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Constitution making:

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A layman’s view

by ROHANA R. WASALA

‘At least since Rousseau’s Social Contract and the end of the divine right of kings, the state has been seen as party to a contract with the people – a contract to guarantee or supply the necessary order in society. Without the state’s soldiers, police and the apparatus of control, we are told, gangs or brigands would take over our streets. Extortion, rape, robbery and murder would rip away the last threads of the “thin veneer of civilization.”’ – Alvin Toffler, Powershift, 1990.

The late Alvin Toffler (American writer, journalist, educator, and businessman) says this while reflecting on the nature of power as one of the most basic social phenomena. ‘Power……implies a world that combines both chance, necessity, chaos and order.’ According to him, we humans ‘share an irrepressible, biologically rooted craving for a modicum of order in our daily lives, along with a hunger for novelty. It is the need for order that provides the main justification for the very existence of government’.

Sri Lankans are currently experiencing, in the raw, a taste of the evils that Toffler says the absence of order would breed, which makes constitution making interesting for them. But what is a constitution? Google offers a simple definition of the term: ‘a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed’.

Now, Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda (‘A very wrong approach to Constitution-making’/The Island/September 29, 2020) opines that the proposed 20A has ‘several major defects’. One key fault, according to him, is that the approach adopted for drafting the amendment is ‘very wrong’. JU offers a number of reasons to explain this alleged wrongness of the ‘approach’: the ‘sponsors and framers’ (I suppose the phrase means the politicians and the legal experts behind the drafting of 20A) refuse to learn ‘constructive lessons from past constitutional reform experiments’, but they have learned some ‘partisan, narrow-minded, politically short-sighted ones’. What he probably means by this becomes clear (not clear enough though) in the rest of his article, but it is doubtful whether his sense of right and wrong in the context is shared by many outside the now diminished anti-nationalist coterie, who occupied the parliament for four and a half years and hexed it with the controversial 19A.

It is not necessary to read further into JU’s article to be able to infer where his own inexcusable biases lie. He is obviously in favour of 13A and 19A forced on the nation from outside, and is against the present government’s sincere effort to remove the obstacles placed on its path by the departing yahapalanaya through its ill-conceived constitutional mixed bag that is 19A, where what is bad is by choice, and what is good is by chance. This is not to argue that the new 20A is perfect in comparison. I share many objections raised in different quarters against the proposed 20A, but I believe that the moot points will be satisfactorily sorted out by the present leaders before they manage to get it through parliament.

The Opposition critics of 20A quite well know that it is, after all, only a stopgap measure to clear the way for the unhindered implementation of the government’s development plans. The government will introduce a completely new Constitution within a year or two. JU’s advice as a political scientist will come in handy then.

The proposed 20A is not an arbitrary piece of legislation that the government is introducing behind the back of the people. There is considerable opposition to some of its articles even within the government ranks. Unlike in the case of 19A, the passage of 20A will be a democratic, above-board affair. The Minister of Justice on behalf of the government issued it as a draft bill for public view and review in all three languages on September 2, 2020. The document clearly specifies what is to be amended, repealed, or replaced. The yahapalana constitutional fraud in the form of 19A is not being repeated. Over this four-week period, some thirty-nine petitions have been filed challenging 20A’s constitutionality before the Supreme Court and they were being heard for the third day (October 2) by a bench of five judges, at the time of writing. The government has already declared that it will abide by the court decision by duly adjusting its response to it. JU’s alarms and warnings are uncalled for.

By the phrase ‘past constitutional reform experiments’, JU must be referring to the making of the first and second republican Constitutions (of 1972 and 1978 respectively) and the substantial number of opportune as well as ad hoc amendments introduced by successive governments since, some of them questionable and controversial, where 19A stands in a class by itself as the best example of the worst type of constitutional reform introduced in Sri Lanka to date. What prompts him to describe them as experiments is probably the fact that he is a political scientist with his indispensable toolkit of academic analysis. My interest as a lay citizen, modestly informed of the original construction and subsequent reform of a constitution, is concerned with how good it is going to be for the largest number of the people of the country, as its supreme law, in the context of the more or less stable social and political realities that are prevailing.

