ISGA: Legitimate, Practical & with Precedence.

by Arvalan
On October 31, 2003 the LTTE, on behalf of the Tamil people, announced their proposal for an Interim Self-Governing Administration (ISGA) of the Northeast of the island called Sri Lanka. This proposed ISGA is a significant step toward a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict between the Tamil and Sinhalese Nations. The world applauded this proposal by the LTTE. Tamil people and their elected representatives have endorsed the proposals. Even further, the entire Tamil Nation has endorsed these proposals by way of a franchise in the recently held General elections.

However, the Sinhalese nation has been reluctant to discuss these proposals at the negotiating table. Unjustifiably, the international community has been reluctant to apply pressure on the Sri Lankan government to return to the negotiation table and discus the ISGA proposals, let alone implement them.

From the history of the Tamil struggle it has been the Sinhalese governments which have put forward peace proposals. The history goes back to 1958 when SWRD Bandaranayke proposed the Banda-Chelva pact. This was followed by the Dudley-Chelva pact in 1967, the DDC proposals in 1981, the Indio-Lanka accord in 1987, the parliamentary advisory committee in early 90’s, the Neelan Pieris Devolution proposals in 1995 and the Draft constitution of 2001.

All these proposals were discussed with the Tamil leadership; however one striking fate of all these proposals is that they were not implemented. The Banda-Chelva pact was torn apart when faced with stiff opposition from the Sinhala Buddhists; the Dudley-Chelva pact ended the same way; the DDC proposals had a natural death; the Inda-Lanka accord was not fully implemented despite the assurance given by the Government of India; the parliamentary select committee proposals never came out; the Devolution proposals of 1995 got diluted as days went by and became the Draft constitution in 2001, which did not have the support of the UNP in opposition.

Therefore, for only the second time in the history of the Tamil struggle, the Tamils have formulated and submitted a set of proposals for discussion. The first time they formulated and forwarded a set of proposals was in 1972, when the SLFP government under Sirimavao Bandaranayke was in the process of formulating the Republican constitution. That set of proposals formulated by constitutional experts was thrown in the bin. Does the Sinhala nation expect to do the same thing to the ISGA? Unfortunately for them they are not dealing with mild-mannered TULF leadership. They are dealing with the new era of Tamil leadership under the able guidance of Mr. V. Prabakaran who has learned from history.

Significance of an Interim arrangement

An interim arrangement or an interim milestone has been an essential feature of International conflict resolution formulas. The Roadmap to peace proposed by the US last year for the Israel-Palestine conflict consists of an interim arrangement. The Oslo accord included an interim arrangement for the Palestinian conflict.

The US have institutionalized an interim government in Iraq as a part of returning the country to a democracy. It is the same formula the US applied in Afghanistan. East Timor had an interim government under the auspicious of the UN for almost two years before elections were held. The Bougainville conflict also has an interim arrangement in place at present.

ISGA and Peace proposals.

It is noteworthy that the ideas contained in the ISGA have already featured in some of the peace proposals forwarded by the Sri Lankan government over the last 40 years. Further, the powers sought under the proposals are not excessive compared to similar arrangement institutionalized in other international conflicts.

The Devolution Proposals, prepared by Prof. G.L. Pieiris and Neelan Thiruchevam and published in August 1995, was used by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her erstwhile Foreign Minister Kadirgarmar to justify their successful "war for peace" campaign amongst the international community. It is ironic that the ISGA contains provisions from the same devolution proposals Chandrika’s government used to prosecute the LTTE in the international arena during Eelam War III. The international community, which so willingly accepted the Sri Lankan government’s justification for war for peace, is not now forthcoming to push the Sri Lankan government to the negotiating table when the LTTE has formulated its own set of political proposals.

Let us have a closer look at four key powers contained in the ISGA which have caused so much of concern in the Sinhalese nation; Security, Land, Revenue raising and Foreign aid

Security

The LTTE, by seeking powers in relation to law and order, is endeavoring to legitimize its Police Force in the Northeast area. In fairness this is a legitimate demand, as the Tamil Eelam Police force has been in operation for over 10 years in LTTE-controlled areas. Visitors from the South have been full of compliments for this bribery-free and efficient police force. Further, the Tamil people have lost faith in the khaki-clad Sinhalese Police force and would rather feel at ease with the blue-uniformed "Kaval Thurai".

From an International precedence perspective, the Bougainville Peace Agreement signed between the Papua New Guinea Government and Bougainville rebels provides for an establishment of a local Police force in the conflict region. The Oslo agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis also allowed for an establishment of a local Police force for the Palestinian area.

The Devolution Proposals, prepared by Prof. G.L. Peiris and Neelan Thiruchevam and published in August 1995, also contained provisions for a separate Police force for the Northeast region. Para 3.1 of the proposals stated "There will be a regional police service headed by a Regional Police Commissioner appointed by the Chief Minister, in consultation with the Governor of the Region. The Regional Police Commissioner will be responsible to, and function under the control of, the Relevant Chief Minister. The Regional police service will investigate all offenses against persons and property."

If there are international precedents to establish a Police force for an autonomous region from scratch and precedence in the devolution proposals offered by the Sri Lankan Government, then it is justifiable to seek to use the Police force, which has already been established and has been in force for over a decade. Therefore the LTTE's demand to utilize its Police force in the Northeast is very legitimate, practical and with precedence.

