Image courtesy of Asian Mirror (file photo).
Mr. Speaker, I want to commence my speech by congratulating the Finance Minister, the Hon. Mangala Samaraweera who has presented his first Budget at a time when the country’s economy is in much difficulty. The Hon. Minister is an old, sincere Friend who has always been very progressive in his views on many crucial issues, particularly on the resolution of the National Question. Various Proposals made by him in this Budget are aimed at ameliorating the living conditions of segments of society deeply affected as a result of the Conflict, facilitating reconciliation and infusing hope in the lives of such people and help them towards resumption of normal life. It could be that much more needs to be done but, it must be acknowledged that there is a reasonably good beginning and that while whatever can be done under the current Budget Proposals should be implemented by the relevant ministries as early as possible. Much more, in fact very much more, needs to be done to which also attention must be paid as we go along.
A country’s economy is dependent on a number of factors. Our country and our people have been endowed by nature with many advantages. We are strategically located in the Indian Ocean Region. We can exploit our location to our economic advantage; we have vast opportunities in this area to which we need to pay much attention. To achieve all this, our economy needs to be healthy domestically.
We inherited a healthy economy when we achieved Independence. We were envied by other countries. We have frittered away those advantages. If a country is plagued with diseases which we bring upon ourselves, a country’s economy cannot be healthy. We all know the diseases that have afflicted our country: lack of unity, disharmony caused by inequality, injustice, discrimination and exclusion have been our main ailments. Legitimate political aspirations and demands for equality, inclusion, democratic empowerment were met with violence against unarmed civilians. Political commitments were not honoured, the rule of law was not enforced and these harmful developments resulted in counter violence and eventually an armed conflict of unexpected and unprecedented proportions which lasted several decades. We have spent very heavily on fighting a war that could have been well avoided if commitments made to democratic Tamil leaders were honoured and if there was reasonable political accommodation of legitimate Tamil aspirations on the indisputable basis that Sri Lanka is a multilingual, multi-ethnic pluralist society. The recognition of that reality was paramount for there to be national harmony and peace.
Expenditure on Defence continues to be our main commitment, both during the War and even several years after the War has come to an end. All this has had a very adverse impact on the Economy. In more recent years we have become a country in chronic debt. Egocentric policies and projects have been pursued irrespective of other considerations. We need massive investment. Without endangering our country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, our doors and windows need to be opened to massive Foreign Direct Investment. Domestic investment should be encouraged to the maximum. We need to build a strong export-oriented economy. We have ample opportunities to achieve this objective.
We have vast nearby markets that we can avail ourselves of, if we can get our act together. I might mention, Sir, at this point of time that there seems to be a view in this country that foreign direct investment and even local investment is to a large extent being impeded by some corrupt persons who are demanding consideration to be able to award such opportunities to people interested in undertaking such projects. I think, it will be sad if that is the truth and I think the Government has a responsibility by the country to ensure that such corrupt activities do not become a hindrance to investment that brings about development in the country and raises the living standards of our people. We appear to have substantial international support. We should not linger, we should make decisions early and implement them. The Government should do what needs to be done.
We need to look after our people who are engaged in self-employment in every sphere – whether it be agriculture, fisheries, livestock development, small and medium scale industries or whatever. They constitute the bulk of our people. We cannot ignore them. We need to look after the poorer segments of our society. They need to be helped. For our efforts to succeed we need harmony, reconciliation, peace and stability in our country.
We are currently engaged in framing a new Constitution. Success in framing a new Constitution is a pre-requisite to successful economic progress. If we are able to frame a new Constitution and bring about stability, permanent peace and harmony amongst our people, the potential for economic development would be immense. That achievement in itself would receive such favourable recognition both domestically and internationally so as to infuse vast economic development and benefits for our people; the prospects otherwise could be dismal. It is unfortunate that we are hearing discordant voices in regard to the framing of a new Constitution and that these voices are emanating from persons who should know better. Since this is fundamental to the future of this country, particularly our economy you will permit me, Mr. Speaker, to deal with this issue somewhat explicitly. I do so because I think that the people of this country need to be educated on all aspects of this issue, both past and present. This is also fundamental in the interests of this country.
