DEVOLUTION TALKS SHOULD FOCUS ON LONG TERM GOALS AND NOT GET TANGLED IN IRRELEVANT ISSUES
Posted on October 29th, 2011

Don Wijewardana[i]

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ There have been protracted discussions between the government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to seek a mutually acceptable political solution to issues related to the Tamil community.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  But these talks have been beset by problems. Demands of TNA have been to return to the premises of LTTE three decades ago although the political and demographic landscapes have changed dramatically since. Nevertheless, to buttress their claims and exert pressure on the government these leaders have sought external intervention with emotive claims of wrongful conduct by the government.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ SHORT TERM FOCUS

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The tenor of the pronouncement of Tamil political leaders is evident in a statement issued by V. Anadasangaree, D. Siddhartha and T. Sritharan following a recent meeting with the new Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ It noted that the government was trying to implement its own agenda of settling people of one ethnic group amidst another ethnic group, deliberately to change the demographic pattern of the area while the armed forces were building minicamps in the midst of settlements. The statement intended to raise emotions when it stated, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-The people who had very bitter experiences extending to a period of over 30 years are panicked that they are in for further subjugation, for an indefinite periodƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚[ii]. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The wording has obviously been used to arouse emotions rather than to work out a solution.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ To add more pressure a TNA delegation is currently in the US meeting with State Department at the behest of Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake. In a statement fro Washington the delegation insisted, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-The international community, including US, Europe and India, had to exert pressure on Sri Lanka to address the humanitarian concerns and for political reformsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚[iii]. These moves have been preceded by an ultimatum by the Alliance to the government to respond to their demands within ten days.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Such pronouncements and maneuverings may be based on misunderstanding or mistrust or are a deliberate attempt to mislead the international community. They do not help in progressing negotiations in good faith.

Increased settlements

An example is the assertion of increased settlement in the North by non-Tamils. In the first place it is based on a myth that the Vanni was a traditional homeland for Ceylon Tamils, as they are termed[iv]. On the contrary, historical evidence proves otherwise. In recent times a large number of Moors, Sinhalese and Indian Tamils have been living in Jaffna.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Tamils of Indian origin had settled in the Vanni in the sixties and seventies, preferring that to going to India when deportation took place under the Sirima-Shastri Pact.

But PrabhakaranƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s ethnic cleansing led to the expulsion of all non-Sri Lankan Tamils ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…”Indian Tamils, Sinhalese and moors – from the Jaffna peninsula to make the place entirely Sri Lankan Tamil. And he succeeded. Department of Census and Statistics figures confirm this.

Table 1: Number and percentage of population by ethnicity, 1981 and 2007*

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 
ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Ethnicity

Year

Total

Sinhalese

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Sri Lanka

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Indian

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Sri Lanka

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Other

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 
ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Population

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Tamil

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Tamil

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

Moor

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 
ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  No. % No. % No. % No. % No. %
ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

1981

738,788

5,648

0.7

715,892

86.2

4,924

0.6

11,839

1.4

485

0.1

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

2007

559,619

67

0

559,142

99.9

46

0

350

0.1

14

0

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Source: Department of Census and Statistics
ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

According to the District Secretary’s estimates a population of 12,963 is also included with respect to the 11 GN divisions in uncleared area of Vadamarachchi East DS division, which could not be enumerated

By 2007 almost everyone else had been banished from the North to make the region 99.9 per cent SL Tamil.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ And now, an estimated 22,000 of displaced, plus the additions to their families since the 1980ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s, are due to return to their homes. It is not colonization or a deliberate effort to change the demographic pattern, as alleged.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ In a democratic society it is denial of a basic freedom if any part of the country is restricted for settlement by a particular community only. People should have the right to live anywhere of their choosing. Many Tamils from the north have used this option to migrate to southern areas. According to census data for 1981 and 2001 the population of Sri Lankan Tamils in the Colombo district increased from 10 to 11 per cent, in Kalutara from 1.2 to 1.3 per cent, in Galle 0.9 to 1.3 per cent, in Puttalam from 6.6 to 6.9 per cent and in Ratnapura from 2.4 to 3.4 per cent[v]. This is indeed a trend that needs to be encouraged.

It may also become helpful in the long term to encourage people to move from high population centres to less populated areas as a rational basis to promote economic growth and ease congestion. The TNA demand to close the northern region for other communities goes against all these principles at a time when the population in the northern region itself declined by 24.8 per cent between 1981 and 2007.

