1.  With the end of the military conflict does the government think that there are more do be done on the social and political front to establish normalcy or does the government feel that the end of the military conflict itself solves all the problems ?

 Not at all, as government always said, a military solution was necessary to deal with terrorism once the LTTE proved intransigent, but political and other problems required other measures.

2. If the government feels more needs  to be done, what steps it has taken so far to accomodate the minority Tamil community?

 Rapid resettlement and economic empowerment is taking place. This proved successful in the East, and is being pursued in the North, though obviously much more needs to be done. Also political empowerment through the resurrection of local and provincial authorities. This was done swiftly in the East, and has been started in the North, with the next tranche of local elections – the third after hostilities concluded and resettlement began – due at the end of July, with Provincial Council elections thereafter, as happened in the East.

3. Does the government seriously think that devolution is a neccessary component for future ethnic harmony?

 Certainly devolution as practiced elsewhere should be implemented in the North, and extending it as appropriate will be finalized through discussions with the TNA as well as the input of that and other parties through the Select Committee that is planned. At the same time, given that the Centre will also continue to exercise power, and in particular in areas pertaining to security issues in the broader sense, it is important to introduce a greater voice for the peripheral units at the Centre too, which is why the President’s manifesto introduces the idea of a Second Chamber based on those units.

4. Does it feel that forming a uniformed society with no consideration for minority ethnic and cultural identities and freedoms to preserve same is part of the solution?

Not at all, uniformity goes against both the government’s commitment to pluralism and the socio-cultural history of this country. After the introduction of Tamil as an official language in 1987, for instance, little was done to enforce this provision, but this government has taken more measures in this regard than any other.

 5. Why there is so much delay in addressing the housing and land problem of the IDPs?

Compared to other countries, and indeed previous work for IDPs in Sri Lanka, this government has been comparatively quick. Even before the Wanni was liberated, there were hundreds of thousands of IDPs, some of them in camps for decades, and now most of them too are being resettled, along with the ‘new’ IDPs.  Land rights are particularly problematic, given the long delays and our laws of prescription, so solutions acceptable to all need to be worked out.

6. How do you respond to allegations that the military is taking over land and refuses to hand over lands that were focibly taken over by the LTTE to the rightful owners on the premise that they were captured from the Tigers therefore it belongs to the military?

I believe such allegations are false, and the High Security Zones have been reduced considerably over the last couple of years. If any land is needed for security or other reasons, it will be acquired with due compensation as the laws prescribe, though obviously with the range of government land available in most of the area except in the Jaffna peninsula, such needs will be minimal.

7. We heard the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya telling Buddhist chief priests that the government plans to create military cantonements in the former war zones with farming land for the soldiers is this the official position of the government ? if not why does the military take over land?

The need to set up military posts in the area, as in the rest of the country, is not contested. However these should be as small as possible, given the requirements.

8. How do you respond to allegations that there is a systematic effort to change the ethnic demography of the north and that the military cantonements and Buddhist shrines built all over  are part of that plan?

Those are two separate issues. The former allegation has been made over the years about various government activities, beginning with the settlement on the east coast by the Kandyan kings  of Muslims expelled by the Portuguese from the West, going through the introduction of workers by the British to the tea plantations, then the colonization schemes of the forties and fifties. In all cases I believe there were economic reasons for government action and availability of land, rather than sinister purposes. Now, with existing congestion and much greater awareness, ideas of demographic change are inconceivable, though of course free movement of citizens within all parts of the country must be permitted, without the sort of ethnic cleansing the LTTE indulged in.

The latter relates to the security requirement, which is not contested, though certainly it should be accompanied by measures to broadbase the composition of the security forces. In this context I am very sorry that the proposal of the Ministry of Defence to recruit more cadets as teachers, which facilitated minority officer recruitment even during the war, has not been approved by the Ministry of Education – I recall that even in 2006 the process was very slow, but it succeeded because of the hard work of the General in charge of the Cadet Corps and the then Secretary to the Ministry of Provincial Councils.

9. How would you respond to allegations that the north is excessively militarized so much so even a school prize giving can’t be held without inviting the military and the military walks in uninvited even for private functions?

 I have not been to Jaffna for over a year, but during my frequent visits between 2008 and 2010 I thought the military presence had reduced, and this also seemed the case with Vavuniya, which I visited again this year. It would be unfortunate if the military was making its presence felt at ordinary civil events and problems in this regard should be addressed by better Civil-Military liaison, which was an area I was involved in closely when Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights. Resurrecting a similar mechanism might be a good idea to ensure that, while the security concerns of the military are respected, these do not disrupt normalization.

10. How would you respond to allegation that the elected members of parliament and intellectuals  of the north are not being given enough space for the political and social activities? (ex: recent attack on TNA)

Such space and mutual understanding must be expanded, and I was happy to see that the TNA leader had written to the Secretary of Defence noting the need for better liaison. The problem is that there are individuals on all sides who are still distrustful and when problems occur, they wish to assert themselves. This contributes to polarization and of course there are individuals who welcome polarization, whereas the leadership at all levels should aim at conciliation and compromise.

More dialogue is essential and recognition on all sides of the separate but vital roles of all concerned. I am trying to find out more about what you have described as the recent attack on the TNA, and if it there was such an attack, it was not only wrong, it was foolish since the only result possible was greater sympathy for the TNA.

11. How could you justify the presidential task force that handles the development efforts of the north does not have a single Tamil and elected people’s representatives are not  taken onboard?

