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TNA seeks an ‘almost separate state’

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The TNA has submitted its proposals to the Experts Committee appointed to draft a new Constitution (The Island 04.01.2021). What it has asked for is far in excess of devolution granted by the 13th Amendment. The powers that are demanded exceed those granted to the states in India, which is a federal country. They seem to have forgotten that they also must show some conciliatory attitude, when everybody is talking about reconciliation and communal harmony. They must know what is possible and what is not. They must know that extremism begets extremism. There are on both sides of the divide people, with extremist points of view on sensitive matters like land, language, religion, etc. If peace and harmony among communities are the desired goals of everybody, particularly political leaders, they have to be more flexible. Asking for more and more following on the steps of SJVC who adopted a “little now and more later” policy will not help.

The TNA has asked for Regional Councils, virtually with all the powers except defence. The Executive presidency is to be abolished, and all executive powers are to be taken over by the Cabinet of Ministers. The president would be a figurehead. The governor of the regional council, who will be appointed on the recommendation of the chief minister, will not hold executive powers, and these would be taken over by the ministers of the proposed regional council. Nature of the state obviously will not be unitary but united. These powers, if granted, would be far in excess of those granted under the 13th A.

The proposed regional council would obviously comprise North and East merged as envisaged in the original 13th A. These two provinces were demerged by an order of the Supreme Court on the 16th October 2006, which declared that proclamations issued by President J. R. Jayawardene, temporarily extending the tenure of the merged North-Eastern Province were null and void, and had no legal effect. The proclamations by JRJ were necessitated due to the fact that a referendum on the merger was not held as required by the 13th A. It was well known that the Muslims and the Sinhalese in the Eastern Province were against a merger. However if a referendum had been held in the two provinces together, the vote would have been in favour of a merger as Tamils would be a majority when the two provinces joined for the referendum. However the Sinhalese leaders did not want to merge these two provinces as it would go against the interests of the Muslims and Sinhalese. TNA does not seem to have taken these issues and their implications into serious consideration. They seem to be still stuck in their four Thimphu principles.

The TNA proposals have to be seen as an attempt to delink their areas of habitation as much as possible from the writ of the central government. It seems that the proposal is to devolve to the Regional Council all powers and functions that can be carried out at the level of the regions on the basis of the principle of “subsidiarity”. It is on the basis of a similar conceptual framework that the separatists have been agitating for an independent state in the Northern and Eastern provinces since 1972. The principle of subsidiarity is defined as “the principle that the central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level”. Obviously, subsidiarity may be suitable for big countries but could be an unnecessary financial burden on small countries like Sri Lanka.

The powers the TNA has asked for include those pertaining to land and police. Land is a subject under the 13th A that had given rise to controversial rulings by the Supreme Court. Once it held that state land can be utilized by the Provincial Councils for their projects, but later in 2011 it ruled that state land should remain under the ownership of the central government for the utilization at national level. Police powers had not been allowed to be taken over by the PCs though it is provided in the 13th A. These two subjects, if devolved, could give a PC that has a centrifugal tendency much leverage to work towards its goal. For instance an independent police force could engage in subterfuge and subversion with the connivance of the provincial politicians. A terrorist who commits an act of terror in the South could escape into the North, and find refuge. We must not forget that separatism and terrorism have not been totally eliminated in this country.

The TNA proposals tend to change the nature of the state quite significantly, and also the single sovereignty of the people in Sri Lanka. In the present constitution, people’s sovereignty is reposed in the executive president by people’s franchise. The President may delegate his executive powers to other institutions such as the ministers, and also in accordance with the 13th A to the governors he appoints to the provincial councils. By abolishing the executive presidency, the need for an executive governor who represents the president — forming a link between the centre and the periphery is got rid of. The executive powers of the governor are to be taken over by the ministers of the RC.

The TNA proposals seek to do away with the concurrent list of subjects that come under the purview of both the central government and the regional councils. This is another delinking measure that TNA wants to be adopted, to strengthen the autonomy and independence of their regional government. Such an arrangement would be federal in nature, no matter what it may be called.

