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Unresolved Tamil Issue

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by Gnana Moonesinghe

The failure of the Tamil ‘liberation’ movement is the failure to understand how the Tamil problem should be reviewed and tackled in today’s context. To me, the first issue is to understand if the Tamils consider their minority status a de facto reality. If they do, then they have to work within the limitations imposed by their minority status in society. This, they must understand in all its implications.

It is true that this nation has a majority Sinhalese population and minority Tamil, Muslim, and Burgher populations. These minorities are defined by their relatively smaller numbers in comparison to the majority; but this demographic factor should not pose any impediment to the concept of their equity placement vis-à-vis the people of Sri Lanka as defined in the law of the land guided primarily by the Constitution.

 

Reconciliation is the need of the hour

This should be a time for reflection. The state, at great cost to life and property, has successfully put down Tamil terrorism. It is, however, time for the leadership to rethink the strategies that have been followed, during and after the war. At a time of violence damage to life and property will and did happen. Kith and kin disappeared but what is in contention is why no attempt is made to track down the victims of war in order to give redress to their relatives. Instead, if celebrations of the war victory continues and homage is only paid to the armed forces as war heroes withou any strategy for reconciliation, discontent will prevail among the defeated.

To formulate strategies to overcome past problems would be one obvious way to resolve or perhaps narrow the divide that exists today in our society. At least it would serve as a demonstration of goodwill to a grieving population. It is true that the Tamil community was responsible for the outbreak of violence but it must be added that they were also acting under grave provocation. Bringing Sinhala-only legislation provoked the Tamils who had previously, on their own initiative, introduced Sinhala as a subject in the school curriculum.

Education is a subject close to the heart of the Tamils as their livelihood was dependent on securing government jobs. Other sources of earning income were limited in the North. Therefore, when the government introduced standardization it angered many who considered this an act of discrimination against them, adding fuel to the existing fire within the community.

No land, no jobs, no income.

Poverty levels have always been high but since the conflict many households have lost their male earning members; consequently these households are headed by women. There are many thousands of widows in the province; their husbands have perished in the war. Many of the lands as well as some lucrative businesses have been taken away from the residents, leaving them without recourse to their traditional sources of employment and income. True some lands have since been returned. But many languish without title to their previously owned property and this leads to much heartburn and resentment.

Jobs are not forthcoming in this atmosphere of negativity, and wealth creation in the Northern Province has reached an all time low, especially now with the COVID pandemic raging. Hitherto, the relief for the poor, especially those without security to offer lenders, has led to loans taken at extortionate interest. Microfinance has been tarnished as the worst among the loan sharks and branded an unsuitable source of relief to the needy. Some women approached an NGO and requested a minimal Rs. 5,000 to start a lunch delivery home industry and another indicated that if she had a sewing machine she could be self-sufficient. Unfortunately, that NGO had ceased to be in operation soon after and could not be of further assistance. With no hope for relief, the poor are left with no recourse.

This is one of the reasons why it is said that the Tamil leaders have let the people down. These leaders who have been elected in the hopes of offering avenues of assistance to their constituents, do not seem to have an agenda or a plan setting out methods of ameliorating the poor living conditions of the people. It is in this context that one despairs about funds granted to the chief minister to help the people of the North had been returned unused to the Treasury.

The politicians seem to be mostly fighting for power, ignoring the needs of the people whom they are expected to uplift by identifying needs by interaction with the needy and the grant of seed money to help start-up projects by the poor. Tamil leaders failed to perform this service, instead permitting the armed forces and commercial interests to occupy that space.

Credit was granted at offensively high interest rates which the recipients could not cope with and the people were in a worse plight than earlier. Consequently, there is an attack on micro financing as a poor relief enabling system. This reading is a result of the misunderstanding of micro -financing methodology.

Despite the multiple tragedies the Tamils are facing, the leadership continues in their one track pursuit of power and in the process endangering democracy within Tamil society. To stay in power the local leaders use a ‘divide and rule’ tactic not only among themselves but also within the TULF, their parent body. The Chief Minister of Jaffna has broken links with them and resorted to building his own base seeking to exclude the leaders who introduced him to the Northern Province. Whether this will enable the desired results or not, the future will unfold. But at the recent elections Tamil parties suffered losses to the benefit of the SLFP in what would have hitherto been a very hostile atmosphere.