As a Constitution is not holy writ, it is open to appropriate amendments from time to time, in compliance with the will of the people, as and when these realities change; a constitution specifies the legal way to reform or replace it as the case may be. The current 1978 republican constitution as amended up to 2015 (Chapter XII/Articles 82-84) specifies the procedure for amending or repealing the constitution. The people whose memory of the yahapalana misadventure is still fresh are anxiously aware of the necessity of passing the 20A.

Contrary to what JU asserts, the political leaders and the legal luminaries responsible for drafting the proposed 20A, have not forgotten the constructive lessons left by their respective predecessors in the form of Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Colvin R. de Silva (1972), and J.R. Jayewardene and J.A. Wilson (1978). Both Bandaranaike and Jayewardene cared about the country, the people, and the culture. Both displayed firm leadership in governing, and a high level of intellect in statecraft. Sirimavo Bandaranaike had her native wit, and Jayewardene possessed a good education. In April 1971, Bandaranaike nipped the JVP terrorism in the bud, not without some violence, though, that she never intended. Opposition leader Jayewardene approved of her actions, saying, ‘yes, a government must rule’. For her courage, firmness, and composure, she was described then as the only male in her cabinet. The contribution of the inspiration provided by Bandaranaike’s political leadership to the making of the first Republican Constitution, the principal architect of which was de Silva, must have been immense and indispensable. Later, hadn’t Jayewardene got Wilson to write the powerful institution of executive presidency into the second republican constitution (1978) as the main anchor to the unitary state, the sovereign Sri Lankan republic that Bandaranaike and de Silva created for the people would have disintegrated and drifted into wilderness and oblivion by now.

Back to the point.

The second alleged defect that JU asserts, without any evidence to support his opinion, is that ‘the framers of the 20A are not motivated by the broader democratic interests of all Sri Lankan people, but the ‘political self-interest’ (of someone or group that JU avoids mentioning). A third defect, JU identifies the Amendment’s supposed lack of ‘a democratic formative framework relevant to our society and its own progressive-modernist legacies of constitutionalism .. (together with the fact that).. it builds itself on one or two dreadful and destructive experiments of constitution-making in the recent past’. This is as close to clear as I can get in interpreting JU here. To illustrate the ‘one or two dreadful and destructive experiments of constitution-making in the recent past’, I think, he draws upon what he, assuming a kind of arbitrary academic license, calls the ‘relatively long history of unmaking, making, and amending constitutions’ that includes the 1972 and 1978 exercises on the one hand, and the 1978C and 18A on the other. JU’s adjectives ‘dreadful and destructive’ could be justifiably applied to the passage of 19A and other such ‘experiments’ in constitutional reform, as contained, for example, in Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (As amended up to 15th May 2015) (Revised Edition – 2015) issued by the Parliamentary Secretariat. Chapter IV – Language covers Articles 18-25. One is bewildered by what the crafty, ill-meaning, ‘sponsors and framers’ have from time to time done to degrade Sinhala in its official status with the uncomprehending concurrence of some self-seeking Sinhala MPs in the House. This, of course, would be an iconic piece of constitution-making for a theorist with one’s head in the clouds.

The practical reality is that the operative meaning of any Article (whether this is legally contested or not) is implicitly embodied in the English text (though, according to the present constitution Sinhala and Tamil are both official languages, while English is the link language.). So, it is vitally important to translate the draft document that is the Constitution into precise, unambiguous, formal and legally acceptable and uncontestable Sinhala and Tamil. I detected a couple of stark discrepancies between the original English draft and the Sinhala translation (not relating to the particular context – Chapter IV – mentioned above) when I made a very random comparison between the two versions while researching an article at the time, but I don’t remember whether I dwelt on the subject long enough for it to be taken notice of by the reader as something important, though beyond the central scope of that article. Apart from this, those sufficiently informed did not fail to see how some Tamil lawmakers wanted to openly hoodwink the Sinhalas with the word ‘akeeya’ stripped of its intended original meaning of unitary, but falsely insisting that the English term ‘unitary’ was not its equivalent and was not suitable as a translation, and started talking about an ‘Orumiththa Nadu’, reminiscent of Tamil Nadu. How the question which version should prevail in case of an incongruence between the Sinhala and Tamil texts should be resolved, I can’t remember having been discussed. But the last item (58) of the published draft of 20A runs: ‘In the event of any inconsistency between the Sinhala and Tamil texts of this Act, the Sinhala text shall prevail.’

