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Sri Lanka must move on political progress, if it wants to avoid persecution – Rajeewa Wijesinha


 Anti-Tamil political groups must be ousted – Prof. Wijesinha
Excerpts from the interview:
”But unless we get rid of this mindset, and move swiftly on fulfilling the recommendations of our own commissions, we will face disaster on all fronts soon.”
”But we cannot continue to demand trust and patience when there are no signs of movement;”
” It would be good too if the TNA made it clear to the President that it wants to negotiate with people it can trust, perhaps with facilitation by India or one of the other countries mentioned. But the lunacy of the manner in which government responded to the initial South African initiative, by sending a delegation which then forgot the matter, indicates a myopia that will be difficult to get over. ”

Q: Chief Minister of the Northern Province justice C.V.Wigneswaran has been complaining that Governor S.A Chandrasiri is not consulting him on anything and is doing everything on his own, making the massive mandate of the people of North meaningless. All the provincial Governors have the same powers, but only the Northern and Eastern Province Governors are behaving aggressively. Other Governors do not interfere with the decisions and functions of the respective CMs. As one of the prominent pro-13A figures from among the majority community, how do you react to this unfortunate situation?

A: This situation is typical of many in which both sides speak and act without any sensitivity to the requirements of the other. It was very sad that the TNA has engaged in negative comments about the Governor for a long time, and in particular during the election campaign and afterwards. Since it seemed to have pre-judged the issue, it could not really have expected the Governor to have been positive about the new administration.
 On the other hand, despite the boorish behaviour of the TNA, the Governor should have made an effort. He should also recognize that the TNA is not a monolith, and he should have brought himself to cooperate within the framework of the Constitution, given that the TNA had been elected with an overwhelming mandate.
 Your question suggests that the Northern and Eastern Governors are behaving in an exceptional fashion, but you must remember that the situation in those two provinces was exceptional in that they had no elected government for several years, following the extravagant behaviour of the last (joint) Provincial Chief Minister as also the flirtation between the Government and the LTTE, which was such a disaster for Sri Lanka. Both Governors therefore got used to running an administration.
 However, while there was potential for conflict when we finally had an elected provincial administration in the East, because of the capacity for consultation of both the Governor and the Chief Minister, there was no tension between them. As you know, the East developed in leaps and bounds when Pillaiyan was the Chief Minister, but he would be the first to acknowledge the role of the Governor, who was an experienced administrator.
 Wigneswaran should acknowledge how much the Northern Governor did for the development of the province, and recognize that they need to work together to ensure a smooth transition to the primacy of the elected Chief Minister. Similarly, the Governor should recognize that Wigneswaran is an experienced administrator in his own right, and should take his advice on issues on which the Constitution lays down that this is the procedure.

Q: There was hope among the more moderate section of the Tamil polity that the government had a good opportunity to reach out to the Tamil people politically by allowing the Northern Provincial Council, led by CVW, to function smoothly. But the Rajapaksa administration is not ready to rise to the occasion and things are going from bad to worse. The government is leaving no stone unturned to scuttle the council elected by the Tamil people. What have you got to say on this?
A: I think you are wrong to make blanket allegations against the Rajapaksa administration. You must remember that this administration encompasses many strands, some of which have little concern for the Tamil people, others of which are concerned but, like the lady in Trollope, who loved a man passionately, but never thought of his wishes, have never stopped to think of what the Tamil people want. I think it is important for the moderates in the Tamil polity to understand this and get to the core decency of the administration, as represented by the President and the vast majority of traditional politicians in the government, both SLFP and old left; just as the President must get to the core decency of the Tamil polity and not get sidetracked by extremists.

Q:  What would be the remedial actions that the government can take to reverse the trend?

