26 October, 2020

Blog

Sampur Incident Highlights Need For Better Governance In North & East 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The immediate cause of the fracas in the east involving the chief minister, governor and naval officer was personal pique. That incident has been sought to be politicized by an opposition that is ever mindful of the power of inter-ethnic mobilization of nationalism. They have warned of the undermining of the security forces of the country by the ethnic and religious minorities. The fact that it was a Muslim chief minister who spoke offensively in public to a naval officer from the predominantly Sinhalese security forces was given full play by the opposition that had once exploited narrow nationalism to win successive elections, and endeavour to continue in the same way. Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa even sought to draw a link between this incident and another recent one, in which TNA leader R Sampanthan entered an army camp with some of his supporters to inspect land that had been taken over from civilians during the war.

In both cases exaggerated ethnic interpretations have been given to make it appear to the wider population as if national security is being put into jeopardy by the aggressive behaviours of the ethnic and religious minorities. In the case of the alleged gate crashing into the army camp, the TNA leader has explained that the army officer on duty had not objected to his entry into the outer precincts of the army camp to inspect land that his party supporters had claimed was their own, but which had been taken over as high security zones that the government has promised to return, and which has yet to be returned. The over-centralisation of power, the undermining of devolution of power and the use of the military to take over civilian spaces are both the cause and consequence of the three decade long war.

The root cause of both incidents does not lie in inter-ethnic antagonisms. On the contrary, as the recent flood relief efforts show to which the Muslim community contributed visibly and generously, the day to day interactions of the different communities with each other are largely constructive and positive. The problem lies in the post-war continuation of centralized and militarized structures of the state that denies the rights and due status of those who live and represent the people of the Northern and Eastern provinces where the ethnic and religious minorities predominate. It is these structures that the government is now seeking to reform, both through the transitional justice process of implementing the promises it has made in the Geneva resolution, as well as through constitutional reform.

Military Role

The Eastern Province chief minister’s outburst at the school event in Sampur was directed against both the naval officer and governor who are representatives of the central government. Sampur has been an area of contestation with land in the area being taken over by the navy as high security zones and the school itself being supported by the navy as a special case. From the chief minister’s explanation it appears that he had felt slighted as he had not been formally invited for the event and not been given a seat in the helicopter in which brought both the governor and US ambassador to the event, along with several others. The final blow to him was when he was not invited to the stage where all the other dignitaries sat. It was his effort to get himself to up on to it that set the stage for the showdown in which he used offensive language.

The marginalization of the chief minister at the school event was a consequence of the domination of the institution of the governor over that of the chief minister in the Northern and Eastern provinces. During the long period of war and continuing into the post-war period, the security forces have had a major role to play in the governance of these two provinces which were the site of war. The security forces continue to remain there in large numbers despite government pledges to demilitarize the two provinces in the aftermath of the war. There undoubtedly has been a significant degree of demilitarization, but the process is far from complete. Although schools come under the provincial council headed by the chief minister, it appears that in the case of this school in Sampur, the navy had a special role.

The passage of seven years since the end of the war makes it necessary for the government to re-assess the active role of the security forces in civilian life in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The fundamental asymmetry in power relations between those who are legally entitled to carry weapons and those who are unarmed is the reason why democratic societies maintain a strict distance between the military and civilian population in times of peace and normalcy, which is what Sri Lanka has achieved today. The role of the military in civil affairs is usually restricted to times of emergency, such as occurred during the recent floods and earthslip disasters, where the military performed an exemplary service and carried out several successful humanitarian operations. Seven years after the end of the war segregation of the military from the civilian population relevant to peace time is what needs to happen in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Provincial Empowerment 

The second area where change needs to happen is with regard to the devolution of power. According to the present constitutional arrangement the governor of a province has overriding powers that can be used to block decisions of the chief minister and the provincial councils. This may have been deemed necessary during the time of war, when national security took priority and the Northern and Eastern provinces were the site of the separatist war. However, the power sharing arrangements that were appropriate to a time of war need to be changed to be relevant to a time of peace. While traditions of protocol would give priority to the governor, the elected chief minister would also need to be given his due place. The balance of power between the governor and chief minister needs to be shifted in favour of the chief minister for the devolution of power to be effective.

Third, there also needs to be a change in the political culture in the direction of good governance. It is not good governance when the navy takes a decision by itself not to attend any event attended by the chief minister and the Defense Secretary announces that the security forces will follow suit. On the one hand, this declaration may have helped to forestall those in the political opposition who wish to exploit the issue to mobilize narrow ethnic nationalism even to the detriment of the national reconciliation process. But this decision of the navy is also in breach of the principle that the military is under civilian control and is not an independent actor in making decisions that are essentially political in nature. On the other hand the navy has accepted that their commander in chief, President Maithripala Sirisena will make the final decision, as befits a democratic state.

