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Report from the Vanni, Part VII(A)

Political Proposals

by K. Mylvaganam, January 6, 2006

Before presenting the report of group A to the parliament, it has to be presented to the All Party Conference (APC). It is there the “Watering Down” will commence. Once it is pruned by all and sundry, it will come to the parliament. A further pruning of the report is sure to take place there as well. Finally a skeleton of the present report will be carried to whichever country the next Peace Talks are going to take place.

 

A committee of experts appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksha has submitted four different reports, as all the seventeen members of the committee could not agree on a common one. Eleven members of this committee have jointly given their report, which is the one that has gained much attention from all concerned.

Names of Group A, consisting of eleven members, are given below in alphabetical order:

  1. Dr. Nirmala Chandrahasan
  2. Dr. Shivaji Felix
  3. Mr. R.K.W.Gunasekara
  4. Mr. Asoka Gunawardene
  5. Mr. Faiz Mustapha
  6. Dr. A. Rohan Perera
  7. Mrs. Theresa Perera
  8. Mr. N. Selvakumaran
  9. Dr. K. Vigneswaran
  10. Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne
  11. Mrs. M.S. Wickramasinghe

There are six Sinhalese, four Tamils and one Muslim in this group. These eleven members constitute almost two thirds of the entire committee. Even within this group, there were dissentions and they have marked their reservations while signing the report.

The members in group B, with only four members, are:

  1. Mr. Gomin Dayasiri
  2. Prof. G.H. Peiris 
  3. Mr. H.L. de Silva
  4. Mr. Manohara de Silva

The other two members are:

  1. Mr. M.D.D. Peiris
  2. Mr. K.H.J. Wijedasa

These two have submitted two separate reports individually.

The main objection of group B, among other matters, is the omission of the nature of a “Unitary State,” in keeping with the Mahinda Chinthana. These members obviously follow ardently the Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) & the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) philosophy. Among them, it should be pointed out that Gomin Dayasiri and H.L. de Silva were among those who participated in the latest Peace Talks held in Geneva on behalf of the Sri Lanka government.

Since the United National Party has expressed its support for the report submitted by group A, we may deal with that and that alone, as the other reports - if unacceptable to the UNP - I am not going to waste time commenting on them.

By saying this, I do not mean that the report by group A is acceptable to us – definitely not. But this is the one that would be tabled before the All Party Conference. If my guess is correct - I am guessing from past experience - even this report is not going to be presented in the original version to Parliament. It is sure to be watered down, like what happened to the proposal presented by former President Chandrika Kumaratunge in August 1995. It too got watered down and down, and even the skeleton that was left behind was not ever tabled before the parliament.

But the International Community today is not the same as it was in 1995. The international community has started breathing down the necks of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), on the opposition and on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), pushing them to find a political solution at the earliest. Hence the chances are that the report will be presented to the parliament, where there is going to be fireworks orchestrated by the Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinistic elements.

Before presenting the report of group A to the parliament, it has to be presented to the All Party Conference (APC). It is there the “Watering Down” will commence. Once it is pruned by all and sundry, it will come to the parliament. A further pruning of the report is sure to take place there as well. Finally a skeleton of the present report will be carried to whichever country the next Peace Talks are going to take place.

The UNP, in keeping to its word, will support this report as it is today, if nothing disastrous were to happen between the cup and the lip. If so, it will be passed in the parliament despite hot protests by the racial elements. A new drama is to begin when the JVP and the JHU withdrawtheir support to the GoSL, which will then be left at the mercy of the UNP to continue to be in “power.” I will refrain from going into the effects of this in this article.

Group A's report

Now I would like to go deeper into the report from a constructive and analytical point of view. Even though the words Federalism and Unitary State have been conveniently avoided from the text of the report, yet a mixture of both can be seen in it, tilting more towards a federal solution, but with the reins left in the hands of the Central government, referred to as the Centre hereafter.

To take the positive points first, I refer to Para 2.4, which states “The people of Sri Lanka shall be described in the constitution as being composed of ‘constituent peoples of SL.’ The right of every constituent people to develop its own language, its culture and preserve its history and the right to its due share of state power including the right to due representation in institutions of the government shall be recognized, without in any way weakening the common Sri Lankan identity”.

Another positive aspect in Para 5.1(a) is that there shall be two Vice-Presidents (VPs), who shall belong to the two different communities distinct to that of the President.”

