By C.V. Wigneswaran –
I thank the chair for giving me this opportunity to speak.
I had last year pointed out in my speech during the budget debate as to how the amount spent on the Military had steadily increased since 1961. I had also pointed out that the spending had increased despite the war coming to an end in 2009.This year too, the estimated expenditure for so-called Defence has increased. Instead of removing weapons from the hands of the members of the armed forces and helping them to reintegrate as civilians into society the successive postwar governments have spent large sums of public money on them and wish to continue to do so. If there is fear of allowing weapon trained personnel into the society, a process akin to the DDR process viz. disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, would support ex-military combatants to become active participants in the peace process.
Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration lays the groundwork for safeguarding and sustaining the communities to which these individuals return, while building capacity for long-term peace, security and development.
In situations where it is too early or not possible to carry out disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes, the UN supports Community Violence Reduction programmes that lead to the right conditions for political processes to progress and armed militia to disband. Those can also run in parallel to DDR programmes complementing them and addressing the needs of communities in parallel to those of ex-military men. There has been no discussion at all about reduction of the numbers in the Military. Of the 331000 soldiers at least 200000 are stationed in the North and East.
Successive Sri Lankan Governments have not considered reduction of these armed forces at all.
I should like to point out today that such ever increasing expenditure in Defence is not accidental. It is reflective of the ethnocratic mind set of the successive Sri Lankan governments of which the present Government is no exception.
Let me explain.
A significant statement was made by an International Expert from Israel by name Professor Yiftachel a few years ago when he participated in our International Land Grabbing Conference. He formulated over two decades ago the theory of ethnocratic regimes. He did research into the nature of land grabbing taking place against Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka by the successive Sinhala majority Governments and came to the conclusion that Sri Lanka too like Israel is an ethnocratic regime. An ethnocracy is a type of political structure in which the state apparatus is controlled by a dominant ethnic group to further its interests, power and resources. Since the Sinhala Members formed the majority in Parliament from the time of Independence the Sinhalese leaders have been scheming and planning against the Tamils to drive them, initially out of the regions they had occupied in Sinhala majority areas during British times and now continue by several ways to take control of areas within the traditional homelands of the Tamils and drive out the locals, bent on denting the erstwhile demographic ambience of the Tamil speaking North and East.
The idea seems to be to set up a mono ethnic and religious structure in Sri Lanka so that the Sinhala Buddhists could control the entire country continuously. They forget that the North and East are the historical homelands of the Tamils and the Sinhalese have no right to foist their hegemony over the majority speaking in the North and East. The Tamil language has been spoken in the Island for over 3000 years according to evidence unearthed in recent times. The Sinhala language came into use only about 1400 years ago. Its first book of grammar, Sidath Sangarawa, was brought out only in the 13th Century AD.
Normally ethnocratic regimes indulge in genocide. It has been true in Sri Lanka too after Independence. I brought up the Genocide Resolution in the Northern Provincial Council on the 10th of February, 2015 when I was Chief Minister Northern Province and it was unanimously adopted by the Members. Probably in consequence of the passing of that Resolution the successive ethnocratic regimes at the Centre in Sri Lanka thereafter decided no more Provincial Councils in this Country. From 2018 or so there had been no Provincial Councils functioning in this Country not only in the Tamil speaking North and East, but also in all other Provinces. Now a centralised Sinhala majority government governs the Tamil majority North and East with the help of an occupied stationary Military under a Unitary Constitution .
Even though the majority in the Southern seven provinces had been the Sinhalese speaking, the majority from time immemorial in the North and East had been the Tamil speaking. The instrument of aggression in the North and East today continues to be the Military. Through the occupation of the North and East by the Military even 14 years after the conclusion of the War, the Government of Sri Lanka continues its multi-pronged Sinhalization efforts in the North-East through the use of state-aided Sinhala settlements and irrigation schemes, economic marginalization and land expropriation by Sri Lankan state bodies, “Buddhistization,” and repression of memorialization of important Tamil events.