There has been a significant impact by the introduction of military personnel to civilian positions both in the center and the provinces. Responsibility for this has to be cast on the political leadership that has fiddled while Rome burnt. Clearly, the Tamil and Sinhala politicians are not providing the necessary leadership vital in this context. Instead they are playing ‘cheap’ politics of invoking fear by making military appointments to certain positions previously occupied by civilian administrators who successfully discharged their responsibilities until the emasculation of democratic administrative systems. Or they are pitching one group against another causing greater turmoil among the people.

As a result of poor leadership and poor management of administrative affairs the rift in racial relations has surfaced again despite the example of the consequences of the LTTE’s war with the State. This time around it seems to be the minority Muslims who are at the receiving end.

The LTTE leadership was hostile to the Muslims living in the North for generations. Hostile being a rather harsh word to use, it may be better said that the Tamils did not engage with the Muslims culturally and there was a tendency by the upper caste Tamils to look upon them unfavorably. Could it have been due to the desire to be rid of the Muslims in order to make the peninsula a Tamil only place? This will remain a matter of conjecture for a long time.

In the meantime, the Sinhala majority with its penchant for getting rid of all minorities got into a tangle for a while with the Muslims until it exploded into the Easter Sunday bombings. Since then, there has been no open Sinhala-Muslim hostile engagement s. Violence ceased but there has been no strategies or policies for reconciliation.

 

Provincial Council?

In this context reference has to be made to the provincial councils

even if this be unpalatable to some. The PCs were created as administrative/political institutions that will have more powers to guide the destiny of the people in the North. But the NPC has become irrelevant because of the preoccupation of civil society and other leaders with widening its powers rather than prioritizing strategies to consolidate its present position and produce a viable work plan for the North. It is essential to device a program of action to ameliorate or at least reduce minority grievances and help the Northern Province to identify with the nation state.

It was with this in mind, and also the need for a uniform system of administration that the PCs, originally meant only for the Tamil provinces, was implemented countrywide. They have become white elephants merely replicating existing local government institutions sometimes less efficiently. The PCs have become training grounds for politicians aspiring to enter Parliament. Should the country carry such colossal expenditure to support a system such as this? In all honesty it must be said that at the beginning there was no demand for provincial councils except in the Tamil areas. But the system was replicated in all other areas for the sake of uniformity. Or as Minister Lalith Athulathmudali said long ago, “you can’t give Jaffna what you won’t give Hambantota.” Since the system was implemented,, Tamil areas in the North and the East have been demanding more power for the Chief Minister and to the councils.

For any system to function efficiently there has to be sincerity in the conduct of national affairs. For relative peace to be established it would be necessary to have PCs as envisaged by their initiators – to be a via media between the central government and the periphery. Instead it has been transformed into an instrument through which more and more powers are demanded without utilizing the powers in hand for the benefit of the people. The impression created in people’s mind is that there is an unquestionable thirst for more and more power and that the Councils are becoming combative vis-a-vis the central government.

In the midst of all this mayhem it is refreshing to learn that an army officer, Maj. Gen. Dias (retd), had requested the relevant authorities to permit interested Tamils to commemorate their dead the same way it is done in the South. This, he says, will be a just and equitable strategy to adopt which will also stop those who wish to benefit from such denial to gain increased political support. The fact that he has proposed a method of removing misunderstandings and ongoing persistent hostility between the army and Tamil civilians is commendable. The general by merely making this observation has helped clear the air and pave the way for communal harmony.

He had said that in an emergency in predominantly Tamil areas, requests for an ambulance, water bowser or a generator is directed to the army. This makes clear the existence of a relationship of trust between the army and the people in these areas. This friendly vibe must be used to create better relations between the people and the forces. This will certainly contribute to some extent to usher peace in the country and the much needed amity among its people.

