Thank you for your questions. I should note however that there is an agreement that the substance of negotiations between the Government and the TNA should remain confidential. I am aware that this has been breached on occasion, but I believe I should not in any way contribute to this, so I will respond in general, rather than deal with particulars that might be seen as breaching confidence.

I think you are wrong to say that government has not embarked on significant development programmes in the North. I believe that physical progress has been fantastic, and that the level of services provided now far exceeds what was there before. Roads, irrigation works, schools, hospitals, are at levels unthinkable in the past when the Vanni was neglected by successive governments, and then destroyed during the period of LTTE control.

However we should move more quickly on human resources development, which is slow throughout the country, except in the Colombo area, because we still think in terms of centralized delivery. That should change, with more partnership, of the private sector which must be facilitated to help in human development too.

I think there have been delays in the reconciliation process caused by continuing distrust. I am sorry the TNA did not accept the olive branches the government extended in 2009, and instead went into their alliance with Sarath Fonseka. Unfortunately, after that, government thought they could not be sincere about concern for the Tamil people, and were more interested in trying to topple this government. I think we should have ignored that factor earlier, and engaged in discussions earlier, but I think it is important for both sides to appreciate why the other is so wary.

With regard to the question of Tamil civilians in custody, there has been some confusion, as I have tried to explain in different articles elsewhere. There are in fact two categories. One is the former LTTE combatants, with regard to whom I believe government has done a great job, in terms of rehabilitation. Many have been released, and I found them generally very positive about the process – though I think we should now be doing more to ensure productive futures for them. More than half, including all the females, have been released by now. Access is provided to their families and we hope that most of them, except the few who might be charged, will be released by the end of the year.

The second category is those taken into custody on suspicion of clandestine involvement with the LTTE. I was involved in the past in an initiative to expedite dealing with these, and I believe we did well towards the end of 2009 in reducing the numbers. Our position, at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, as Secretary of which I chaired the committee the President had set up, was that we could not recommend release or otherwise, but the State had a duty to proceed quickly, and release all those against whom there were no charges.

Since the Ministry was dissolved, progress has been slower, though I have informally tried to encourage quicker action. Unfortunately government tends to be slow on such matters, not only with regard to such detainees. I have recently been actively involved in trying to get laws and remand procedures changed with regard for instance to women held under the Vagrancy Ordinance, and I am glad the Minister has pledged to reform this outdated legislation in a month. But I think we should all be more indignant about people held in custody for years without progress, in all cases.

Prabhakaran was certainly a stumbling block to peace, because it was clear he was determined to get a separate state. However we should also bear in mind the ambiguous attitudes of others, for instance in 2000 when both the TULF and the UNP reneged on what President Kumaratunga thought was their commitment to support the package she put forward.

I think there is also, in Sri Lanka, a lack of understanding of political principles, and I am afraid that, when you have ad hoc adjustments, flaws soon become apparent. I hope we can take this opportunity to develop understanding of principles such as that of subsidiarity, whereby decisions must be taken by units that are affected by such decisions. Thus in areas concerning security, obviously the central government must decide, but conversely, in things like education, both the Central and Provincial governments are too distant with regard to things like personnel and facilities. I believe that those should be administered by the school, with guiding national principles, and provincial financial monitoring.

I think we need also to address seriously the issue of power sharing at the Centre. Whatever is devolved, certain decisions must be taken at the Centre, and it is important to have wider input for these. I have long advocated a Second Chamber based on Provinces, and I am sad that, while no one seems to disagree with this, no one has bothered to promote it forcefully over the last 25 years. Earlier the TULF said they were not interested, which suggested they were concerned only with their geographical areas of influence, and this in turn suggested they had no interest in Central government decisions. Conversely many national parties were stuck in the mindset of the 1972 constitution which wanted Parliament as a monolithic authority, and did not realize that this was nonsensical in light of the 1978 Constitution.

I believe we should look on anyone as genuine unless there is strong evidence to the contrary. The main problem at present seems to be a lack of trust on all sides, understandable in view of the shifts we have experienced on all sides, but I believe it will not be difficult to overcome this. That process will be helped by moving swiftly on the smaller issues on which there is agreement, without waiting for a comprehensive solution. As I tell my students in Critical Thinking classes, if you divide a big problem up into smaller components, and solve what you are able to, the big problem reduces in size.

With regard to the Darusman Report, while its substance and style are generally appalling, it has had one positive result, in that it has persuaded the Sri Lankan government that it should put its story on record. It was a pity that this was not done over the last couple of years, because the story was a good one, both because of the care with which the fighting was done, and the enormous effort put into reviving and resettling those who had been displaced.

The Nation on Sunday 15 May 2011

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