Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

A Military Pathway to Nationbuilding

by Professor A.M. Navaratna- Bandara, Groundviews, Colombo, July 16, 2008

During the last twenty years the 13th Amendment has proved that it cannot devolve powers to the provinces. The legal, administrative and fiscal tensions prevailing in the provincial administrations are well documented now. The functions assigned to the provinces such as education, health services, agriculture, irrigation, animal husbandry, live- stock development etc. have become meaningless due to legal and financial constrains imposed by the 13th Amendment itself. The 13th Amendment is a mockery to democratic devolution.

The leaders of the Tamil community and the left movement, who had joined the governments of UNP and SLFP since independence, had helped the leaders of these two parties to bring this country to the present catastrophe - war and more war. The Tamil leaders in the first two cabinets supported the Citizenship and the Franchise Acts of 1948-49 which excluded the Tamils of recent Indian origin from the Sri Lankan nationhood. In 1967 when the Dudley Senanayake government abandoned the District Council proposal which was to provide a limited autonomy to the North-East provinces, the Tamil Congress stayed with the government and the Federal Party continued the support they extended to the government in the beginning though the party advised its minister to resign.

The country’s left did almost the same when they found comfort in ministerial appointments in the 70s. They helped the SLFP leaders to establish an ethnic dominance system through the constitution of 1972, which incorporated the Sinhala Only policy and other majoritarian elements, which were not accepted by them in the 1950s, when they followed the policy of “Two Languages and One Country” - one of the finest forecasts we ever had in Sri Lanka.

Both the Tamil and the Left parties betrayed the principles they cherished and the interests of the community or the social groups they represented, when they associated with the SLFP and the UNP governments. Same thing is continuing today. What Minister Tissa Vitharana did with the interim proposal of the APRC [All Party Representative Conference] was following the footsteps of his predecessors in the LSSP.

During the last twenty years the 13th Amendment has proved that it cannot devolve powers to the provinces. The legal, administrative and fiscal tensions prevailing in the provincial administrations are well documented now. The functions assigned to the provinces such as education, health services, agriculture, irrigation, animal husbandry, live- stock development etc. have become meaningless due to legal and financial constrains imposed by the 13th Amendment itself. The 13th Amendment is a mockery to democratic devolution.

The Provincial Councils (PCs) were instrumental in strengthening the grip of the Central government over the Provincial populations through the political men and women hand picked for the positions in the PCs by the party leaders or the Executive President. The PCs have become agents of the Centre.

The daily feature in the PC system is re-centralization not decentralization. Finally the Presidency which has gradually established an autocratic rule over all the other institutions in the state is now well in control in the Provincial administration through the administrative arm controlled by the Governor and the Chief Secretary both of whom are Presidential appointees.

Therefore the result of the implementation of the Vitharana proposal would be giving “some more legal powers (not practical powers) to the President’s own men and women already at the apex of the PCs”. In the North-East, it would be “powers to the Chairperson appointed to the Northern Interim Council by the President and the victor in the election to be held in the Eastern Province”, which is now opened for the new breed of Tamil politicians who are contesting for votes publicly waveing guns in their arms (with a coalition agreement with the governing party).

In view of the precarious situation prevailing and developing in the North-East one could easily visualize what would happen to the troubled North-East as a result of the proposal - “full implementation of the 13th Amendment” - the interim proposal submitted by the Presidential trouble shooter.

Why has President Rajapaksa who boycotted PCs in 1988 and came to power with a big noise on “protecting the unitary state” in his third year in power jumped onto the 13th Amendment bandwagon now? To me in 1987 the 13th Amendment brought us not a political solution but a military solution.

It was just an addendum to the military action agreed upon by the two leaders who signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. Many have forgotten the fact that the 13th Amendment facilitated a justification for the arrival of an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987. It provided a political justification for the Indian government to send its armies to Sri Lanka. The PCs was the “peace” the Indian Force tried to keep in the North-East during 1987-1991.

When India agreed to leave Sri Lanka with humiliation after its failure to tame the LTTE, Mr. Vardharajha Perumal, the Chief Minister of the Northern and Eastern Provincial council who was there to provide political support to the IPKF in the North-East, abdicated his authority and sought shelter in India. That marked the beginning of the recentralization process.

Just after that, the government of R. Premadasa decided to cancel its earlier decision to hand over the District Secretaries to the PCs. The next step was to bring back the Divisional Secretaries handed over to the PCs by the previous administration. The recentralization process which is continuing even today entered the scene afterwards. After the political leadership abandoned the implementation of the Indo-Lanka Accord, the task of carrying forward the PC system became the responsibility left to the administrative leaders in the PC system.

The PCs never received the money allocated in the national budget fully (this will explain if one goes through the annuals of the Central Bank or the data available with the Finance Commission). Every year the PCs lost millions of rupees due to the delay and non release of funds on time by the Treasury. The PCs were not provided even a legal draftsman to draft their statutes.

The PCs do not have powers and finances to establish their own administrative arm. The tax base provided by the 13th Amendment is not enough to manage their day to day affairs, let alone development.

The PCs have to depend on the money provided by the Central government. As such the full implementation is not possible even if the President used his executive authority.

We know many schools and hospitals earlier handed over to the Provinces were returned to the government due to lack of funds by the PCs themselves.

The existing PC system would collapse if the President agrees to hand over the police powers to them. The executive leadership is well aware of this situation.