UPFA parliamentarian Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha says the reconciliation process is essentially a multi-pronged approach, as the government approach to anything should be. However, he noted that although there is no guarantee that the proposed PSC would bring about the final political solution there is a trust feature if all parties including the TNA participated in it. Referring to the Eastern Provincial Council election, he observed that the government should have initiated a dialogue with the TNA on a national government since the party had expressed its willingness to discuss. “I think it should have been tried, but I also understand the difficulty. Managing a coalition is not easy. The government should however take note of the results,” Prof. Wijesinha said.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: How confident is the government that the Indian government would put pressure on the TNA to participate in the reconciliation process?

A: I am not privy to what happened in India but I do know that India would like a reasonable solution.  From what I know, while they sympathise with the TNA position they also understand our position and might take a basic line between the two positions.  It is simply that the more dogmatic personnel on both sides perhaps would like to push their points of view; I think we must take all views into account but aim to satisfy the moderates on both sides.

Q: The TNA has questioned the government reconciliation process. What is the reconciliation process proposed by the government?

A: The reconciliation process is essentially a multi-pronged approach, as the government approach to anything should be. The government assumed, with some justification but I think it needs fine-tuning, that they needed to do quick restoration which is also what is prioritized in the National Reconciliation Policy document my office prepared  In that, we divide the reconciliation process into different segments. Of which the most important is restoration, which is based on the enormous physical suffering that the war brought; the bulk of which was borne by the people of the North. The government assumed that a lot of the macro stuff would lead to people returning to normal life; this happened in the East where the remarkable development programme was picked up by the state.  By and large they gained satisfaction, this does not mean that there are no questions but by and large there is satisfaction with the President.

In the North we have two separate problems, neither of which did we address carefully enough.  The first is in the Wanni where I think we did a fantastic job in restoration, and again I think the people are very satisfied, but we are not giving them the extra skills development to take advantage of the situation. I told the Indians we had to introduce local labour for their houses and they agreed.  But when I went up last time there are three contractors in one particular area, one is using local labour the other two are not.

Jaffna is another issue. Jaffna did not suffer so much and the human resources are there and economically they are doing very well.  So that is where we need more intellectual participatory input, consultation, developing high tech trading and commerce.

The second segment is the political aspect.  The people in the North want to know that there is hope of devolution. For 30 years we in the Liberal Party kept saying devolution on the basis of subsidiary.  Subsidiary is the principle by which matters must be decided by the smallest unit capable of deciding without worry to other people.  So for instance matters may be decided locally but on the other hand matters such as defence must be decided nationally.  One of the things I am trying to do at the moment is study the local government activity and what powers are given.  My first suggestion is that we talk about a second chamber (in parliament), because whatever you do, some part will have to be exercised by the central government and you must have reasonable input to those decisions.

I told this to Mr. Sampanthan about four years ago, before the war ended, and he said that he was not interested in that. I said, “Sampanthan if you are not interested then you are not interested in decisions about defence, decisions about monetary policy, or decisions about national legislation, that means you are not interested in Sri Lanka.  If you say you believe in Sri Lanka then you must recognise that some parts are governed from the centre, you guys must input to those parts and if you say you are not interested then I take it you are not interested in Sri Lanka”. This time round he has been more positive.

The President is very clearly in favour of a second chamber with equal input from the provinces, there must be equal representation for the provinces at the centre and they must have a certain right of discussion and so on.

Q: The Leader of the House has blamed the TNA for the delay in commencing work by the proposed PSC.  What guarantee has the government given the TNA that this committee would bring about the final solution?

A: There is no guarantee at all, but there is a trust feature.  The TNA took a long time to come to the discussions to begin with. In 2009, with the President’s permission I kept asking them to come talk to me, but they kept saying they were too busy.

Q: There have been many committees before that have come out with proposals on finding a political solution.  Therefore on what basis would you say that this proposed PSC would be able to bring about the final solution?

A: I am not saying anything is possible, what I am saying is that we need to build confidence.  The parties under pressure from the LTTE sidelined all the previous things.  Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga brought the package, but who let her down?  It should be stressed that it was the TNA that let her down. It was the LTTE that was responsible for the breakdown of all the proposals and the TNA due to pressure from the LTTE.

Q: What about the APRC Report?

A: That is the only one that, you could say, was not abandoned because of LTTE pressure. The APRC report suffered from some major problems.  One is, when the APRC was discussing this, some people in that committee stressed areas that I think were inappropriate.  If you take the APRC report on the devolution question – it is very good, but immediately after, without giving it to the President, you had a situation where some people leaked it. The two areas that were focussed on were that of the Executive Presidency and the 17th Amendment instead of working forward on the proposal of devolution of power. The wide governance question is important, but the issue at hand was getting the Tamil people involved in the political process.

Q: The TNA expressed willingness to discuss a national government for the Eastern Province. Why did the government not use this opportunity to start a dialogue?

A:  I personally think it would have been a good idea. However, there are enormous emotions particularly on the part of different communities represented in the governing party. I was upset when some said to go with the Tamils and not with the Muslims and others said to go with the Muslims. I would have preferred if the government went with both parties. On both sides you had Muslims who did not want the Muslim Congress and Tamil parties in the government that did not want the TNA. It would have been difficult for the government to overcome those two obstacles. I think it should have been tried, but I also understand the difficulty. Managing a coalition is not easy.

Q: The Eastern Provincial Council election has showed that the opposition parties have gained the majority seats in the Council. Is it not a warning signal to the government?

A: I do not think the opposition parties have won the majority. Do not forget that the SLMC said they are in the government although they contested separately. Although the contestants made various claims, the SLCM leadership maintained that the party was with the government. You cannot say the opposition has got the majority, but you could say the government had not won the majority in the Council. The government should however take note of the results.

Q: The TNA says the government has made misleading statements on the resettlement of people and the IDPs have been sent to one camp from another. How do you respond?

A: The whole thing is muddled by two different elements regarding the resettlement of people in Mullaitivu. Some people were not resettled in their original lands because either the lands were taken by the state or they were being demined. The latter have now been resettled, the former, very few, should get good alternatives. First it was said the people were not being resettled, but when Basil Rajapaksa started the resettlement process about six months later, it was said the government did not care about the demining process.

There have been inconsistent messages. People kept saying that Menik Farm should be closed and when steps were taken to close it, they said it is being done too quickly. There are about 110 families now left to be resettled in new land.  The government must immediately release the deeds to them. In some cases, the new lands received have been better than their previous lands. However, the delay in giving the deeds to the lands is not deliberate but it must be remedied swiftly. But the government needs to look into the matter because there is no point in having issues over the resettlement of the last few hundred displaced persons after resettling over 290,000 people.