Colombo Telegraph

The Rajapaksa State Barricades The NPC

By Kumar David

Prof Kumar David

Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran (CV) has enunciated a bitter testament of what it is like to run a provincial administration under the Rajapakse semi-dictatorship. I will quote from his statement anon. The seven UPFA Provincial Councils (PC) are phonies who stand up when told to, and squat when so instructed. The government treats them like spittoon bearers not administrations. Hence they are inept, riddled with scandal and incapable of regional development. Many dismiss the PC system as a monumental waste of money that delivers no useful output; this is true since they have zero autonomy and function as pliant instruments of Temple Trees. As long as PCs remained docile the problem was buried, but the birth of the Northern PC (NPC) upset the totalitarian apple cart. Anything that doesn’t cringe when the autocrat cracks his whip, obviously and by definition, is anathema. This is what has now come to pass in the North.

May I remind readers of what I said in this column on 11 August when election preparations were underway? My concern was an impending challenge, that is wilful obstruction by Centre, Governor, and a military accustomed to aggressive interference in civilian affairs. A second point I drew attention to was demilitarising the North and ending its de facto status as if occupied by an alien force. Third was recruiting talented people to build an energetic, able and efficient administration. CV has now bitterly complained of a deliberate and gigantic roadblock placed in his way by Centre and Governor in all three matters. A subculture of obedience to the military has so penetrated the sinews of serving provincial staff, he says, that his work programmes are obstructed. The implications are very far reaching; potentially catastrophic. Let me next offer you a few quotations from CV’s 10 December statement edited for length. (The full statement is on the Colombo Telegraph website).

Incapacitating the NPC

“The Provincial Council System was identified as a means to devolve power, but 13A strengthened the Executive President (EP) and widened his powers. The Governor is the representative of EP; no appointment is possible within the Province without his approval. From Secretary to minor employee, it is the Governor who holds the whip hand. Though the law says the Chief Secretary shall be appointed by the President with the concurrence of the Chief Minister, the present Chief Secretary was not appointed in conformity with the law. She did not resign when the new Administration came in; neither did other Secretaries”.

“It is the former Jaffna Armed Forces commander who has taken on the mantle of Governor. He goes on unhindered as if the Army is administering the Northern Province. Officials of the Provincial Council fear to cooperate with the Peoples’ Representatives. They shudder to displease a former Army Commander and present Governor”.

“We have not been able to present a single Statute to the Council as the Administration lacks high level human resources and institutional arrangements. It is by passage of time that the present cadre of senior officers got to where they are. We are unable to expect high efficiency and proficiency in certain quarters. There is no system by which we can induct high level human resources. Twenty odd years of military rule has trained our officers to act parrot-like and do things as they are told to do. There is a gap in the capacity for governance and development inside and outside the Administration”.

The TNA was absolutely right to contest the elections, win in a landslide to give utterance to the voice and soul of the Tamil people, and now to expose before the whole world what a farce Rajapakse style devolution is, and what “decentralised” administration in the tomb of a totalitarian government is like. CV once again makes the point incisively.

“Only by standing for election could we bring to the notice of the world the feelings and aspirations of the people and show that the Government was portraying a false picture. In the election people were able to proclaim their disapproval to the Government and of the military presence in the Northern Province. Second, without power, without authority in our hands, to proclaim insufficiencies in the Thirteenth Amendment at colloquiums and seminars made no impact on Government or International Community. By establishing ourselves in authority and experiencing the short comings in reality, we can tell the world what is really happening. That is what we are doing. Rather than say the Thirteenth Amendment is insufficient, we are exposing its shortcomings while established in office”.

There is nothing the NPC can achieve if its actions are curbed and it has to kowtow to the government. Breaking free of these fetters is sine qua non for any PC to get on with its job; sans this, it is as good as dead. The regime wants to starve, frustrate and drive the NPC out of office since it is Tamil and since it refuses to genuflect to the Rajapakses.

Recently the TNA made headway in appealing directly to the people in the south over the heads of the despised UPFA leadership. Now here is an issue on which it is more important than ever to make a direct appeal to the Sinhalese people. The message has to be: “You don’t want us to talk Eelam; you don’t want the country divided. Fine, that suits us too, but give us a chance to run our affairs, create a decent, honest, development oriented PC and to improve the lot of our people. Everyone knows that if this is sabotaged there will be disastrous conflict again”. Neither the portfolio besotted poltroons of the Dead Left, nor spineless Hakeem and his graft infested SLMC be of any help. Will the UNP, JVP and Peratugami help? I don’t know; we will have to wait and see.

Pro-LTTE quarters at home and in the diaspora are pleased that the NPC has hit a snag; they pray that deadlock worsens till there comes a point at which they can say to the Tamils: “See, devolution and political settlement within one country is an illusion; Eelam is the only way.” It is wrong to jump to this premature conclusion. This is Mandela season; recall that Madiba persevered through horrendous obstacles, created by none other than the state, until he finally triumphed.

International intervention

It was concerted intervention by the International Community and Delhi that made NPC elections possible. The regime’s fallback plan is now obvious. ‘OK’, think the Rajapakses, ‘you can force us to hold elections and let the TNA form an administration, but humph, you cannot stop us from buggering it afterwards’. Since Sinhalese opinion will mature only slowly it is imperative that international pressure be brought to bear now. Intervention has to include enforcing guarantees given to the UNHRC and Delhi and implementing promises made by the President on many occasions.

In that August 11 piece I said: “From its inception, the NP-PC will be a living arena in which 13A will be tested beyond its limits and towards 13A+. India and the international community are vital in protecting the PC and extending its powers towards real devolution, not the make-believe faked by UPFA slave-councils. When repression is highlighted, internationally, by elected representatives of a people it has more impact than individual or political exposure. When regimes coerce minorities they only undermine their own sovereignty and invite intervention. Repression by Rajapakse’s forces will be a flashpoint once the NP-PC starts work”. I am no prophet, but this is just how things have turned out and CV’s statement mirrors these concerns.

That the Tamil diaspora in the UK was a major factor in motivating Cameron to demand an investigation into human rights and war crime issues, is not disputed. But this is a protracted contest and raising it at the UNHRC in March 2014 will only be symbolic; at most it will bury the reputation of the Rajapakses a little deeper. The more important task which will have immediate benefits, if it gains traction, is international pressure on GoSL to stop blockading the work of the NPC. It will be easy to secure British, American and Western support. In Thailand the all powerful military is wary of taking sides in the conflict in Bangkok “because the international community is watching closely”. China which is reluctant, despite its new turn on human rights issues, to go after the Rajapakses explicitly, will be amenable to a progressive stance on devolution. The Chinese system endows Provinces with economic power and as the Bo Shilai case illustrates a significant amount of political autonomy. The international factor is of huge importance in determining outcomes in Lanka.

The elephant in the room is India. As electoral uncertainty shifts bets from Congress to BJP Hindu-saffron tinged with AIADMK black-and-red, influencing India becomes vital. Both Congress-led and BJP-led AIADMK-inclusive governments, will be receptive to CV’s pleas (who will not?). More important, now is the time to make the limitations of 13A clear. It is timely to commence a campaign for 13A+ and delineate the specific changes needed. The GTF, described as the most influential diaspora outfit, as well as the others, have their work cut out for 2014!

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