23 May, 2022


Autonomy For Bougainville – A Parallel For Tamils

By S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan


Bougainville (B) Region comprises two large Islands of B and Buka, in the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Archipelago. B is rich in copper and a mine was opened in 1969 in Panguna located in the central area. In 1972 a measure of autonomy was given to B. However in 1975 when a Constitution Planning Committee toured the country seeking views, B conveyed its demand for secession.

Copper promised wealth to a resource poor B, but when mining commenced PNG’s relationship was exploitative. On profit sharing, there was violent disagreement between PNG government and B. PNG appropriated virtually all at 20% giving B, 0.5-2.0%. Unfair distribution incensed feelings which were further exacerbated by ethnic and linguistic differences between B and PNG. It sparked a 10 year civil war 1989 – 1998, which claimed 20,000 lives and displaced 70,000. At present the population is 220,000 and it is fairly evenly spread geographically across B.

Consequent to a ceasefire in 1998, the Bougainville Peace Agreement was signed in August 2001 between PNG and Bougainville Revolutionary Army. What followed was a constitution for an Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG). It was approved by the PNG Parliament in December 2004. It specified 3 branches.

  •     Legislative – Bougainville House of Representatives of 39 elected members and 2 ex officio.
  •     Executive – Bougainville Executive Council
  •     Judicial – Bougainville courts including a Supreme Court and 7 High Courts

In principle, the respective powers and functions shall be kept separate. The first election was held in 2005. The President was elected and the Vice-President was selected by the House of Representatives. The second election was in 2010. A referendum regarding Bougainville independence is set to happen in the period 2015 – 2020.

Papua New Guinea (PNG)

PNG has a population of 6.5 million. B has 0.2 million (3%). Land area of PNG is 463,000 sq. km. B area is 10,050 sq.km. (2%). PNG is endowed with minerals and hydro carbon. Gold mining commenced in i989 while oil production started in 1992. Cocoa earns a sizeable revenue with around 16,000 tons of exports. Natural gas was estimated at 400 million cu. metres. GDP at official exchange rate is $ 16.1billion.


Bougainville being not so wealthy has placed her fortunes in the future. She views her redemption in secession, in which strategy she seems steadfast and uncompromising. Land Powers, Police Powers and Education are considered to be of crucial import. Greatest leverage is found in education and massive energy is devoted to developing it as is seen from the lengthy and comprehensive document prepared for education. To the challenge of marginalization an ethnic minority of less than 200,000 rose in revolt, lost 10% of their kin in a civil conflict lasting 10 years and have gone far towards redemption as they saw it.

A referendum regarding independence is as close as just 1 to 6 years away. After the referendum what? Everything clearly seen, discussed in detail, path well demarcated and timelines drawn. Earnestness and exhaustive examination of subjects crucial for their future are evident in the Bougainville Peace Agreement of 2001 (55 pages). As important is the lengthy constitution for the Autonomous Bougainville Government (215 pages). The Bougainville Education Plan 2007 – 2016 (90 pages) sets out the lines for society to grow in the near future. What is astounding is the amount of cerebral action to develop the future of two lakh people. The vision is to achieve integral human development to ensure that the citizens become more productive, entrepreneurial and are internationally competitive.

In Sri Lanka University education is not for Provincial Councils even if the population of North East is 3 million. Education Policy is safe only in the hands of the centre. These were the obsessions dominating devolution in SL. They continue to be non-negotiable articles of faith.

“B Government’s development strategy is to maintain the investment of its scarce resources on education and Human Resources Development”. In the devolution exercise SL had none of this thought and NE was denied the resources ever to think of it. Only the armed forces receive a share disproportionate to need.

Tamils Yet to Measure Up

Where do we Tamils stand? The Federal Concept, the most practicable and the wisest, adumbrated in 1949, well articulated in the fifties and endorsed with a clear mandate in 1956 resulted in the BC Pact of 1957 and outlined regional autonomy. A more extreme stance since 1972 brought in the 13th Amendment in 1987 only to be dashed in 2009 together with extremism. We have been collecting our strands till today, but the direction is not clear yet to many.

