Similar people’s dialogues have already been held in Kurunegala, Colombo and Badulla aimed at building awareness of the new Constitution and explaining its importance. Ten discussions in total, supported by CAFOD, will be held around the country, including the North and East.
The three facilitators were journalist and Convenor of Puravesi Balaya (Citizens Power) Gamini Viyangoda, lawyer and Chairman of the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms Lal Wijenayake and lawyer Crishmal Warnasuriya.
At the meeting, many people said they did not know the difference between a Federal and a Unitary state and believed that Federalism meant separation. Others thought that the government would not be able to win a referendum on Constitutional reform while some people voiced the opinion that although many fundamental rights were enshrined in the Constitution, Sri Lankans were not knowledgeable enough to fight for those rights through the legislative system. Some believed that the new Constitution was being drafted by the United States. The facilitators clarified the misconceptions and explained the issues.
Other questions raised included what were the rights of the Sinhala people if they went to Jaffna, how the centre could retake the powers if the Provincial Councils misused their authority, why Provincial Councils needed so much money when they were not providing services to the people and whether devolution would unite or divide people.
Estate workers complained that their rights were not addressed in the Constitution and asked how they could be guaranteed. One participant wanted all references to religion removed from the new Constitution.
Mr Wijenayake described the process of framing and passing a new Constitution. Mr Viyangoda explained why a citizen needed a Constitution while Mr Warnasuriya described the duties and roles of citizens in implementing the Constitution.