The task force was set up at an earlier time and was made up of existing officials in relevant areas. I am sorry that no senior Tamils were involved, but at that time the TNA was representing what seemed an extremist viewpoint, perhaps through no fault of their own, given the structures under which they had been elected. Now that they have a streamlined membership and established themselves in the democratic process, they too should play their part. Conversely they seemed even more hostile to other leading Tamil elements in the North, though I hope that there too we will find mutual respect in the future and agreement, if you like, to disagree.

The Task Force, it should be noted, worked always with the administration of the North, which is predominantly Tamil. It would have been wrong to sidelines the officials there who had worked tirelessly in spite of enormous pressures, and whom the LTTE and those supportive of the LTTE had denigrated. However, I believe the Task Force will be wound up soon, and with the forthcoming elections and the democratic credentials of politicians established, there must be more scope for their involvement too.

 12. Why the people of north are excluded from the development work ? (contractors, labour and machinary are all from the south and mainly Sinhalese) does this represent a policy of isolation?

Exclusion is the wrong word, but certainly there was a capacity shortage and I believe that we need to do more to build up capacity to ensure that the people of the area become full partners in development. These are issues that came up in the Entrepreneurs Workshop I funded for former combatants through my decentralized budget, and the youngsters, very bright and positive in their outlook, stressed the need for skills development to empower them. I am pleased that the Ministry of Youth Affairs has moved swiftly on this, and is encouraging different forms of delivery of skills training to enhance other capacities too.

But more needs to be done, and one of my themes, when I met the diaspora in Australia and New Zealand, is the need for support for training. I asked not just mixed groups including Tamils who want to support reconciliation, but also predominantly Sinhala groups and even one SLFP branch, to provide support for the ex-Combatants. They must be in the forefront of dev eloping that area, and we must work towards strengthening them and their contribution to society.

13. Why has the government been inconstent in its policy on devolution why do you need to appoint a parliamentary select committee while there is the APRC final report which is the result of the present government’s efforts?

 The TNA did not participate in the APRC and the UNP and the JVP were not involved in the Report, while other parties did not accept the text that was subsequently claimed to be the final report, so to work on the basis of such a document would not make sense. You must remember that in 2000 the TULF, which had participated in formulating the proposals President Kumaratunga put forward, said they would consider the draft before Parliament as a starting point, while the UNP, which she thought was pledged to support them, opposed them a racist perspective too. In a context in which so many changes can happen, government should work in terms of the current political situation, and be sensitive, as all parties need to be, to the people who put them into Parliament. Fortunately the LTTE is no longer present to exercise influence as it claimed to do before, when it dictated what happened in elections in the North and parts of the East.

14. Is a parliamentary select committee a delaying tactic?

Any changes will need support in Parliament and it is best to involve all stakeholders early. Discussions with the TNA will continue, and any agreement between TNA and government will then have greater weight obviously in the Select Committee deliberations. However we all need to remember what happened on two previous occasions. Both pacts with Mr Chelvanayakam, by Mr Bandaranaike and Mr Senanayake, were defeated by rabble rousing in the country at large by the main opposition along with hostility from extremists within the governing party. Then, a decade ago, when Mrs Kumaratunga thought she had support from both the TULF and the main opposition, she was defeated in a pincer movement. The TULF, under pressure I believe from the LTTE which had assassinated Mr Tiruchelvam, refused to support the measures while the UNP attacked them from a racist perspective, and the poor President found the majority she had hoped to command decimated.

15.   Do you think that the government has its priorities in order when it spends a lot for example on the commonwealth games 2018 bid while hundreds of thousands are homeless?

Exercises like the Commonwealth Games are extremely useful from an economic as well as a social perspective. I remember in the old days Colombo society, and some Western commentators following them, used to laugh at President Premadasa’s Gam Udawa programmes, calling them the most expensive birthday parties in the world, and it was only when I began working intensively in the rural sector that I realized how much they were appreciated in the areas they were meant to benefit – by developing infrastructure in such areas that were otherwise neglected, by providing employment, and by drawing the attention of people who never used to think beyond Colombo of the needs of other parts of the country.

16.  What do you think are the impediments to peace both locally and internationally?

One impediment is the lack of trust on all sides, which we must overcome. In this regard I believe the Sinhalese in particular must work actively to help those in the Tamil community who suffered at the hands of the Tigers, to empower them economically. Investment and training must be encouraged and this will convince the Tamils at large of our bona fides whilst also helping with economic development which will benefit the country as a whole/

We must also deal effectively with those who want to continue with resentment and hostility. The efforts of the remains of the LTTE propaganda outfits abroad must be combated effectively, most obviously by telling the story of how we overcame the LTTE with maximum care for civilians, how we resettled swiftly, how we rehabilitated the former combatants, all this more quickly than in any comparable conflict. This is important because those who wish to revive the LTTE need to polarize, to prevent our people coming together. Unfortunately their efforts lead to correspondingly extreme reactions on the other side, which can also polarize, and we need to avoid these and show the benefits to all our citizens of working together, appreciating each other’s strengths, overcoming weaknesses, seeing diversity as an asset.

Finally we need to convince both those countries that wish to play politics with us, and those political parties in Sri Lanka that seek advantages from conflict, that they should not play with the lives of people and leave room for terrorism and extremism to be revived. The meanness of those who seek electoral advantage through perpetuating suffering must be pointed out and overcome.

Finally, one massive impediment to peace is inefficiency, our failure to set clear targets and work towards them. For this purpose we need to improve our education system, to encourage different approaches whilst pursuing excellence. We have made a start in trying to reform our Higher Education system, but we must do more with the Education system too, to promote thinking and problem solving and decision making skills, to improve communication capacity as well as promoting teamwork and discussion and practicality. We must ensure on the job training for our administrators and enhance understanding of the roles they must play, as facilitators to the people they serve, not controllers.

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