By C.V. Wigneswaran –
Let me wish all of you Happy Thai Pongal on this auspicious day! Whilst wishing you happiness and prosperity I am aware that large sections of our people are in dire straits at this very moment. They are in need of relief and consolation. I must nevertheless acknowledge that the change of political environment that took place after the 8th of January 2015 with the active participation of our people did bring about better political climate. But it was more for the South than the North. We do recognize and welcome the need to usher in an era of religious understanding and tolerance. And hence this National Thai Pongal Festival. But we are also aware that in South Africa the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an instrument innovated post conflict. They solved their constitutional and political problems and then embarked on a social journey to weld their disparate communities together. Here in Sri Lanka are we not trying to put the cart before the horse? We are still to solve our basic problems which have dogged us for over sixty seven years.
Let me expatiate from a different standpoint.
You are aware of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Sri Lanka is a party to the acceptance and furtherance of such an Agenda. Seventeen Goals and 169 Indicators have been identified and accepted. Its Sixteenth Goal states as follows;
“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”
This is indeed what we Tamils of this Country are interested in. The Sixteenth Goal has stated specifically what it means thus –
Firstly it says that we need to reduce all forms of violence. Unfortunately we in the North do not enjoy such a luxury. The fact that an estimated 150000 armed men belonging to an Occupational Army is stationed in the Northern Province six long years after the end of the War necessarily lays the foundation for violence. They have taken over our lands, our livelihoods, our businesses, our resources and are a threat to the well being of our war widows and others. Are we therefore in a fit state of mind to celebrate Thai Pongal?
Secondly it says we need to promote the rule of law at the National and International level and ensure equal access to justice for all. But we are continuing with our draconian PTA. Does it ensure equal access to justice for all? A dubious confession has been made the cause for continued incarceration. An inclusive society cannot be built upon a counter terrorism mindset and state security perspectives. We must instead have a humane mindset and people’s security perspective which means rule of law at the local government level, provincial level and national level to ensure human security in this Country.
Thirdly the Sixteenth Goal of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development says that we need to develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels. While the Government says that missing persons might be dead or had possibly emigrated the recent findings of secret Torture chambers and the sudden release of persons who had been in enforced incarceration for long periods prove that accountability and transparency are lacking.
Fourthly it says that we should ensure responsive inclusive participation and representative decision making at all levels. I am sorry to say that politically our Northern Provincial Council is being undermined by the Central Government at all levels. Projects are decided by the Centre and foisted on us top to bottom. In short the Provincial Councils are thought of as an aberration that needs to be suffered by the Government. In fact I have addressed epistles to His Excellency the President and Honourable Prime Minister within the last few days pointing out this phenomenon.
Fifthly the sixteenth Goal refers to promoting and enforcing non – discriminatiory laws and policies for sustainable development. Let me only say discriminators laws are still in place. In practice it is far more irritating. Recently a communication came from the present senior DIG Northern Province in Sinhala only to me. Over 90% of our people speak the Tamil Language. We have recognized English as a link language. But I receive important letters from our senior most Deputy Inspector General of Police in Sinhala. I have called for a translation. Our work gets delayed due to such inconsiderate impertinence.
There are other sections too in Goal 16. But what I have referred to so far suffices. Therefore looking from a macro standpoint let me say we have to improve ourselves as a Country very much. We have inherited prejudices and wrong notions. We have inherited violent thoughts and hatred. We need to jettison such notions and thoughts and prejudices. May be Thai Pongal is an ideal opportunity to rethink and retrace.
The International Community could support us in this regard. I am aware that the majority among the International Community is seriously interested in helping us. I am glad that Rt. Honourable Hugo Swire is here today. It is vital that the Government of Sri Lanka is supported by the International Community based on the principle of affirmative action to ensure a level playing field and fiscal and budgetary equalization measures. Though Sri Lanka is regarded as a middle income Country we in the Northern Province are lagging far behind. We are below par. May this Thai Pongal usher in a better future for all of us.
*Chief Minister of the Northern Province Justice C.V.Wigneswaran’s speech at the National Thaipongal Festival organized by the Prime Minister’s Office, Hindu Religious Affairs’ Ministry and State Ministry for Child Affairs – Veerasingham Hall, Jaffna on 15th January 2016 at 11 am