Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SINHALA Govt is duty bound to give some priority to TAMIL people who have been the worst victims of the war. So far it has not.!!!

Absence of people-centred development within Vanni
May 23, 2011, 7:54 pm

By Jehan Perera

The second year anniversary of the war’s end was overshadowed by the 2600th anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment which fell on May 17. The Sambuddhattva Jayanthi celebrations organized by the government were on a scale that was hitherto unprecedented. Military personnel from the armed forces were deployed to put up lanterns and other decorations along the main roads in Colombo and other important towns, including Jaffna. So did many households including my children who created their own decorations to put up and be part of the larger celebration. Together with thousands of people from out of Colombo who thronged to the capital city to see the sights, they joined in the Vesak spirit of sharing, partaking of the free food at the dansalas, especially the ice cream dansalas.

However, the grim reality of the costly thirty year war shadowed the Sambuddattva Jayanthi celebrations. After the main celebrations were over, the government announced that the month commencing May 19 to be War Heroes month. This was to commemorate the sacrifice of the Sri Lankan soldiers, including those tens of thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to safeguard the country’s unity. Among other activities, the government announced that Ranaviru flags would be sold, and the proceeds used to support the lives of those families of soldiers who had lost their lives and to uplift the lives of those who had been disabled in the war.

In the north of the country, the spirit of celebration was less spontaneous, with less light and joy than in Colombo and other southern towns. Although the military had decorated the streets of Jaffna with the support of sections of the business community and people, the enthusiasm came more from the outside in the form of thousands of pilgrims from the south. Jaffna’s Nagadeepa is host to one of the most sacred sites of Sri Lankan Buddhism.

Commemoration ceremonies for those who lost their lives in May 2009 were held with circumspection this year in the north. Last year when they were held, the government and military saw these ceremonies as attempts to remember the LTTE and took action to prevent them. This time when such commemoration ceremonies were held the organizers made specific mention that it was not to support the memory of the LTTE, but of the kith and kin who had died in the war in its last phase.

Mixed element

The month of May 2009 in which the war came to an end has a mixed element for the people of the north. For many of them, particularly those from the four districts of the Vanni—Mannar, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu—the month of May would have been the worst one of their lives. They were held hostage by the LTTE as human shields in the face of the approaching Sri Lankan army. The grief and terror of personal loss would have been accompanied by relief when the war ended. Those who have experienced war at first hand would not wish for it to continue but would want it to end.

The subject of civilian casualties in the last phase of the war is a matter of dispute today. Sections of the international community are taking the position that as many as 40,000 civilians or even more could have lost their lives in the last phase of the war. The government position is that civilian casualties were minimized through its strict policy of zero tolerance for civilian casualties. During a recent visit to two districts of the Vanni region I was able to speak to about ten families, all of whom said that they had lost a family member, some even more. But this cannot be taken as a norm. A community leader gave another example of a village of about 150 families where 35 had died which in that case worked out to about one casualty for four families.

The roads within the Vanni were in very poor shape, highly uneven gravel roads for the most part, which made a 40-kilometre drive take around three hours and which gives an idea of the poor state of the infrastructure. Hardly any buildings were intact and most of the people were living in temporary shelters. It was difficult to talk to them about the war. Invariably when I asked them what had happened, there would be moist eyes and faraway looks and it seemed unfair to continue to question them along those lines when there was nothing I could do to directly assist them. So I asked them what they wanted most to happen next.

Economic problem

Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ is a well known motivational theory in psychology that argues that while people aim to meet basic needs, they seek to meet successively higher needs in the form of a hierarchy. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has often been represented in a hierarchical pyramid with five levels. The four levels (lower-order needs) are considered physiological needs, while the top level is considered growth needs. The lower level needs need to be satisfied before higher-order needs can influence behaviour.

In response to my query what they wanted most to happen as a next step none of the people I met said that they wanted punishment of wrongdoers on either side of the divide. One person said that both sides had done wrong and now it was time to move ahead. Nor is there any evident desire to glorify the LTTE or see its resurrection. In fact one community leader said several rehabilitated LTTE cadre who had gone back to their villages in Jaffna had decided to leave along with their families to start a new life in the Vanni, because their home village people mocked them.

It was the economic problem of survival that was uppermost in the minds of the people I met. All of them said they want jobs to look after their children. This was their main request. There were large extents of land that were uncultivated and needed to be cleared. But many families did not have enough males of working age to do the work. They also did not have the capital to invest, either in seeds or in fertilizer, or to hire tractors for land clearing purposes. They also said that they did not receive assistance from the government to restart their livelihoods. According to all of them I spoke to, they had only received a cash grant of Rs. 25,000 at the time they were taken from the welfare centres and brought back to their home villages. They were also provided with asbestos sheets for temporary shelter.