I say this is positive, with reservations as to how these two are going to be made Vice-Presidents. If the Tamil and the Muslim VPs are duly elected by the Tamils and the Muslims respectively, it could be accepted as a democratic move

While dealing with the Unit of Devolution under Para 6, it is stated “The Unit of devolution should be as far as practicable, consist of geographically contiguous territory, be conducive to balanced regional development and be designed to enhance administrative efficiency.”

Now I shall delve into the clauses that I expect to face opposition from the Tamils. Parts in Italics refer to extracts from the Report.

Under 4.1 it is stated; “There should be in-built mechanism to discourage secessionist tendencies and to preserve the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state.” This again gets reiterated under Para 4.2, where it is said; “A Provincial Legislature or Provincial government shall not directly or indirectly promote an initiative towards the separation or secession from the Republic.”

This violates international law, as it denies the democratic right of a nation for self-determination.

Under Para 4.3 comes one of the dictatorial powers of the Republic. It says; “The emergency powers of the Centre to intervene in the Provinces in the event of a ‘clear and present’ danger to the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state and in cases where the Provincial authorities request the intervention of the Centre, shall be spelt out in the Constitution.”

This, in other words, means that the Centre can at anytime dissolve a Provincial state at its will, even at the drop of a hat.

Under Para 4.3:(a); “The President is empowered to declare a state of emergency in a Province, provided he is of opinion that the security of the state is threatened by armed insurrection.”  This is further qualified in 4.3(b); “The President shall declare an emergency on the advice of the Governor, consequent to advice given by the Chief Minister.”

The governor is an appointee of the President and, in the case of the Chief Minister, it is only his “advice” that is sought, but not his consent. Hence, at the end of the day, the President can declare a state of emergency anywhere at anytime according to his whims and fancies. This will face severe opposition from the Tamils and will never be accepted.

Para 5 “Power Sharing”.

In my opinion this should carry lot of weight and craved extensive recommendations. But I am disappointed to note that the Expert Committee has acted very casually and superficially in this respect. The experts have not gone into the depth of it. I would have expected the committee to have gone more comprehensively and extensively, stipulating the powers more deliberately and distinctly. Now it is left in the hands of the APC to quarrel over the subject. I give below the gist of its contents

Para 5:1  The Centre

5:1(a) “Recommends two directly or indirectly elected Vice Presidents.

Here no mention is made as to who is to elect these VPs.

5:1(b) “One VP shall be the chairman of the Second Chamber while the other shall be chairman of the High Post Commission (HPC). The Chairmanship shall be rotated between the two posts. The HPC shall replace the present Constitutional Council.”

5:1(c) “A Second Chamber comprising representatives from the Provinces would engender in the Provinces a strong feeling that they too have a distinct rule to play in the national legislature.”

At present the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has 22 members in the parliament and what is the “distinct role” they play in the national legislature? I do however admit that it will be beneficial for the rest of the seven Provinces but definitely not for the NorthEast Province.

Para 5:2

5:2(a) “The Group considers the executive power sharing on a proportional basis at the provincial level has its benefits particularly in post-conflict situations.

 

Para 6 deals with the “Unit of Devolution”. 

This is as vital as the Power Sharing section. Herein comes a dangerous clause which is:

6:2 “Unit of devolution should as far as practicable consist of geographically contiguous territory, be conducive to balanced regional development and be designed to enhance administrative efficiency.

6:3 “Unit of Devolution shall be the province.”

6:4 “----- ethnicity should not be the sole criterion for the establishments of units.”

This is definitely aimed at dividing the North and the East at some time or other.

Para 6:5 “----- any proposed merger of two or three provinces other than the North and East would not pose any problem if done through referenda in accordance with the provisions presently available in the 1978 Constitution and the Provincial Councils Act No42 of 1987. When two or three provinces are to be merged then a referendum should be held to obtain the will of the people.” This is fair enough. But a contradictory recommendation is made under Para 6.10. There it states; “The Northern and Eastern provinces to be merged for a period of 10 years and the wishes of the people of the Eastern Province on the continuation of the merger to be ascertained through a referendum at the end of ten years.”

Why is there this differential treatment? While, in all other 7 Provinces, the referendum is to be held in both the Provinces concerned, why in the case of the North and East should the referendum be held only in the East? Why is it taken for granted that the people in the North will have the merger permanently? How does one know what the attitude of the people of the North will be after ten years of merger? Suppose they are against the merger? Should they not be given the chance to vote when the referendum is held? I am certain this clause will be vehemently opposed by the Tamils.