Worse, it would be a federal state based on ethnic lines. It has not been very successful in countries where it was tried, eg. Ethiopia, Pakistan, South Sudan.

Liam D Anderson, who has done an in-depth study of the subject, concludes that Ethno-federalism is the worst form of institutional arrangement (2016).

The TNA seeks to get more than federalism as can be seen from its demand for powers to deal directly with foreign countries for aid, loans and investment. What the TNA is asking for is almost a separate state. If all these powers are granted, their struggle to strengthen the case for the legal establishment of a separate state would succeed to a great degree.

The TNA proposals, if granted, would have adverse effects not only on Muslims and Sinhalese living in the North and East, but also on Tamils. These adverse effects would be felt mainly in the economic, social and cultural spheres. Tamils have a huge economic interest in the South, in the Sinhalese community. Cordial relations between communities is essential for the development of economic connections. For instance the wholesale market in Colombo, in which the Tamils have a huge presence, cannot thrive unless there is trust and understanding among different communities involved in this business. A political rupture in the sensitive areas like land, language, religion could affect their relations.

The Muslims and Sinhalese who live in the North and East would feel that they have been made minorities, and may be subject to discrimination. Such sentiments would not help reconciliation, but promote discord. Social and cultural relationships will be hampered and the whole country may not progress very much socially, culturally and economically.

It is time the TNA took into consideration the present realities and also politics in the Tamil areas. Adopting a more extremist posture in an attempt to boost its flagging popularity is not what is needed. What is needed is a course correction, and develop reconciliation strategies that would be beneficial to the Tamils who live not only in the North and also elsewhere so that everybody could get together and develop their country.

N.A.de S. AMARATUNGA



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Opinion

Need for best relations with China

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(This letter was sent in before the announcement of the government decision to allow the Chinese survey vessel to dock at Hambantota – Ed.)

I once met Pieter Keuneman sometime after he had lost the Colombo Central at the general election of 1977. We met at the SSC swimming pool, where he had retreated since his favourite haunt at the Otters was under repair. Without the cares of ministerial office and constituency worries he was in a jovial mood, and in the course of a chat in reference to a derogatory remark by one of our leaders about the prime minister of a neighbouring country, he said, “You know, Ananda, we can talk loosely about people in our country, but in international relations care is needed in commenting on other leaders”.

Pieter, the scion of an illustrious Dutch burgher family, the son of Supreme Court judge A. E Keuneman, after winning several prizes at Royal College, went to Cambridge in 1935. There he became a part of the Communist circle, which included the famous spies Anthony Blunt, later keeper of the Queen’s paintings Kim Philby, and Guy Burgess. Eric Hobsbawm, the renowned historian commenting on this circle, wrote of the very handsome Pieter Keuneman from Ceylon who was greatly envied, since he won the affections of the prettiest girl in the university, the Austrian Hedi Stadlen, whom he later married. Representing the Communist Party in parliament from 1947 to 1977, soft-spoken in the manner of an English academic, Pieter belonged to a galaxy of leaders, whose likes we sorely need now.

I was thinking of Pieter’s comments considering the current imbroglio that we have created with China. Our relations with China in the modern era began in 1953, when in the world recession we were unable to sell rubber, and short of foreign exchange to purchase rice for the nation. The Durdley Senanayake government turned to China, with which we had no diplomatic ties. He sent R G Senanayake, the trade minister, to Peking, where he signed the Rice for Rubber Pact, much to the chagrin of the United States, which withdrew economic aid from Ceylon for trading with a Communist nation at the height of the Cold War.

Diplomatic relations with China were established in 1956 by S W R D Bandaranaike, and relations have prospered under different Sri Lankan leaders and governments, without a hint of discord. In fact, in addition to the vast amount of aid given, China has been a source of strength to Sri Lanka during many crises. In 1974, when the rice ration was on the verge of breaking due to lack of supplies, it was China, to which we turned, and who assisted us when they themselves were short of stocks. In the battle against the LTTE, when armaments from other countries dried up, it was China that supported us with arms, armoured vehicles, trucks, ships and aircraft.

