The demand for devolution & the need to resuscitate the Provincial Council System

Shenali Waduge

A fate of a nation is often left in the hands of the nations politicians. How many political systems of governance have contributed to the success of a nation is questionable when considering the conflicts that prevail globally. It has been the lack of far-sighted leadership that has created a world full of hate, violence & deceit. The damage is irreparable as the seed of doubt, suspicion & hate on the minds of humans is difficult to erase & almost impossible to forget. Sri Lanka’s predicament is no different. Where leaders had the power to end problems from brewing they just turned a blind eye. When they could have offered an acceptable-to-all solution they simply played truant …. they allowed the LTTE to gather an international image because the Governments failed to project the true story. It is these missed opportunities & blunders that have made an entire nation suffer both emotionally & economically today.

The subject of discussion today is the APRC proposals as an offer for the autonomy requested. The interim report has taken 2 years to reach consensus amongst those party to the APRC. However two of the major parties in Sri Lanka – the UNP & the JVP are not part of the APRC & at least one of these two must give its stamp of approval for the proposals to pass Parliament. The LTTE movement gained momentum during the mid 1980s – it was towards the latter part following the Indo-Lanka Accord that the 13th Amendment was introduced alongside the Provincial Council system as a possible answer to the devolution that the Tamil people sought. Once again we question whether it was the Tamil people per se who have been demanding a separate homeland or was it only the LTTE & other Tamil representatives who soon saw this as a bargaining tool politically? It was the lack of leadership again that set a trend for the Governments of the past to fall for the separate homeland tune & devolution framework without clearly finding out whether the Tamil masses were really in want of a separate homeland & devolution of powers or was it simply some administrative changes that would accommodate their needs being located to the north & east of Sri Lanka. It was only correct for all of the past Governments to have attended to these administrative changes. However, the country’s present infrastructure & administrative sector only depicts of a sorry state even in the south of the country & things are definitely not rosy though the world thinks that those in the south are ruthlessly discriminating the Tamils in the North & East. Mind you with all this projections there are over 52% of Tamils living in the South amongst the Sinhalese.

Having said that a vocalized idea for a Tamil homeland soon became a vessel for an enterprise that has held the country to ransom for over 25 years. V. Chelvanayagam was the first to put forward a “federal” framework for Sri Lanka. Years later, it was T. Amirthalingam of the TULF (after the Vaddukkodai resolution) who nursed the first thoughts of a separate homeland for the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. V. Prabakaran only borrowed it as the best means to start of his enterprise. Ironically it was Prabakaran’s LTTE who gunned down Amirthalingam. LTTE’s killing empire now crosses all the continents of the world & is associated with the world of narcotics, illegal trade, illegal arms & ammunition, human trafficking, even with other terrorist outfits like the Al Qaeda, the Maoists of India & functions regardless of UN condemnation of its killings, proscriptions internationally, statements on its child abuse in recruiting child soldiers…. & the list goes on. Prabakaran effectively rephrased his demand for a separate homeland as the demand for the “right for self-determination” to ensure its international recognition and international lobby & mandate has benefited the outfit greatly despite being banned & categorized a terrorist outfit.

Why the Provincial Council system wasn’t properly implemented?

This is the most important question that will answer why successive Governments have failed the people. Parallel to the LTTE’s killing machine has been Governments & politicos who have sat idle in their comfort zones without immediately addressing the needs of the hour. We have had Presidents who have traded arms with the LTTE, being responsible for the deaths of 600 policemen, one who was willing to give the entire North to Prabakaran for a fixed period & a Prime Minister who co-authored a cease fire agreement that demarcated parts of the country to the LTTE & allowed it to happily store arms & ammunition but it was the first President at least who was able to outwit his Indian counterpart & engineered the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord & with it the Provincial Council system that is possibly our guiding light for a future settlement without putting the integrity of the country at stake. The masses have a common dislike – not only for the LTTE & other armed forces but also members of the Parliament for not following policies that would benefit the nation & its people.

It has been argued that the Provincial Council system is the best possible option that would provide a means of autonomy while not compromising on the unitary status of the country. Having being accepted by the people it should be implemented with changes to suit the present needs without reinventing the wheel. Pushing these changes (if they benefit the future of the country & its people) during a period of conflict is opportune because in an environment of no-conflict Governments are prone to delay & forget what was promised since there will be no demands for them to take quick action. Why the Provincial Council implementation through the years has been pushed to the background is not because of any dislike to offer autonomy to the provinces but because the Central Government politicos were happy in their present set up with maximum perks & privileges. It is they who do not want to give up any of the present day liberties that they have taken for granted. The answer has been with us all along & unfortunately it has been those that govern who have taken us to such dizzy heights & helped to make the LTTE monster more treacherous over the years. India having created & fed the monster has finally come to realize the error of judgment they have made & are presently assisting the Government to tackle the LTTE. On Indian soil the LTTE of late has penetrated as deep as Delhi, credit card scams, contract killings, dealings with other terrorist movements in India, thefts etc have sufficed the shift in India’s stand regarding the LTTE. They have finally come to realize what the LTTE could do if the “seed of separatism” be planted in Tamil Nadu – they would have all the right for the Tamil roots are in Tamil Nadu. India would not wish for this to happen at all which is why they immediately & subtlely crushed the “We Tamil Movement” of Tamil Nadu before it gained momentum. Perhaps the Government of Sri Lanka should explore further how this was done.

If the Provincial Council system is to succeed in Sri Lanka drastic changes need to take place. These changes would really affect the present politicos only – it would mean their Central power would drop greatly. While the Center should handle only the policy decisions it should mean a pruning of cabinet portfolios, ministers, deputy ministers etc. Most of them would be confined to their provinces & tasked with building up that province. Provincial Council systems should be administrative prone & benchmark areas that need significant attention. Nationalization should cease immediately. The Central Government should cease nationalization of schools, medical colleges should come under the PC systems, courts, even a police force without arms & ammunition. In India, the police carry no arms – they have merely a baton. The Chief Minister should be regarded as the President of that Province. Any Central Government Minister wishing to visit a particular province must first obtain an official invitation from the Chief Ministers – no Central Government Minister should interfere in the administration of the Provinces. The Central Government should immediately shift all offices & staff to the Provinces & keep only those falling under the policy making portfolios Centrally located. While all macro projects can be taken care of by the Central Government, the Provincial Councils should have the mandate to improve roads, parks, libraries, medical facilities, schools, public markets & other utilities even the cooperative system.

When detailing all the items to be discharged to the provinces one can well understand why politicos of the past have been silent all this while. The reality of the present predicament is that the LTTE lobby has been so successful that the international community expects the Government of Sri Lanka to provide a justifiable solution & this is by far the best solution that would help to develop the Provinces & involve maximum involvement by the masses without the exercise of only putting one’s X during election time & suffering through a six year term of Governance.

Whatever vested interests may say it is the masses that should decide – we have over the years of strife being living as one nation. Sri Lanka is one country for all the communities to live & work it – that has never changed. The majority of Tamils live amongst the Sinhalese & at no point of time has this figure ever changed. No Tamil has ever left the South to take up residence with the LTTE – only those who have seen monetary gains from joining an internationally acclaimed outfit that today is involved in contract killings, murder, assassinations, theft, credit card scams, narcotics, human smuggling etc… - are these the hallmarks of men supposedly fighting for a separate homeland?

It is time that we open our eyes to the truth & for the international community especially to view who wants what & if the international agenda is to eradicate terrorism to help the Government of Sri Lanka if not to remove the pretentious proscriptions on the LTTE & accept them internationally as well.


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