There is also a possibility of PCs being able to request and secure additional powers. Powers to do what? That is the relevant question. When nothing is clear, would it then not be better to depend on the cost effective alternative of using existing local government institutions to address social problems? This strategy, if adopted, will put the nation on the road to better social relations and contribute to building sustainable economies in the provinces and the country as a whole.



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Antics of State Minister and Pohottu Mayor; mum on chemical fertiliser mistake; The Ganga – a link

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Reams have been written in all local newspapers; much comment has traversed social media and persons have been bold to call for justice on two absolutely unrestrained and yes, evil, SLPP VIPs who have recently been dancing the devil as the saying goes. These evil doers seem to be pathologically unable to control themselves and behave as human beings: heads outsised with hubris and apparently bodies often pickled with liquor.

Very succinct comments have been made on Lohan Ratwatte, one being: “a leopard never changes his spots” referring to the many crimes supposed to have been committed by him, and the other that he is a gem of a man who may make a jewellery heist soon enough. He has the audacity to say he did nothing wrong in barging into two prisons; in one to show off to pals the gallows and in the other, to brandish a gun and place it against the heads of two shivering Tamil prisoners. All done within the week when world attention was focused on Sri Lankan human rights violations directed by the UNHRC

Cass’ comment is that Lohan Rat was committing hara-kiri (minus even a trace of the Japanese spirit of self sacrifice) and taking the entire country on a suicidal mission through his inability to hold his drinks and destructive hubris and murderous inclination. Cass particularly favoured Don Mano’s summation in his comment on the unlawful prison intrusions in the Sunday Times of September 19. “Any semblance of a shabby cover-up to enable Lohan Ratwatte to retain his position as State Minister of Gems and Jewellery will not only endanger the economy by depriving the nation’s dollar bare coffers of a GSP benefit of nearly 2.7 billion dollars, but will risk putting 21 million Lankans from the frying pan into the fire and test their tolerance to the core.”

The visit to the Welikada prison by the State Minister of Prison Reform and … was said to be with some men and one woman. Identities were kept under wraps and confusion raised by making the dame a beauty queen or cosmetician. But who she was, was soon known along the vine of gossip. One report said the person in charge of the prison or its section with the gallows, cautioned Lohan Rat and tried to dissuade his advance with friends in tow since the lady companion was in shorts and them walking through where prisoners were, would cause a commotion. But no, the State Minister advanced to show off the gallows with his short-shorts wearing woman companion and imbibing mates.

Cass is actually more censorious of this woman than even of the State Minister himself. Is she a Sri Lankan, so vagrant in her woman-ness? Doesn’t she have even an iota of the traditional lajja baya that decent women exhibit, even to minor level nowadays? Is associating with a State Minister and his drinking pals such a prized social event? Shame on her! She, if people’s assumption of identity is correct, has boasted political clout and been elevated by it too. Such our young girls! Do hope they are very few in number, though this seems to be a baseless hope as social events unroll.

Pistol packing – correction please – toy pistol packing Eraj Fernando is aiding the ex State Minister of Prison Reform to deface, debase and deteriorate Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world. He is interested in land and not in gallows or scantily clad gals. With thugs in tow he trespassed a property in Bamba and assaulted two security guards. Repetition of an incident he was embroiled in – a land dispute in Nugegoda a couple of weeks ago. He was taken in by the police and before you could say Raj, he was granted bail. What quick work of police and courts.

As the editor of The Island opined in the lead article of September 20: “The Rajapaksas have created quite a few monsters who enjoy unbridled freedom to violate the law of the land.” A convicted murderer known for his thug ways was presidentially pardoned a short while ago.

The good thing is that people talk, write, lampoon, and draw attention to these heinous crimes and do not seem scared for their necks and families. White vans have not started their rounds. And very importantly the memories of Ordinaries are not as fickle as they were. Wait and see is their immediate response.

New fad – jogging lanes on wewa bunds!

