By R. Sampanthan, MP, TNA-

During his speech, Sir, His Excellency the President has also referred to political issues. I refer to points 2.6 and 2.7 in his speech. He has talked about the need for a political solution. He has insinuated that the Tamil National Alliance is not cooperating with the Government in regard to a political solution. He has also alleged that the Tamil National Alliance is responsible for the present stalemate regarding a suitable political solution. I do not think, Sir, that these statements of the President are in accordance with the true position. I do not intend to engage in a confrontation, but I do think when the President has made a statement of this nature, the truth needs to be put on record, and that, we need to respond. We are committed to the evolution of a political solution within the framework of a united and undivided Sri Lanka. It is true that there was a demand for the restoration of sovereignty of the Tamil people consequent to the enactment of the 1972 Constitution, which denied them everything and made them second class citizens. The Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, ever since its inception, the date of Agreement is 29th July 1987 – the first commitment in the agreement is that the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka must be preserved. Ever since then, Sir, the demand for separation has not been pursued. It is the expectation of the vast majority of Tamil people that there will be a political solution that would enable them to live as equal citizens within a united and undivided Sri Lanka. They would much prefer and indeed want to be equal Sri Lankans rather than pursue a separatist goal. It is in this background, Sir, that I propose to analyze what the President has said in the course of his Budget Speech and all that has happened, particularly, after President Rajapaksa’s assumption of office for the first time in 2005.

I propose, Sir, to refer to certain speeches and certain commitments made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in regard to the contours of a political solution. I would also refer to certain processes that have taken place in this country from the year 2011 which have today reached a deadlock and which have not proceeded, which have not progressed.

I would like to state the reasons for this situation coming into being. I would first refer to the speech that President Mahinda Rajapaksa made to the inaugural Meeting of the All Party Representatives Committee and the Multi-Ethnic Experts’ Committee that he appointed. He addressed that grouping under different headings. Under the heading “Unity, territorial Integrity and Sovereignty”, this is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to say on 11th, July 2006. I quote:

“The unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of our country must be preserved. This cannot be open to bargain. Our approach has been widely endorsed by the international community, notably India and the Co-chairs have clearly stated and have clearly ruled out any form of division of this country. Our objective must be to develop a just settlement within an undivided Sri Lanka. Each party represented here has its own solutions to the national question. We will discuss and synthesize these different approaches and develop our own Sri Lankan model. We must explore past attempts from the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact onwards. We must draw appropriate lessons from the experience of other countries. I will not impose a solution on the country. But, you will through your developments, through your deliberations provide a solution to the national question.”

Then, again, Sir, continuing under the heading “Devolution for the People by the People”, this is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, I quote:

“People in their own localities must take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment. Central decision-making that allocates disproportionate resources has been an issue for a considerable time. In addition, it is axiomatic that devolution also needs to address issues relating to identity as well as security and socio-economic advancement without over-reliance on the Centre. In this regard, it is also important to address the question of regional minorities.”

Any solution needs to as a matter of urgency, devolve power for the people to take charge of their own destiny. This has been tried out successfully in many parts of the world. There are many examples from around the world that we may study as we evolve a truly Sri Lankan constitutional framework including our neighbour, India.

Then, Sir, continuing further, under the heading “Some Concluding Thoughts”, this is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, I quote:

“Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution without sacrificing the sovereignty of the country. Given the ground situation, given the background to the conflict,..”

Therefore, Sir, that was the President’s position in regard to the nature of the political solution that he had in mind when he addressed the inaugural Meeting of the APRC and the Multi-Ethnic Experts’ Committee who were appointed by him.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed Parliament on 19th of May, 2009, on the day the war came to end. In the course of his address to Parliament, this is what he said: “Mr. Speaker, it is necessary that we give to these people…” – that means the Tamil People – “…the democratic freedom that is the right of people in all parts of our country”. Similarly, it is necessary that the political solutions they need should be brought closer to them faster than any country or government in the world would bring. He goes on to say, Sir: “Therefore, it is necessary that we find a solution that is our very own, of our own nation. It should be a solution acceptable to all sections of the people”.

Solution based on Buddhist philosophy
The President further states: “I believe that the solution that we who respect the value and qualities of Mettha (loving kindness) Karuna (Compassion) Muditha (Rejoicing in others’ joy) and Upeksha (Equanimity) based on the philosophy of Buddhism can present, can bring both relief and an example to the world. Similarly, I seek the support of all political parties for that solution”.

