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61st Independence Day

Independence struggle for a hundred and thirty three years

Our chronicle Mahavansa is written from the arrival of Prince Vijaya in 544 BC. The rule by a king lasted for thousands of years until the last monarch of Sinhale Sri Wickramarajasingha, was taken captive as a prisoner by the British and till the 2nd of March 1815 on which date the Kandyan Convention was signed in the audience hall at Senkadagala.

Pomp and pageantry at independence celebration

From this date our country was ruled by the English East India Trading Company on behalf of the king in England and subsequently as a colony of the British until we became a dominion in the Common wealth.

This article is written to reminiscent the events that led to our present day rule by an Executive President elected by the people.

The maritime provinces that were ruled by the English East India Trading Company from Madras as their Headquarters was relieved and brought under the English Crown as a Colony on 01st January 1802. This was the beginning of the rule of Ceylon as a Crown Colony. The English East India Trading Company ruled over India, Madras, Bombay, Bengal etc. when India was a Crown Colony under the British. For about two hundred years the Indian Civil Service was running the Colony at their will and powers. Governor Fredrick North copies the Indian model to govern Ceylon and created in 1802 a parallel service to the Indian Civil Service by starting the Ceylon Civil Service with eight English youths who accompanied him to the country. Later twenty English youths sent by the Colonial Secretary joined the ranks and much later when the British left ruling India, some officers of the Indian Civil Services were absorbed to the Ceylon Civil Service.

Thus it is seen that the Civil Servants were managing the affairs of the country. The English educated civil servants were all powerful and they were on behalf of the Crown Members of the Executive and Legislative Councils. The Civil Servants managed the affairs of Colombo as well as the provinces. They were also empowered in Judicial matters as well. All laws in the country were promulgated by the Governor with the assistance of a Board.

This Advisory Board consisted of the Chief Justice, Commander of the Forces, Secretary of State for Colonies and two others appointed by the Governor.

The annual budget for the country was prepared by the Governor. For this purpose he summoned all the Government Agents to Colombo. This practice of preparing the annual budget started by Governor William Gregory continued until it was abandoned by Sir Arthur Gordon.

Evolution of self rule

In the month of April 1829, King George IV appointed Major W.M.C. Colebrook to recommend a suitable Constitution for Ceylon. He was requested to report on necessary amendments to the existing laws in the country, the distribution and composition of the population, and how the administration of the country will affect various population groups. Later Charles Hay Cameron was appointed to assist him. Cameron's main responsibilities were to study the Laws of the country and to recommend various amendments necessary to the existing legal system. The Colebrook - Cameron Commission travelled through out the country, met people's representatives, delegations, listened to their views, recorded evidence from various organizations, groups and representatives of the people including Tamils, Europeans, Malays, Burghers. They recorded evidence on a questionnaire consisting of four hundred and eighty five points. Ehelepola Maha Adikaram too submitted his views to the Commission.

This Commission recommended the establishment of a Legislative and an Executive Council to balance the powers of the Governor. Cameron recommended the establishment of a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and two Puisne Judges. The initial steps to give power to the peoples representatives commenced with the establishment of a Legislative Council. The first Legislative Council which was scheduled to meet in May 1884 had to be postponed as six unofficial members to this body could not be selected.

At last the council was established with the selection of John Reed a businessman, Johannes Godfrid Felix the Interpreter Mudliyar of the Supreme Court, Jeffrey, a businessman, J.P. Hilband a Burgher Lawyer, P.H. Bhird and A. Kumaraswamy the Interpreter Mudliyar of the Royal Revenue Commissioner to represent the Tamil Community. However the agitations of the people to increase the number of elected representatives of the Council continued. The British rulers were of the view that the Ceylonese were not so matured and knowledgeable to have more elected representatives in these Councils. But the public opinion to have more elected representatives was a voice to reckon with towards the end of the nineteenth century.

The elected representatives were given a period of five years instead of the three year period which they were already entitled to. Sir Henry McCullum recommended that the Legislative Council should have English educated representatives on the basis of one member each for the Kandyan and Low Country.

Sinhalese and the Muslims, and two members for the Tamil community. However the Legislative Council faced a crisis when the Council failed to pass the votes on the maintenance of the British Army as the nominated representatives C.A. Lawrance, George Wall and the elected representatives W. Thomson, James Coper, James de Alwis and J. Eaton unanimously resigned from the Council.

Legislative and executive councils

The executive committee system was introduced in 1832. The main objective was to balance the powers vested with the Governor in earning revenue and expenditure incurred in the development activities. Though the Governor had the powers to veto the decisions of the Council the Governor usually did not exercise such powers as he had to explain to the Colonial Secretary reasons why such action was taken. The members of this Council were the Colonial Secretary, the Kings Counsel, the Royal Treasurer, the Government Agent of the Central Province and the Officer commanding the Army. Three out of this five were members of the Civil Services. Making laws of the country were entrusted to these officers and the Governor. The Civil Service Officers were so powerful that they were members of the Executive as well as Legislative Councils. Later the Legislative Council formed under the guidance and advise of the Chief Justice Sir Alexander Jhonston had powers to frame necessary legislation for the country.

The number of nominated members from the first Legislative Council remained more than the elected members until this composition changed in the first Council established in 1921. A jury in the Supreme Court was established. The powers of the Civil Servants who were members of these Councils were reduced to some extent with the establishment of a Supreme Court under a Royal charter in 1861.

