Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran claims the Government is trying to divide his party in the same manner in which it split other opposition parties in the country. He strongly attacks the Government for its lack of commitment to finding a solid solution to the ethnic issue and points out that the much-discussed 13 Plus will not be a solution to the problem.
He also notes that the talks between the two parties have come to a standstill due to the lack of communication by the Government.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: What is happening to the talks between the TNA and the Government?
A: The talks seem to be a standstill. We were scheduled to meet on 17, 18 and 19 January. Unfortunately the Government team did not turn up for the meeting. They never said why they didn’t turn up for the meeting. There is no official communication between the two parties. Therefore, the meetings are at a standstill.
However, on Saturday through the electronic media I got to know that the next meeting is scheduled for 7, 8 and 9 February, but I do not know whether it is correct because the Government has not officially informed us about these dates.
Q: The Government says it has suspended talks until the TNA nominates members to the Parliamentary Select Committee. Your comments?
A: There are various stories. President Rajapaksa says one thing, Basil Rajapaksa says another thing and Keheliya Rambukwella says yet another; the media reports various stories. But so far the Government has not made any official statement. Like I told you before, there is no official communication from the Government.
Q: The Government claims a split within the TNA is another obstacle for the talks to come to a standstill. Is it true?
A: There is no split in the TNA. But we know that the Government wants to split our party. It has done that to all other political parties and the Government is trying to divide the TNA too. But it will never succeed; there is no fraction or division in our party and we will not allow the Government to divide our party.
Q: Why do you seek assistance from India to solve local matters?
A: I don’t believe this is a local matter anymore. If this is a local matter, why was the Indo-Lanka Accord initiated in 1987? Then to implement the accord they brought the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Then later they brought Norwegian facilitators. Today, even after the war, President Rajapaksa goes to Delhi and makes commitments saying he will go beyond the 13th Amendment. If this is a local matter, why is the President discussing these matters with other countries?
This is no longer an internal matter. There are many nations that supported our country during the war. There are many countries that show keen interest in resolving this matter. This is the correct time for us too – to tell the international community about what is happening in this country.
During the last 30 years hundreds and thousands of people were killed. There is a United Nations report on war crimes. There are matters that we need to discuss with the international community and they are not internal matters.
Q: What assurances were given by the Indian Foreign Minister during his recent visit?
A: He didn’t give any assurances to us. No promises were made by him. When he met TNA members, we explained the situation in Sri Lanka. We also educated him about the talks between the TNA and the Government. We discussed various matters concerning Tamils in this country. We also discussed how we could find a solution to this problem. At the end of the discussion the Indian Foreign Minister said that he would discuss these matters with President Rajapaksa and the Foreign Minister.
After he met us he had a discussion with the President. In an interview to the media, the Indian Foreign Minister stated that President Rajapaksa had given an assurance that he would go beyond the 13th Amendment. We believe this was the message given to the Tamil people by the Indian Foreign Minister.
Q: What are your views on 13 Plus?
A: We don’t know what the 13 Plus means. The Government has so far failed to give a clear explanation about what 13 Plus actually is. However, the Cabinet Spokesman has said the 13 Plus is the senate or the second chamber. What I believe is that there should be various changes to the 13th Amendment itself. If we want to implement the 13th Amendment, we need to clarify the problems that are already there.
In the name of national policy planning, the Central Government can interfere in all matters. The powers are vested with Governor; therefore the Governor has the power to take whatever decisions he wants. This is exactly what is happening in the Eastern Province right now.
Even though there is a Chief Minister and board of ministers, the Governor is taking all important decisions. The Chief Minister complains that he can’t make a single appointment without being obstructed by the Governor. What is the point of having elections and appointing a Chief Minister and board of ministers? These things need to change.
Apart from those factors we believe that the 13th Amendment needs to be enhanced. We never accepted the 13th Amendment. Even to J.R. Jayewardene we clearly said that the 13th Amendment needs to be improved. Police, land, fiscal and financial powers and various others facts had to be enhanced.
The concurrent list should be abolished. We don’t see a need for a concurrent list. Those powers can be devolved to the provinces. Therefore, there are various matters within the 13th Amendment itself.
We have always said that we have to think beyond that. There is no point talking about the 13th Amendment without rectifying the points that I highlighted.
Q: The Government has said 13 Plus is the Senate. What is your opinion? Are you ready to accept that?
A: We are talking about a power sharing arrangement. It must be in the centre and in the provinces. The second chamber or a senate in the centre might be alright. But that too has to be decided; how they will organise this senate is a different matter. What we are demanding mostly is power sharing in provinces.
As I mentioned before, we need to sort out a number of issues when it comes to provinces. We can’t equate provincial devolution with a second chamber or a senate.
That is an absolutely meaningless effort. We are not against the senate but that will be a minor matter within a comprehensive package. The senate alone can’t solve the entire problem.
Q: Eastern Chief Minister Sivan-esathurai Chandrakanthan has said that he needs land and police powers. What are your views?
A: We see that as a positive move. We know very well that all the chief ministers need land and police powers. Unfortunately they are not in a position to come forward and make such request because they all belong to Government parties.
They don’t want to open their mouths because they want to be with the President and be part of this Government. Without separate land and police powers it is a difficult task to run provincial councils. Considering all those factors, I feel that the Eastern Chief Minister requesting separate land and police powers is a positive move.
Q: Are you also asking for separate police and land powers?
A: What we are asking for is not a secret. Everyone in this country knows what we want.
Q: Why do you need a separate police? Why can’t you negotiate with the Government about depoliticising the existing police and make it an independent institution?
A: When we talk about devolution, we talk about developing our own area. We look after ourselves and especially our own law and order matters. We have had a long bitter history. There were many problems. How many thousands of people were killed during those times? What did the police do? They were just watching and didn’t want to do anything. Here we are not talking of a separate state. India, Switzerland and Britain are classic examples for devolution of police powers. When we say we want police powers, we mean the power to look after law and order. I don’t understand why they make such a hue and cry about it. When we say police powers, we don’t mean guns and batons; all we want is better policing.
This is nothing new. But the Sri Lankan Government is trying to make it an issue. Even in the 13th Amendment, police powers are partly devolved. What we suggest is to devolve police powers to the provinces. There is nothing wrong in what we ask. We are saying again and again that this is within a united Sri Lanka. There is no need to fear or worry about it.
Q: What do you think about the present situation in north?
A: We are totally under Army occupation. There are more than 100,000 armed forces in the Northern Province. There is an Army soldier for around every 10 persons. The Army is occupying many private houses.
They are taking over private and State land. There are large numbers of people who are yet to be resettled.
Apart from this tragic situation, the Government is carrying out some infrastructure facility programs such as building roads and putting up bridges. In the Northern Province there is no civil administration. Even during a school function we have to invite the Army. That is the ground reality in north. If the Government talks about democracy, they have to first withdraw the Army from these areas.
Much publicity was given to an incident where a 17-year-old ex-LTTE child soldier married a 20-year-old Army soldier. Reportedly this was supported by the President. In this country, what is the required age for a girl to get married?
The girl should be over 18 and the boy should be 21. That is the law of this country. How can the President and the armed forces support an underage marriage?
Isn’t this a joke?
This entire reconciliation program is a joke to this Government.
Courtesy: Financial Times