The much-talked-about Northern Spring economic initiative of the government seemed to consist of government buildings in the process of construction. There was one road that I saw being constructed with concrete at its base, and there are others that may be following. The government is talking about Rs. 270 billion to be invested in the north in the near future. This may be the government’s infrastructure-centred development, but it is not people-centred as most people in those areas do not even know what the buildings are for. There is a clear need for consultation with the people of the area or with their elected representatives when the government makes decisions regarding northern development projects and indeed this is true all over the country.

But there is also a difference. The people of the Vanni are particularly disempowered and poor, and they are marginalized and cut off from the mainstream of social and political life. Although living in the north, they are differently situated from even from the people of Jaffna who have relatives abroad who can support them, and have access to infrastructure facilities that war has not destroyed. Even without much government assistance, Jaffna is a constantly developing city, with private investment coming in, which is transforming its appearance. But the Vanni requires special attention.

At a time when the government has spent millions to light up Vesak for the Sambuddhattva Jayanthi and is prepared to spend billions for the bid to host the next Commonwealth Games in the President’s hometown of Hambantota, surely the government is duty bound to give some priority to this section of its people who have been the worst victims of the war. So far it has not.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A lasting political solution through power-sharing..!!!

A lasting political solution through power-sharing
May 9, 2011, 12:00 pm

By M. A. Sumanthiran
BSc (Physics), LLM (Internet and Electronic Law), Attorney at Law, Member of Parliament.

I consider it a great honour to have been asked to deliver the Thanthai Chelva memorial oration this year. Last year, too, I had the honour of delivering the key-note address at the annual commemoration ceremony held in Jaffna on the 26th of April. Today, I am doubly delighted since Thanthai Chelva’s true disciple Mr Sampanthan presides over this event. I am truly humbled by this singular honour bestowed on me.

Some years ago, at a ceremony to unveil the bust of Dr Colvin R de Silva at the Colombo Law Library, Colvin’s junior-most junior, Ms Chamantha Weerakoon Unamboowe recounted an anecdote. One day Colvin was greatly worried about a criminal appeal that he was going to argue before the Supreme Court that day. Chamantha had told him, "Sir, why are you so worried; half the criminal law of this country was made by you", to which Colvin is supposed to have replied: "And the other half was made because they did not listen to me"!

I think it would be right to say that the state of our country is what it is today, because they did not listen to Thanthai Chelva. Ironically, it was Colvin who eventually did not listen in the Constituent Assembly in the early 1970s, after having himself prophesied in 1956: "Two languages – one country; one language – two countries".

The first Republican Constitution of 1972 gave the last rites to the slow death for ethnic coexistence in this country that started when a unitary constitution was handed to us by the departing British. Having earned the distinction of being the first Asian country to enjoy universal suffrage, we buried all the benefits of democracy to this island by ignoring the rich diversity of its Peoples and their different heritages, and treating it like a homogenous society.

In my view, fundamentally what really suffered was democracy itself, since the system of government that was enacted in 1948, undermined the very essence of it.

Wikipedia has the following definition for Democracy:

"Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. It can also encompass social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political selfdetermination."

It continues later, "[M]ajority rule is often listed as a characteristic of democracy. However, it is also possible for a minority to be oppressed by a "tyranny of the majority" in the absence of governmental or constitutional protections of individual and/or group rights… It has also been suggested that a basic feature of democracy is the capacity of individuals to participate freely and fully in the life of their society."

This is perhaps why, Thomas Jefferson, in his inaugural address, on 4th March 1801, stated that, "Though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; the minority possess their equal right which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression."

This is also the reason why when Britain granted Dominion Status to the island of Ceylon, a prohibition was placed on the legislature on passage of any bill that disadvantaged one community or granted a privilege to one community over the others. According to Section 29(2) of the Ceylon (Constitution) Order in Council, Parliament was not competent to pass laws that,

a) Prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religion;

b) or make provisions of any community or religion; or make provisions of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons or other communities or religions are not made liable; or

c) confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions; or

d) alter the constitution of any religious body except with the consent of the governing authority of that body.

Any law that might be passed which conflicted with these four provisions was expressly declared to be null and void and of no legal effect.

Lord Pearce on behalf of the Privy Council described this prohibition in the case of The Bribery Commissioner v. Ranasinghe in this way:

"[Article 29(2)] represents the solemn balance of rights between the citizens of Ceylon, the fundamental conditions on which inter se they accepted the Constitution: and these are therefore unalterable under the Constitution."