Having outlined the lessons to be learnt from constitution-making, -unmaking, and -reforming exercises up to 18A, JU moves on to the many lessons that he thinks may be drawn from the ‘much maligned’ 19A. He identifies four key lessons. The first lesson he mentions is that wide public consultation is useful, and helps ‘improve the level of democratic health in the polity’. I cannot agree with him that this was true about the drafting of 19A. It was claimed that the constitutional experts including Jayampathy Wickremaratne, presumably its principal drafter, toured the country meeting with individuals and representatives of many minority civil groups during a short period of two or three months. They had to rush the job, they said, as they were in a hurry to finish it within a stipulated time frame. About two thousand people were consulted nevertheless, they claimed. It was obvious that they roamed the country making it their main aim to pay more attention to the minorities that they had decided were discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese, as they wanted the meddling foreign powers to believe in order to justify their interventionist excesses in the internal and external politics of the country. Meanwhile they paid only symbolic attention to the Sinhalese majority. Wickremaratne, the chief architect of the fraudulent document, is now rumoured/reported to have found or is seeking political asylum in Australia or somewhere (though there is absolutely no possibility of his being targeted for persecution in Sri Lanka). He has reportedly admitted that 19A is problematic.

The second lesson that JU asserts he can learn from the making of 19A is that it is ‘better to build consensus across all political parties in Parliament for a major amendment or a new Constitution’. If he means that 19A set a negative example of that principle, then he has a case. But in actuality, 19A destroyed the burgeoning interparty consensus in Parliament and the growing intercommunal goodwill in the broader society that the MR government achieved in the wake of victory over terrorism. It was because of this that ‘for partisan political reasons, some might later withdraw from the consensus’ as JU laments.

I agree with JU on the third lesson he derives from his seemingly iconic amendment, which is that ‘If the consultation and consensus-building in constitution-making is not politically managed with clarity of purpose, the overall goals of the constitutional compromise may run the risk of producing a constitutional scheme with potentially harmful internal anomalies and contradictions’. Yes, in other words, 19A is a very good illustration of a very bad constitutional amendment.

The fourth lesson that 19A offers, according to JU, is that ‘a democratic constitution-making exercise today needs, more than ever, an unwavering political leadership to champion it through to the end by innovative and imaginative democratic means’. In my opinion, this is what the pre-2015 government achieved. 19A, by dismantling it, demonstrated how ill the nation fared in the absence of such unwavering, innovative, and democratic leadership. Then, JU starts chewing his own tail, by suggesting a ‘paradoxical’ reason: ‘Alternatives to democracy are also competing with democracy, with enormous material resources, to gain popular support and loyalty through democratic means. In this age of right-wing populism, media-manufactured popular consent and manipulation of public perceptions through information pollution, post-democratic alternatives tend to gain easy currency and public legitimacy’. Frankly, I can’t make head or tail of this, but it makes me wonder whether JU is trying to make light of the very real persecution of the majority community that is hardly recognized by most mainstream politicians, who feel obliged to find refuge behind political correctness.


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Opinion

Take Human Rights seriously, not so much the council or office

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By Dr Laksiri Fernando

The 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council started on 22 February morning with obvious hiccups. The Office, to mean the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, finally decided to hold all sessions virtually online, only the President of the Council and the assistants in the high table sitting at the UN Assembly Hall in Geneva. The President, Ms. Nazhat Shammen Khan, Ambassador from Fiji in Geneva, wearing a saree, was graceful in the chair with empty seats surrounding.

In the opening session, the UN General Assembly President, UN General Secretary, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Head of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland (as the host country), addressed remotely the session. In fact, there was no need for Switzerland to have a special place, as the UN is independent from any host country. Switzerland is fairly ok, however, if this tradition is followed, the UN General Assembly may have to give a special place to the US in New York.

 

Initial Addresses

UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres’ address could have been quite exemplary if he gave a proper balance to the developed and developing countries. He talked about racism and fight against racism but did not mention where racism is overwhelmingly rampant (US and Europe) and what to do about it. Outlining the human rights implications of Covid-19 pandemic, he made quite a good analysis. It was nice for him to say, ‘human rights are our blood line (equality), our lifeline (for peace) and our frontline (to fight against violations).’ However, in the fight against violations, he apparently forgot about the ‘blood line’ or the ‘lifeline’ quite necessary not to aggravate situations through partiality and bias. He never talked about the importance of human rights education or promoting human rights awareness in all countries.

