Do we really need an Interim Administration for the North-East Province?


Dr. Victor Rajakulendran


Although the Interim Administration (IA) is not new to Sri Lankan politics, it never received such an attention as it receives now.  Under the Indo-Sri Lankan accord there were provisions provided to establish an IA in the North-East Province (NEP) with dominant participation of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  However, before the constitutional and legal validity of such an administrative structure was put to test the Indo-Sri Lankan accord became defunct.  An IA was again proposed for the NEP by the President Chandrika Banadaranayake Kumarathunga (CBK) in 1995, when she tried to negotiate with the LTTE for a political settlement to the conflict.  This negotiation did not even last long enough to test the feasibility of establishing an IA in the NEP.  Just before the last parliamentary elections, when LTTE declared its intention to find a negotiated political settlement to the conflict, it expressed its desire to establish an IA in the NEP as the first step to a negotiated settlement.  Both UNF and PA in anticipation to negotiate a settlement with the LTTE, promised in their election manifesto to establish an IA in the NEP as part of the process of a permanent solution to the conflict.  President CBK went one step further and offered the LTTE leader to run the administration in the NEP with the help of his cadres as a police force for 10 years.  She did not even demand the LTTE to disarm in return.  If the President was successful in forming the government and kept her promise, LTTE will still have more than 5 years left of this administration.


In any conflict of this nature, before a lasting final political settlement is worked out, which usually takes few years, an IA always plays a crucial role in building bridges between the existing system and the anticipated new system that is to be formulated.  If one looks at the Bougainville crisis where Australia played a key role in bringing the Bougainville Revolution Army (BRA) of the province and the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government to accept extensive regional autonomy to Bougainville as a final solution, the importance of IA could be very well understood.  Under the agreed final solution the PNG constitution was to be changed to provide provisions for the establishment of a fully autonomous provincial government in Bougainville with room for a referendum in 10-15 years for the Bougainvilleans to decide whether to stay with PNG or to become fully independent from PNG.   Decommissioning of the BRA's weapons and withdrawal of PNG Defence Forces were to take place simultaneously and finally elections to be held to elect a Bougaineville Autonomous Government (BAG).  The Australian, New Zealand joint peace initiative started in 1994 and most of the milestones on the Road Map to reach the BAG have been reached.  During this long period, first a Bougainville Transitional Government (BTR) was established to run the administration in the interim.  Later it was felt that all the Bougainvillean factions were not represented in this administration and a new Bougainville Reconciliation Government (BRG) was created and this is functioning satisfactorily now awaiting the elections for the final BAG soon.  Therefore, for nearly nine years an IA only has been running the day to day affairs of the Bougaineville province awaiting the final BAG.


What we have seen so far are lessons from the past and recent history.  However, if we look at the current peace process between the Sri Lankan government (SLG) and the LTTE with Norwegians as the facilitators, according to some analysts, IA has become the Roadblock to the Roadmap for peace.  Is this a valid interpretation?


When the LTTE unilaterally declared a cease-fire and offered to negotiate with the SLG a final political solution before the last general election, LTTE expressed very clearly that the IA is a milestone in their anticipated Roadmap to peace.  As I have mentioned before, both the United National Front (UNF) and the People Alliance (PA) reciprocated in the affirmative in their respective election manifesto to LTTE's desire.  Singhalese people voted for both these parties and UNF achieved a marginal victory over the PA.  Therefore an overwhelming majority of the Singhalese people (except those who voted for the JVP) have accepted the principle of setting up an IA for the NEP.


When the current negotiation process began, the first thing in the agenda for discussion therefore was IA.  Because of the cohabitation between the President and the PM of the new government was not running smoothly, PM anticipating the President to use the IA as a Roadblock to the peace process, convinced the LTTE that whatever to be achieved through an IA could be achieved through alternative structures his government was to create.  LTTE also agreed to this in order to move the peace process forward.  After 6 rounds of talks the LTTE has realised that these alternative arrangements have no legal powers to implement what was being agreed through the negotiations.  This compelled the organisation to reconsider its strategies and after a high level consultation in Wanni among their top level leaders, LTTE decided to suspend their participation in peace talks until all what has been agreed thus far are implemented to bring back normalcy of life in the NEP.  During these deliberations LTTE have decided to revert back to their original position of setting up an IA for the NEP to rebuild and develop the province, while negotiating a final political solution.  Under the present political climate, negotiating a final political solution will take much longer time than anticipated before.  Therefore it is argued that the importance of the role of IA is further exacerbated by political compulsions.


The importance of the role of IA in the Roadmap to peace in Sri Lanka has been accepted by the International Community (IC) too, which participated in the Tokyo Conference.  Many, including the US Deputy Secretary of State Armitage, have emphasised the need for an efficient and transparent IA for NEP to rebuild the province and provide humanitarian assistance to the people living there.  Although some in the IC have tried to twist LTTE's arm prior to and during the Tokyo conference to make them to come back to the table quickly, most of the members of the IC seem to have understood the position LTTE have taken.  Unless PM has got this same message at the Tokyo conference he would not have made all the desperate attempts he made to provide that IA soon after the Tokyo Conference was over.  Instead, he could have used his so-called International Safety Net (ISN) to bring back the LTTE to the negotiating table.  PM has avoided, to follow this path for well known reasons.


Prime Minister also went to London, and met the British PM.  Ranil Wickramasinghe also took his Attorney General Kamalasabesan with him and discussed with British constitutional experts about the possibility of establishing an IA under the present political climate.  PM Wickramasinghe knows very well that the delivery of the $4.5 billion pledged at the Tokyo conference is linked to the progress of the peace process.  Therefore he understands very well the importance of the IA for the successful utilisation of these funds.


If the President cooperates with the PM on this matter, providing an IA to the NEP would not be a mountain to the SLG as it looks at present.  Therefore it is the President who is the Roadblock to the Roadmap to peace in Sri Lanka at the moment.  What the LTTE has done in the past few weeks is not to become a Roadblock to the Roadmap to peace as some analysts try to project. Instead, they have tried to show the Sri Lankan people as well as the IC who the real Roadblock to the Roadmap to peace in Sri Lanka at the moment.  By doing this, LTTE has helped all the others interested in this peace process to persuade the PM Wickramasinghe to correct the errors he has made in the Roadmap so that all could reach that final solution using this Roadmap.  This is why the LTTE after getting convinced that the PM is trying hard to establish an IA, has now announced that they are willing to resume negotiations when PM submit a written framework on the structure of the IA which he is proposing.


However, both PM and the LTTE know very well that to implement a final solution a new constitution for Sri Lanka is necessary.  This is an impossible task under the present political climate.  Therefore for at least for the next 2 years, until President Chandrika's term of Presidency expires, a final solution even if it is reached, cannot be implemented.  Therefore, the best strategy for both the UNF government and the LTTE is to establish an efficient and transparent IA in the NEP and proceed with the rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the NEP, while continuing to negotiate that final solution.  If a final solution is agreed by that time, Ranil Wickramasinghe could put that to the people at the presidential election and get a new mandate from the people, if the Singhalese people are willing to support it.  Therefore an IA for NEP has become inevitable now than ever before.