It was China and Pakistan that stood by our armed services in this dire crisis. More recently, amidst the furore, created by Western nations about human rights violations, China was at the forefront of nations that defended us. A few weeks ago, it was reported that the UK was ready with documents to present to the UN Security Council to press for war crimes trials against the Sri Lankan military, but the presence of China and Russia with veto powers prevented it from going ahead with its plan.

It is in this context that we have to view the present troubles that have engulfed us.President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the short period he has been in office, has won the sympathy of people by the speed with which he has brought some degree of normalcy, to what was a fast-disintegrating political environment. On the economic front, his quiet negotiations and decisions are arousing hopes.

A shadow has been cast over these achievements by the refusal to let in the Chinese ship to Hambantota, a decision made on the spur of the moment after first agreeing to allow it entry. The manner in which it was done is a humiliation for China, one administered by a friend. We must remember that these things matter greatly in Asia.

These are matters that can be rectified among friends, if action is taken immediately, recognising that a mistake has been made. The President should send a high-level representative to assure the Chinese leadership that these are aberrations that a small country suffers due to the threats of big powers, to smoothen ruffled feelings, and normalize relations between two old friends. The American-Indian effort to disrupt a 70-year old friendship, will only lead to its further strengthening in the immediate future

ANANDA MEEGAMA

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Opinion

A change of economic policies for Sri Lanka

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Millions of Sri Lankans are anxiously waiting to see what actions will be taken to make life bearable again.If we follow the example of successful countries we see them exploit their opportunities, and use the wealth created, not to import cars and go on luxury trips abroad, but to re-invest the money proceeds in further projects to bring in even more money. They proceed in this way until their citizens have good standard of living. Probably, the best example of that compounding of wealth is Singapore.

Singapore exploited its geographic advantages. It provided cruise ships with bunkering services and repair, later they provided airlines with refueling and expanded that to one night free stop- overs for passengers to buy luxury goods at their glamorous, tax-free shopping malls. The Japanese were making wonderful new gadgets: cameras, music players, portable radio cassette players, binoculars, all available in the malls and sold tax free!! Lee Kuan Yu forbade the ladies to wear denim jeans, and to wear dresses with hem lines coming down two inches below the knee! He even instructed the ladies to smile! No man could have long hair for fear of arrest. Littering was prohibited, so was chewing gum and smoking butts on the roads and pavements. The place was kept clean!

They used the proceeds arising from all this commercial activity to build housing blocks, develop new roads and other beneficial projects. (Individuals were not allowed to walk away with the profits, just to fritter them away.) Sentosa Island had installed a communications dish antenna connecting it with New York and the financial markets. This was an example of intelligent seizing of opportunities. I account for this intelligent development as due to the high educational and knowledge of Singapore’s progressive management. The result is a firm currency, holding its value.

Something similar has happened to Russia. Russia is rich. It is under progressive intelligent management. Stalin had developed the railway network across the full eleven time zones. But many areas remained to be connected. Putin found the finances to develop coal mines, develop oil and gas deposits and build railway bridges and tunnels for better access to markets and their demand for Russian products. Even as you read this, trains of 70 plus trucks, each with 70 tons of coal are grinding their way to China, day and night. Gas is flowing through an extensive network of pipelines, both east to China and west to friendly countries in Southern Europe. Mr. Putin and his men have succeeded in getting Russia fully functional. And the more Russians there are to spend money, so the more demand for goods and services: shops, etc., providing multiplying employment in Russia.

Mr. Putin wants to build a road and rail link south through Iran to India. A design plan is in the works. It is being discussed with Iran and India. Putin is displaying initiative for the benefit of Russia and its citizens. Putin cares for the citizens of Russia and is creating both wealth and jobs too. Architects are designing attractive living spaces and buildings which provide a better environment for Russians and contractors are building it. Education of Russian citizens is playing a big part in Mr. Putin’s thinking, too. Russia needs a talented workforce.

