In the Name of Interim Administration 



Delay always breeds danger; and to protract a great design is often to ruin it.  ~Miguel De Cervantes


Iqbal Athas, The Sunday Times' defense columnist, in his latest column (20/7/2003) has published the Sri Lankan Government's Interim Administration proposals to the LTTE.  The analysis below is entirely based on the Sunday Times column   It should also be noted that the proposal for an administrative arrangement is presented as a framework - not a final document -, which in itself must be subject for dialogue between the parties.  Further, according to the Hindustan Times Correspondent BK Balachandran, the Government has sent a secret proposal, apart from a public one, to the LTTE aimed at persuading the organization to rejoin peace talks.


A common sense-driven study of the document published in The Sunday Times, reveals that the proposals by the Government are solely intended to get the LTTE back to the negotiation table and to convince the international community that the Peace Process is back in progress.  It is a cover up strategy to demonstrate to the world that "we are still talking" and therefore "there are no problems".  The second aspect of the strategy is to lure the LTTE into a stalemate, whilst the Government enhances its military strength and international safety net.


Government Strategy

The Government's strategy is intended to lure the LTTE into a lull, both militarily and politically, whilst resurrecting the economy in the south and strengthening its international safety net.  The Government expects the LTTE to unilaterally start the war out of frustration of no progress either in restoring normalcy in the North and East or reaching a final political solution. This is the same kind of strategy adopted by JR Jeywardena, R Premedasa and Chandrika Kumaratunga, which led to breakdown of negotiations and resumption of war on previous occasions.

It is no secret that the LTTE is renowned for its impatience with negotiations and stalemates. However, the organisation has demonstrated tremendous patience recently in the wake of two of their ships being destroyed with their crew by the Sri Lankan Government and lack of progress in the peace talks. They have demonstrated to the world they will not be provoked and that the organisation is committed to exploring all the avenues to a peaceful settlement.


LTTE's failure to directly criticize the Ranil Wickramasinghe government for the sinking of two of their vessels and loss of two dozen guerrillas, has provided the Government with a comfort zone.  The LTTE's failure to insist on an Interim Administration in the plenary sessions of the peace talks and its failure to seek legal opinion on the establishment of SIHRN has also provided the government with a "free kick".


The latest proposal from the Government is a well-set trap for the LTTE.  The proposals portray a Win – Lose scenario in favor of the Government.  The proposals are formulated in such a way, that whether the LTTE accepts or rejects proposals, it is the Government, which is going to be beneficiary and the LTTE, is going to be on the wrong side of the fence.  However, it will be interesting to see how Mr. Prabakaran will react to this trap.  Being a master tactician and possessing a wealth of experience under his belt, the Tamil people could be assured that the LTTE leader will counter this Politico-Military trap in his very own style.


Let me analyse the two scenarios: 

1.) if the LTTE accepts the proposals and 

2.) if it rejects the same, and how the Government stands to benefit at the expense of the LTTE. 


Scenario 1: LTTE Rejects the Proposals

The Introduction to the Proposals state that "Given the importance attached to a continued dialogue at all levels, the proposal for an administrative arrangement is presented as framework - not a final document - which in itself must be subject for dialogue between the parties". That means LTTE does not have the option of out right rejection. LTTE has been demanding a set of proposals in writing, which are concrete and legally valid.  The Government has delivered a written set of proposals, which for the common man and the international community may seem reasonable.  The proposals offer the LTTE a majority in the council, which has all the powers (except security, land and revenue) relating to reconstruction and rehabilitation.  Further, the Government has stated that this is not a final document and has invited the LTTE for talks to discuss the proposals.


It is the Government and not the LTTE, which stands to benefit if the LTTE returns to the negotiating table, even if it is to discuss the proposals.  If the LTTE returns to the negotiating table, the government will portray it as a "resumption of peace talks" to the international community and investors, which will enable it to resurrect the economy in Southern Sri Lanka. More importantly, the aid money pledged at the Tokyo Conference will start to flow in, perhaps even before acceptable structures are in place to utilise the funds. Meanwhile, the LTTE will be participating in talks about the Interim Administrative proposals with the Government and a Muslim negotiation. 


In the Introduction to the proposals the Government suggests that "A Muslim delegation must participate in the discussions relating to establishment of a provisional administrative structure for the Northern and Eastern Provinces; and - That it should be open to the SLMC to submit separate proposal pertaining to the establishment of the above mentioned structure".


This means, the LTTE will have to negotiate not only with the Government, but also with a Muslim delegation at the same time.  Negotiating with two separate parties will mean that the negotiations will be prolonged and tedious.  This is a "Procrastination strategy" of the Government, which serves the interests of the Sinhala hardliners who are opposed to an Interim Administration being handed over to the LTTE.


