NCSL for Sustainable Development
By Umesh Moramudali and Rathindra Kuruwita
The Ven. Athuraliye Rathana thera recently established the National Council of Sri Lanka (NCSL) in a bid to bring about the necessary changes and assure the people on setting the government on the right path. The strategy of the NCSL is to take our country to sustainability and stability.
Ceylon Today interviewed, Ashoka Abeygunawardana, the Secretary of the NCSL.
Following are the excerpts:
?: Can you explain the reasons for forming the NCSL and its objectives?
A: The NCSL was formed to address the prevailing issues in Sri Lanka. After the Presidential Election in 2015, certain promises were not kept. Ven. Rathana Thera decided that there was no use of staying in the government. Therefore, he announced that he will form a civil society movement to address the issues. He took about one month to formulate the movement. Now we have not only the movement, but also a comprehensive document which includes proposals to move towards sustainable development.
The sustainable development path is none other than the plan of the global community to retract the disasters of the last century and set itself up to be a stable, growing, regenerating place for many generations to come. In order to escape the darkest of ages and create a brightened future for our beautiful land, we place before the people our strategy "Path to the Sustainable Era – National Plan".
If we are to move away from conventional development to sustainable development we have to do it smoothly. In 2015, the United Nations (UN) came up with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are to be implemented in 2030. So we are moving along with it. After a big tug-of-war between scientists and businessmen it was accepted that the existing development model does not work, and we need to move more towards sustainable development. At present, we are at a risk of facing a lot of issues due to the development model.
?: In order to ensure the implementation of the proposals regarding sustainable development, some kind of intervention is required. What is this intervention?
A: The President's manifesto to address sustainability. Also this is a global trend. It is the government which should take the lead towards sustainability. Sadly, the government is not doing that. Recently, the government decided to provide land to overseas companies. This is one core issue. From our side we expect the government to change these policies. As I told you this is a civil society movement. There is no legally bounded mechanism to say that our proposals are implemented, yet if the government do not take these policies and proposals into account and shift away from the destructing development practices we will take action.
We will make sure that the government can't survive without this change. We presented the document to President Maithripala Sirisena and we will present it to the Prime Minister and other political parties. We are also hoping to work together with ministries directly. We can't guarantee that they will listen, but we are hoping that things will work.
We also think that we do not need to depend on the government alone. We are looking at corporate movements and civil society contributions as well.
?: Although you talk about sustainable development, the Prime Minister is more aligned with neoliberal policies. How are you hoping to address this concern?
A: There are two documents. One is the manifesto of the President and the other is the manifesto of UNP. These two documents differ from each other. However, the UNP does not have a mandate to implement policies as they wish because the UNP does not have a simple majority in Parliament. So what is valid and relevant is the manifesto of the President. I agree, the Prime minister is more focused on the UNP mandate. We believe that our movement will be able to urge the Prime Minister to stop acting on his own while ignoring sustainability.
?: It appears that the Prime Minister takes decision as he wishes. Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are a very good example. How will you handle this?
A: We have clearly stated that the current negotiations will not be in favour of Sri Lanka. We are opposing it. We have suggested targeting high-end market as we can't compete in the low-end market due to high salaries. We have to identify our niche market where we can utilize our human resources.
Also going for FTAs without having a comprehensive idea, is a disaster. The Prime Minister started negotiations without even considering the opinion of other parties. We have noticed that it is the UNP who always proposes which later are opposed by the SLFP. This has to change. The SLFP which is headed by the President Sirisena should also come up with proposals. We are insisting that the SLFP should have their own stance and then have a comprehensive dialogue. We will discuss our ideas with both and align with those who agree with us.
?: For the first time, a Ministry was set up for Sustainable Development. Are you working closely with them?
A: Having a separate ministry for Sustainable Development is good. But it cannot happen separately. Sustainable development is an integrated process. Hence, all the ministries need to work together. At present it is not happening. We believe that the subject of sustainable development should be under either the President or the Prime Minister. All the other ministries should follow the guidelines specified by the Sustainable Development Ministry. Currently it is not happening. That is why we say it should be under the President or Prime Minister. Having a ministry is good, but it is not good enough. The President should take the lead role.
?: What is the stance of NCSL regarding energy and transport?
A: Under the nation building national plan, we suggest to get rid of chemicals. As far as the transport sector is concerned, we suggest the government to encourage public transport. That will help reduce oil and vehicle imports. Then in the long-term we have to look into electrification.
As far as energy is concerned, we should go for renewable energy. That is the least costly option. We are pushing the government to go for 100 per cent renewable energy. The government had said they want to achieve it in 2030 which is a reasonable target.
?: Local Government elections were postponed. There is criticism about the proposed system as well. What are your thoughts on it?
A: We are not in favour of delaying any election but concerns raised by parties need to be considered. The laws regarding the Local Government election is a mixed system based on the report of the Dinesh Gunawardena Committee. However, the election system proposed in the 20th Amendment is a proportionate system within which the electoral basis will exist instead of preferential voting.
Now we have another issue since some minor parties such as the JVP are against this system. Under this system, the chances of the minor parties are limited. Therefore, we intend to go back to the Gam Sabha model, where there are area based seats with no proportionate basis. But the Parliamentary system would be different. It will be under the proportionate system. So, there will be two systems as these are two different institutions for two different purposes. It will take time though, but it is the ultimate solution.
?: In such a system where does the Provincial Councils fit in?
A: The PC system is in between and it is a white elephant. Instead of having another election for PCs, we suggest to form the PCs by getting members through Parliament and the Local Authority. There will be no separate election. It is a new initiative. If we touch the system that will create issues as it is affiliated with the ethnic issue also.
However, the best system is the District Sabha. But abolishing the PC system would make the situation worse. Hence, we are not recommending that.
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