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Govt acts as if there is no political question to be solved – Wigneswaran

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Speech by Jaffna District MP Justice C.V.Wigneswaran in Parliament on Friday (26) during the third reading stage debate on Budget 2022

Let me first thank the Chair for giving me this opportunity to speak at this 2022 Budget Debate.

Even though our Budget Debates for each day centres around the Ministries and their subject matters with the relevant officials being present on these days, discussion of matters important would entail not only subjects pertaining to the respective Ministries, such as Ministries of Agriculture and Irrigation today, but many other matters intricately interwoven with the Budget, its purposes. its possible effect on the Country, its peoples and on our foreign relations with the International Community.

Therefore let me refer to certain matters pertaining to Agriculture, Irrigation and allied matters and stray over to other matters later in this short speech..

I am told that there was a Presidential Communique released recently. It said that Government subsidies and allied reliefs would hereafter be available only to users of Organic fertilizers. That seems to have meant that anyone could import inorganic fertilizers or chemical fertilizers. But those who would use them would not receive any governmental subsidies or benefits. Instead of saying the Government has changed its mind on account of the Peoples protests, specially the Farmers’ protest and therefore had allowed import of inorganic fertilizers, it has used this ruse to circumvent the politically embarrassing situation!

Now the law seems to be anyone can import inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, weedicides and so on, but the Government will not give any benefits to those who use them. This means that the subsidies and other benefits given so far to the Agriculture Sector would be discontinued. All in the name of sustainable organic Agriculture!

But this could have been done right at the beginning instead of getting the masses to get agitated and demonstrate against the Government.

We are an agrarian society and place farmers as an important part of our society not a demeaning one where we can play with their livelihoods. Thaipongal festival as all of you know celebrates and thanks farmers’ contribution to the world at large. Farmers who have been penalised due to the inconsistent and wrongful approach on fertilisers, should be compensated for the loss of efficiency and yield suffered due to the arbitrary policies pursued by the Government with regard to fertilizers. I would suggest that on the upcoming Thaipongal day all farmers in the country would get compensated accordingly.

The Government today on its part has started using the Army more and more in order to control its dissatisfied people, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or others. The Country now seems to be dependent entirely on its Armed Forces and its retired fraternity to run its government!

The highest allocation in this Budget has been made to the Ministry of Defense. Direct Military allocation to all the Armed Forces is a staggering Rs.308 billion. This is 12.3% of the total estimated government expenditure of Rs. 2.5 trillion. This is an increase of 1.74% from the 2021 allocation.

Use of the Army seems to be given preference in recent times more and more. The Minister of Finance, Basil Rajapaksa said in his Budget speech the other day that the government employees have turned out to be a big financial burden on the Country. But that is not so. Even after the war, continuing to keep an Armed Force far in excess of the Country’s needs, paying their salaries and other infrastructural dues, bringing back officers of the Armed Forces after their retirement, employing them in high governmental posts and in the Foreign Service, has become a huge drain on the Country’s finances. It is not the Government Employees who are a drain on the Country’s finances. May be there is lack of fraternal communication between the President and the Minister of Finance on these matters!

The huge sum now paid to the Armed Forces if reduced could be used to pay off part of our Foreign Debts. Despite the end of the war in 2009 the defense expenditure has been rising every year. There is an unfortunate slant given to the People by successive Sinhala majority governments that defense should be the most prioritized expenditure in the Budget. Defense from whom is an unanswered question. This only shows that there is no real peace in this Country. There is only the absence of war. But it is high time we realized that our so called enemies are not Indians nor Maldivians but our own people whom we want to repress through our Armed Forces!

The Budget as a whole has been prepared not for the long term benefits of the Country but to gain short term political benefits. It lacks the blueprint of plans and schemes prepared for the long term amelioration of the people. If it did there would have been the mention of production economy, long term proposals for the ultimate reduction of our Foreign Debts, ways and means to save the people from impending famine and pestilence, schemes for the reduction of unemployment and so on.

I like to point out that poverty is significantly higher in the Mullaitivu, Mannar, Batticaloa and Moneragala Districts. It is high time that separate urgent budgets e prepared to allocate their needs based on actual poverty rates found in the Districts. In addition poverty base line calculation needs to be updated as per World Bank guidelines since we have, I am told, the 2002 baseline still which is outdated.

There is reference to the increase of Foreign Tourists in the coming months. But the Hon’ Minister of Finance has forgotten that unless a solution is found to the burning unresolved ethnic question it would be futile to expect a sizable increase in the coming of the Foreign Tourists.

The Government acts as if there is no political question to be solved. The desire for a new Constitution is based on the anxiety of the Government to get rid of the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment to the present Constitution through the Indo Sri Lanka Accord 1987. Even if a new chapter with the provisions of the present Thirteenth Amendment enshrined in it were to be passed, it would effectively deter India interfering!

This Budget has not provided any reliefs for the people of the North and East who were the main victims of the war. There is no reference to those widows who lost their husbands to the war, to those seriously disabled by the war and to those who lost all their worldly belongings to the war. Even after 12 years since the end of the war these victims of war continue to be ignored. No government has formulated policies in this regard.

Of course as Chief Minister of the Northern Province, I had started talks with the Former Prime Minister Hon’ Ranil Wickramasinghe to prepare a Needs Assessment for the North and East. But little was allowed to be done in that regard. We have not been able to prepare even until now. a Needs’ Assessment for the war affected areas like done in the year 2003. That needs to be done comprehensively. Only then could we find out the needs of the war affected families and individuals and provide them relief.

Still a large section of our people who had lost their living residences to the war remain to be compensated. It is a criminal waste of finances to continue with the building of war memorials and the like twelve years after the end of the war. These are political gimmicks which will not help the Country in the long run. Instead the people will feel the pinch of the financial drains on such ethnically and religiously designed war memorial projects and their resistance and antipathy will increase. The government would be forced to depend on its Armed Forces more and more.

The ‘One country One law’ project would not unify the Country. Instead it would polarize the different communities further. This Country cannot be one Country except due to its insular location. There are more than one Nation within its boundaries. Only if we recognize the right of self-determination these Nations have within their determinable boundaries and give equal rights and opportunities to all communities would we be able to bring this Country back on the road to peace and progress. Thus only a Federal type of government which would recognize the right of self -determination of determinable categories of people living for centuries in defined areas within the Country would bring reconciliation, peace and prosperity to this Country.

Before concluding I would like to remind Honourable Members that today is a special day to the Tamils of the North East during a special week the Maveerar Week since they remember the martyrs who were killed during the War during this week. I would like to quote what the non- violent Mahatma Gandhi said of Subash Chandra Bose who took to arms against the British- ‘ Netaji’s “patriotism is second to none. His bravery shines through all his actions. He aimed high and failed. But who has not failed.” On another occasion Gandhi said, “Netaji will remain immortal for all time to come for his service to India.”

As a votary of non- violence may I commit those words vis a vis the North and East of Sri Lanka in remembrance of the Brave Tamil whose birthday it is today? Thank you.



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Features

UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process

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Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.

REACHING OUT

In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.

BUILDING PEACE

Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan

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I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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Features

Multi-talented, indeed…

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Thamesha Herath (back row – centre) and her disciples (students)

We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.

What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!

And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.

Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.

In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.

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