His final assault was on Myanmar. Although he did not call ‘genocide,’ he denounced the treatment of Rohingyas as ethnic cleansing without mentioning any terrorist group/s within. His call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders undoubtedly should be a common call of all. However, he did not leave any opening for a dialogue with the military leaders or bring back a dialogue between Aung San and Min Aung, the military leader. With a proper mediation, it is not impossible. Calling for a complete overhaul as the young demonstrators idealistically claim might not be realistic.

High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s address was brief and uncontroversial this time without mentioning any country or region. It is clear by now perhaps she is not the real author of the Report against Sri Lanka, but someone probably hired by the so-called core-group led by Britain. Her major points were related to the coronavirus pandemic trying to highlight some of the socio-economic disparities and imbalances of policy making that have emerged as a result. The neglect of women, minorities, and the marginalized sections of society were emphasized. But the poor was not mentioned. As a former medical doctor, she also opted to highlight some of the medical issues underpinning the crisis.

Then came the statements from different countries in the first meeting in the following order: Uzbekistan, Colombia, Lithuania, Afghanistan, Poland, Venezuela, Finland, Fiji, Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea, Vietnam, Belgium, and Morocco. The obvious purposes of these statements were different. Some countries were apparently canvassing for getting into the Human Rights Council at the next turn perhaps for the purpose of prestige. Some others were playing regional politics against their perceived enemies. This was very clear when Lithuania and Poland started attacking Russia.

But there were very sincere human rights presentations as well. One was the statement by the President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. He outlined the devastating effects that Afghanistan had to undergo during the last 40 years, because of foreign interferences. The initial support to Taliban by big powers was hinted. His kind appeal was to the UN was to go ‘beyond discourse to practice’ giving equal chance to the poor and the developing countries to involve without discrimination.

 

Controversial Presentations

China’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Wang Yi, made his presentation almost at the end of the first day. This is apparently the first time that China had directly addressed the Human Rights Council. Beginning with outlining the devastating repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic he stressed that the world should face the challenges through ‘solidarity and cooperation.’ He broadened the concept to human rights solidarity and cooperation. His expressed views were quite different to the others, particularly to the Western ones.

He frankly said that what he expresses are the views of China on human rights without claiming those are absolute truths or forcing others to believe or implement them. There were four main concepts that he put forward before the member countries. First, he said, “We should embrace a human rights philosophy that centres on the people. The people’s interests are where the human rights cause starts and ends.” Second, he said, “we should uphold both universality and particularity of human rights. Peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom are common values shared by all humanity and recognized by all countries.” “On the other hand,” he said, “countries must promote and protect human rights in light of their national realities and the needs of their people.”

“Third,” he said, “we should systemically advance all aspects of human rights. Human rights are an all-encompassing concept. They include civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.” He then emphasized, “Among them, the rights to subsistence and development are the basic human rights of paramount importance.” Fourth, “we should continue to promote international dialogue and cooperation on human rights. Global human rights governance should be advanced through consultation among all countries.”

It was on the same first day before China, that the United Kingdom launched its barrage against several countries not sparing Sri Lanka. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, delivered the statement from top to bottom attacking alleged violating countries on human rights. But there was no mentioning of Israel for the repression of Palestinians or the systemic racism rampaging in the United States, including the 6 January attacks on the Capitol by extremist/terrorist groups.

His first sermon was on Myanmar without acknowledging the British atrocities or mismanagement of this poor and diverse country during the colonial period. He was quite jubilant over implementing sanctions and other restrictions over the country. Many sanctions, in my opinion, are extortions. Undoubtedly, Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders should be released, and democracy restored. This is a task of the whole council and when one or two countries try to grab the credit, there can be obvious reservations of others.

His further scathing attacks were against Belarus, Russia, and China. Some appeared factually correct but not necessarily the approach or the motives genuine. The following is the way he came around Sri Lanka. He said,

“Finally, we will continue to lead action in this Council: on Syria, as we do at each session; on South Sudan; and on Sri Lanka, where we will present a new resolution to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.”

‘Action’ to him basically means repeatedly passing resolutions, of course imposing economic and other sanctions. He said, “as we do at each session”; like bullying poor or weak countries at each session. Can there be a resolution against Russia or China? I doubt it.