Land

The LTTE's proposals state, "Since land is vital to the exercise of the powers set out in Clause 9 (jurisdiction of the ISGA), the ISGA shall have the power to alienate and determine the appropriate use of all land in the Northeast that is not privately owned." Land management has been one of the areas that led to the ethnic conflict. Post-independence Sinhalese colonization in the Northeast led to Tamil farmers being chased away from their villages. Land management goes hand in hand with one of the three core principles of the Tamil struggle, 'Tamil Homeland.' The Sinhalese colonization was intended divide the Tamil Homeland and changed the demography of the Eastern province. Sinhalese rulers did succeed to some extent in this regard in the twentieth century. Therefore, it is justifiable that the ISGA needs power to protect the Tamil Homeland.

The August 1995 Devolution Proposals contained the following clauses in relation to Land Management: Para 4.1 Land will be a devolved subject and State land within a region will be vested in the Regional Councils. Para 4.2 Priority in future land settlement schemes will be given to persons first of the district and then of the Region.

The Bougainville peace proposals offered Land Management powers to the region. The Sudanese peace agreement also offers the rebels control over land in their region. Even the Oslo Accord signed between the Palestinians and Israelis had provisions for the establishment of a Land Commission in the Palestine areas. Once again, the LTTE has demanded something which has precedents both in the government’s devolution proposals offered to the Tamils and in other conflict situations.

Revenue

Imposition of taxes and levies is another power sought by the LTTE which has raised some eyebrows. The preamble to the proposals explicitly recognizes the need for raising revenue to meet the urgent needs for the Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Development of the Northeast region, which has been devastated by war, and for the carrying out of the functions of Government. It is imprudent for any governing authority to rely entirely on foreign aid, or even worse, the central government. The level of revenue raised through levies and taxes is driven by the amount of business activity carried on within the jurisdiction of the authority. Therefore, it is reasonable for the LTTE to seek powers to raise revenue through levies and taxes because they will have significant responsibilities.

In a Federal setup such as Australia, state governments have powers to raise indirect taxes via stamp duty, levy, motor vehicle registrations and land taxes. Given the poor track record of the successive Sinhala government bureaucracies in handling finances directed to the Northeast, it is not surprising that the LTTE has sought powers to raise revenue to expedite the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Northeast. It should be noted that funds donated by the Japanese government to construct a teaching hospital for Jaffna University in the early nineties ended up in Ruhunu University in the South.

The Neelan-Peiris proposals of 1995 contained the following clauses relating to imposition of taxes and levies by a regional council. Para 2.2 stipulates that "Regional Councils will have the powers of taxation in certain specified areas, and the Constitution will require other revenue-sharing arrangements"

Therefore, the power to impose taxes and levies is not something without precedence. It is being practiced in federal setups all over the world and more importantly is a power the Sri Lankan government was prepared to delegate in the past.

Foreign Aid and Investment

"The ISGA shall have powers to borrow internally and externally, provide guarantees and indemnities, receive aid directly, and engage in or regulate internal and external trade," states the LTTE's proposals. States in India and Australia compete against each other to lure Foreign Investments. The Australian states have their own credit ratings evaluated by the international credit rating agencies such as Standard and Poor.

Para 2.3 of the 1995 devolution proposals states that "Regional Councils will have the power to borrow as well as to set up their own financial institutions. International borrowing above a prescribed limit will require the concurrence of the center." In the following Para 2.4, "Regional Councils may regulate and promote foreign direct investment, international grants, and development assistance, subject to such conditions as may be specified by the center."

Foreign aid and borrowings granted in the name of rehabilitating Jaffna, after it was captured, ended in the pockets of corrupt politicians. It should also be noted that it is generally believed the Sri Lankan government used foreign borrowings to finance its military operations. The ISGA attempts to end this diversion of funds.

War and the ISGA

It is noteworthy that the LTTE has not only formulated a set of proposals outlining their grievances, but has got them endorsed by the masses in an election. Therefore it is the duty of the International community to persuade the Sri Lankan government to discuss the ISGA proposals with the LTTE as part of their "war against terrorism".

In contrast to the Palestinian conflict, where there is a peace plan formulated by Bill Clinton, a Road map to peace by George W Bush and a peace plan from Israel but there is none from the Palestinians or Arab league, the LTTE has formulated a set of proposals for discussion with the help of international experts, articulating clearly why they waged a war against the Sri Lankan government and outlining an interim arrangement whilst the final settlement is worked out.

The International should grab this opportunity to eradicate violence from Sri Lanka. They could then portray the Sri Lankan conflict as a role model to the other conflicts and engineer a peaceful solution, rather than engaging in war.

Road to final peace

The well-researched and thought-out proposals prepared for the LTTE by a team of eminent expatriate legal experts, which included a former attorney general of Sri Lanka, is not a work of fiction. Rather, the Sri Lankan government in the past with a view to resolving the ethnic conflict has offered these same powers sought in the proposals to the Tamils. It should also be noted that these same powers requested in the ISGA are exercised by states and provinces in other countries. Therefore, the international community should persuade the Sinhala government to accept these proposals and implement them.

The ISGA proposals are a step in the right direction. It is the responsibility of the international community to lobby the Sinhalese government to implement these proposals and bring peace and stability to the island nation.

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Posted September 23, 2004