seven changes of government through the exercise of a free and fair ballot?  But perhaps it is also because I am, on this panel, the only representative of a developing country from the South and as we in this symposium try to discuss prescriptions for development, it is useful to consider the user aspect of these prescriptions in order to ensure that we have a user-friendly development policy.  I think it is also important as we listen to lectures on good governance and democracy to understand that even in a functioning democracy like Sri Lanka we could have difficulties.  We could have unmet needs.  We could have the perception of exclusion from the democratic process which have to be found answers for if the poor and the needy are going to fulfill their aspirations.

Let me begin with a few basic premises.  I believe that in the entire gamut of definitions that I have heard about economic development, perhaps the one that comes close to answering the reality of development is what is in the Human Development Report of the UNDP over the last few years and there Mahbut Ul Haq and his team talked of development being fundamentally an “expansion of choices.”    And so the more choices you have, the more developed you are and the poor, we know, have very little choice.  And our task, therefore, should be to try to expand that choice.  Now, do we expand it by having constitutions?   Constitutions, we know, are not edible.  They are not made of bread or of rice, which is a staple food in Sri Lanka.  And yet we also know that election promises are notoriously fickle, that they are made routinely by all candidates in all  countries only to be broken.  We know also that constitutions represent in a democratic society and fount and source of the Rule of Law and, therefore, they are important as a foundation of society.  They are important as representing the national consensus on the objectives for the nation and the goals which a nation collectively must aspire to.  Sri Lanka has had adult universal franchise from as early as 1931 when we were still a British colony.  And since 1948 when we regained independence, we have had a number of changes.  We began by inheriting the Soulbury  Constitution which was devised for us by Lord Soulbury and his commission which recommended dominion status for Sri Lanka. 

In 1972, as a result of a mandate won by the party led by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first woman Prime Minister in the world, we had a Republican Constitution promulgated and this constitution continued from 1972 to 1978, when yet another change was made, bring in an Executive Presidency because it was felt by the party then in office that the most effective way to answer the problems of development in Sri Lanka was to have an Executive Presidency which could cut through a lot of the party politicking, a lot of the parliamentary debate that went on in our Westminster-style democracy as we had in Sri Lanka.  But after this experimentation it has been felt since 1978 that the practice of an Executive Presidency tended towards having a very autocratic and authoritarian form of government and so in the 1994  Parliamentary Election the party now in office campaigned very strongly for abolishing the Executive Presidency.  They propose to abolish the executive presidency and to effect the restoration of the Westminster style of government, where sovereignty lies essentially with the people who are represented in Parliament.  And in the elections, which was won by the People’s Alliance led by the woman president we now have, Chandrika Kumaratunga, we found an overwhelming degree of support for this promise of a new constitution.

But this new constitution was not only going to work on abolishing the executive presidency because of its authoritarian character, but also was trying to expand democracy in the country so that a minority which had the perception of being excluded, the Sri Lanka Tamil minority who constituted 12.6% of the population of Sri Lanka,  would be brought in through a process of devolution of power and we have now, therefore, a very interesting situation in Sri Lanka where constitutional proposals are being discussed within the parliament of the  country which is in a sense constitution making for peace, which is constitution making for development and for the inclusion of sections of society that felt excluded.  The President of Sri Lanka, in looking at the past of the country, felt that one major factor was readily apparent and that was that during the 50 years since the end of the colonial era, the aspirations of the Tamil people “had not been adequately fulfilled within the parameters of the political process.”  And she thought that as a result of mistakes made by successive governments, two of which had been led by her father and her mother, there were unfortunately an entrenchment of interracial anger and animosity and mistrust amongst the different ethnic groups in Sri Lanka.  And so she has set about in these proposals that have been introduced today to try to evolve a constitution grounded, of course, in the principles of equality, accommodation, and tolerance, but in order to realize a vision of Sri Lanka “where all communities can live in safety and security, where human dignity is valued and equality of treatment is an accepted norm of public life.”  And there are basic principles which underlie this constitution-making exercise that we are engaged in.    One of them is to have an effective constitutional framework for the devolution of power, to regions which are based on credibility, clarify, and an internally consistent and coherent value systems.  Secondly, to encourage the regions and communities which inhibit them to become constructive partners of a stable and pluralistic democracy.  Thirdly, to ensure that all persons may fully and effectively exercise all their human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law.  Fourthly, to give the two national languages, Sinhala and Tamil, due recognition as official languages and to accord equality of status to them but maintaining English as a link language and finally, to protect the identity of distinct communities and to create conditions for the promotion of that identity, including the right to enjoy their own culture, profess and practice their own religion, and nurture and promote their own language.  Now these principles, I believe, are fundamental to the constitution-making exercise that we are engaged in and will be crucial in determining whether Sri Lanka will survive as a united, multi-cultural democracy, or whether it will break apart into separate nations, Tamil and Sinhala.