He not merely talked about a political solution, but a political solution that will be guided by the tenets of Buddhism. The people of this country are substantially Buddhists. Therefore, I do not think anyone would be in disagreement with me if I say that Lord Buddha would have certainly wanted a just solution to this conflict in such a manner that all people who live in this country, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion would be able to live with self-respect and dignity fulfilling their legitimate aspirations.

That was the second important Statement made by the President, Sir, when he addressed Parliament on the 19th of May 2009.

Now, I want to refer to the third Statement that the President made which also defined the contours of his thinking in regard to a political solution. That was the Joint Statement, Sir, made by the President after the visit of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN to this country on the 23rd of May, 2009. In that Joint Statement signed by both the President and the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, this is what he stated:

“The Joint Statement released by the Government of Sri Lanka and the UN Secretary-General states that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Secretary-General agreed that addressing the aspirations and grievances of all communities and working towards a lasting political solution was fundamental to ensuring long-term socio-economic development. The Secretary-General welcomed the assurance of the President of Sri Lanka contained in his Statement made in Parliament on 19th May 2009 that a national solution acceptable to all sections of people will be evolved. President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties, in the new circumstances to further enhance this process and bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka”.

Anyway, the situation being, Sir, that the LTTE had been decimated and if there was an impediment from the Tamil side in regard to a political solution, that impediment was no longer there. These were the three fundamental important statements made by the President and without confronting the President in any way, may I say to him with the utmost respect that I am prepared to negotiate with him a political solution within the framework of these three statements that he has made without going in any way beyond these three statements.

The Panel of Experts report 
The President appointed a Panel of Experts. The Panel of Experts have come up with a Report. We are prepared to discuss the political solution based upon the Report of the Panel of Experts appointed by him. There were 17 persons on that Panel of Experts. Twelve of them were Sinhalese, 4 of them were Tamils. There was one Muslim. Eleven of them including six Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslim have come up with a Majority Report. This is a home-grown solution recommended by the multi-ethnic Panel of Experts appointed by the President. So, what is your difficulty in adopting that Report in framing a solution? Two Experts who were Sinhalese did not indicate their position.

Therefore, the position is that it would not be quite correct to say that the TNA is not cooperating in the matter of a political settlement because the TNA is quite prepared to extend to the President the fullest cooperation to ensure that a solution is arrived at on the basis of statements that he has hitherto made.

All these processes that I have referred to were domestic processes largely on the initiative of the President indicating the nature of his commitment and the nature of his desire regarding a political solution.

Bilateral talks commenced between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil National Alliance in January 2011. The President had been re-elected in January 2010. TNA had been re-elected substantially to represent the Tamil people in the North-East in April 2010.

We tabled a Position Paper in January 2011 setting out our position. I table* that Position Paper and kindly request that it be included at the end of my speech.

TNA position paper
The Position Paper defined the position of the TNA in regard to a political solution at the bilateral talks that took place between the Government and the Tamil National Alliance. The Government delegation agreed to respond to enable the commencement of a meaningful discussion. They kept on postponing. I wish to explain in some detail what happened when the Government did not come up with their position at the bilateral talks.

I must refer to the fact that bilateral talks took place between the Government of Sri Lanka and the TNA which commenced in January 2011 and went on till January 2012. No talks have taken place thereafter. The Government has also talked about a Parliamentary Select Committee. There has been a Resolution adopted in Parliament in regard to the Parliamentary Select Committee. We have not yet submitted our names to the Parliamentary Select Committee, but we very earnestly took part in the discussions at the bilateral talks.

Sir, I need to make the position clear in regard to what our stand is in respect of the bilateral talks and the Parliamentary Select Committee.

Bilateral talks between the Government and the TNA
At the conclusion of the General Election in April 2010, the TNA made a public request that the Government should engage with the TNA in respect of two matters. The first was the evolution of a political solution to the national question and the second was the immediate and urgent concerns of the Tamil people in the aftermath of the war. Although the President agreed with the Leader of the TNA in early November 2010 to set up two separate Committees for same and despite names being forwarded for that purpose, only one Committee was appointed on 5th January, 2011 consisting of representatives of the Government and the TNA for a long-term reconciliation.

