පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්ත්‍රි මහාචාර්ය රජිව විජේසිංහ-බලය බෙදිම ගැන අනෙකුත් පක්ෂ වල ඇති බිය සැක අප දුරු කල යුතුයි1. Indian External affairs Minister SM Krishna has said that President Rajapaksa agreed to go beyond the 13th amendment. However the government has not yet confirmed nor denied it. What is the stance of the government regarding the 13th amendment and the possibility of going beyond it?

I assume Mr Krishna would not have made this statement up,and it fits with the President’s consistent declaration that he would move to 13 plus. This does not mean that we need to stick to everything in 13, since obviously there are some things like the merger of the North and East which most people have realized was absurd. But we need to strengthen the principle of empowerment of all our people so that, if some things are modified, more should be added.

That is the position of most members of the government.  Almost all those in the SLFP whom I have spoken to have this view.  There may be members of other parties who are worried about the implications of any changes, from both sides as it were, and their fears must be assuaged. It is desirable to convince those who fear separatism that any settlement will not promote that, and equally it is desirable to convince those who think any change will strengthen majoritarian tendencies that that will not happen.

2. Doesn’t this stand in contrast with what the government has been saying about devolution? Until very recently they have been completely against giving land and police powers to the Provincial Councils?

There is no contradiction in that government has not opposed Provincial Councils having land and police powers, the point is to ensure mechanisms that will prevent abuse of powers at any level. With regard to land we need to clarify what is meant by the present position that land is vested in the State, but its usage is largely left to the Province. The important thing, I believe, is to assure the Province that land will not be alienated by the Centre for settlement, and equally to assure the Centre that alienation by the Province will be according to established guidelines.

The problem has arisen because for decades we have not formulated a clear policy on land. The impression I get unfortunately is that, apart from the Liberals, no one is interested in policy formulation – for instance this government abolished the Ministry of Policy Planning and Implementation of which I think we now feel the urgent need.

With regard to police, again we need to make sure that security is not threatened,  and given the manner in which the LTTE was built up with international financing, we need to strengthen safeguards. However at the same time we realize that police must have the confidence of the communities in which they function, and that is why most functions of the police have to be administered locally. Developing clear guidelines to fulfil all these objectives will not be difficult, if only, as the very perceptive Indian commentator Mr Sathiyamoorthy put it, both sides stop posturing.

3. However several constituent parties of the government including the JHU has stated that they are against the full implementation of the 13th amendment also. Does the government have a collective opinion on the matter?

The various components of the government may have different views,  but I have no doubt that, if the strong Centre of government, as represented by the President and the vast majority of the SLFP make clear the need for compromise based on reassurance for all legitimate concerns, everyone will support this.

4. Daily Mirror reported that “however both the visiting Minister and the Lankan Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Peries noted that no time frame had been fixed for the implementation of the 13th Amendment plus,” does this mean that this is another tactic to gain time to divert international pressure to devolve power?

It is impossible to fix time frames when there is so much posturing and, as Mr Sathiyamoorthy noted in his most recent article, the provocative nature of the TNA responses to the Darusman and the LLRC report suggest that they do not care about the concerns of the majority of Sri Lankans of all communities, to move forward without looming terrorist or separatist threats. It is very sad that they refuse, with one or two honourable exceptions, to note that this government has moved further with regard to basic issues of contention such as language, than earlier governments with a more self-conscious commitment to pluralism ever did.

5.  What is your personal opinion about devolution and do you believe that land and police powers should be given to Provincial Councils?

The Liberal Party has always supported devolution as one important tool to promote empowerment of all our people, but it is one among several.  Indeed we pushed early on – as you can see from the manifesto we drafted for Gamini Dissanayake, and my own manifesto in 1999, both of which should be compulsory reading for any serious political thinkers (they are available again in The Liberal Party of Sri Lanka: History, Philosophy, Presentation which we published on our 25th anniversary) – the idea of more power also to smaller units. With regard to police, what we need much more of, for the vast majority of tasks the police perform, which deal with civil issues, is community policing. That should involve local responsibility under the Provincial Council, but for security issues the Centre should be paramount.