Role of the military

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ There is also a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the role of the military in the north. With vast areas mined and the regionƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s economy and infrastructure in tatters resettlement of nearly 300,000 IDPs in such a short time would not have been possible without massive infrastructure investment. That would not have been achievable without the direct involvement of the military. At the same time there is an ongoing reduction in the High Security Zones established during the war.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ However, there is a logical and understandable need for continued military presence in the region with the possibility of renewed efforts to promote terrorism by former terrorist financiers and supporters in the West. FBI found that the LTTE was continuing to raise funds. Even in Europe, according to its 2011 “Terrorism Situation and Trend Report,” Europol says Tamil Tigers still extort money from Tamils and are “actively involved in drugs and human trafficking, the facilitation of illegal immigration, credit card skimming, money laundering, and fraud for the purpose of funding terrorist (support) operations.”[vi] Euro Police had warned Sri Lanka about increased LTTE activities internationally, and a Paris court alone had imprisoned 21 LTTE operatives in recent times[vii].ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The assessment raises worrying questions about the possible regrouping of the Tigers still listed as a terror organization by the European Union, United States and a number of other countries. In such circumstances any responsible government would be cautious in removing the military presence in the north.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Just as their predecessors the current Tamil political leadership dwells on scaremongering to retain their parliamentary seats and do not appear to have a genuine interest in working out a long-term solution. What the government may need to do is, while shifting focus to achieving a durable solution, address these emotive concerns by allaying any fears of the northern community. For this it is important to ensure closer involvement of the people in implementing decisions affecting them so that they have a stake in the matter. Explaining the government position to the international community is also essential.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ A LASTING SOLUTION

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Vitally important conditions in a long-term solution are to ensure that:

  1. Measures introduced promote broader national interest.
  2. Addressing one set of grievances does not create other inequities for the Tamil community, other communities or the nation as a whole; and
  3. Issues addressed are relevant in the current context and not those perceived as problems when the troubles started three decades ago.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ NATIONAL INTEREST

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Promoting national interest means formulating policies that benefit not just one section of the population but the entire country. Land use is perhaps the most critical component in this regard. In the negotiations on devolution with other political parties the President has quite rightly declared land allocation as non-negotiable. The role of land allocation comes into sharp focus in promoting the living standards of the people.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ High among the requirements for achieving this is the productive use of the countryƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s resources in particular, land and labour.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The past policy of colonization was based on this principle of moving people to where the land resources were. It paid off handsomely with vastly increased food production. If the country is to achieve the national objectives of high economic growth and equitable distribution there should be the ability to move resources where productivity gains are optimal.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The most objective basis of such a move is population density. Density measures the population per square kilometer of land. Census department data for 2009 shows that the average density of population for the country is 312 per square kilometer. Some districts, such as Colombo, have almost 12 times this average. At the other extreme is the district of Mannar, which has a population density of 52 per square kilometer or only 16 per cent of the average. (See table 2)

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ TABLE 2: POPULATION DENSITYƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

District

Area (kmƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚²)

Census of 1981-03-17

2009-07-01

2009 Density

Colombo

699

1,699,241

2,521,000

3607

Gampaha

1,387

1,390,862

2,165,000

1561

Kandy

1,940

1,048,317

1,415,000

729

Kalutara

1,598

829,704

1,128,000

706

Galle

1,652

814,531

1,074,000

650

Matara

1,283

643,786

831,000

648

Jaffna

1,025

738,788

607,000

592

Kegalla

1,693

684,944

813,000

480

Nuwara Eliya

1,741

603,577

755,000

434

Ratnapura

3,275

797,087

1,113,000

340

Kurunegala

4,816

1,211,801

1,550,000

322

Sri Lanka

65,610

14846750

20,450,000

312

Badulla

2,861

640,952

874,000

305

Puttalam

3,072

492,533

770,000

251

Matale

1,993

357,354

490,000

246

Hambantota

2,609

424,344

565,000

217

Batticaloa

2,854

330,333

537,000

188

Ampara

4,415

388,970

634,000

144

Trincomalee

2,727

255,948

368,000

135

Polonnaruwa

3,293

261,563

405,000

123

Kilinochchi

1,279

91,764

154,000

120

Anuradhapura

7,179

587,929

820,000

114

Vavuniya

1,967

95,428

169,000

86

Moneragala

5,639

273,570

435,000

77

Mullaitivu

2,617

77,189

154,000

59

Mannar

1,996

106,235

103,000

52

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 
Source: Department of Census and Statistics ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ A logical basis to spread the population to less populated regions is colonisation of such regions. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ They include districts such as Mannar, Mullativu, Moneragala and Vavuniya that have populations less than a quarter of the national average. That will not only ease the pressure in over-populated areas but also stimulate growth in sparsely inhabited regions.