A: I think government, or rather the President, must use new brooms to sweep the place clean of those forces that will otherwise destroy his government, both nationally and internationally. One of the brightest young MPs said recently that we need to improve relations with both India and the TNA, and for that the President must use the services of people who have the confidence of both India and the TNA.
 Unfortunately I can think of only a couple of people in this category who are also fully committed to the President and his great achievements in 2009. With regard to India, the only possible option is Dayan Jayatilleka, but many of those surrounding the President are implacably opposed to him. Tragically, some of them were influenced to this by Israel, as we know from those who engineered his removal in 2009, just after he had won a significant victory in Geneva.
 It is tragic that the Secretary of Defence and his close supporters in the President’s inner circle were amongst these, but I suppose the Secretary in those days was influenced by the Sarath Fonseka Doctrine of Israeli type settlements in the North, to which the President himself was strongly opposed. I feel upset about this, because I believe the Secretary of Defence tried to fight a clean war, and now he is being accused of the opposite and has no one with a command of the language and the facts to defend him and his basically very disciplined army. Instead, by a sentimental attachment to those who violated the principles he had tried to lay down, as in the case of the Trincomalee Five (to which Akashi drew attention), he will end up sacrificing his best and most decent commanders.
 With regard to the TNA, the history of the discussions with them in 2011 makes it clear that I am the best emissary, but my standing was completely destroyed by those on our delegation who were determined to destroy the talks claiming that I was the TNA representative on the government side.
 I know that they conveyed this impression to the President, and it was when I felt that there was no confidence in me and I could achieve nothing that I resigned. Of course following my not voting for the impeachment of the Chief Justice, I know that I will not be entrusted with any responsibilities, but that is sadder for the government than for me. I can only hope they find someone else of proven capacity – which I think I showed in achieving an agreement on Land Powers which caused anxiety to the extremists on either side.
 In this connection, having just had my attention drawn to Dayan Jayatilleka’s suggestion that I should be appointed Governor of the North, I should make it clear that this is not an appointment I would accept, even in the remote contingency that it was offered to me. Apart from believing that my presence in Parliament is essential, for when (not if) it becomes clear that we need constitutional reforms based on clear principles, I do not think General Chandrasiri should be changed at this stage.
 What is needed rather is the entrenchment of structures to ensure that each authority respects others and exercises powers and prerogatives within established limits, with sensitivity to the needs of others of different political persuasions.

Q:Government’s approach and actions regarding the NPC and most importantly the ethnic question are continuously compelling TNA leaders and the Tamils to look for the international community’s help for everything regarding the Tamil rights. How do you react to this? What is your advice for the government and TNA?
A: You are not quite correct in framing the question, because the TNA leaders and in particular the more aggressive Tamils overseas began this game of galvanizing the international community against the Sri Lankan Government a long time ago. They did this even while the President was assiduously fulfilling his commitments to the Indian Government regarding resettlement and rehabilitation.
 Sadly, whereas Sarath Fonseka’s resignation letter makes it clear that he disapproved of what the President was doing, some elements in the international community supported Sarath Fonseka against the President and so did the TNA, I believe because of persuasion by those elements, that this was the best way to apply pressure on the President. Such rank hypocrisy naturally created suspicions that were compounded when the TNA followed the US line about the LLRC, when everyone else was predominantly positive.
 That is why I have some sympathy for government neuroses, though I believe government should grow up and overcome these neuroses. But it is also necessary for the TNA to give up such posturing and make it clear that it wants progress for the Tamil people within a united Sri Lanka, which I believe Sambandan is sincere about. He is not helped however by pronouncements that seem to contradict this, just as the President was not helped by attempts to stop him holding the Northern Provincial Council election.
 All this requires confidence building and, since I cannot be used for the purpose, I can only hope that the President has someone who can work together with India, the best instrument for the purpose, to take things forward. But if he continues to rely on his Minister of External Affairs, there will be disaster. Similarly, in using the good offices of Japan and South Africa, he must use people whom those countries will work with, not someone who thinks the way forward is through grandstanding, so as to impress those he believes will enhance his career in Sri Lanka. Perhaps that is the way forward, for him, but it will destroy the country.
 It would be good too if the TNA made it clear to the President that it wants to negotiate with people it can trust, perhaps with facilitation by India or one of the other countries mentioned. But the lunacy of the manner in which government responded to the initial South African initiative, by sending a delegation which then forgot the matter, indicates a myopia that will be difficult to get over.