Bilateral talks between the Government and the TNA commenced on 10th January 2011. The TNA tabled this document at the first meeting itself indicating its position on a political solution which was in line with the President’s own Speech at the Inaugural Meeting of the APRC and the Experts Committee in July 2006. At the second meeting held on 3rd February 2011, TNA submitted an outline of its proposed solution and at the third meeting held on 18th March 2011, at the invitation of the Government Delegation, the TNA placed on the table a comprehensive set of proposals. The Government delegation requested time to respond to the TNA’s proposals and at every meeting thereafter apologized for not being able to respond and asked for further time. This went on for five months, during which time seven meetings were held. Apart from making suggestions with regard to the Senate and strengthening the Local Government bodies, no response was made to the TNA proposals which was mainly on devolution of power to the provinces. In this background, at the meeting held on 4th August 2011, the TNA refused to set a date for the next meeting until the Government fulfills its obligation to respond to the TNA’s proposals. Thereafter, the President invited the TNA Leader for a meeting on the 2nd of September 2011 and the following agreements were reached at that meeting. In view of the inability of the Government to respond to TNA’s proposals it was agreed to bring to the table the previous proposals and the President’s Speech at the Inaugural Meeting of the APRC and the Experts Committee. Bilateral Talks will recommence and continue on the basis of these documents.

Two, once a measure of consensus is reached on substantive issues at the Bilateral Talks, that agreement will be taken before the Parliamentary Select Committee either as a Government proposal or as a Government-TNA agreement, the TNA would join the Parliamentary Select Committee at that point of time.

The five documents
The five documents referred to are these. Since the Thirteenth Amendment was considered inadequate, Presidents after the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment had taken various steps to improve on the Thirteenth Amendment. There was the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee during the time of President Premadasa, there were three other Constitutional Proposals of 1995, 1997 and 2000 during the time of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, there was a Speech made by the President at the inaugural meeting of the APRC and the Experts Committee and there was the Majority of Experts Committee Report, a Committee appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself. These were the documents that we wanted brought into the process in view of the failure on the part of the Government to deliver its response.

Bilateral talks recommenced on 16th September, 2011 and the above agreement was minuted and later confirmed at a subsequent meeting on 20th October, 2011. The TNA also engaged in the constitutional framework including the formulation of the Terms and Reference for the PSC and the Motion for the same appears in the Order Book of Parliament of 4th October 2011. The Committee also identified the substantive issues that needed discussion, prepared a timetable for the same and met on three dates in December 2011 at which devolution of land powers to the provinces were discussed. Thereafter, three dates, 17th, 18th and 19th of January, 2012 were fixed to continue with the dialogue. The Government delegation failed to turn up for talks on 17th, 18th and 19th of January 2012 insisting that the TNA must first nominate its Members to the PSC contrary to the agreements previously reached. With this, the bilateral talks came to an end. That is how the bilateral talks came to an end.

Two attempts to break the conflict
Thereafter, two attempts were made to break the conflict. The first was the discussion held on the 27th January, 2012 between the Leader of the TNA and three Members of the Government delegation at which it was agreed that the TNA would nominate names to the PSC simultaneously with the commencement of bilateral talks but that the PSC would be convened only after a consensus is reached at the bilateral talks. This agreement was reduced to writing and apparently given to the President for approval, which did not materialize.

Thereafter another attempt was made by the Leader of the Opposition in May, 2012. After several rounds of discussions with the Government as well as the TNA, an agreed text was prepared as the Agenda for the PSC and placed in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition on 24th May, 2012. Although the Government was supposed to endorse the said Agenda, the response of the Leader of the House did not address any one of the fundamental issues suggested by the Leader of the Opposition in his Agenda. I make this statement, Sir, because I want to make it perfectly clear that as far as we are concerned, we are committed to evolving a final solution to this question through negotiations.

We are committed to finding a political solution within the framework of a united, undivided Sri Lanka
. But, it must be an honourable solution; it must be a reasonable solution; it must be a workable solution; it must be a durable solution. I regret to state that despite our having made our position very clear at the Bilateral Talks and in Parliament and outside, the Government had thus far not responded in any responsible way to what we have proposed. We have never said that we will not partake in the PSC. We have only said that the PSC – Parliamentary Select Committee – must play a purposeful and meaningful role. It must be structured in such a way that it will achieve the desired objectives. We cannot have the PSC merely to delay this process and to prolong this process nor can we have the PSC to enable some parties who will come before the PSC to scuttle the entire process. This we cannot cooperate with and we will not do that. This is our position in regard to the matter and this is why we have not been able to partake in the PSC.

The PSC roundss
Now, Sir, having said these things, I am also tabling* the Minutes of the Bilateral Meeting on 16th September, 2011 and I would like that to be included at the end of my speech.

