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Political solution: How Much More To Discuss And What For ?

Kusal Perera
      * At least 25 years of social debate on PCs and power devolution
     * 25 years of PC rule, the people are familiar with
     * 128 meetings held by the APRC to discuss a “home grown” solution
     * Two comprehensive reports by the Expert Panel appointed by President Rajapaksa to  
         support APRC deliberations
     * Over eight meetings between the GoSL and TNA after concluding the war in May

 Due to the nature of the issue (power devolution and 13th Amendment) and its sheer complexity, it would not be desirable to suggest a time frame to President Rajapaksa.” S.M. Krishna, visiting Indian Minister of External Affairs (MEA).

“It is a process and we want to continue with substantive discussions. It would be an unrealistic and unhelpful approach to give a time frame to this process” said Prof G.L. Pieris, SL minister of Foreign Affairs, at the same press briefing on  January 17, 2012 in Colombo.

 If the President is prepared to go beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution as made public by the Indian MEA at the media briefing in Colombo, what begs another long, unspecified time with a Parliamentary Select Committee? The Constitution that was amended for the thirteenth time, is extremely clear how power should be devolved to the provinces.

 Within such clarity, Police powers, though insisted by the Tamil National Alliance, would not be any more effective than other subjects devolved to the Provincial Councils, but would be definitely less effective. All police personnel, from the lowest rank to the highest in a province, the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), will remain public employees of the Colombo government. This Provincial Police under a DIG, who would ultimately be responsible to the IGP and thereafter to the Executive President, will have little reason to “be responsible to and (be) under the control of the Chief Minister” regardless of the provisions. In fact, the DIG is appointed by the IGP in consultation with the Chief Minister (CM). Where the CM disagrees, it would be the President who would finally decide.

 Where police and public order is concerned, that does not even allow the Provincial Governor,  any competence on “Police and Public Order” in the province. “Police and Public Order” would thus remain exclusively with the Colombo regime and in the present political cultural context, with the Secretary of Defence and “Urban Development”.

Where the subject of “Land” relevant to devolution matters, there is a certain amount of power that could help the CM and his provincial council to prevail upon. Under “List I” No.18, it says,  “Land, that is to say, rights in or over land, land tenure, transfer and alienation of land, land use, land settlement and land improvement, to the extent set out in appendix II.” Among other provisions incorporated in Appendix II, it says, under 1:2 “Government shall make available to every Provincial Council State land within the province required by such Council for a Provincial Council subject. The Provincial Council shall administer, control and utilise such State land, in accordance with the laws and statutes governing the matter.” Mark the words. It only says, “shall make available” that would be very much different to “shall be vested with”.

This in every way means, there is more restrictions on provincial powers, than devolved power. Education and Health has seen the severity of Colombo intrusions and interventions into devolved powers. Schools that were developed by provincial administrations, became “National Schools” overnight, gazetted as administered by the educations ministry at “Isurupaya”.

In such a political culture, with a very narrow scope in devolved power in the subject of “Police and Public order”, the Police would basically remain a decentralised department rather than a power devolved subject. But what irks most and puzzles beyond swirling is the reluctance and opposition by the Sinhala racists and their Rajapaksa presidency in carrying out full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, within their hard stood “Unitary” State. Why no Tamil patriot has tried any fundamental judicial intervention in seeing who could be held responsible for violating the Constitution of the country by hindering and hampering the implementation of the Constitution.

 There was no serious demand for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, due to political reasons. On the side of Sinhala politics, the origin of the 13th Amendment through the Indo-Lanka Agreement, was one that had heavy and violent opposition through JVP insurgency sympathised by the SLFP. The first provincial councils in April 1988 therefore was more a miscarriage, than a birth. Regardless of all these opposition, regardless of the rejection of PCs by the SLFP and the JVP, they came to be established as a second tier in governance with people’s representation that subsequently compelled the SLFP and the JVP to accommodate them.

