[Election in the North 2013; AFP photo]
I now get onto my second point, Sir. That is, the Northern Provincial Council and its governance. Sir, governance can only be with the assent of the governed. Governance cannot take place without the assent of the governed. The verdict of the Northern Provincial Council Election clearly indicates the democratic wish of the people of the North.
Seventy-eight per cent against 18 per cent
I wish to place that verdict before you. The elections were held for the Northern Provincial Council in September, 2013. The Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi received a total vote of 353,595 which was 78.48 per cent of the total vote at that election. The United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance received a total vote of 82,838 which was 18.38 per cent.
Seventy-eight per cent against 18 per cent. That was the difference and the Muslim Congress received 6,761 votes which was 1.50 per cent. The ITAK won 30 seats, the UPFA won seven seats and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won one seat. This vote, Sir, is clearly indicative of the wish of the people of the Northern Province as to who should govern them at the provincial level.
That verdict of the people must be respected. Sovereignty is vested in the people. In respect of matters that come within the competence of the Provincial Government, the democratic verdict of the people of the Northern Province must be respected. The Northern Provincial Council Election was not held to cast into the dustbin the democratic verdict of the people in the Northern Province. If that be the attitude of the Government, it must have consequences.
Eastern Province:an unholy alliance
Though the current provincial council arrangements are largely inadequate, even the present constitutional arrangements in the form of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the Provincial Councils Act came into being largely through the demands of the Tamil people for the sharing of political power in the North and the East and through the sacrifices made by the Tamil people. While in the Northern Province, the Chief Minister and the Provincial Government are being impeded at every turn in the performance of their legitimate duties, in the Eastern Province through an unholy alliance, contrary to the wishes of the people as demonstrated by their democratic verdict at the elections held in September 2012, we have a Chief Minister who will act only as directed by the Central Government. The irony of this situation is that the other seven provinces who never demanded power sharing enjoy a measure of autonomy even beyond the Thirteenth Amendment while frustration pervades the political environment in the North and the East.
This, Sir, I respectfully submit is a travesty of justice and cannot continue. The excessive presence of the armed forces, particularly in the North and also in the East, is a largely contributory factor to the erosion of the powers of provincial governance, and the lack of an environment that can facilitate the fulfilment of the democratic wishes of the local people. The conclusion is inevitable that the Central Government and the armed forces do not want provincial governance in the North and the East to be successful. This is a deliberate subversion of the democratic wish of the people, which has a seriously adverse impact on their future politically, economically, socially and culturally.
Promises not honoured
It is the duty of the Central Government, I submit, to extend to the Provincial Government all the assistance required to make provincial governance a success under the present constitutional arrangements. The Sri Lankan Government must also realize that it has committed itself to take further steps to make devolution more meaningful and more purposeful. It is also said in this regard that commitments made to the Provincial Government and the Chief Minister of the Northern Province have not been honoured.
Efforts to sabotage the effective functioning of provincial governance must inevitably have undesirable results. Sir, this will be tantamount to stating that only Tamil politicians loyal to the Government can successfully engage in provincial governance, whatever maybe the verdict, whatever may be the democratic wish of the people of the province. The position of the Central Government appears to be, regardless of the verdict of the people of the Northern Province, provincial governance can only be carried out by persons from the province who are loyal to the Government and by the Central Government. Such an authoritarian attitude must inevitably lead to undesirable consequences in the whole country. It will only mean that democracy in Sri Lanka is no longer of any value.
Why HSZ ?
I would like to deal, Sir, next with the question of land in both the Northern and the Eastern Provinces, which is the main problem that we have. Particularly in areas like Valikamam in the North and Sampur in the East, we have done our best to get the Government to be able to look at these things objectively and come to fair decisions. But, we have thus far not been successful in having those lands returned to our people though we have done all that we could do to enable that. High Security Zones were declared in the Northern Province and in the Eastern Province, quite understandably, when the LTTE possessed long range artillery and there was a possibility of that artillery being able to reach security installations in the North and the East. In such a situation, the Government cleared certain areas up to a point beyond the reach of the LTTE artillery to ensure the security of those security installations. That is understandable; that is legitimate. But, now the war is over; the LTTE is over; LTTE artillery is not there. So, there is no need for a High Security Zone. These are lands on which these people have lived for generations and centuries. They have lived on that land. They have farmed on that land. They have cultivated on that land. They have derived their livelihood from that land for generations and centuries. We went to the Supreme Court both in regard to Valikamam and in Sampur, you gave a commitment to the Supreme Court that those lands would be returned to the people; that in keeping with best practices once the lands have been demined and all the explosives removed, that people will be resettled, but it has not been done yet. I raised the matter in Parliament, particularly in regard to Sampur. The Hon. Basil Rajapaksa stood up here and gave us the assurance that the people will be resettled; that people can go back. But, that has not happened.
Prez should visit IDPs next time
His Excellency the President went to Jaffna. I would have been a very happy man if he had gone to these camps and seen for himself the position, the situation in which these people are living in several camps in Valikamam. Unfortunately, he did not go. I hope he will go again and when he goes there next time he will see for himself.
I want to make an appeal to the Defence Secretary – you are a very pragmatic person -to kindly give your mind to this question of the people going back to their lands not only in Valikamam and Sampur, wherever land had been taken over by the Army. In all districts of the North and the East, land has been taken over by the Army even after the war came to an end. Kindly return those lands to those people because they need those lands to live, to reside, to carry on their livelihood in keeping with what they have done for several generations and centuries.
I will deal lastly with three matters. I would like to lump them together because I am short of time. The first is, in regard to the functioning of Non-Governmental Organizations. The second is in regard to special passes required by visitors from abroad to go to the North. They can be truly fully foreigners or they can be Sri Lankans who hold a foreign passport for the reason that they have lived in some foreign country for a long period of time. The third is the question of dual citizenship.
Abolish Travel ban
I will deal with the dual citizenship first, Sir. Persons are entitled to apply for dual citizenship. A number of Sri Lankans living abroad have applied for dual citizenship because they want to be citizens of Sri Lanka. In whatever circumstances they went abroad, now that this facility is available – it had been suspended for some time but now it has now been reactivated – they want to come and back and get citizenship in Sri Lanka. If they do that, that is going to benefit Sri Lanka more than anyone else because if they come here, they are going to invest, they are going to buy property and they are going to start businesses. They will do various things.
Now, the persons who require passes to go to the North in regard to foreigners, well, it is for you to decide. I should think that if they come on a visa to Sri Lanka, they should be able to go to any part of Sri Lanka. But, in regard to persons who went abroad some years ago, have now become citizens abroad and want to come back because they have their relatives, their parents and their next-of-kin living in the North, they have temples in the North; they have properties in the North. So, they want to come back, they want to invest here, they want to start business here. You should encourage them. That will be good for the country as a whole; that will be good for the people living in the North. So, why should they be subjected to things like passes and inconvenience?
It is my respectful submission that the Non-Governmental Organizations have always made very valuable contributions to the improvement of the quality of life of our people in several ways. I am not saying that they must be allowed to do anything illegal. I am not, for a moment, asking that they be permitted to adopt any modalities which are questionable or illegal. But, if they function in a legal way, I think they must have the right to function without any restriction, without any embarrassment, without any disturbance and without any inconvenience.
These are my humble requests. I would request the Hon. Minister of Defence, particularly the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence to give his mind to these matters and see to what extent these issues can be addressed in a reasonable way.
[ From the speech made by Hon. R. Sampanthan on the 4th of November 2014 in parliament]