The present government was elected to power on the basis of its promise of good governance and non-discrimination to all sections of the population. These principles need to be applied to all levels of the polity, including the provincial level, so that no section of the population feels neglected by those who are entrusted with the powers of governance. This applies to provincial councils and to chief ministers, as much as it applies to the central government. There have been reports of the chief minister favouring one community over the others in utilizing the provincial council which has caused stress with the governor to whom the other communities appeal. The ingredients of good governance also include treating others with respect even under conditions of stress, which the chief minister signally failed to do, and which the naval officer succeeded in doing when he did not attempt to respond in kind to the chief minister’s intemperate outburst.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 12
    1

    I rarely agree with Rajitha Seneratne but on this isssue I totally agree with him. He is spot on.

    YouTube —–> නැගෙනහිර මහ ඇමති සිංහල වුණා නම් වෙන දේ ගැන රාජිත කියයි

    The CM’s transgression is, he didn’t want to bend his head to the sensitivities of the majority Sinhalese.

    In no other Sinhalese province would the Sinhalese Chief Minister be treated so shabbily.

    Doesn’t he know, in spite of the glorious equality all the citizens enjoy, that the Sinhalese are a little more equal than the others?

    Truth is truth. Whether we like it not, gotta face it.

    • 0
      0

      It seems to me a Situation where Communication had Broken Down.

      When Language is not properly Understood, Misunderstanding results.

      This is the reason why a common language without any Racial Overtones, is essential for PEACEFUL COUNTRY!

  • 8
    2

    The recent tussles with the armed forces in the North and East shows the armed forces are involved in land grabbing, Sinhalization of the North-East and cowing down the minorities with psychological warfare though the physical war ended seven years.

    These actions of the armed forces aided and abetted by the government with the slogan of good governance will only fester the wounds, massacres and grievances of the Tamils, and the Muslims.

    What started with independence continues unabated in different forms.

    If it goes on like this for years, I am afraid Sri Lanka will have heightened conflicts between the Sinhalese on one side and Tamils and Muslims on the other in the future.

    • 4
      0

      Who after all opens the door for foreign intervention, be it Tamil Nadu or US – the sheer mentality of Sinhala leaders – even the GG Leaders MS/RW – by their tactical silence and prolonging the NP/NE
      day-to-day problems.

      • 5
        1

        Punchinilame,

        The idiocy of our so-called ‘National’ leaders, has been outstanding, probably the only achievement of post-independence history. It is in our genes.

        Did we not take the Portuguese for a very long match to Kotte thinking that we were deceiving then? Yet, the Portuguese became our colonial masters. Weren’t the Dutch invited to get rid of the Portuguese? They succeeded the Portuguese as our rulers. Didn’t we conspire with the British to subjugate Kandy? They too became our colonial masters. The Mahavamsa relates many stories of how how our Kings ruling two dime feifs invited Indian Kings to join battle to sudue their rivals? Did not one Prince call his father a woman and entomb him alive within walls? Isn’t he a great hero to us now?

        Our leaders, past and present have a habit of being first class idiots and, shortsighted morons and beasts!

        Dr.RN

    • 2
      10

      If my memory serves me correctly Muslims were massacred and ethinically cleansed by Tamils not the Sinhalese. Without the presence of the military the Muslims will be butchered by racist, genocidal Tamil hordes, something the CM of EP has forgotten. North and east are not the exclusive preseve of Tamils, but they are part of Sinhala land. The Tamilisation of Uva is more of a concern to many,which took place under the English colonists without the consent of the Sinhalese. The Tamilisation of the North happened due to illegal entry from Tamil Nadu of coolies and looting invaders. Sinhalese have every right to reclaim their land, be it in North or East. A large military presence there is essential now and into the future. I hope you understand now.

      • 5
        1

        lal loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

        “If my memory serves me correctly Muslims were massacred and ethinically cleansed by Tamils not the Sinhalese.”

        Surprise surprise:

        Anti-Muslim riots in 1915, in which Sinhalese gangs attacked Muslim traders and shops, were the first major communal disturbance in modern times.11 The causes were complex but partly attributed to rising Sinhalese nationalism coming into conflict with the traditional
        Muslim control over much of the business world. Sinhalese nationalists were inspired by figures such as Anagarika Dharmapala, one of the most influential Buddhist revivalists at the turn of the last century, who
        wrote:

        The Muhammedans, an alien people, who in the early part of the nineteenth century were common traders, by Shylockian methods became prosperous like the Jews. The Sinhalese, sons of the soil, whose
        ancestors for 2,358 years had shed rivers of blood to keep the country free from alien invaders… today…are in the eyes of the British only
        vagabonds.…The alien South Indian Mohammedan comes to Ceylon, sees the neglected villager without any experience in trade…, and the result is the Mohammedan thrives and the son of the soil
        goes to the wall.