Efficiency

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Whether devolution will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of government and in the use of resources will be determined to a large extent by the allocation of responsibilities between the centre and the provinces. A country of the size of Sri Lanka, already facing diseconomies of scale in administration, commerce and industry because of its small size will suffer even more from decimation in decision making into additional nine centres of power.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The most important advantage of a unitary administration is that its decisions are, by very nature, based on promoting national interest and not parochial advantage. The contrast is clear in the instances where the Indian central government has been forced to make compromises due to the need to maintain state government political support for the centre. In some instances the centre may be made completely impotent by a regional administration. A recent example of this was that during the last Indian general election the plane carrying Congress Party leader, Sonia Gandhi was not given permission to land in a state controlled by the opposition party.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ EQUITY

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ In order to meet the second condition that addressing one set of grievances does not create other inequities for the Tamil community, other communities or the nation as a whole it is essential that all proposed measures intended to redress complaints are evaluated for their overall impact. If not, it may result in trading one set of problems for new grievances arising somewhere else.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  As such it is incumbent upon the policy makers to carefully evaluate proposals for their wider long-term ramifications.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 13th amendment

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The claim for evolution of power is based on the 13th amendment and the TNA is now seeking to extend the scope of devolved powers beyond what currently exists to encompass land and police powers as the proposed solution.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ A detailed analysis of wider implications of the isolation sought by TNA through the single-minded focus on territorially based political power has been provided by Neville Ladduwahetty[viii]. The ideology governing the move is to consolidate the notion of being separate from the rest in a defined territory as a symbol of equality with the Sinhalese. That will result in territorially defined majority and minority regions. While the former would represent a region for all communities the latter would, in the main, be exclusively Tamil. Furthermore, the geographic isolation of the minority region would discourage involvement in the affairs of the rest of the country except for those issues that would have an impact on them.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Eventually the lack of opportunities within an uneconomic unit of government will cause frustration and lead to a) continuing claims of discrimination, b) demanding increased powers backed up with matching financial resources for the Northern Provincial Council, c) expanding links with Tamil Nadu with the potential for disintegration as in Kosovo, Catalonia, Basque region and many others. It is not likely to be an outcome that will achieve the aspirations of the Tamil community or lead to peaceful coexistence with the rest of the nation. What is clear though is that the TNA claim could help achieve by constitutional means what Prabhakaran sought to accomplish militarily.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Role of India

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ It is surprising India, a major power has forced the 13th amendment on Sri Lanka on the dictates of Tamil Nadu in spite of experiencing persistent problems of integration with its state system ever since independence[ix]. Growing pressure to reorganize states on ethnic and linguistic lines had grown to such an extent that as far back as 1953 it was forced to create the state of Andhra for Telegu speaking people. Pressure continued for breaking up on similar lines in the tribal areas of Bihar, Malayalam speaking areas of southern and western parts and Tamil Nadu. And there is currently a major agitation by Talangana region to break off from the lately created Andhra Pradesh state. A movement also persists to this day within Tamil Nadu to secede from the union.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ With the establishment of a Northern Provincial Council, which is necessary to deliver TNA demands, linkages encompassing wide-ranging interests such as business and commercial interests as well as political links are bound to develop between Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s North and Tamil Nadu. Such developments may turn out to be so binding that it has the potential to eventually affect the national interest of both India and Sri Lanka. But India seems oblivious to such a possibility. In spite of the persistent ructions severely undermining its own ability to deliver a successful and competent political system[1] India keeps on relentlessly pursuing the option for Sri Lanka. Perhaps it is one way to lumber the country with a system that ensures inefficient and ineffective government.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ But it is more likely that India has not done its homework. It is this very attitude that prompted Indira Gandhi to arm, fund and train LTTE and other Tamil guerilla groups in early 1980s. It was intended to bring President JR Jayewardene under IndiaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s control without realizing its wider implications. Eventually the LTTE assassinated her successor son Rajiv Gandhi.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Perhaps the Indian leadership is guided by the Keynes dictum that ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”in the long term we are all deadƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, (and what matters is to stay in power now). The US, Canadian and British interest is also guided by the same shortsighted objective based on pressure from the LTTE, which has been providing financial and other support at elections. But for them there are no costs attached. Its consequences to the countries involved were of no concern.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Efficiency