The position being taken by our former President, Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa both in Parliament and in the country, promotes disharmony amongst the people of this country. If he is against power being devolved, he should frankly say that power should only be exercised from Colombo as he sought to do under the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Such arrangements can perhaps be more beneficial to individuals in power, but it is certainly not beneficial to all the people in this country, who would participate more directly in the exercise of power, if power is devolved. Mr. Rajapaksa makes out that there are efforts to divide the country. I say categorically, Sir, that is absolutely false. The Proposals clearly state that the country will be undivided and indivisible. We have consistently, publicly stated this position. He should not, on a false basis, once again seek to divide the people of this country. That is not what we expect from a senior political leader. Such conduct, I state, is unbecoming of a senior political leader, particularly when the current President and the Prime Minister without in any way compromising on the future of Sri Lanka as an undivided, indivisible country are endeavouring to unite all the people in this country for the benefit of the country’s future.
It will be necessary, Sir, in the course of my speech, to refer to a few matters pertaining to the Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa and what he had to say when he was in power and when he endeavoured to resolve this problem. He addressed the inaugural Meeting of the All Party Representative Committee called the “APRC” and the Multi-Ethnic Experts Committee on 11th July, 2006. It will be relevant to see what President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to say when he addressed that joint meeting of the Multi-Ethnic Experts Committee and the APRC.
I will read just a few sentences, Sir, to indicate what his thinking was at that point of time. He said, I quote:
“Our objective must be to develop a just settlement within an undivided Sri Lanka.”
That is what we are trying to do now. He further said, I quote:
“People in their own localities must take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment. Central decision-making that allocates disproportionate resources has been an issue for a considerable time. In addition, it is axiomatic that devolution also needs to address issues relating to identity as well as security and socio-economic advancement without over-reliance on the Centre.”
He went on to say, Sir, I quote:
“Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution -”
He further went on saying, I quote:
“Given the ground situation, given the background to the conflict, it therefore behoves on particularly the majority community to be proactive in striving for peace and there must be a demonstration of a well-stretched hand of accommodation.”
This is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, Sir, when he addressed the APRC and the Multi-Ethnic Experts Committee. I want to ask him very respectfully whether currently we are engaged in any process that is in anyway different. We all are yet concerned about finding a solution that is reasonable to all the people in this country within the framework of an undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka. When Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa made this speech, nobody said he was dividing the country. What is being done now is what he wanted to do.
The next matter I want to refer to, Sir, is the Joint Statement made by President Rajapaksa and the Secretary-General of the UN. The Secretary-General of the UN came to Sri Lanka just after the end of the war on the 23rd of May, 2009. The Joint statement reads as follows. It states, I quote:
“President Rajapaksa and the Secretary-General agreed that addressing the aspirations and grievances of all communities and working towards a lasting political solution was fundamental to ensuring long-term socio-economic development.”
Finding a political solution was fundamental to ensuring socio-economic development.
It further states, I quote:
“President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.”
He was interested in doing that in the interest of ensuring further economic development of the country for the benefit of the people of the country. What is the difference between what is now being done and what President Mahinda Rajapaksa endeavoured to do in 2009 when he made the Joint Statement with the Secretary-General of the UN?
Sir, Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother, Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, at that point of time, a powerful Minister, went to India in October, 2008. He had discussions with the Indian leaders and at the end of those discussions with the Indian leaders, there was a statement issued.
It states, I quote:
“Both sides discussed the need to move towards a peacefully negotiated political settlement in the island including the North. Both sides agreed that terrorism should be countered with resolve. The Indian side called for implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment and greater devolution of powers to the provinces. Mr. Basil Rajapaksa emphasized that the President of Sri Lanka and his Government were firmly committed to a political process that would lead to a sustainable solution”.
That is what the all-powerful Basil Rajapaksa said when he went to India in 2008, before the war came to an end.
Prof. G.L. Peiris, the then Minister of External Affairs, went to India, Sir, between 15th and 17th of May, 2011. Having had discussions with leaders there, there was a statement made. It states, I quote:
“Both sides agreed that the end of armed conflict in Sri Lanka created a historic opportunity to address all outstanding issues in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation imbued with political vision to work towards genuine national reconciliation.