 Q: How do you see the recent visit of Akashi and his comments at the press conference in Colombo before his departure?

A: I think that Akashi has, as always, made some very sensible points, and I am only sorry that, with customary Japanese politeness, he has not made them forcefully enough.

He did indeed say something very strong in saying that ‘sound and fury’ alone were not enough. Sadly I don’t suppose anyone near the President has explained to him the full meaning of that quotation, from Macbeth.

It is a tale.
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
signifying nothing.

In effect, Akashi is telling us (leave aside the nature of those who try such bluffing) that we have to act, and not just promise to act. Unfortunately when we don’t act, most people believe the President is preventing action, not understanding just how dysfunctional our system is, and how many people do and say just as they want, and ignore the President. Of course there is some reason for this belief, given that the President does not follow up on what he has ordered, and his secretary is just so busy, and also perhaps diffident given the strong will of others around him, that he fights shy of pushing the President’s agenda.
 I may be naïve, but I have evidence that, when the President and his Secretary do not feel pressure, they act decisively, as in appointing

Mrs. Wijayathilaka to look after the LLRC Action Plan when the opportunity arose, even though she had been left out previously. But it is sad that the President’s original decision to include civil society actors in this was subverted, and Weeratunge did not fulfill his commitment to me, when they were thrown off the drafting committee, that they would be involved in the Task Force.  That is why I think, despite Akashi’s optimism, Weeratunge alone will not have an impact in Geneva. He needs people like Mrs. Wijayathilaka and the civil society people the President had wanted involved, who were so rudely dismissed.
 Akashi’s stress on cases that came up before the conclusion of the war is significant, and I hope that even now government will act on the recommendations of the Udalagama Commission. The fact that the report of that commission has not been made public is tragic, and those who have tried to sideline the work of Sri Lankan Commissions only have themselves to blame for the efforts to impose external commissions upon us. The lack of faith in our systems can be laid to rest if the intelligence and objectivity of people like Justice Udalagama are made clear – just as we had some respite when the LLRC report was published.
But we have destroyers at work, as can be seen by the fact that, when the South Africans sent a team to discuss reconciliation, those responsible for the meeting at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute cut off the names of important participants who had been suggested, including LLRC representatives. I think this was done by the Ministry of External Affairs and, while I can understand its nervousness of me, which the President explained to me, it is criminal that they left out people like Dayan Jayatilleka and Palihakkara.
I suspect this may have been because of fear of the Ministry of Defence, but in fact I think the Ministry of Defence is more enlightened, since Palihakkara and his fellow Commissioner Rohan Perera, are regularly invited for seminars by the forces, as I was, until I signed a petition about what happened at Weliveriya. In this regard I think the Ministry of Defence and in particular senior officers in the forces, are more enlightened and aware of realities than the Ministry of External Affairs gives them credit for. But unless we get rid of this mindset, and move swiftly on fulfilling the recommendations of our own commissions, we will face disaster on all fronts soon.
But I should also mention that Akashi was sympathetic to our position on the LLRC recommendations in terms of the need for time, and he is right in saying that inquiries cannot be concluded swiftly. But we need not only to act, but to show that we are acting, which means more transparency about the process. Only with that can we continue to assert that these things must be left to internal processes.
And it will also help if we have credible figures at the fore. We have Justice Weeramantry, we have Justice Udalagama and also others like Justice Yapa and former Chief Justice G.P.A de Silva who command credibility. We can also always ask for observers from countries like India and Japan and South Africa. But we cannot continue to demand trust and patience when there are no signs of movement – which is why he stressed the need for action on the earlier cases. I should add that, though your main topic was different, you are right to combine international pressure on accountability issues with the question of political progress.
After all the initial American flirtation with Sarath Fonseka was because they thought this was the way to apply pressure on the government for political progress. Though, as with so many American initiatives based on thundering ignorance and overwhelming power, this subterfuge failed of its purported objective and took on a mad life of its own, the basic idea, that we must move on political progress, if we are to avoid persecution, remains. I can only hope the government understands this

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