And as we look at this exercise, I think it is important for us to recognize that the practice of democracy can be deeply divisive in developing countries and that it is vital as we talk about the values of democracy to also practice the essentially consensual consultative practice than went on in the traditional agricultural societies of the developing South in the past; that while we transplant Western concepts of democracy, of parliaments and of elections and of head counting, we must also try to recapture some of the fundamental consultative, consensual practices that went into village government in the past in Sri Lanka, in India, in Africa and in many other parts of the developing South.  It is necessary, therefore, at some point of time for us to forge a value system which is shared by all.  We have seen too often, particularly in my own country, sharp swings from one party to another offering different approaches, for example, to development.  Today for the first time in the history of post-colonial Sri Lanka, we have a consensus that has been forged on the development strategy that we must adopt.  We all agree that it should be a market-oriented development policy.  No longer are there election promises to nationalize particular means of production or distribution, no longer are there competing promises to privatize.  Instead, there is today on the part of the two major national parties a consensus that market-oriented policies work in Sri Lanka.  There is some fine-tuning.  There are nuances.  Some want to accelerate the privatization process.  Others want to eliminate corruption which they claim the previous administration were responsible for, but these are essentially nuances and shifts of emphasis within a broad consensus.  It is important that same consensus should now emerge with regard to the devolution of power to the regions.  So that we bring into the democratic process those groups who felt excluded from it.

I would like to end by saying that we look at the problems of the poor throughout the world, I think we need to understand that the story is not a very depressing one all around, that there are a number of successes that have been made.  We know that the expectancy of life has been extended over the last 50 years.  We know that more people have better sanitation, cleaner water, and live better lives.  At the same time, as we were told yesterday, we still have one billion people below the poverty line and we need to address it.  Poverty is the ultimate pollutant in this world, and we have to look upon its eradication as a common endeavour.  If we are not to replace the East/West divide that bedeviled international politics for the last four decades by having another North/South divide, we need to develop a compact between the North and the South.   And I think just as much as the South can learn from the North, so can the North learn from the South.  We heard Muhammad Yunus talk about the two perspectives – the bird’s eye view and the worm’s eye view – and I think without claiming that either view is a superior view, when we are preached to about  good governance, we know that in the past those who sermonize to us about democracy did not always support the democracies.    They found it expedient to support autocracies and monarchies which tolerated the most flagrant human rights abuses.  We know that when we are lectured to about corruption that there is extensive corruption going on in a lot of Northern Governments.  And in the South when we talk about our own virtues, we must also realize that there have been a number of abuses of human rights in the South.  There has been a lot of corruption and there have been a lot of promises to the poor that have been broken, that needs remain unmet, that resources have been squandered.  And so what we need to evolve on an international basis is the kind of solutions that people like Jim Grant worked so hard and sincerely for, crossing the divide between the North and South and evolving a consensus between the North and South so that the poor are finally served honestly and sincerely.

 
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