Some monks and men gathered recently on the partly torn up bund of Parakrama Samudraya and had the foolish audacity to say the bund needed a jogging lane. Tosh and balderdash! Then news revealed that other wewas too were being ‘attacked and desecrated’ to construct jogging lanes. In such remote rural areas which even tourists do not visit? Is there illicit money-making in this activity? Otherwise, no explanation is available for this sudden interest in farmers’ and toilers’ physical well being. They get enough exercise just engaging in their agriculture, so for whom are these jogging lanes?

Sharply contrasting persons

As apposite to the former two, are superb Sri Lankans up front and active and giving of their expertise, albeit unobtrusively. Consider the medical men and women and their service to contain the pandemic; farmers who protest to ensure harvests are not damaged too severely by false prophets who won the day for the banning of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. The latest blow and justification of what so very many agriculturists, agrochemists, have been saying all along – organic is good but to be introduced very slowly; without importing compost from overseas, is the Chinese import containing evil microorganisms. Experts have categorically stated that chemical fertilisers are sorely needed for all agriculture; more so paddy and tea; and if used prudently cause no illness to humans or injurious side effects.

The four experts who comprised the panel at the MTV I Face the Nation discussion monitored by Shameer Rasooldeen on Monday September 20, agreed totally on these two facts and went on to say that it must be admitted a hasty decision was taken to stop import of chemical fertilizers. We listened to the considered wise opinions backed by true expertise of vibrantly attractive and articulate Dr Warshi Dandeniya – soil scientist, of Prof Saman Seneweera from the University of Melbourne, Prof Buddhi Marambe – crop scientist, and Dr Roshan Rajadurai – media person of the Planters Association. Listening to them, Cass swelled with pride and told herself see what sincerely-interested-in-the-country’s welfare eminent scientists we have in this land of rowdy politicians and uneducated MPs. They labeled the sudden banning of chemical fertilisers and insecticides and pesticides as “very dangerous and causing irreversible harm. It is not too late to reverse the decision, even if admitting fault is not possible.”

Garlic

Oh dear! The stench! Never ending series of scams; executed or approved by politicians and all for illicit gains. Even the tragedy of the pandemic and suffering of much of the population does not seem to have curbed selfish lust for money.

Focus on the Mahaweli Ganga

Interesting and deserving of thanks. Chanaka Wickramasuriya wrote two excellent articles in the Sunday Islands of September 12 and 19 on the Mahaweli Ganga, imparting invaluable facts of the present river and its history, as for example which king built which wewa or anicut. He ended his second article by hoping the waters of the great river will feed the north of the island too: “Maybe then this island will be finally uplifted. Not just from north to south, but across class and caste, language and philosophy, and political partisanship. Hopefully driven by a newfound sanity among its denizens, yet symbolically attested to by the waters of the Mahaweli.”

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These humans are Crazy!

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Those of us who grew up reading the “Asterix” comics by Goscinny and Uderzo will no doubt remember the resonant words of Obelix, the menhir delivery man. So many times, he has observed the actions of characters ranging from Roman Emperors to Goths and made the statement “these humans are crazy” often accompanied by a few taps from his forefinger to his ample brow. These words remain a universal truth and valid even today when looking at what is going on around us.

Let’s start in Aotearoa – New Zealand with the continuing saga of the young man of Sri Lankan origin who went berserk in a supermarket and stabbed so many innocent people. Despite many assurances from the government and almost all the Kiwi friends and even acquaintances we have in this country that we Lankans are not responsible, we feel deep down inside us that we are in some way, shape or form, responsible for this person’s behaviour. Articles not only from people of my (archaic) generation but young upstanding millennials and those even younger have expressed this emotion in their own characteristic fashion. Also, we feel responsible that our network of ex citizens of the Pearl living in Aotearoa have been unable to offer any support or counselling to this person or others of his ilk.

Just as we start clawing our way out of this mire of guilt somewhat reduced by finding out just how greatly the immigration and refugee systems of New Zealand have been duped, we are now told how a currency smuggler has been granted refugee status. Now currency smuggling happens all the time, mainly due to the punitive profits taken from customers by those licenced daylight robbers the banks, but more on that later. Apparently, a currency smuggler who arrived on a forged passport, evading arrest by the authorities in the Pearl has been granted refugee status! REFUGEE seems to be the magic word as far as the NZ authorities go. Those of us who have gone through the legal immigration channels and filled reams of forms and waited years for replies are left gasping at how those worthies in the government departments of Aotearoa have one set of rules and standards for us and another completely if one puts the word REFUGEE on one’s documents.