In this context, the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka affirmed his Government’s commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamil parties.
A devolution package building upon the 13th Amendment would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation.”
This is what Prof. G.L. Peiris, the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka said when he went to India in 2011, after the war had come to an end.
The Foreign Minister of India was in Sri Lanka from 16th to 19th of January, 2012. He had discussions with the Government, with the President and with the Prime Minister. This is what he said, Sir, when he concluded those discussions with the President and the Prime Minister. He made this statement in the presence of Prof. G.L. Peiris, the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka. What the Foreign Minister of India said was, I quote:
“The Government of Sri Lanka has on many occasions conveyed to us its commitment to move towards a political settlement based upon the full implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution and building on it so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers.
We look forward to an expeditious and constructive approach to the dialogue process. We believe that continuation of the dialogue between the Government and the TNA would pave the way for a political settlement including under the rubric of the Parliamentary Select Committee.”
So, this was the situation that prevailed at that point of time.
When President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power, when President Mahinda Rajapaksa issued a Joint Statement with the Secretary-General of the UN, when Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s External Affairs Minister went to India and when the Foreign Minister of India came to Sri Lanka, there were statements made in the presence of one another. Maximum devolution, meaningful devolution of power, is what they wanted to concede. What is being done now by the present Government through the process of the Constitutional Assembly and the Steering Committee and Subcommittees is to do the same within the framework of a united, undivided country.
Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa who is now present in this House, Sir, as President also appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission comprising of many distinguished people in this country, from all communities mostly from the Sinhalese community. What did they have to say? I am quoting, Sir, from Paragraph 8.222 of the LLRC Report. They said, I quote:
“All parties should recognize that the real issue of sharing power and participating in Government is the empowerment of the people and making the political leaders accountable to the people. This applies to Sri Lanka as a whole and includes the needs of citizens of all communities, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and others. The effective functioning of the democratic system which fulfils these needs, together with a consensual framework of devolution will, by virtue of attributes and institutions intrinsic to it, also provide the answer to the grievances of minorities.”
I also want to quote, Sir, Paragraph 8.225 of the LLRC Report which said, I quote:
“The Commission wishes to underline the critical importance of making visible progress on the devolution issue, in order to ensure the success of any process of lasting and sustainable reconciliation. The Commission therefore recommends that the present opportunity be utilized to launch in good faith an effort to develop a consensus on devolution, building on what exists – both, for maximum possible devolution to the periphery especially at the grass roots level, as well as power sharing at the centre. This consensus should be one that will enable peoples’ participation in governance decisions affecting them and avoid costly and unnecessary duplication of political, bureaucratic and other institutional structures that hamper efficient, cost effective and transparent governance.”
These were the recommendations of the LLRC. Why did you not implement them? You were the President. You appointed the LLRC comprising of very distinguished people of this country and why did you not implement the recommendations of the LLRC? In fact, if you had recommended the implementation of the LLRC, all that happened in Geneva and the UN Human Rights Council, would not have taken place. It was your failure to implement the recommendations of the LLRC that resulted in the Geneva process being started.
LLRC went on to make some other relevant observations, Sir, which I think, I should refer to and place on record. I refer to Paragraph 8.303 of the LLRC Report and this is what it said. I quote:
“The process of reconciliation requires a full acknowledgement of the tragedy of the conflict and a collective act of contrition by the political leaders and civil society, of both Sinhala and Tamil communities. The conflict could have been avoided had the southern political leaders of the two main political parties acted in the national interest and forged a consensus between them to offer an acceptable solution to the Tamil people.”
The LLRC pointed out that the reasons for the continuance of the conflict was the inability of the Southern leaders to come to a consensus in regard to a political settlement relating to the Tamil people. LLRC went on to blame the Tamil political leadership too. I will not refer to that. It is not relevant in this context. But they also attacked and blamed Tamil political leadership for not having quite cooperated in the matter of evolving a political solution. But the fact of the matter was that they pointed out that the main reason for the non-evolution of a political settlement was the lack of capacity on the part of the two main political parties to arrive at a reasonable consensus.