The first Supreme Court consisted of Codrington Edmund Carrington as the Chief Justice and another, Edmond Henry Lucington designated as Puisne Judge who were sent from England. Six Courts were established for the maritime provinces presided over by a Civil Service Officer while in the Kandyan kingdom from 1815 to 1832 judicial matters rested with the Board of Commissioners appointed to administer area. After the rebellion of 1817 Army Officers were appointed to rule the Districts. Accordingly Major Rojer who was first appointed to Alupotha was later shifted to Badulla as the Government Agent from 1828 up to 1845. Rojessangama is named after him. Lt. Col. J. Campbell was appointed in charge of Hatara Korale and Nuwara Kalaviya and George A. Forbes was appointed to Matale. Out of the nine Govt. Agents in 1818 six were Army Officers, while out of eleven Govt. Agents in 1831 nine were Army Officers. The British Government placed these Officers under strict disciplinary control. So much so that the Government Agent Nuwara - Eiliya de La Mousier who changed his name to Abdul Hameed to marry a second wife was dismissed from service. Lamasooriyagama and Lamasooriyawela in Walapane is named after him. The Government Agent Anuradhapura H.R. Freeman who won the confidence of the people was elected as the NCP member to State Council. P.A. Dyke who was the Government Agent in the North from 1829 to 1867 was so popular among the people that he was known as the "Raja of the North."

According to the recommendations of the 1833 Colebrook Commission the Kandyan provinces were amalgamated to the maritime provinces to have a uniform system of administration to the whole country. The whole island was first divided into five provinces as Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western and Central and placed under a Government Agent. Later these provinces were further divided into Districts under an Assistant Government Agent. Later 1845 North Western, in 1873 a Northern Central and in 1889 Uva Provinces were created. These divisions remained even after Independence and Additional Districts Moneragala and Mannar were created in 1960 and Ampara to develop the Digamadulla area was created in 1961.

Moneragala District in 1960 was established for the Development of Lower Uva area. Mulaitivu was created 1978 and Kilinochchi in 1984. The legacy we inherited from the administration of Ceylon under the British East India Trading Company is the Kachcheri system - the word "Kachcheri" is a Hindi word we have derived from the Malabarshi language. Today Kachcheri is the indispensable and indefeasible administrative headquarters of a District.

Clamour for representative Government

The agitations for a representative form of Government surfaced throughout the country. "The Ceylon League" was formed to continue these agitations. The League held public meetings, met peoples representatives, leaders of groups and organisation and even drafted a Constitution suitable for the country. Fifty three years after the Kandyan Convention signed in 2nd March 1815 to cede the country to British, it was Kandy that the first salvo for freedom was fired in 1868 with the printing of a newspaper named "Kandy Herald." the editor of Kandy Herald Richard Morgan gave the leadership for these propaganda meetings held all over the island. The Burgher community including leaders such as Dr. Christopher Elliot, A.M. Ferguson, George Wall and the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslims who were English educated at the time joined the struggle. George Wall sailed to England to obtain the support of the Members of the British Parliament to win freedom to Ceylon.

The end results of these agitations led to the dissolution of the old Council and the establishment of a new State Council in January 1917. Later in 1920 the new Donoughmore Constitution was introduced.

The ratio of 2:1 which existed to represent the minority communities was reduced to 5:1 by this commission which led to the Jaffna Tamils boycott the elections under the new Constitution. This resulted in no Tamils representing Tamil community in the first State Council.

They demanded a representation on the ratio of 50:50. Their argument was that they were more advanced in Education and therefore more knowledgeable than the Sinhalese and also they were economically more sound than the rest of the communities who lived here.

Tamils were more advanced than the rest of the communities because they were exposed to English education introduced by the Dutch and English in the Jaffna peninsula under the foreign missionaries. For instance a report issued as far back as 1885 states that there were 147 graduates in Jaffna out of which 57 were in the teaching profession in Jaffna and Madras. There were 20 graduates in other Government services while 10 were teachers in other Districts out of Jaffna in Southern Ceylon and six were teaching English to affluent families out of Jaffna. Because of the education systems started by the Missionaries in the peninsula they were holding high positions in public service.

These were the reasons for their "Superiority complex" that led to the demand of representations in the council on a 50:50 basis. This complex as defined as "paranoid schizophrenic" in Mental psychology led to today's crisis brewing to separatism and demand a division of the country to an Eelam State in the present day. The Executive Committee form of Government was introduced to balance power under these situations. In 1944 Soulbury Commission was appointed to recommend suitable measures to a new form of Government.

This commission totally rejected the 50:50 ratio and recommended a form of Cabinet Government based on the Westminster model with a bi-cameral legislature consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives with Dominion status within the Commonwealth.

This Constitution safeguarded the interests of the minority communities with clause 29 (2) which could be repealed only with a two-third majority according to clause 29 (4) of the Constitution.

The term of a elected Representative was five years while a Senator nominated by the Governor held office for six years.

The Senate had power to delay the laws passed by the Parliament for a period ranging from one to two years. The Soulbury Commission report was adopted with a vote of 50 members voting for it. Later in 1972 the Republican Constitution was adopted declaring Sri Lanka a Republic and the Parliament became a National State Assembly.

In 1978 the Constitution with an Executive Presidency and a proportional representative system of members was introduced.

This system of representation abolished the earlier system of electoral representation and the new system of District representation was introduced.

The net result is that the voter has no representative for the electorate and he has to go to the District representatives to get his needs attended to.

At the same time this system has created unprecedented bargaining power to minority communities and they hold the majority community leaders at ransom. The ethnic representations rejected by the Donoughmore Commission more than half a century ago has come to play in another guise and how long we are able to retain the unitary State and celebrate Independence will be decided in course of time only.

Sources: Diaries of Leonard Woolf,

History of Ceylon of Schools - S.G. Perera,

Report of the Sinhala Commission.

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