When considered against the broader context of decades of state-driven demographic shifts, we find that the successive Sri Lankan Governments are reengineering the demographics in the North-East of Sri Lanka with clear political implications. The systematic and strategic alteration of the North-East’s demographics is designed to destroy the Tamil concept of a homeland in the North-East and permanently diminish Tamil democratic representation from the region.
The Budget Speech the other day was very openly centralised in its approach. Forgetting, deliberately or otherwise, that there was a Thirteenth Amendment in place, the periphery was made subservient and asked to carry out the dictates of the Centre.
In Item 58 in the English version, this is what is said; ‘I propose to consider Provincial Councils as special spending units for budgetary purposes. Accordingly, the Chief Secretaries of Provincial Councils should act as the Chief Accounting Officers as practiced by Secretaries to other line ministries. The Provincial Council is responsible to the Parliament for the money spent for budget purposes.
When preparing the budget based on the Sustainable Development Goals, the necessary guidelines have been issued to fulfil the above goals to all Ministries, Departments and institutions and they should act in accordance with those guidelines.’
Obviously the idea seems to be to make the Provincial administration a Department of the Centre!
In Item 59 of the English Version under the heading Provincial Revenue he says thus;
‘I propose that the revenue collected from the Provincial Councils should not be limited to cover recurrent expenses but should also be used as capital expenditure for the development of the Province. However in order to avoid the practical difficulties of suddenly changing the ongoing process, I propose to only use 50 percent of the Provincial Council income from the year 2025 as recurrent expenses and to use the additional income as capital expenditure’.
Clearly the Centre now wants to use the Provincial administration to carry out its bidding. I do not know if the Finance Minister consulted the Finance Commission appointed under Article 154R of the Constitution and obtained their consent before he prepared the above said Item 59.
I doubt Provincial Council Elections will take place in the near future.
All the talk about power sharing with the Provincial Councils in the fields of agriculture, tourism and so on is simply decentralisation by the Centre to get its program implemented in the peripheral areas. The Government is not interested in power sharing. The Government does not want to share power with the Provinces, especially the Tamil speaking Provinces. The Provinces would not be allowed to think nor act outside the programme of work earmarked for the Provinces by the Centre. This is where the ethnocratic thinking of the Centre would affect the North and East which are unlike the other seven Provinces.
Under the heading Decentralised Budget in Item 12 of the English version it appears thus; ‘Due to the difficult situation in the Country and the lack of funds under the decentralised budget programme in the past, regional development programmes could not be implemented. As these programmes were temporarily suspended, public representatives could not contribute to the rural development activities. We will recommence the decentralised programme. I will provide Rs.11250 million through the District Coordination Committees for this purpose. This programme will be implemented under the supervision of the Department of National Planning using a methodical and standard approach.”
Under the decentralised budget where moneys were distributed to Members of Parliament of the respective Provinces quite a large slice of the moneys sent were returned back to the Government, unutilised. But in the Northern Provincial Council of which I was Chief Minister every cent was put to good use. The fact that the Budget Speech refers to District Coordination Committees and not to Provincial Councils lets the cat out of the bag. The Government does not want to conduct the Provincial Council Elections in the near future.
His Excellency the President not so long ago, before he went abroad, promised to set up a Committee to investigate into areas where the Centre had trespassed into the Provincial arena. He promised to allow the Committee to suggest draft statutes in areas where the Provinces have been given exclusive or concurrent powers by the Thirteenth Amendment. He has conveniently forgotten his obligation.
A President cum Finance Minister who is openly interested in using the Provinces to play second fiddle to the Centre cannot be expected to hold Provincial Council Elections nor Local Government Elections in the near future nor enhance the powers of the Periphery. The Budget has been a disappointment to the People of the North and East. Thank you.
*Speech by Justice C.V.Wigneswaran M.P. – In Parliament at Budget Debate 2024 on 15 November, 2023