The writer sees his community enmeshed for inordinately long in the cocoon of Self Determination deliberations. Inability to get away from it had dried up fresh thought and stymied action causing malaise if not paralysis. Since May 2009, war crimes and accountability dominated discussion inland and out. With prolonged effort and since March 2014, Diaspora has secured that turf and has successfully engaged UNHRC for what it sees as relevant to its purpose. Widening and deepening devolved authority is now left to the Chief Minister and the NPC. Political affairs have fallen in the hands of TNA, the acknowledged leadership of the Tamils in whom confidence is placed, trust reposed and to whom mandate is extended decisively and repeatedly. Where do we get from here?

Homework Needed from Tamil Side

When responsibility is neatly trifurcated as at above, what should the polity be engaged in? Outsource what is deemed as beyond us to India and wait for something to happen. Never will anything happen on its own volition is hard headed judgment. All protracted work has to be done by the aggrieved party. What Tamils need is money to give substance to power. Land amounts to nothing when funds are not available for development, alienation or settlement. Power over education does not mean a thing if there be no finances for school buildings, teacher recruitment or training.

There is no need to elaborate on this elementary truism to cover all subjects. It has to be understood that when needs are spread over the entire spectrum of activity funds required for the Northern Province alone is in several billions. Has an exercise been undertaken to arrive at accurate or plausible statistics of need and actuality? If the centre has not done it, the Province should have done it. If neither has done it, both lose the day in the conference room of a foreign country. Facts and figures are the stuff of which negotiations are made.

Over a period of time in the seventies and eighties well before devolution, there was financial decentralization at District and Provincial levels. All it meant was that the locus of accounting had shifted and was shifting from Colombo to peripheral capitals. When all these are lumped together a massive post devolution figure comes about. Nondescripts not conversant with the working of government will get flabbergasted at the colossal figures that appear and they are mistakenly construed as devolved.

Truth lies elsewhere. To get a real picture province wise, pre-devolution financial statistics – say 1985 – have to be matched against the post devolution percentage increases – say 2012. In both cases expenditure and not allocation statistics should be utilized. The myth of devolution will be exploded. Armed with these statistics, those who say they are squeezed out should argue their case. It will then be seen that the North is impoverished for want of finances. This onerous task has to be completed to lend conviction to the demand for equitable distribution of financial resources, financial authority and financial responsibility.

Bougainville’s Pragmatism and PNG’s Proactive Response

A few instances from the Bougainville Peace Agreement of August 2001.

The National Government (PNG) will mobilise funds for a one-off Establishment Grant.

It is additional to all other grants.

Restoration and Development Grants by PNG

NG will provide grants to BG till self-reliance.

The calculation and timely payment of the grant will be guaranteed by law.


BG will be able to obtain foreign aid.

National Government (NG) will approve foreign aid secured by BG

NG will cooperate with BG by negotiating such international agreements for foreign aid

For foreign aid, consultation mechanism and Bougainville representation on delegations.

Power to decide on foreign investment applications.

BG to establish its own administrative mechanism in relation to Foreign Investment.



The 13th Amendment has served its purpose in SL of conning around wholesale for 27 full years and nearly 200 Council Years. Without any substance it has been less than an apparition. A drain on the resources, it has impoverished everybody empowering nobody. It has devolved no power to the provinces and least of all to the intended beneficiaries the North and the East. No more power has been extended than what existed prior. The Amendment is now a frayed instrument crying to be replaced.

In the sea change that has overtaken India the co-architect of the Thirteenth Amendment, there lies a great moral duty to reshape it. The onus for defining the structure and the features is very much with the Tamils – initiative with the leadership, a call to stake-holders and participation by the people. Realisation must prevail that the endeavor is long haul, the task is arduous and there is no escape from it.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 5

    Thank you Mr Sivathasan.
    “No more power has been extended than what existed prior.”