If the LTTE refuses to come to the negotiating table it stands to lose the goodwill it has accumulated over the last two years with the International Community.  It has been widely reported that the International Community is appreciative of the LTTE's demand for an Interim Administration.  The LTTE has acknowledged this support by meeting Norwegian, Canadian and Japanese diplomats, whilst at the same time refusing to sit down face to face with any Government officials. From the International Community's perspective, the Government has been fair by sending a written set of proposals (as demanded by the LTTE) and has left an option open for further negotiation.  Therefore they will find it hard to digest any reason for the LTTE to reject the proposals and a refusal to discuss the same in a face-to-face forum. Therefore, the Government stands to benefit if the LTTE refuses to come to the negotiating table to discuss the latest proposals. 


The Government has set LTTE a "Catch 22" trap if it wants to reject the proposal.  If it rejects the proposals, then it will have to come to the negotiating table, to negotiate with the Government and Muslim delegations.  If it rejects the proposals and refuses to talk, then it stands to lose the goodwill of the international community.


Scenario 2: LTTE Accepts the Proposals

If the LTTE accepts the proposals as is, the Government has not made the life for the organization easier either.  In an attempt to confine the set up within the constitution and satisfy the other stakeholders (Muslims, and the PA) the Government has come up with a proposal which will make the council an inefficient mechanism, which will be no different from the Sri Lankan bureaucracy.


The proposed council constitutes nominees from the LTTE, Government, Opposition (PA) and Muslims, but ensures a majority for the LTTE in numbers.  It is interesting to note that when Ranil Wickramasinghe coined the "Interim Administration" mantra in his election manifesto he was only talking about the LTTE. There was no mention of sharing the Interim Administration with the PA or Muslims for that matter.  Mr. Wickramasinghe, a typical Sinhala politician, has once again failed to deliver on his promises.  Mr. Wickramasinghe is so paranoid of using the term "Interim Administration"; he prefers the "Provisional Administrative Council" which he thinks might get confused with the "Provincial Council" set up which is already in operation in the other parts of the country. Clever thinking Mr. Wickramasinghe!


How can Mr. Wickramasinghe expect the LTTE to participate in a council with a PA nominee? The PA has made it clear that it intends to sabotage the peace process.  It makes me wonder whether Mr. Wickramasinghe wants to sabotage the running of the Interim Administration by appointing a PA nominee.


The proposals contain the following clauses regarding the election and operation of the Chairperson of the council:

Alt. 1 There shall be two chairpersons, one representing the LTTE and the other the GOSL elected by, and from amongst the members of the Council. Each chairperson shall have the right to veto any proposal brought before the Council.
Alt. 2 There shall be one Chairperson elected from amongst the members of the Council. If alternative 2 is selected, the following Para shall be included concerning decisions of the Council.

Any decision of the Council, which affects either the Muslim, or the Sinhala Community, can only be made valid if the decision is supported by:

a. A majority of the Members of the Council, and
b. A majority of the representatives of the Muslim or the Sinhala communities as the case may be.


These provisions virtually neutralises the "majority" granted to the LTTE in terms of numbers.  If Alt 1 is accepted by the LTTE, the Government still have a veto to reject any proposals.  This means compromises and prolonged discussions, resulting in waste of time and resources.  If Alt 2 is accepted by the LTTE, then it means the same.  It is pretty obvious that the Sinhala and Muslim nominees will be antagonistic towards the LTTE.  Further "decisions which affect the Muslim or Sinhala community" is a very subjective provision.  What defines a decision as that affects the Sinhala and Muslim communities? Who is the jury to decide whether the decision harms the Sinhala and Muslim communities?


It is rather hypocritical that the Sri Lankan government is endeavouring to protect the interests of the minorities who live in the North East through these provisions, even for an Interim Administration.  What protections do the Tamil Minority have in the Sri Lankan constitution, regarding "any decisions which affect the Tamil community"? Do they have an equal and proper say in electing the head of the government of Sri Lanka?  These are the fundamental problems that have lead to the ethnic problem, which need remedy.  It is not only the minorities in North East who need a constitutional protection, but the Tamils who are a minority in the Island.


Successive Sri Lankan Governments have been reluctant to change the constitutions to protect the interests of the minority Tamils.  The 1972 constitution eliminated the little protection the 1947 Soulbury Constitution had for the Tamils.  Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution protected the minority communities against discrimination. Section 29 (2c) prohibited Parliament from enacting laws that “confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions.” The 1972 constitution makers dropped this safeguard for the minorities. If the Government is so serious of protecting the rights of the minorities in one part of the country (which it hardly controls), then it should first practice what it preaches for the entire country, not just for the North and East.  


The other important aspect, which is missing in the proposals, is the provisions relating to the Power sharing between the Central Government and the Interim Administration.  The Sri Lankan constitution is by default Central Government centric.  The proposal fails to indicate any arrangement for the interaction between the proposed Interim Council and the Central Government.  Without such an indication, relations between the two may be so hostile that little will be accomplished.  Provincial Councils in the rest of the country are not very effective.


