Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Kilinochchi Has Fallen

What next?

by T. Sabaratnam, The Bottom Line, Colombo, January 7, 2009

The central government retracted the powers to maintain of most of the roads in the country by amending the Thoroughfares Ordinance, which empowers the Minister in charge of highways to declare a road or a class of roads as national highways. The Minister has made use of that amendment to declare all A Class roads and B Class roads as national highways. Thus, most of the roads in the country are in the hands of the central government. And India is talking about the full implementation of the 13th Amendment!

What the Tamils have always feared seems to be taking place. The voice against a political settlement is growing stronger. The JVP has started the shouting. Its former comrades in the National Freedom Front (NFF) have joined in. The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) is trying to beat them.

The attack is aimed at the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) headed by the well-meaning gentleman Science and Technology Minister Professor Tissa Vitarana. Abolish the APRC, the Patriotic National Centre, a newly created affiliate of the JVP has demanded. The JVP is not participating in the APRC deliberations.

The JHU had accused the USA of double dealing. Its ire against the country was caused by US State Department Spokesman Gordon Duguid’s call for peace dialogue between the government and the Tamils. The JHU took offence because the US said: “We would also like to see that the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil opposition enter into a discussion that will resolve the legitimate issues held by the Tamils.”

The JHU statement also took a swipe at India too. India’s crime was the statement that its Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon issued about the need for a political solution. The Indians are now talking only about the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which the then democratic leadership, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) had rejected as insufficient.

Tamils are not upset about the JVP’s call for the abolition of the APRC. It had done nothing to benefit them. Its only achievement was the recommendation for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. And that too had not been implemented for over nine months.

The Eastern Provincial Council has grown impatient about its non-implementation. The provincial council passed a resolution calling for the implementation of the 13th Amendment. A frustrated Chief Minister Pillaiyan appealed two weeks ago to the government to implement the Amendment. Nothing has happened. And Eastern Province Minister M.L.A.M. Hisbulla has repeatedly expressed his frustration. He has said that he does not have powers to appoint even a peon. He has also said that he does not have the power to undertake any development work. The central government does the work and informs the provincial council about it. Hisbulla has repeatedly said that what is in force today in terms of the 13th Amendment is just the shell of what it was intended to be. The watering down began soon after its enactment in 1987.

I covered all the meetings held at the ministerial and administrative levels to work out the sharing of power between the centre and the provinces. I witnessed the resistance the central government officials put up to prevent the handing over of their powers to the provinces. They came up with all kinds of excuses to retain the powers with themselves. Former Northeast Chief Minister S. Varatharaja Perumal experienced that difficulty. He complained about it to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Now, Hisbulla is voicing that frustration.

The centre was resisting the devolution of powers from the start. It happened in the case of the Agrarian Services Bill and the Transport Commission Bill, both being subjects devolved to the provinces.

And during implementation, several rules were adopted to take back the powers given earlier. It was evident in the important areas of education, health and roads. It was done making use of the faults in the drafting of the 13th Amendment. The law states that national schools should be administered by the central government and the others by the provincial councils. But it does not spell out the criteria to classify a school as a national school. That allows the Minister of Education of the Central Government to declare a school a national school and take it over. The central government has declared several schools, especially in the Amparai District as national schools.

In the health sector, teaching hospitals belong to the central government and it has taken over all the main hospitals by declaring them teaching hospitals. The situation with roads is similar. The 13th Amendment says that national highways belong to the central government. There is no mechanism to decide which roads should be declared national highways.

The central government retracted the powers to maintain of most of the roads in the country by amending the Thoroughfares Ordinance, which empowers the Minister in charge of highways to declare a road or a class of roads as national highways. The Minister has made use of that amendment to declare all A Class roads and B Class roads as national highways. Thus, most of the roads in the country are in the hands of the central government. And India is talking about the full implementation of the 13th Amendment!

We know land and Police powers are yet to be devolved. The JHU has expressed opposition to the devolution of those powers. In Monday’s statement, it had expressed its opposition to the devolution of land and Police powers to the provincial councils. It has pointed out that India is experiencing trouble because it devolved land and Police powers to the states.

The Tamils fear that the opposition to the devolution of power and political talks will grow stronger with the further weakening of the LTTE. But, the only welcome sign is that the UNP has taken a stand supporting devolution of powers and a political settlement. Are the Sinhalese people in a mood to listen to that?

In Tamil Nadu there is anger against Delhi. How it will affect the Indian policy is not clear. There are indications that key officials handling India’s foreign policy will be in trouble. The emotionally debated question is; why Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee did not keep his promise to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to visit Colombo.