 On the side of Tamil politics, with the LTTE asserting its power in deciding political demands of Tamil society, PCs were rejected in whole, for an uncompromising “separate” Tamil State. After the Thimpu discussions in July 1985 that became the principle position of all Tamil groups from Devananda’s EPDP which partners the Rajapaksa government, to the LTTE that fought it on the battle field, plus that of the democratic politics of Anandasangaree and the TNA. Therefore, any and all discussions that sought a negotiated settlement to the armed conflict, centred around Thimpu principles. This was no principle position, no government, irrespective of its colour, was prepared to work around in hammering out a workable power sharing solution to the conflict.

 With the LTTE subsequently usurping power, to claim superiority over all others as the sole Tamil voice, Thimpu principles based on “right for self determination” on a Tamil “homeland” could never be dropped. On record, there are only 2 attempts, first with President Premadasa initiating direct negotiations with the LTTE and then Ranil W as PM, when a near solution was accepted that could have been further consolidated within a single country with a single Constitution, if the Colombo Sinhala leaders were politically and sincerely committed in concluding a bloody war to live a secular, plural life in a better, decent democracy.

 Through all such political and ideological battles around tables, in societal forums, in all media for almost 30 years since Thimpu discussions, there is hardly anything that had not been discussed and debated. Where PCs and the 13th Amendment is concerned, all constitutional provisions and their implications have been discussed from all sides, such reviews and critiques documented in all three languages by now.

 The most recent discussion at length was within the APRC that even has an Experts Panel appointed by President Rajapaksa to strengthen the APRC process, which came with two “expert” majority / minority reviews. The APRC was mandated by President Rajapaksa in July 2006 to workout his much touted “home grown” solution that would provide “a comprehensive approach to the resolution of the national question.”
The APRC worked through a very trying time, while the war was being pursued in a savage fashion and the society was being consciously bifurcated into a majoritarian Sinhala and a persecuted Tamil minority. That war certainly weighed heavy on APRC deliberations which included 13 political parties. The JHU, the MEP and the SLFP included, while the JVP withdrew from APRC deliberations on a technical issue. They held the Expert Panel had no mandate to submit recommendations on power sharing. Yet they remained on board, continuing to be part of the All Party Conference (APC). For the JVP then with the government, their decision was a ploy to keep ahead of the JHU in a war that smacked of Sinhala sentiments. The APRC which concluded one year after the war in June 2010, handed over its consensual report termed the “Final Report” to President Rajapaksa in August, 2010.

 This is a report that comes with the broadest possible consensus amongst the Extreme Sinhala politics and the “Left” that stood for devolution undeterred through JVP massacres during their insurgency from 1987 – 90, vetted by Tamil and Muslim politics of Devananda, Mano Ganesan and the SLMC. There had never been such broad consensus, ever before. Now it remains to be commented and agreed upon by the UNP and the TNA who were not part of the APRC.

 For the UNP, their rebelling Sinhala MPs can not go against what the JHU, the MEP and SLFP had consented to. Their ruling liberal leadership can not oppose power devolution that has Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim consensus. The TNA would be more than happy to accept the APRC proposal that goes much further than the uncertainties of the “13 Plus” offer of the Rajapaksa regime, without much waste of time.

 It is time this regime, of course it carries an “elephantitis” limb in Gotabhaya, accepts that there is now easy and democratic space to have these issues sorted out without any time waste, in the absence of the LTTE. The TNA now is on its own. They are more freely accessed by the Tamil constituency and held responsible to the people, in their present role as political leaders of the Tamil people. Its time too, the Rajapaksa regime gives up on exploiting the absence of the LTTE, by avoiding serious commitment in solving the “national question”. Tamil people should not be made to go back to their old premise that it is guns which compel the Colombo governments to sit and discuss issues.

 In plain language, it is time the President tells his defence secretary brother, he is only a ministry secretary appointed for administrative work and therefore should keep out of politics like all other ministry secretaries. Tell him, he in fact is a failure, heading the defence ministry with crime rates peaking, rape, murder, abductions making into media almost daily, contract killings creeping to law enforcement agencies, all making a heavy dent as never before on law and order. Unless the President collects such “Dutch courage”, Gotabhaya would be the spanner in the works, who would make this regime the “mega failure” in Sri Lankan politics.

The Sunday Leader22 January 2012


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