Professor Lakshman Marasinghe says that the Privy Council may have had the benefit of a plethora of background material to have been able to come to the conclusion that Section 29(2) was an unalterable, entrenched feature of the Soulbury Constitution. These may include the following:

During the debate on the Ceylon Independence Bill in the House of Commons in November 1947, the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Creech Jones declared:

"I should perhaps also mention that the Government of Ceylon, while able in the future to amend their own Constitution, has felt that the provisions of the existing Constitution safeguarding minorities should be retained.

"(The Government of Ceylon) would obviously not wish to provoke any controversy on these issues in Ceylon. Thus… the provision barring discriminatory legislation will be retained by the Ceylon Government."

This was in reply to the concern raised by Mr Gammans, from the Conservative opposition when he said:

"The Second danger which Ceylon faces is one which the right Hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for the Colonies has not mentioned except very shortly today. It is that Ceylon is not a single racial unit. There were two races in Ceylon, the Sinhalese and the Jaffna Tamils, who are in the northern part of the Island, and number 1,500,000, out of a total of 6,500,000. They differ from the Sinhalese race, language, religion, and to a large extent, in background. They are extremely capable and intelligent people. I have had a lot to do with them because they played a very large part in development of Malaya. It was the Jaffna Tamils who came over in large numbers and started the railways and Government services. Where there is a racial minority in the country the danger is that it may become a permanent political minority, Ceylon’s evolution on a democratic basis is bound to fail."

Many years later, in 1963, Lord Soulbury, writing the foreword to B H Farmer’s Ceylon: A Divided Nation, himself regretted that his Commission did not recommend the entrenchment of guarantees of fundamental rights, on the lines enacted in the constitutions of India, Pakistan, Malaya, Nigeria and elsewhere.

Around the same time the founding father of Singapore, and former Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew commented as follows: "When Ceylon gained independence in 1948, it was the classic model of gradual evolution to independence. Alas, it did not work out. One-man-one vote did not solve a basic problem. The majority of some 8 million Sinhalese could always outvote the 2 million Jaffna Tamils who had been disadvantaged by the switch from English to Sinhalese as the official language."

This then was the real ‘ethnic’ problem that has besieged this country – the problem being that a significant section of the citizenry was excluded from exercising any meaningful democratic choice in respect of all matters in which they rivaled the major community. The problem was that of a permanent minority that could not have a say in respect of their political destiny in this island. This did not only afflict the Tamils; a very important section of the country – the Burghers – left Sri Lanka in great numbers. The safety-valve in the form of Section 29(2) did not work; it was a failed experiment by the British who thought that an entrenched prohibition to safeguard the People who were inferior in number would solve the issue of ensuring full and inclusive citizenship to all the Peoples who inhabited the island. Full and equal access to political power for all citizens could not be achieved within the unitary model constitution that was granted to us.

Instead of such a unitary model, the British Government utilized the model of the linguistic States and other different forms of federations, in countries where different linguistic and ethnic communities live. Those models have largely contributed to neutralizing ethnic tensions and rivalries. Unfortunately, however, in Ceylon the call for a federal structure of governance by the Ceylon Federal Party (ITAK) fell on deaf ears. Within two years of independence, on 18-12-1949, Thanthai Chelva made this call at the inaugural meeting of the ITAK held at the Government Clerical Services Union building in Maradana.

It is pertinent to state here that although the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) did not make such a demand prior to independence the Kandyan League and notably S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike mooted the federal idea. Bandaranaike wrote six letters to the Ceylon Morning Leader in 1926 seeking to introduce the idea of federation. In his famous Jaffna lecture on 17th July 1926 he openly advocated a federal system of government for Ceylon and stated that the model of federation obtaining in Switzerland afforded a better example for Ceylon.

To be continued tomorrow


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

If we are wise, we should first put our own house in order before we challenge the UN. Doing so would in fact take the wind off of sails of protest.!!

Bitter fruits of procrastination
May 2, 2011, 7:10 pm

UNSG with his three-member panel

The Darusman Report has caused much embarrassment to us and made our motherland a target of international bickering. The legitimacy, the propriety, and the logic of the report are under scrupulous scrutiny. But I do not propose to enter that arena here. My purpose is to draw attention to the fact that things might not have come to the present catharsis if diligent attention was paid to the real problems of the Tamils soon after the end of the war.