    In reality more power has been taken away and Tamils are OPRESSED in many ways.

    • 0

      Mr. S. Sivathasan –

      Do you believe in Fairies?

      Do you believe in Para-Sinhala and para-Tamils?

      Lool at the data since 1948.

      You get your answer.

      Para Sinhala, in the Land of native Veddah, have no intention

      Read the Mahawansa.

  • 6

    First get a separate state in tamil-nadu.. everywhere else will follow: toronto, london, copenhagen, sydney, jaffna, singapore – in that order…

    • 4


      The sacred land of the Tamils (Siva boomi) weather they are from Tamil Nadu or any other part of the world is Eelam and unfortunately Eelam is in Sri Lanka. Therefore the ONLY place for the world Tamils to have their own state is in Sri Lanka. Everywhere else if it follows or not is not important.

    • 6


      “First get a separate state in tamil-nadu.. everywhere else will follow: toronto, london, copenhagen, sydney, jaffna, singapore – in that order…”

      Thats an innovative idea.

      Sinhala speaking Demelas have more choices, Keral, Tamilnadu, Bihar, Orissa, Bengal, ………….. Australia, Europe, …….

      • 0

        Native Vedda

        “Sinhala speaking Demelas have more choices, Keral, Tamilnadu, Bihar, Orissa, Bengal, ………….. Australia, Europe, …”

        Do you mean Prakrit speaking Dravidians?

    • 0


      “First get a separate state in tamil-nadu.. everywhere else will follow: toronto, london, copenhagen, sydney, jaffna, singapore – in that order”

      Excellent suggestion for Phase 1.

      For Phase 2, get a separate Sinhala Nadu or Sinhala Desh in Tamil Nadu and South India and Indian Nagaland.

      Then, the Para can leave the Land of Native Veddah, in peace and tranquility.

      • 0

        Amarasiri and Veddah go back to Africa, you have no place in Sri Lanka. We will all join you later.

        • 2


          “We will all join you later.”

          Last in first out (LIFO).

          You don’t need to travel that far, please go back to Tamilnadu.

  • 3

    The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of 1987 (or by whatever name it is correctly called) was drawn up almost entirely for the benefit of India, not for the benefit of the SL government or to meet the demands of the Tamils of SL. My understanding is that under the Accord, and later appendices, SL conceded to India various concessions over Trincomalee and Palaly airport, among other things. Most of the give was on the part of SL. India undertook to do various things including the disarming of the Tigers but spectacularly failed to deliver on its part of the bargain. Prabhakaran did not want the Accord and SL accepted it under duress. It has never been implemented and is a dead letter. We need to now formally bury it and think afresh to find a way to address our problems.

  • 3

    Tamils already have Tamil Nadu.

    Why these fools reinvent the wheel?

  • 6

    The comparison that Mr Sivathasan makes with Bouganville is a good one. There is much spadework that has been done, as he points out, for the secession of Bouganville and the making of future plans. It is possible that the interest that the situation has evoked in Australia, a former mandatory power that exploited the resources of PNG as well as Bouganville, had much to do with it.

    But, the cry for secession is widespread. From Scotland to Ogoniland in Nigeria, from Tibet and Kashmir to the Basques in Spain, there is a movement for secession, which promises to be the next global concern. Sri Lanka is not a novel situation.

    In Sri Lanka, the fact is that there has been so much bloodletting that the progress of both communities have been affected. Given the Mahavamsa mindset of the Sinhalese, which will never abate, it is fair that the Tamils be allowed to seek their own salvation through autonomous rule, be it through secession or some form of association like a federation of states.