Similarly, with land, the principles now in the Constitution should be followed, ie vesting in the Centre but with alienation largely allocated to the Province, with clarifications to prevent the abuses feared on either side. Four years ago I urged the promulgation of clear policies on land, and the Law Commission was indeed working on this but, because everything is delayed, we continue to be faced with problems, including confusion now on how to establish contested titles in the context of protracted displacement.

6. The discussions between the government and the TNA has once again come to a standstill, the main issue of contention being devolution. However if the government is willing to go beyond the 13th amendment these discussions can be restarted?

No, the issue of contention is not devolution but the failure of the TNA to nominate to the Select Committee. Government did not make such nomination a condition, and I do not think we should do this now, but the TNA too should realize it has delayed for too long, and this is not fair on the other parties who want to proceed.  Suspicions about their attitudes have not been helped by their posturing about the LLRC.

I told them that, while they have every right to press for action for the future, for them to keep going into the past and pointing fingers would be silly given their own appalling record of giving in to the LTTE.  I personally believe they should be forgiven and a line drawn under their performance, since they were under threat from the LTTE with many of those who stood up to the LTTE being killed – but for that very reason they should not, by engaging in recriminations about the past themselves, leave it open for others to point out how they made a song and dance in the past about the LTTE being the sole representatives of the Tamil people.  We simply must stop playing snap about such matters and move to the future.

7. Are you satisfied with the implementation of the LLRC recommendations? You have suggested that there should be a temporary ministry to implement these recommendations, has there been any response from the President? 

I am not at all satisfied, as I was not satisfied with the way we dealt with the interim recommendations.  Many things have been done, but these are not monitored consistently, so that we can be constantly aware of what more needs to be done.  I believe the President shares my concerns, because when he realized that the IASC which was supposed to follow up on the interim recommendations had hardly met, he wanted me appointed to it. Unfortunately the bureaucracy refused to do this, with reasons that were plausible, so he then put in my terms of reference as Adviser to the President that I should monitor the work of that Committee. That too could not happen because the Committee did not meet.

We should not ignore the fact that many good things have been done, but I can only hope that our bureaucracy learns the importance of checking systematically.  Since that is unlikely,  I believe only a dedicated Ministry will ensure progress, and I think there are several Senior Ministers who would fulfil the responsibilities admirably. Dr Sarath Amunugama might be the best, though D E W Gunasekara, who has done such a positive job with COPE, might also be able to ensure action.

8. You are a strong advocate of the senate, how will that help devolution? However the TNA has claimed that the senate will have no impact on devolution?

This question exemplifies the unthinking approach to our problems. Of course a senate will not help devolution, but devolution is not the only way of promoting empowerment of those who need this. Four years ago, when I first began to advocate a Senate (with no one else at the time at all concerned, though I believe now we have convinced almost everyone) the TNA said they were not interested.  I told them that suggested they were not interested in a united country since, whatever the extent of devolution, some powers had to remain at the Centre, and therefore they should promote sharing of power and greater consultation at the Centre.  Saying they were not interested in a Senate suggested they did not want a Centre and that of course was the position of the LTTE, which they could not oppose at the time.

They are now wiser and less frightened,  so they have made it clear that they are positive about a Senate. What they have said, which is true, is that a Senate is no substitute for empowering Provinces. We need to understand the distinction in introducing a Senate, which the President has been more concerned about than those who should be implementing his ideas as laid out in the Manifesto, but who totally ignored the Senate until I was appointed to the negotiating team – and then I think those who consulted him understood his own thinking better, though previously they had belittled the idea. But we should also continue sensitive to the other concerns of the TNA, and in particular we should move swiftly to consensus on non-contentious issues such as the Finance Commission and the Concurrent List. Producing a practical definition of concurrence for instance should be a quick job, after which the list itself can be divided up easily.

Lakbima  29 January 2012 පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්ත්‍රි මහාචාර්ය රජිව විජේසිංහ-බලය බෙදිම ගැන අනෙකුත් පක්ෂ වල ඇති බිය සැක අප දුරු කල යුතුයි- http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org/press-releases-details/press-releases-details/2909

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