Posted on August 7th, 2011

W. Samarasinghe Katugastota Sri Lanka

Although over two years have elapsed since destruction of the LTTE war machine, we have not been able to find a solution to the basic issues leading to the conflict in spite of deliberations which spanned over a number of decades. It is universally recognized that durable peace could be achieved only if we could arrive at a solution, reasonable and acceptable to all parties involved, the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and other communities residing in our country.

Why we have been bogged down in our efforts is mainly due to our inability to reach an agreement on the most contentious issue facing us, which is devolution of power to Provincial Councils. The Provincial Council concept itself was thrust upon us by foreign powers which lacked a correct understanding of the historic background of our country and had been influenced by the pro-separatist lobby which has disseminated false claims that Northern and Eastern provinces had been the “ƒ”¹…”Homeland of Tamils’.

It is the belief of the writer that instead of devoting our time to resolve this most difficult issue immediately, we should first evolve a framework based on universally recognized norms to usher in an era of justice and equality for all residents of the country irrespective of ethnic or other differences. Some examples of such norms are enumerated below.

1. All citizens of the country should be treated as equals irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, language or any other such considerations.

2. Sri Lanka is a multiracial country and as such it is the homeland to all its citizens irrespective of the differences referred to above.

3. No category of people should be discriminated against on account of their ethnic or other differences.

4. Basic human rights of all people should be guaranteed.

5. Freedom of livelihood in any part of the country for all citizens irrespective of the community they belong to should be guaranteed.

6. Benefits of government owned natural resources of the country, inland as well as offshore, should be shared by all citizens on an equitable basis.

Any other factors which are required to ensure a society devoid of discrimination could be added.

Most of the items listed above are already enshrined in our constitution. Our President on many occasions has declared that the final solution should be one acceptable to all communities in the country and that all citizens should be treated as equals. It would be unlikely that major political parties with cross community representation would oppose these ideals. Hence it is very likely that they would be acceptable to all parties desiring lasting peace.

The only category of persons who could oppose such basic principles could be the separatist lobby whose least aspiration is to grant special privileges in the North and East to the Tamil community. If they chose to oppose the principles enumerated above, they would be exposed to the international

community as an entity obstructing resolution of the conflict in a manner conforming to internationally accepted norms.

Once these fundamentals are accepted, they should be enshrined in our constitution and should be adopted as the framework under which further deliberations are made. Only suggestions or demands conforming to this framework should be considered for evaluation.

The second step should be to identify impediments preventing achievement of these fundamentals.

The third step should be to determine a plan of action with definite time frames to eliminate these impediments.

The fourth should be to establish a council of eminent persons representing the three main communities of the country to oversee the implementation of the action plans determined at the third step. This council should be bestowed with wide powers to take whatever action deemed necessary against those who fail to implement the action plans in a timely manner or those who obstruct the process.

Existing machinery to deal with violations of the principles enshrined in the constitution should be strengthened and it should be made mandatory for all such incidents to be investigated on a priority basis and disposed of within a stipulated time frame.

It should be made mandatory for all who apply for office in politics or public service to take a written oath to uphold the principles enshrined in the constitution. Those who violate these principles or fail to implement them in a timely manner should be dealt with under laws pertaining to constitutional matters. If present laws are found inadequate, appropriate new laws should be promulgated.

Let us now examine how this process could be applied to the issue of devolution of power to Provincial Councils.

The prime concern of majority of people, particularly the Sinhalese and Muslims is that if powers over land matters are devolved to Provincial Councils dominated by those who propagate the erroneous theory that Northern and Eastern provinces are the “ƒ”¹…”Exclusive Homeland of Tamils’, they could try to shut out non Tamils from living in those areas thereby denying them access to resources therein. This is a very justifiable fear they harbor particularly after their most traumatizing experiences during the era where LTTE domination prevailed, when they massacred or drove out tens of thousands of non-Tamils who lived in areas controlled by them. This fear is now immensely aggravated since the political party which operated as a proxy to the LTTE has got political power in the region at recently held local elections.

Most of the undeveloped lands in the country are located within the Northern and Eastern provinces and as such these two provinces need to be given priority in future land development activities. In such a scenario, if non Tamils are denied access to benefits of such development, it would constitute a grave injustice and an act of extreme discrimination against those communities. With checks and balances referred to above in place it would become mandatory for the people of all communities to be treated as equals in sharing the benefits of such development. Thus apprehensions harbored against devolution could be mitigated or even eliminated.

The same process could be adapted to the language issue as well. Although Sinhala and Tamil languages have been recognized as official languages by the 1978 constitution, the benefits have not filtered down to the Tamil speaking people. The main impediment to the implementation of the language policy is that most govt. servants are not proficient in Tamil and they cannot communicate with those who know only Tamil. Hence a plan of action with realistic and achievable time targets should be worked out to get over this problem.

It is very encouraging that our President on many occasions has addressed Tamil gatherings in Tamil, which is a great example he has demonstrated to the entire country. In addition the Secretary to the President, the highest ranking Government s official in the country, has stated that Sri Lanka should become a trilingual state with English as the third language. This is an even more laudable goal. Hence it is evident that there is a definite commitment by the present Government to solve the language issue which remains to be a key legitimate grievance of the Tamil people.

This commitment alone is not enough to bring results. A proper implementation program with defined time targets has to be worked out. The biggest constraint in this respect is the shortage of competent teachers in required numbers to teach these languages. This could be overcome to a great extent by making use of modern technology and media such as computer aided learning methods or running separate TV and radio channels dedicated to teach the three languages. There was an Indian computer aided program to teach English which was advertised over the TV in Sri Lanka, which could be used if found effective. It may also be possible to develop similar programs to teach Sinhala and Tamil as well. The same methods could be adapted to impart computer and other useful knowledge/skills to a wide spectrum of the society.

Although imparting language skills is a long process, launching of such a program with a commitment to redress the concerns of the Tamil speaking people will contribute much towards earning their trust in the government.

Other grievances which fall within the adopted framework too could be dealt with, in a similar manner, whether they emanate from Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or other communities.

The expectation of an overwhelming majority of people of all communities in Sri Lanka is to live in a peaceful society where all citizens could coexist in harmony with each other as equals. Perhaps an approach outlined above could be a means of achieving that cherished goal.

W. Samarasinghe

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