        – “Letter to Secretary of State for Colonies”, in Guruge (ed.),
        Return to Righteousness: A Collection of Speeches, Essays, and
        Letters of the Anagarika Dharmapala, (Colombo, 1965), p. 540

        In 1976
        police shot several Muslims in Puttalam after clashes between Muslims and Sinhalese, apparently provoked by disputes over jobs and
        land.

        There were sporadic incidents in the 1990s,
        including attacks on shops in Nochchiyagama in 1999.
        In April 2001 Sinhalese mobs attacked Muslims in
        Mawanella: two Muslims died, and dozens of buildings
        and vehicles were destroyed.

        There was another riot in Kalutara in mid 1950s of which I cannot remember the details

        https://www.ciaonet.org/
        attachments/3967/uploads

      • 2
        0

        Lal,

        What is the relationship between Lion & you?

      • 0
        0

        Lal Lalaaaa –
        Where in the world have you been hiding all these days. We all missed your magnetic personality on CT. Thanks for popping your gon head again, welcome. Where did the Tamils massacre the Muslims? Can you please enlighten us ignorant Tamils on that matter. LTTE chased all the Muslims (24 hours) away from the north, but I have to plead ignorance on the massacre part. Please share your knowledge from the bottomless well of intelligence you proclaim to have.

  • 2
    0

    An excellent article. It is hard to understand how the Defence Ministry became emotional like an ordinary mortal and over reacted in haste to order a ban on security forces members being present wherever the Governor of eastern Province was officially present! Thank God, on second thought they retrieved that order!
    Sengodan. M

  • 0
    0

    The said incident and the subsequent incidents would not have happened IF there was truly real good governance in he country. My thought of truly real good governance could be achieved through the following:
    2. Changing the political system of governance and administration to one with multiple units with different functions in different spheres throughout the country would facilitate to strengthen the bond and lead to the self-empowerment of the people that would naturally contribute to an All Inclusive National Government which is the need of the day to bring about reconciliation that would lead to peace, prosperity and a pleasant life.

    3. It would better serve the country – IF the functions of the Parliament are separated with one or more of its functions be entrusted to the appropriate Councils elected for the – Country, Provinces, Districts, Divisions and G.S. divisions at those levels – throughout the country with the different functions of the present Parliament distributed and shared by these Councils limited to the area concerned in such a way the powers and duty do not over-lap and so that no single Council – will have all the powers in governing or administering the country as a whole. Such a system of “Entrusting a part of the Functions of Parliament to different Councils throughout the country” would help in creating an all-inclusive healthy nation with the sovereign and personal liberty of the citizens intact is vital and that this freedom is best preserved within the framework of a truly democratic nation state.

    4. Today’s requirement is not moving towards devolution of powers but “sharing of powers” or better “transfer of powers” through an appropriate political structure that would empower and enable a large number of “groups of people” at different levels to actively participate in policy making, planning, administering and implementing projects in the country. Such a political structure would help to prevent discontent among the people, promote harmony and peace, eliminate bribery, corruption, discrimination, injustice and oppression; protect, promote and strengthen the unity and cooperation among the people.

    5. In addition, such a political system would encourage a “shared-facilitating-government” with most of the functions of Parliament passed on (shared with/transferred to) to different groups at different locations with different functions limited to the area concerned.

  • 0
    0

    For good governance the following submitted for your consideration:
    2. Changing the political system of governance and administration to one with multiple units with different functions in different spheres throughout the country would facilitate to strengthen the bond and lead to the self-empowerment of the people that would naturally contribute to an All Inclusive National Government which is the need of the day to bring about reconciliation that would lead to peace, prosperity and a pleasant life.

    3. It would better serve the country – IF the functions of the Parliament are separated with one or more of its functions be entrusted to the appropriate Councils elected for the – Country, Provinces, Districts, Divisions and G.S. divisions at those levels – throughout the country with the different functions of the present Parliament distributed and shared by these Councils limited to the area concerned in such a way the powers and duty do not over-lap and so that no single Council – will have all the powers in governing or administering the country as a whole. Such a system of “Entrusting a part of the Functions of Parliament to different Councils throughout the country” would help in creating an all-inclusive healthy nation with the sovereign and personal liberty of the citizens intact is vital and that this freedom is best preserved within the framework of a truly democratic nation state.

    4. Today’s requirement is not moving towards devolution of powers but “sharing of powers” or “transfer of Power” through an appropriate political structure that would empower and enable a large number of “groups of people” at different levels to actively participate in policy making, planning, administering and implementing projects in the country. Such a political structure would help to prevent discontent among the people, promote harmony and peace, eliminate bribery, corruption, discrimination, injustice and oppression; protect, promote and strengthen the unity and cooperation among the people.

    5. In addition, such a political system would encourage a “shared-facilitating-government” with most of the functions of Parliament passed on (shared with/distributed to) to different groups at different locations with different functions limited to the area concerned.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.