What would be the purpose of presenting a resolution against Sri Lanka? As he said, “to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.” This will satisfy neither the Tamil militants nor the Sinhalese masses. But it might satisfy the crafty Opposition (proxy of the defeated last government). This is not going to be based on any of the actual measures that Sri Lanka has taken or not taken on reconciliation or accountability. But based on the ‘Authoritarian and Hypocritical Report’ that some anti-Sri Lankans have drafted within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This what I have discussed in my last article.

In this context, successful or not, the statement made by the Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena, in rejecting any resolution based on the foxy Report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in my concerned opinion, is absolutely correct.

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Opinion

President’s energy directives ignored by the Power Ministry: Another Point of View

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Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya

Dr Janaka Rathnasiri laments (The Island 19 Feb 2021) that the Power Ministry has ignored the President’s directive to draw 70% of energy from renewable sources by 2030. I saw the approved costs of electricity production for 2019, published by the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL).

PUCSL has also approved the prices to sell electricity to customers. Although various customers pay at various “approved” prices, the average income from such “approved” prices in 2019 was Rs 17.02 per unit. It is not only the Ministry, according to Dr Rathnasiri, ignoring the President; PUCSL is also breaking the law, which says prices and approved costs should be equal.

So there is already an illegal gap of Rs 21.59 minus 17.02 = Rs 4.57 per unit of electricity sold. If electricity prices are not to be increased, as stated by many in the government and PUCSL, let us say the following: Distribution costs should decrease by 0.57 Rs per unit. Generation costs should decrease by Rs 4.00 per unit.

PUCSL also published the approved cost of purchasing or producing electricity from various sources for 2019. The actual energy values were different to what was approved, but let us stick to PUCSL approved figures:

I suggest Dr Rathnasiri fills-up the following table, to show how much electricity will cost in 2030 to produce and deliver, if the President’s 70% target is to be achieved and for PUCSL to abide by the law. Let us assume that electricity requirement in 2030 will be double that of 2019.

Since PUCSL has to save Rs 4 from 13.92, the average selling price for energy should be Rs 13.92 minus 4.00 = Rs 9.92. With a target network loss of 7% (in 2019 it was 8.4%), the average cost of production has to be Rs 9.27 per unit. Eight cages have to be filled-up by Dr Rathnasiri.

In 2012, PUCSL approved the energy cost of electricity produced from coal power to be 6.33 Rs per kWh. In 2019, PUCSL approved 9.89 (56% increase). For renewable energy, it was 13.69 in 2012, and 19.24 in 2019 (a 40% increase, but double the price of electricity from coal fired generation). In 2012, rooftop solar was not paid for: only give and take, but now paid Rs 22, against Rs 9.89 from coal. There seems to be something wrong. The price reductions of renewable energy being promised, being insulated from rupee depreciation, are not happening? Either Sri Lanka must be paying too little for coal, or it may be renewable energy is severely over-priced?

On coal we hear only of some corruption every now and then; so Sri Lanka cannot be paying less than it costs, for coal.

 

Enough money even to donate
vaccines

Another reason for the Ministry of Power to ignore the President’s directive may be the Ministry’s previous experience with similar Presidential directives. In 2015, the President at that time cancelled the Sampur coal-fired power plant, and the Ministry faithfully obliged. That President and that Prime Minister then played ball games with more power plants until they were thrown out of power, leaving a two-billion-dollar deficit (still increasing) in the power sector. Not a single power plant of any description was built.

Where is this deficit? You do not have to look far. In the second table, replace 24.43 with 9.89, to reflect what would have happened if Sampur was allowed to be built. The value 12.79 will go down to 8.55, well below the target of Rs 9.27 per unit to produce. Not only would CEB and LECO report profits, but the government too could have asked for an overdraft from CEB to tide over any cash shortfalls in the treasury. All this with no increase in customer prices. Producers of electricity from renewable energy could enjoy the price of 19.24 Rs per unit. And that blooming thing on your rooftop can continue to enjoy Rs 22 per unit. The Minister of Power, whom Dr Rathnasiri wants to replace with an army officer, would have been the happiest.