We move on to the pearl, if I were to attempt to apologise for the “offensive actions” of members of my family (bearing my “sir” name and direct relatives) that would take up a series of tomes resembling the encyclopaedia Britannica! It may also feature my name in a few volumes as well! The current antics of a kinsman with regard to using his position and power calls for a level of responsibility, on my part. The only caveat being a request to the fourth estate to use the person’s first name. Frequent displays of a family name which some have treasured and tried to bring enhancement to, associated with behaviour of this kind, brings dismay at a level that can only be understood by those who have tried to live up to the standards set by ancestors who held high office with honour in the past. There have been many articles some ranging from biting sarcasm (unfortunately not understood by the majority) to others simply parroting what they have read on the internet. The bottom line is standby O denizens of the Pearl, this maybe just another episode in the teledrama that is Lanka under Paksa rule! There are possibilities of scripting to distract the majority and even a wider spectrum involving human rights issues in Geneva. Also, scrutinize yourselves and remember that “those who live in glass houses should not throw stones” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”?!

In Aotearoa, we call our Prime Minister by her first name and a PM that has gained the utmost respect of the people not to mention the world! Isn’t it time the Pearl followed suit? Of course, comments by the leader of the opposition like “Opposition Leader Premadasa said he vehemently condemned the disgraceful and illegal behaviour” reiterates the comments of Obelix. Especially when allegations and witnesses exist to “disgraceful and Illegal” behaviour by the person who uttered those very words. It may have been in a different context and “only” to do with the decimation of a national park in the Pearl but the behaviour had the same connotations. Looks like social media is the mitigating factor, as in those days, too, the fourth estate had to take care of continuing to exist and survive! Being the first party to spotlight such actions usually led to the “death of the messenger”.

As promised, back to the licenced daylight robbers of today, the banks. There is a “Robin Hood” tax in effect in some of the leading economies of Europe. The most “interesting” aspect for me being taxes on the profits of banks. The billions it could raise every year could give a vital boost to tackling poverty and climate change around the world and definitely in the Pearl. We call upon the “genius” in charge of the Central Bank as he is the “acknowledged” financial maestro of the Pearl (although he is never going to take RESPONSIBILITY for our plight) to look at this aspect if he has the cohunes to do it! But then again levels of corruption and obligations to high profit-making organisations that fund election campaigns, have to be taken into account in countries such as the Pearl.

Powerful efficient and successful economies like Germany and modern Demi-Gods like Bill Gates endorse this tax. Here is an idea for the government of the Pearl. Tax the banks on their huge profits and give some of that money back to the people without burdening an already insufferably burdened people! I fear ideas expressed in this column will meet their usual end either in the oblivion chaos and mayhem or the lack of mental fortitude that exists in the Pearl and her officials.However, one can only hope that people who wish the Pearl renewed status in the Indian Ocean region if not the world, continue to survive in these circumstances, as the village of indomitable Gauls in the face of the mighty Roman empire. We need an “Asterix” brave and quick-thinking warrior, armed with some magic portion from “Getafix” the druid. Instead, we seem to have plenty of pseudo “Getafix’s” concocting “dammika Pani” and such portions and far too many “Vitalstastix’s”- muddle-headed incompetent chiefs!

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Policy quandaries set to rise for South in the wake of AUKUS

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From the viewpoint of the global South, the recent coming into being of the tripartite security pact among the US, the UK and Australia or AUKUS, renders important the concept of VUCA; volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. VUCA has its origins in the disciplines of Marketing and Business Studies, but it could best describe the current state of international politics from particularly the perspective of the middle income, lower middle income and poor countries of the world or the South.