Eventually, Sir, I refer to paragraph 8.306 where the Commission wanted its recommendations implemented. I quote:
“The Commission strongly feels that if these recommendations are not expeditiously implemented, the all-important effort towards reconciliation and lasting peace may not be achieved and the country will continue to face an uncertain future.”
That is what the Commission said that if you do not implement the recommendations, the country will face an uncertain future. Why were the Commission’s recommendations not implemented? Why did President Mahinda Rajapaksa fail to implement the recommendations of the LLRC?
I want to refer to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election manifesto when he contested the election in 2015. I quote what he said in the manifesto,
“We have been battered for 36 years by the 1978 Constitution which was thrust upon our people and country, without an appropriate debate or discussion. We must also collectively acknowledge that our Constitution is now further distorted due to the various amendments over the years, some of which are not consistent with others. Therefore, instead of amending the Constitution further with piece-meal changes, I will take action to formulate a new Constitution that reflects the people’s ideas, aspirations and wishes within a period of one year.”
This is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in the election manifesto that he will frame a new Constitution. He further said, Sir, I quote,
“I will first submit the Draft Constitution which will consist of the proposals of these groups,-
He wanted certain groups appointed, experts and so on.
-for the Parliament’s approval in accordance with the Constitution. Thereafter, I will present the Draft Constitution to a referendum seeking the approval of the people.”
Nobody is now endevouring to do anything else. We are trying to frame a Constitution with a Steering Committee, Subcommittees, experts, public representations received. The whole matter is being considered at the Constitutional Assembly where things have been debated and it must be approved by Parliament by two-thirds majority and also approved by the people at a referendum. We do not want anything done behind the back of the people. So, why is President Mahinda Rajapaksa opposing what he himself proposed. When he contested the Presidential Election in 2015, he stated certain things. Why is he opposing what he himself said at that point of time?
Then, Sir, there was a Resolution in Parliament on the 09th of March, 2016. There was a Resolution to convert Parliament into a Constitutional Assembly. The Constitutional Assembly was to become a committee of the whole Parliament and we were to commence work on the framing of a new Constitution. That Resolution had been circulated amongst the Members of Parliament and it was adopted in Parliament on the 09th of March, 2016. I want to ask President Mahinda Rajapaksa, if you were opposed to framing of a new Constitution, why did you not come to that Session of Parliament and oppose that Resolution? Why did you not come and say the country does not need this? Why are you trying to stir communal feelings now? Why did you not oppose it at that point of time?
I am sorry, Sir, that this is not the way to get about resolving the problems of our people.
Now, the Local Authorities Elections are going to be held and you want to win the elections; you want to defeat the Government. Okay, that is your political activity; nobody can complain about that. But, in order to achieve that, you are trying to stir communal tension in this country by stating that through this Constitutional process, an effort is being made to divide the country. If that was your position, why did you not come to Parliament when the Resolution was adopted and oppose that Resolution? You did not do that.
I am sorry, Sir, that this is not the way to get about resolving the problems of our people. Now, Sir, we have a situation where there has been a Resolution adopted at the UN Human Rights Council in October, 2015 and that Resolution in paragraph no. 16 states, I quote:
“Welcomes the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to a political settlement by taking the necessary constitutional measures, encourages the Government’s efforts to fulfil its commitments on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population;..”
This is the Resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, accepted by this country. Do you want that Resolution violated? You have given a commitment to the UN Human Rights Council that you will do certain things in regard to constitutional making, constitutional measures to ensure reconciliation and peace in Sri Lanka. We know that prior to 2015, throughout 2012, 2013 and 2014, our position in the United Nations became worse. We reached a point of time when this country could have been subjected to economic sanctions and this country could have been in dire difficulties. That did not happen because under the new Government, there was a new direction. I want to ask you, are we not obliged to follow the commitment that we have already made to the UN Human Rights Council.
I want to, Sir, finally quote a statement made by the “Friday Forum” which is a civic body comprising of people of all communities – highly educated, highly respected persons of rectitude, people like Prof. Savithri Gunasekera and several others – and this is what they say in a statement they issued recently; the Statement issued on the 21st of August, 2017.
I want to merely refer to certain matters which I think, are very important. I am happy President Mahinda Rajapaksa with whom I have had a very strong personal relationship over the years is present and will listen to me.