Again under Para 6.10:(D) it states; “The Northern and Eastern Provinces to be separate provinces with an Apex Council for coordination on matters of common interest.”

Why again this discrimination against the NorthEast, when such a provision does not apply for any other Provinces merged after a referendum? This provision is sure to be dumped by the Tamils. This is typical British strategy – Divide and Rule.

However, under Para 6.10: (D)(a) it says: “This proposal was made to the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee in 1992 and that proposal was rejected both by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC).”

When the proposal was rejected 15 years back, why bring it back now when things have changed drastically in the favour of the Tamils, as they now have a de facto government in place already?

Para 7: Distribution of Powers.

Frankly I am a bit confused as to why this paragraph was not amalgamated with Para 5 which says “Power Sharing.” Now that the Committee/Group has done it for reasons best known to them, let us try to analyse it.

7:3 “The Group recommends that subjects such as Defense, National Security, Foreign Affairs Immigration/Citizenship, Communication, National Transportation, International Commerce/Trade, Maritime Zones and Shipping and Navigation, which are necessary to ensure territorial integrity and economic unity of Sri Lanka shall be reserved to the centre.”

Defense and Security, I agree, should be in the hands of the centre to safeguard the country, if and when a foreign power invades Sri Lanka. But what the Expert Group means here is the internal matter. If my assumption is correct, then the Tamils will prefer the Provincial State to be in charge of the Defense and Security of its Province. It is absolutely essential to have at least the police force, if not the military as well, under the control of the Provincial State Authorities. Let us not forget the fact when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) invaded Sri Lanka in 1987, it was the Tamil military that fought the battle all alone against the IPKF. Of course the Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the United National Party (UNP) gave their moral support to the Tamils when they fought the IPKF. The Sri Lanka army was a passive onlooker.

The other issue is “National Transportation.” If this means transport of goods between Provinces, it is ridiculous. Should one get the approval from the centre to transport a lorry load of Bananas from Klinochchi to Madawachchi? In other words, the Tamils in Jaffna, for example, are only permitted to sell their onions in the Chunnakam market.

Next is “International Trade and Commerce.” Why cannot the Provinces carry on International Trade by themselves? When the NorthEast Province has two harbours – the KKS and Trinco – and three airports, why should the goods be channeled through Colombo? Is it because the Centre wants to collect the import/export tax or wants to check everything that is going in and out of the provinces, especially to the NorthEast?

Another vital factor is the “Maritime Zones, Shipping and Navigation.” These must be left in the hands of the Provincial States if we are talking of “Maximum Devolution of Powers.” If these matters are not under the Provincial States, then we will continue to suffer as we are suffering now. The fisherman will have to get special permits even if he wants to go the sea for a few hours in the day, leave alone the nights, which is completely banned. The NorthEast has nearly 60% of the coastal region of the island and one of the main sources of income is fishing. Several thousands of families are dependant on this income, both directly and indirectly. We now experience the unbelievable price of fish in Jaffna - Rs.500.00 to Rs.2000.00 and prawns at Rs.1500.00/kg. If fishing is to be controlled by the state and National Transport is also under the Centre, as mentioned above, the fishermen will be compelled to sell their catch only at their own seashore or in the local market. Fishing is to be developed on a very large scale using big trawlers and canning plants on board and the products are to be shipped abroad. For this purpose, the Shipping and Navigation, too, must come under the Provincial State.

The Group says that these are essential to ensure the “Integrity and Economic Unity of Sri Lanka.” We have heard this slogan so many times under the notorious “Mahinda Chinthana.” What the Expert Group failed to mention was the terminology “Unitary State.” It is only under a Unitary State that all the above can come under the Centre.

However, in fairness to the Expert Group, I should refer to Para 7:6. Therein it states; “In view of the historical fact that the Tamil people have been agitating for self-rule over a period of time, and the present conflict have its origin in that agitation, the Group recommends that all subjects and functions in the Concurrent List be deemed to be subjects and functions of the Provincial Unit/s of the North-East. This would act as possible intrusions by the Centre into areas of Provincial competence.”

Unfortunately, the “Concurrent List” mentioned above is not accessible to me. Hence, I am unable to comment on it.

Para 8: Judiciary (to be continued)