    But, as an immediate solution, two proposals are there on the table. There is the Indo-SL Pact under which there is an obligation to provide 13 plus. Modi has the ability to enforce it. SL is under an obligation in law to accept it. There is also the ISGA. It was only criticized by the intellectual property lawyer Kadirgamar on two grounds. (i) that it used the word “plenary powers”. He argued that this meant that the sky was being asked for. It is far from the truth as any neophyte lawyer would know. The words were used in the Colonial Laws Validity Act (1867) to transfer power to the subsidiary legislatures of the British Empire. The entity created under the ISGA would have had only subordinate powers, not as Kadirgamar wrongly characterized them to be. It is unfortunate that the draftsmen of the ISGA in demonstrating their own scholarship did not take into account the fact that the likes of Kadirgamar, emerging from the back rooms to the WIPO will not have the capacity to understand such finer points. (ii) that it claimed sovereignty over excessive maritime areas. This is not true. Later events have demonstrated how extensive the reliance on the seas are for the livelihood of the many who live in reliance of the sea. The aim was simply to ensure that the resources of the seas were preserved for them. The ISGA is worthy of consideration. Now that the TNA seeks proposals, a modified ISGA, with safeguards of human rights written into it, may be an idea to take into account. One must remember that the ISGA was to function within a unitary state.

    In any event, the 13 plus proposal is a treaty obligation owed to India which must be honored.

  • 2


    I find it hard to understand why you are so concerned about sellf determination deliberations. Is it because it has become a dirty phrase in the South,just as how federalism became a dirty word? Very soon even the word devolution will become a dirty word there? So, how low do we have to stoop?

    Sengodan. M

    • 2


      “Enmeshed in the cocoon of Self Determination”, I wrote. We have to outgrow the pupa stage, emerge into adulthood and continue with life’s destiny. Our fault was to have remained enmeshed in the comfort of the cocoon till we got boiled up. We can’t repeat this cycle till doomsday.
      Haven’t I made the point in this and earlier that we have to give a fresh dimension to the authority we should have by going beyond the hackneyed and the pedestrian?

      • 2

        I regret that I still do not get your point, MR. Sivathasan. It may be because I prefer plain English to the Oxonian style in which you are writing.

        What is so childish or so obnoxious about the concept of self determination (SD)? After all, it is a basic right of any ‘distinct people’. Aren’t we one? Is it not on this basis that the people of Bouganville are about to exercise autonomy, a right that the French people of Quebec exercised and the one the Scots are going to exercise soon?

        Self determination (SD) in short is nothing more and nothing less than self rule which 13A does not concede. Perhaps 13A+ may be something little closer to that, where the + which Mahinda promised to India and the West is yet to be defined!

        It is not that we should keep harping about SD all the time. But we should never ever lose sight of it if we are to preserve our identity in the island called Sri Lanka.

        Self determination does not necessarily imply secession and the level of self rule is a matter to be mutually agreed upon by the parties concerned.

        Sengodan. M

  • 1

    I have just returned from the Bouganville you are talking about. Jaffna even in the worst days of the war has not suffered poverty, neglect and break down of all services and amenities as has Bouganville.

    There is no comparison but maybe that is what should have happened to stop the Die – Arse – Pora continuing to write rubbish like this !

    • 1


      You would have got the message had you gone through the relevant figures in the ‘Economic and Social Statistics – Sri Lanka’.

      The Province and the districts of the North are now relegated to the lowest position in many respects.

      Study the Central Bank Annual Reports of 1982 and 2012, for Provincial and District statistics and then see whether you can exult about the nation’s achievement on justice and equity.

      Bougainville was invoked for two reasons.

      1. To make explicit where discrimination leads two ethnic entities.
      2. To demonstrate the level of cerebration of a people intent on Self-Rule.

  • 2

    I suggest the north and East of Srilanka must have a referendum by UN as Russian did in Cremea to merge the North East as 30th State of India. This is the best solution to the Tamil in Srilanka. Then tamil will enjoy their freedom.

  • 0

    yes leave for bourganvill or where ever you came from



Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.