It states, I quote:
“A new constitution has been mandated by the people and law makers must give it the highest priority. Any attempt to subvert this process for cheap political gain by those elected by the people, cannot and must not be tolerated. We urge the Prime Minister and members of the Steering Committee to ensure that the draft constitutional proposals are put before the Constitutional Assembly within the next three months at least, and are also made available to the public. We also urge all representatives of the people in Parliament, both in government and the opposition, to consider the proposals positively and in the best interests of all the people of this country. We acknowledge that the task of drafting a new constitution is not an easy one, given the multi-ethnic-religious constituency of the island nation. It is nonetheless imperative that the process is followed through to the end, and the voice of the people, made clear at the last two elections, be heard. ”
Before I conclude, Sir, I want to merely refer to certain matters which I think, are very important. I am happy President Mahinda Rajapaksa with whom I have had a very strong personal relationship over the years is present and will listen to me. I would appeal you to cooperate. We need your cooperation. You are a very senior political leader in this country. You command much respect amongst the people of this country and we will want you to be a party to the making of a new Constitution. I would appeal to you to support this endeavour.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power from 2005 to 2015 which is for ten years. He was in the earlier Government of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga between 1994 and 2005. So, he was in power for almost 20 years. There was a Presidential Election and there was a Parliamentary Election in 2015. The people of this country did not elect him as the President; the people of this country did not elect him as the Prime Minister. Compared to the votes he received in 2010 at the Presidential Election and at the Parliamentary Election, the votes he received in 2015 diminished considerably, diminished seriously. The people very clearly did not want him elected as President or as Prime Minister. That was the verdict of the people. That must be respected. People have elected an SLFP President; President Maithripala Sirisena. People have elected a UNP Prime Minister; Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. What does that mean? The people want the two parties to work together for the benefit of this country. The people’s verdict is the clearest indication that the people of this country want the two parties to work together and that is what they are doing. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, you are a senior Member of the SLFP. I held your father in high esteem, the late Mr. D.A. Rajapaksa because he was one man who crossed the floor of Parliament with Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike when Mr. Bandaranaike crossed over. There were other senior leaders like A.P. Jayasuriya and several others in Parliament but they did not cross over with Mr. Bandaranaike. But, your father crossed over with Mr. Bandaranaike. Mr. Bandaranaike did not expect that. Mr. Banadranaike is supposed to have turned round, seen him coming and said, “I thought that was my shadow”. For that reason, from that date onwards, I held your father in the highest esteem. We would like to hold you also in the highest esteem. You must support the making of a new Constitution. I say to you, Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa, that is your fundamental duty; you must not fail in that duty. That is something which this country needs, unless you want this country to go back into darkness. If you want this country to emerge into light and move forwards, we must make a new Constitution for this country which unites our people, makes us all Sri Lankans, enables us to live in Sri Lanka, our country, as a united people in an undivided, indivisible, perpetually indivisible Sri Lanka. You must do that.
As I said before, Sir, if you want to capture power, capture power in some other way, we have no problem. But, do not use the Constitution as a means to come to power
As I said before, Sir, if you want to capture power, capture power in some other way, we have no problem. But, do not use the Constitution as a means to come to power. That should not be done. I want to make an appeal to all SLFP Members. You all belong to a party started by Mr. Bandaranaike. We have supported your party at several elections. We have supported your Presidential candidates. In March, 1960, the Federal Party voted with the SLFP to bring down the UNP Government. We did that. When Mr. J.R. Jayewardene contested Mr. Hector Kobbekaduwa – Mr. Hector Kobbekaduwa was the opponent of Mr. J. R. Jayewardene in the 1982 Presidential Election – the people of Jaffna voted for Mr. Hector Kobbekaduwa.
So, do not think we are against you. Please do not be against us. I am appealing to the genuine SLFPers, please support the making of this Constitution. That is your fundamental duty. That is something you must do in the interest of this country. Do not let this country down. Join in the making of the Constitution. All of us must get together and work for the betterment of this country to make Sri Lanka a prosperous country, which we all would very much desire.
I thank you, Sir.
( Speech made by Hon Sampanthan in Parliament on 15th Nov 2017)