The District Council set up is also a waste of resources and reflects the typical bureaucratically-oriented mindset of the Sri Lankan Government.  The North East is not a vast area and could be served well by the Interim Administration Council. The local bodies in the area could be linked to the council instead of establishing another layer of bureaucracy.  Establishing District Councils with ethnic composition of the respective Districts will further hinder implementation of projects.  


Overall objective 

The Interim Administration or the Provisional Administrative Council, on paper, has powers to formulate policies and implementation of projects.  However, the Government has set obstacles both at the Policy Formulation level (by including PA, and Muslim Nominees and the veto in regard to decisions which may affect the Sinhala and Muslim communities or by the Government-nominated Chairperson) and the Policy Implementation stage (by establishing a District Council with ethnic composition of the respective Districts).  

LTTE’S Possible New Thinking

Mr. Thamilchelvan, the head of the LTTE’s political division, during his recent visit to Batticaloa said, “We will submit our counter proposals to the UNF government which could satisfy the expectations and reflect the interests of our people. We are prepared to recommence peace talks if the government accepts our counter proposals. We would be glad if the government comes forward to solve the Tamil people’s problem through peaceful means, understanding our stand.”

Contrast this with LTTE’s chief negotiator Mr. Anton Balasingham’s observation a few weeks ago. In his response to the Prime Minister's address to the nation, Mr. Anton Balasingham observes, "Operating within the confines of an entrenched constitution and facing a hostile President, Ranil’s administration is resistant to offer anything substantial in the form of an interim administration. Instead, the government is calling upon the LTTE to come up with a practical solution to draw up a mechanism. It is not prudent on the part of the LTTE to present a structure or a mechanism for an interim administrative set-up without any idea of the scope and extent to which the government could offer politico-administrative powers to the LTTE. It is precisely for this reason we are calling upon the government to come out with its ideas".

Yours truly interpreted Mr. Balasingham’s response in the following manner in an analysis called “Concessions and Responsibilities,” “Mr. Balasingham is not trying to evade responsibility or be non-committal.  It is perfectly understandable that the reluctance on the part of the LTEE to come up with a proposal for the Interim Administration, having fought and sacrificed 17,500 of its carders for the cause of Tamil Eelam.  They have made their goal loud and clear: A solution, which fulfils the core ideologies of Self-determination, Tamil Homeland and Tamil Nationhood or the right to secede. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Government to come up with the alternative solutions not the LTTE.  The onus of providing solution is on the Government, which does not want separation.  In fact, if LTTE offers a proposal it would amount to a concession of its core ideologies.  The request by the Government for a counter proposal may be a trap set for the LTTE, which Mr. Balasingham has cleverly dodged.”

Therefore, it is evident that there is a change in the LTTE’s thinking. The new thinking was necessitated by the “clever trap” set by the government.  The avenue chosen by the organisation to get out of the trap unscathed seems to be to formulate its own set of proposals. The organization probably knows very well that the cowardly government of Mr. Wickramasinghe will be unable to respond to its proposals positively.

The counter proposals formulated by the LTTE aims to achieve two objectives.  Primarily it puts the ball back in the government court.  The Government has sent a set of proposals as a draft and invited the LTTE to talks.  If the LTTE returns to the negotiation table, it is the government which stands to benefit at the expense of the LTTE.  Therefore, by putting forward a set of counter proposals, the LTTE can demonstrate to the world that they still have faith in peace negotiations, but it is the government which is unable to deliver on its commitments.

The secondary objective of the counter proposals may be to demonstrate to the world that the Sinhala government not cannot deliver a reasonable, peaceful resolution.  The involvement of constitutional experts from all over the world will enable the LTTE to offer a legal draft, which is feasible, if the two main Sinhala parties join hands to solve the ethnic problem.  The counter proposals may also highlight to the world the discriminatory clauses embedded in the constitution.

It should be remembered that the last time the Tamil Nation, represented by the Federal Party, submitted counter proposals was in 1970 during the constitutional assembly to make Sri Lanka a republic. The Constitutional Committee of the Federal Party drafted a model constitution and presented the Steering and Subject Committee on Constitution for its consideration. The model constitution contained seven sections of 60 articles. It provided the basic structure that could satisfy the Tamil concerns.  The counter proposals were not even considered and what happened afterwards is history.

The difference between the 1970 counter proposals and the current set of proposals is that the LTTE has bargaining power (i.e. its military strength) whilst the Federal Party did not have enough bargaining chips. However, given that the Sinhala Nation is renowned for its attitude to impose its hegemony over the Tamils, it would not be a surprise if it rejects the current set of proposals as well or procrastinates on its implementation.

The Interim Administration is an important milestone in the road to peace or war.  Establishing an "innovative and efficient" Interim Administration will lead the country towards Peace and Prosperity.  Attempts to procrastinate on the issue may lead the parties back to war.