By Harim Peiris –
The Rajapakse government has in recent weeks put into high gear its post war Northern or Tamil policy and this policy has been marked by generally trying to reduce the level of devolution that exists in the country under the 13th amendment. What currently exists as devolution is also only a partial implementation of the 13th amendment, since in practice neither police nor land powers have been vested with the provinces since the inception of the Councils. However, not satisfied with a de facto arrangement of reducing the powers of the councils, the Administration desires a de jure reduction of devolution granted under the 13thamendment.
Denying the provincial franchise to Tamil citizens.
The Sinhala Buddhist nationalist elements in the government, the JHU and the NFF have been helpful in this regard, taking the lead in seeking to form public sentiment towards both reducing devolution and taking it a step further to deny the Tamil people in the North, citizens of Sri Lanka by decent no less, their franchise at the provincial level, to elect their own provincial representatives. In the alternate, the former army commander of Jaffna appointed Governor of the Northern Province, exercises the powers of the council, unconstitutionally as the Supreme Court has held in the Divineguma Bill case and we wonder why the world tells us we have a military administration and no provincial democracy in the former conflict zone of the North.
Now the military and indeed the government frequently concedes that it has not won the hearts and minds of the Tamil community, post war as the election results of votes en mass for the TNA, will objectively tell us and the security arguments for making the North a garrison province would bear out. In such an instance, some political accommodation of the Tamil community as had been attempted through and from the times of the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam pact and the Dudley – Chelvanayakam pact, is surely needed as even the Rajapakse Administration admits through its own All Party Representatives Conference (APRC) appointed during the war to seek the Southern consensus for the ethnic problem and the LLRC appointed afterwards to deal with the effects of the war and reconciliation.
Non Implementation of LLRC
In the four years since the end of the war in 2009, the government has taken two steps towards addressing the underlying causes and the effects of the ethnic conflict. Arguably in response to the UN Secretary General’s Experts Panel, the government appointed its own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and subsequently at India’s urging began a “structured dialogue” with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which explored the contours of a political settlement. Both these domestic initiatives languish on the back burner, consigned to the non implementation ranks of government policy, either due to a lack of political will or more likely, as events demonstrate, a political desire to do almost exactly the opposite to what the core LLRC recommendations are and the even the limited areas of agreement reach in the year long discussions with the TNA. Having unilaterally decided to keep away from the bi lateral talks with the TNA, the government is now reviving afresh another non starter of an initiative; a parliamentary select committee (PSC) on the ethnic question.
Making noises about a unilateral PSC
The Government is making anew a prior suggestion of proceeding with a parliamentary select committee (PSC) however now with the caveat that only the government, made up of its constituent parties will participate. This is supposed to deliberate on a solution to the ethnic problem. Strangely the most vociferous proponents of the PSC, are the JHU who claim there is no ethnic problem in the country, but are the biggest proponents of the PSC. One wonders to what purpose.
Firstly a PSC that is constituted only of government members is redundant. There is both the (large) cabinet and the UPFA parliamentary group meeting, for intra governmental discussions. In fact deliberations between government’s constituents are a clear necessity before the government can engage with the TNA, since the government does not speak in one voice on devolution and reconciliation and seemingly has no clear post war policy on the ethnic problem.
Second, the Rajapakse regime should before it engages in yet another exercise such as the PSC, draw on and indeed implement the decisions and recommendations of its own prior processes and deliberations, including the Tissa Vitarana APRC process and the LLRC. Both of these are government processes. Implementing even some of their basic recommendations, does not require any further discussion, just the political will for the Regime to fulfill its own promises, manifesto and internally generated proposals. That the Rajapakse Administration seems adamantly opposed to making even the smallest concessions to minorities in the country, be they ethnic or now even religious, except to deny the existence of minorities hardly inspires any confidence or rationale for engagement.
Finally, following a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) process, held illegal, null and void by the appellate and superior courts of this country, that proceeded with impeaching the chief justice of the country, after adverse decisions against the government, hardly provides the kind of stellar recommendations about the integrity of a PSC process. The PSC on the chief justice impeachment showed exactly how the Rajapakse regime uses (or abuses) a PSC and the combined opposition including the UNP, the JVP and the TNA can be forgiven if once bitten twice shy, they opt out of participating in another PSC unless and until the government by presenting its own proposals for resolving the issues or implements in good faith and best efforts the LLRC recommendations thereby demonstrating its sincerity. In the absence of such confidence building measures, there is no rhyme or reason for the opposition and especially the TNA to be a party to a seemingly government time buying exercise for CHOGM and / or the next national election.
* Harim Peiris‘s writings may be accessed online http://harimpeiris.com