It is an open secret that there is widespread disappointment and disillusionment about the inordinate delay in implementing urgent measures to bring about national reconciliation, as promised at the victory celebrations. This lethargy has caused much loss of face to the Government, nationally and internationally and resulted in substantial material loss to the country. The credibility gap created by the inaction is widening day by day. Lip service alone cannot bridge it convincingly. What is needed is prompt action.

The nitty-gritty of reconciliation

Although the authorities have done much to assuage the physical deprivations of those who were affected by the fighting, nothing has been done so far to address the core issues of national integration that have led to the strife, such as language, education, employment and decentralization in line with the rest of the country. This hesitation appears to stem from a fear psychosis on possible majority reaction to the reforms. But it is clear from the statements of the diehard champions of the Sinhala Cause that they have no quarrel with the granting of fundamental rights to the minorities as far as language, education and employment are concerned. In fact they are themselves perturbed about the delay in settling these pestering issues.

The real bone of contention is the power structure. The resistance is to devolution. Decentralization is less controversial. This controversy arises only when decentralization is planned from top to bottom. Nobody objects to the 'Grama Rajya' concept where the pyramid of power is built up from the grassroots with the village as its base. Even though the authorities declare to be enthusiastic about the idea, they have so far not moved a finger to lay the foundation for it. If a beginning is made promptly at the village level, the chances are that growing mutual confidence would progressively remove distrust about the resulting pyramid of power.

Inaction reigns supreme even in the implementation of minority rights written into the Constitution by JR, without protest. Institutional decay has resulted in observing these concessions in the breach but the Government has failed to attune the state machinery to deliver them as provided for in the 1978 Constitution. This responsibility is assigned to the Ministry of National Integration which is too peripheral to have an effective and visible impact on the implementation of the declared policies of integration.

The news is that a committee of high ranking officials has been appointed to oversee this shortcoming but there is no visible improvement even after its appointment. Committees of otherwise occupied top bureaucrats have never been known to produce tangible results in a hurry. Nor do they have the clout to make a revolutionary change in lethargic performance that has become routine over the years. The task of implementing policies that are to make a regime change in inter-racial relations calls for nothing less than a Presidential Commission composed of outstanding men and women of action.

A house divided

This frozen inaction in providing for and implementation of national integration has left us high and dry at this moment of crisis. The support we get is mostly sponsored. Even that is marred by the cheers of the TNA for Darusman. The situation would have been quite different if the Government had made an honest and timely effort to talk to the TNA and win them over. In that scenario their reaction to the situation would have been far less damaging and far more constructive. Their alienation at this crucial moment has not only prevented us from speaking in one voice but also provided ready fodder to the critics. Let us not forget the proverbial truth that a starved cat shits on the home fire.

It is true that the TNA was elusive during the fighting for obvious reasons. But after the end of hostilities they have been more willing than Barkis to talk. All that we read in the papers is that they talk to the President and run away to talk another day. That day is often postponed and there is reference to a draft package being prepared by the TNA. That draft appears to be taking longer than Penelope's web in the making. Why all this hide and seek? Why cannot the two sides talk to a finish as the issues are clear and the limitations are known? The hamstrung APRC has at least succeeded in focusing on these issues and possible solutions. Matters would have been resolved by now if the ARPC script was used for the talks with the TNA, unless a new script was called for to delay the première deliberately.

Making tools out of weapons

The Stage Manager of the tragedy is known to be the Tamil Diaspora which is supposed to use the 'Neo-imperialists' and the TNA as their dramatis personae. The Diaspora has no personal stakes here. They are motivated by what they consider to be the wrongs done to their kith and kin they have left behind. But they are bound to transform themselves to a national asset, if we could satisfy them that we were genuinely interested in nation building. Unfortunately the Government's failure to get on with the task of national reconciliation and its Hamlet-like, handling of the issue has begun to demolish what it has already attained with blood and sweat. Nearly two years after the end of terrorism, national integration is still where it was when Prabakaran's corpse was brought ashore at Nandi Kadal.

If we are wise, we should first put our own house in order before we challenge the UN. Doing so would in fact take the wind off of sails of protest. Getting the cultivation committee of Palugama to pass a resolution condemning 'Moon's servility to the rapacious West" produces only a comic effect. There will be many more landmines on our way as long as we keep the nation divided. Doubtlessly, the long term solution is to unite the dissident segments of our siblings. That calls for vision, integrity, commitment, valour and large-heartedness.

It is not yet too late to begin. The mission needs a powerful Presidential Task Force for National Reconciliation. Such a Force can cut the ground from under the feet of the ongoing controversy and many more to be expected.

Somapala Gunadheera