In the absence of Sampur (PUCSL’s letter signed by Chairman Saliya Mathew confirmed cancellation and asked CEB not to build it), PUCSL approved electricity to be produced at Rs 21.59 and sold at Rs 17.02 per unit. The annual loss would be Rs (21.59 – 17.02) x 15,093 = Rs 69 billion per year of approved financial loss. Sri Lanka has a Telecom regulator, an Insurance regulator, a Banking regulator, who never approve prices below costs. Sometime ago the telecom regulator asked the operators to raise the prices, when operators were proposing to reduce prices amidst a price war. But the electricity industry regulator is different: he approves costs amounting to 27% more than the price, not just once but, but continuously for ten long years !

That is 370 million dollars per year as of 2019, the economy is spending, and for years to come, to burn oil (and say we have saved the environment). Did the Minister of Health say we are short of 160 million dollars to buy 40 million doses of the vaccine? Well, being a former Minister of Power, she now knows which Presidential “order” of 2015 is bleeding the economy of 370 million dollars per year, adequate to buy all vaccines and donate an equal amount to a needy country.

Prices are the production costs approved by PUCSL for 2019. The selling price approved by the same PUCSL was Rs 9.27 per unit.

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Opinion

Confusion on NGOs and NSOs in Sri Lanka

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If you listen to politicians and journalists here, you will hear of that curious creature rajya novana sanvidane, a Non-State Organization (NSO). Where do you get them? In the uninstructed and dead minds of those who use those terms. In the real world, where politicians and journalists have developed minds, there are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). The United Nations is an organization set up by state parties, not by governments. It is true that agents of states, governments, make the United Nations work or fail. Governments may change but not the states, except rarely. When Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia, a new state was formed and was so recognised by the United Nations. However, the LTTE that tried to set up another state was crushed by the established state that it tried to break away from, and the UN had nothing to do with them.

This entirely unnecessary confusion, created out of ignorance, is so destructive that organizations completely loyal to the existing state, are made to be traitorous outfits, for they are ‘non-state organizations’ within the state. There are citizens of each state, but no citizens of any government. Government is but an instrument of the state. In most states there are organizations, neither of the state nor of government: religious organizations including churches. But none of them is beyond the pale of the state.

Those that speak of rajya novana sanvidane give that name partly because they have no idea of the origin of non-governmental organizations. NGOs came into the limelight, as donor agencies, noticed that some governments, in East Africa, in particular, did not have the capacity and the integrity to use the resources that they provided. They construed, about 1970, that NGOs would be a solution to the problem. Little did they realize that some NGOs themselves would become dens of thieves and brigands. I have not seen any evaluation of the performance of NGOs in any country. There was an incomplete essay written by Dr. Susantha Gunatilleka. NGOs are alternatives to the government, not to the state.

Our Constitution emphatically draws a distinction between the government and state, and lays down that the President is both Head of Government and Head of State (Read Article 2 and Article 30 of the Constitution.) It is as head of state that, he/she is the Commander of the Armed Forces, appoints and receives ambassadors and addresses Parliament annually, when a prorogued Parliament, reconvenes. He/she presides over the Cabinet as head of government. The distinction is most clear, in practice, in Britain where Queen Elizabeth is the head of state and Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister and head of government. However, in principle, Johnson is the Queen’s First Minister appointed by the sovereign, and resigns by advising her of his decision to do so.

In the US and in India the term ‘state’ has special significance. In India there is a ‘rajya sabha’ (the Council of States) whose members represent constituent States and Union Territories. Pretty much the same is true of the United States. In the US, executive power is vested in the President and heads the administration, government in our parlance. The Head of State does not come into the Constitution but those functions that one associates with a head of state are in the US performed by the President of the Republic. The US President does not speak of my state (mage rajaya) but of my administration, (mage anduva). Annually, he addresses Congress on the State of the Union. Our present President must be entirely familiar with all this, having lived there as a citizen of the US for over a decade. It is baffling when someone speaks of a past state as a traitor to that same state. It is probable that a government was a traitor to the state. ‘Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their (States’) enemies, giving them aid and comfort’. That a state was a traitor to the same state is gobbledygook.

Apart from probable confusion that we spoke of in the previous paragraph, it is probable that a president and other members of a government, including members of the governing party here, find it grandiloquent to speak of his/her/their state (mage/ape rajaya), rather than my government (mage anduva) or Sirisena anduva’ and not Sirisena state; it was common to talk of ‘ape anduva’ in 1956; politicians in 1956 were far more literate then than they are now.

When translating from another language, make sure that you understand a bit of the history of the concept that you translate. A public school in the US is not the same as a public school in the UK.

 

MAHADENAMUTTA

 

 

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