With the implementation of the pact, Australia will be qualifying to join the select band of nuclear submarine-powered states, comprising the US, China, Russia, the UK, France and India. Essentially, the pact envisages the lending of their expertise and material assistance by the US and the UK to Australia for the development by the latter of nuclear-powered submarines.

While, officially, the pact has as one of its main aims the promotion of a ‘rules- based Indo-Pacific region’, it is no secret that the main thrust of the accord is to blunt and defuse the military presence and strength of China in the region concerned. In other words, the pact would be paving the way for an intensification of military tensions in the Asia-Pacific between the West and China.

The world ought to have prepared for a stepping-up of US efforts to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific when a couple of weeks ago US Vice President Kamala Harris made a wide-ranging tour of US allies in the ASEAN region. Coming in the wake of the complete US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the tour was essentially aimed at assuring US allies in the region of the US’s continued support for them, militarily and otherwise. Such assurances were necessitated by the general perception that following the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, China would be stepping in to fill the power vacuum in the country with the support of Pakistan.

From the West’s viewpoint, making Australia nuclear-capable is the thing to do against the backdrop of China being seen by a considerable number of Asia-Pacific states as being increasingly militarily assertive in the South China Sea and adjacent regions in particular. As is known, China is contending with a number of ASEAN region states over some resource rich islands in the sea area in question. These disputed territories could prove to be military flash points in the future. It only stands to reason for the West that its military strength and influence in the Asia-Pacific should be bolstered by developing a strong nuclear capability in English-speaking Australia.

As is known, Australia’s decision to enter into a pact with the US and the UK in its nuclear submarine building project has offended France in view of the fact that it amounts to a violation of an agreement entered into by Australia with France in 2016 that provides for the latter selling diesel-powered submarines manufactured by it to Australia. This decision by Australia which is seen as a ‘stab in the back’ by France has not only brought the latter’s relations with Australia to breaking point but also triggered some tensions in the EU’s ties with the US and the UK.

It should not come as a surprise if the EU opts from now on to increasingly beef-up its military presence in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ with the accent on it following a completely independent security policy trajectory, with little or no reference to Western concerns in this connection.

However, it is the economically vulnerable countries of the South that could face the biggest foreign policy quandaries against the backdrop of these developments. These dilemmas are bound to be accentuated by the fact that very many countries of the South are dependent on China’s financial and material assistance. A Non-aligned policy is likely to be strongly favoured by the majority of Southern countries in this situation but to what extent this policy could be sustained in view of their considerable dependence on China emerges as a prime foreign policy issue.

On the other hand, the majority of Southern countries cannot afford to be seen by the West as being out of step with what is seen as their vital interests. This applies in particular to matters of a security nature. Sri Lanka is in the grips of a policy crunch of this kind at present. Sri Lanka’s dependence on China is high in a number of areas but it cannot afford to be seen by the West as gravitating excessively towards China.

Besides, Sri Lanka and other small states of the northern Indian Ocean need to align themselves cordially with India, considering the latter’s dominance in the South and South West Asian regions from the economic and military points of view in particular. Given this background, tilting disproportionately towards China could be most unwise. In the mentioned regions in particular small Southern states will be compelled to maintain, if they could, an equidistance between India and China.

The AUKUS pact could be expected to aggravate these foreign policy questions for the smaller states of the South. The cleavages in international politics brought about by the pact would compel smaller states to fall in line with the West or risk being seen by the latter as pro-China and this could by no means be a happy state to be in.

The economic crisis brought about by the current pandemic could only make matters worse for the South. For example, as pointed out by the UN, there could be an increase in the number of extremely poor people by around 120 million globally amid the pandemic. Besides, as pointed out by the World Bank, “South Asia in particular is more exposed to the risk of ‘hidden debt ‘from state-owned Commercial Banks (SOCBs), state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and public-private partnerships (PPPs) because of its greater reliance on them compared to other regions.” Needless to say, such economic ills could compel small, struggling states to veer away from foreign policy stances that are in line with Non-alignment.

Accordingly, it is a world characterized by VUCA that would be confronting most Southern states. It is a world beyond their control but a coming together of Southern states on the lines of increasing South-South cooperation could be of some help.

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