The result is that the currency, the Ruble is strong and does not devalue. It keeps its value.Belarus, Russia’s neighbour, can also be praised for outstanding development. The population in the big towns is cossetted with amenities and facilities which provides a luxurious way of life for townspeople especially those with industrial jobs. However, it must be admitted, the standard of life for the minority 30% population living in the countryside has yet to catch up. The administration is strict and everyone is law abiding. For example, you can leave your hand phone at your seat while you visit the toilet conveniences and it will remain undisturbed until you return.

Belarus, being a mostly agricultural country has a big tractor manufacturing plant, it has a fertiliser mining and producing plant, it has a commercial vehicle plant, DK MAZ which produces industrial trucks such as fire extinguishing trucks and also produces the most comfortable, bright, low step buses and so on, and of course, Belarus makes its own industrial vehicle tyres. The towns are prosperous and clean and Minsk, the capital is a beautifully laid out city. Town apartment blocks are multi-storied living spaces, but are so well designed and fitted as to provide pleasant living spaces for its people. These reduce urban sprawl across the wooded countryside.

What are Sri Lanka’s strengths? It is a small island thus making communications short and sweet. Its location in the Indian Ocean is a plus, its scenic beauty is a plus allowing a thriving tourist trade for people from colder climates, and its soil and climate allows almost anything to be grown. Therefore its agriculture is a great strength. Its long coastline can provide fish if the fisherised. It has deposits of graphite and phosphates which can be exploited to produce profits for further investment in development projects. It has its illiminite sands which are an extremely valuable asset but need to be controlled and exploitation expanded. It has a whole gem mining industry which need to be managed in way beneficial to the government. It has several government owned businesses which need to be overhauled and modernized to convert losses to profits. The rupee in 1948 was equal to the English pound, now it is around 450 rupees to the Pound. That gives a good description of Sri Lankan past governance.

Profits from projects need to be ploughed back into further projects to bring about a higher standard of living for all its inhabitants. Then the Lankan reputation of being a paradise island with happy people will be restored.

Priyantha Hettige

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Opinion

Sapugaskanda: A huge challenge for RW

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It will be interesting to see if anything fruitful will come of the so-called “investigation” announced by the Minister-in-charge, about what seemed like an outrageous overtime payment to the petroleum refinery workers.While waiting for the outcome of that investigation, I thought of highlighting again the real and central issue that cuts across all loss-making government undertakings in Sri Lanka, such as the CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, etc. that have been mercilessly sucking off tax-payer’s money into them like “blackholes”.

These organisations have been typically sustaining a mutual understanding with corrupt or inept politicians. “Sahana milata sewaya” (service at a concessionary price) was the catchphrase used by them to cover up all their numerous irregularities, wanton wastage, gravy trains, jobs for the boys and massive corruption, mostly with direct and indirect blessings of the politicians.

Here, I’d like to bring out just one example to help readers to get an idea of the enormity of this crisis built up over the past few decades. You’ll only have to look at what seemed like gross over-staffing levels of the CPC’s Sapugaskanda refinery, compared to international standards as shown below:

* Sapugaskanda Refinery – 50,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD); 1,100 employees Superior Refinery, Wisconsin, USA – 40,000 BPD; 180 employees

* Louisiana Refinery (including a fairly complex petrochemicals section), USA – 180,000 BPD; 600 employees

* Hovensa Refinery (now closed) – US Virgin Islands; 500,000 BPD; 2,100 employees.

These are hard facts available on the Internet for anyone to see, but I’m open to being corrected. I doubt if any sensible private investor would even dream of allowing such a level of gross over-staffing in their businesses.

As everyone knows, this is the position in all government business undertakings, as well as in most other government agencies in Sri Lanka. One can say that Sri Lankans have been willingly maintaining a crop of GOWUs (Govt Owned Welfare Undertakings), primarily for the benefit of the “hard-working” employees of these organisations, but at an unconscionably enormous cost to the rest. Obviously, this “party” couldn’t have gone forever!

Will Ranil be up to this challenge? I doubt very much.

UPULl P Auckland

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