South African example can help to break deadlock on PSC

| A statement issued by the National Peace Council 

( July 17, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The government has proposed the mechanism of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to make a fresh start in finding a political solution to the ethnic problem in the aftermath of the three decade long war. The mandate of this PSC is to recommend and report on “political and constitutional measures to empower the people of Sri Lanka as one nation.”

However, the opposition has so far refused to appoint any of its members to this PSC. Their concerns are perhaps that the exercise lacks any specific objective or substance and is not genuine, and only an attempt to buy time and to prevent the creation of a negative international impression of the government in the run-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be hosted by Sri Lanka in November.

Another concern of the opposition is that the government will use its whip, depriving its party members of any independent voice and use its majority of 19 members within the PSC to steamroll over the opposition which has only been granted 12 members. Any Parliamentary Select Committee which lacks independence in its deliberations and fails to act rationally would be a mere rubber stamp to endorse the prior decisions of the Executive Presidency. The last PSC that was held to investigate into allegations of corruption against the former Chief Justice totally disregarded the views of the opposition members who were outvoted and prompted them to walk out of the proceedings.

One of the main failures of the government is its failure to make any progress towards implementing the 13th Amendment structures to resolve the ethnic issue or propose an alternative political solution even four years after the end of the war. The President promised to go to 13th Amendment plus whereas the dominant thinking in the government now is to do away with the Provincial Councils or at least remove the powers already provided for. The present political environment is one of growing political polarization that is dividing the country in heart and mind, even while its territory has been unified.

However, the National Peace Council does not believe that the continued intense presence of military force alone can sustain a permanent solution to the ethnic problem. To enable a mutually acceptable solution it is necessary not only to give the opposition equal representation but also to create an enabling environment for the TNA as well. Any recommendation which the TNA has not agreed to will be futile.

If the government is serious about getting the opposition parties to participate in the PSC, it is necessary that it should convince them that the debacle that occurred at the last PSC that investigated the former Chief Justice would not recur. If the government is serious about getting the opposition parties to join the PSC it needs to assure them that their views will be considered, that they will not be bulldozed through the system of majority voting, and instead that decisions will be taken on the basis of consensus including the agreement of the TNA.

The National Peace Council believes that the PSC process is heading to re-kindle the political causes of the ethnic conflict in the country in which a permanent Sinhalese majority in Parliament imposed its unilateral will on the ethnic minorities depriving them of any say in the decision-making processes of the state. At the very least we call for the adoption of the principle of “sufficient consensus” as articulated in the South African peace process in decision making regarding the political solution without using majority voting to impose decisions on the minority.

In South Africa, decisions were not taken on the basis of a majority vote. Rather they were taken on the basis that the main parties to the conflict agreed with the proposals that were on the table. They came up with the useful concept of a “sufficient consensus” which meant that the parties that really mattered had to agree. In South Africa a practice developed in the constitution-making process of accepting “sufficient consensus,” which meant the agreement of the two main political parties. In Sri Lanka, this would certainly mean the ruling party and UNP, but also the TNA and SLMC as the two main parties representing the ethnic minorities. The practice of “sufficient consensus,” could lead to a meaningful political outcome that is sustainable and leads to national reconciliation.

Governing Council: The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.