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Moving to a Provincial Council system has other implications too for the country. In its entirety Sri Lanka is much smaller than most of the Indian states. Tamil Nadu alone has a population of 72 million as against Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s 20 million. A recent analysis showed that if the provinces were taken as the devolution unit they would be so small that if India adopted the same ratio it would be broken up into 452 states[x]. Currently it has 28 states and 17 union territories. Apart from the drain on resources to service a proliferation of governments the attendant inefficiency in decision-making is mind-boggling.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ However, in countries such as India and Australia there is the need for regional governments because of their sheer size. Australia for instance has 5 different time zones and even flying from one end to the other takes more time than travelling between many countries in Asia. India is the same. But in Sri Lanka there is hardly any place that cannot be reached by air in under an hour. Hence it is efficient and economical to administer as a single entity.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ RELEVANCE TO CURRENT CONTEXT

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ There is another key demographic variable, which is a crucial determinant of the appropriateness of devolution of power as the basis of addressing the problems of the Tamil community. Recent surveys suggest that the Sri Lankan Tamil population of the country has declined to eight percent from 12.7 per cent at the 1981 census. This is understandable given their rapid exodus to western countries since 1983.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Of this eight percent less than half is in the northern enclave, while the rest live among the Sinhalese in the South. At the same time, and for the first time, the population of Moors is estimated to have surpassed the number of Tamils in the country, though marginally. In such a situation major questions of equity arise when a provincial council is established to serve a minority of less than four percent. It also creates the potential for demands for autonomy by Moors in the future.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ What this clearly indicates is that although the present Tamil leadership persists with the claims on which LTTE demands were based several decades ago they are grossly irrelevant in todayƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s context.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ CONCLUSION

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The end of the three-decade conflict offers a great opportunity to work out a lasting solution to issues of the Tamil community. But for a durable solution the focus should be on the long term.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The TNA however, seems to be wedded to the demands of the LTTE as a basis for settlement and is stirring up the international community to exert pressure on the government to grant them. But formulating policy on the basis of pressure from Tamil politicians or external forces will not generate durable outcomes beneficial to Tamil community or the nation. Kneejerk reactions will only exacerbate the problem and result in passing it to a future generation with all attendant costs.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The political and demographic frameworks within which the LTTE based its claims have changed dramatically and solutions sought thirty years ago are completely irrelevant today. For instance the 12.7 per cent of the Sri Lankan Tamil population then is estimated to have declined to eight per cent.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Of that less than half live in the North where the population had declined by 25 per cent between 1981 and 2007. At the same time the Moor population is estimated to have surpassed the number of Sri Lankan Tamils. Unless the new realities are taken into account addressing one set of grievances could create other inequities for the Tamil community, other communities and the nation as a whole. Only if these elements are taken fully into consideration will it be possible to achieve a mutually acceptable and lasting solution.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 


[i] Don Wijewardana is an economist, author and freelance journalist. donwije@paradise.net.nz. http://donwije.wordpress.com.

[ii] Tamil political leaders call for an early solution, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2011/10/10/tamil-political-leaders-call-for-an-early-solution/

[iii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/sinhala/news/story/2011/10/111028_tna_usa.shtml

[iv] See also Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Political challenges in post-war Sri Lanka, http://www.dailynews.lk/2011/10/13/fea01.asp

[v] S. Maduraperuma, The census of population and housing, 2001. http://www.ancsdaap.org/cencon2002/papers/Sri%20Lanka/SriLanka.pdf

[viii] The Tamil ideology of SEPARATE and EQUAL Island, September 23, 2011, http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=35291

[ix] Myron Weiner, India’s Political Problems: The Longer View, The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Jun., 1956), pp. 283-292

One Response to “DEVOLUTION TALKS SHOULD FOCUS ON LONG TERM GOALS AND NOT GET TANGLED IN IRRELEVANT ISSUES”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Thank you, Mr Don Wijewardene, for this analysis. A Question I would like to ask is that Mannar probably becomes ’empty’ because it is only a point of entry into Lanka for illegal migrants from Tamil Nadu ?
    * How many illegal migrants does Sri Lanka have ?
    * How easily do they get citizenship here ?

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