There are two paragraphs in the Minute which are important, the statement made by me when we recommended the bilateral talks. The meeting was attended by the Hon. Nimal Siripala de Silva – Chairman, The Hon. (Prof.) G.L. Peiris, the Hon. (Prof.) Rajiva Wijesinha and the Hon. Sajin De Vass Gunawardena on behalf of the Government. There was a delegation led by me on behalf of the TNA. I stated at that meeting:

“This meeting happens consequent to a meeting I had with HE. He explained the difficulty in presenting a proposal of the government in that it maybe leaked and then it will become difficult to make adjustments. I said that I appreciated this but that there are other earlier documents on the basis of which we could talk. Those are Mangala Moonesinghe PSC proposals, Government’s proposal for constitutional reforms 1995, 1977 and August 2000, HE’s speech to APRC and Committee of Experts inaugural meeting and Report A of the committee of experts. HE agreed to proceed on that basis and so there would be no necessity for the government to give their response to our paper.”

That is the basis on which we recommenced the bilateral talks. It is further recorded in the Minutes, Sir, I quote:

“Thereafter Hon. Nimal Siripala de Silva stated the TNA must agree to join the PSC so that the agreement reached here can be placed before the PSC as the joint TNA-SLFP proposal. Hon. Sampanthan stated that the terms of reference of the PSC that appears on the Order Paper was not acceptable and an alternative draft was given and the government delegation said they would try and get concurrence to it from
other parties.

Prof. Rajiva suggested that we say ‘one Sri Lankan nation’. This was agreed to by the TNA delegation. The TNA also agreed that if the TOR was amended in this way, once an agreement was reached with the government delegation at these talks, which can be placed before the PSC as suggested, they would join the PSC process.”

So, our position in regard to these matters has been quite frank. We have not been dubious. I am also tabling, Sir, the Agreement that was arrived between the Government delegation comprising of the Hon. Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, The Hon. (Prof.) G.L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs, the Hon. Sajin De Vass Gunawardena, and myself in regard to the basis of which talks should commence. It contains, Sir, very important positions – I am tabling* that, Sir, and request, that be included at the end of my speech.

The UNP position
Then, there is a statement made by Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe to Parliament on the 24th of May, 2012 where Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe underlined the basis on which talks could commence. He had discussed this matter with the President and the President had agreed with his agenda and Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe made a statement in Parliament on the basis of his agreement with the President in the hope that there will be a favourable response from the Government, and once that response of the Government was available, talks would commence. I would just read one paragraph in his statement, Sir. It states, I quote:

“The UNP has called on the Government to create an appropriate environment for the Opposition Parties to take part in the PSC. Such an environment is possible on an agenda based on the implementation of recommendation of the LLRC Report including a devolution package, implementing the 13th Amendment and further building on it so as to achieve meaningful devolution, taking into account the bilateral discussions between the 3-Member Committee of the Government Parliamentary Group and the TNA based on the discussion papers and the documents referred to therein.“

In fact, he had discussed the matter with the President and the President had agreed, that is contained in another page in his speech. He further said that, I am quoting from his statement:

“The government has not objected to what we proposed in the agenda in order to create a suitable environment for the PSC. Thus at this juncture, I would also like to assure the TNA that the UNP will support all decisions arrived at during the bilateral talks between the representatives of the Government and those of the TNA. Therefore, I would like to urge the Leader of the House to endorse this agenda, enabling us also to participate in this dialogue.”

Unfortunately, Sir, the Hon. Nimal Siripala de Silva made a statement. I got that statement with me and prefer to table* that statement for you to kindly direct that it be included in Hansard.

It is a very important document, Sir. In his statement, he did not say anything positive on the basis of the statement made by Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe and consequently, the same situation continued. And, we were not able to resume the dialogue because Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe’s statement was made on the basis of the discussion he had with the President with the endorsement of the President. But, when the Leader of the House responded in the House, he did not state that was acceptable, that they would conform to that agenda, and because he did not say so, talks could not continue. Meanwhile, Sir, various important persons in the Government were making statements in regard to the PSC and things like that which made it very difficult for the TNA to take part in the PSC. President Mahinda Rajapaksa asserted that all Ministers in the SLFP should stick to one position on the Provincial Council issue. He further asserted that two Provincial Councils should never be permitted to merge on their own and that the PCs – Provincial Councils – should not be granted police or land powers.

What Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said
This was stated in his interview to the “Lakbima” newspaper on the 27th of June. Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that there will be havoc if police and land powers are given to the Provincial Councils and pointed out that the national police would be divided into nine, if done so. He further said that the Police force would become politicized which would lead to various administrative issues. Furthermore, Sir, the Minister, Hon. Patali Champika Ranawaka, in the course of a statement explained the dire consequences that would arise from vesting land and police powers with PCs. He further said, “Our position is that the Thirteenth Amendment should be repealed entirely.” That was the position of the Hon. Patali Champika Ranawaka. The Minister, Hon. Wimal Weerawansa who was also on the Parliamentary Select Committee, in the course of a statement at that time said, “We would have been happy, if the Thirteenth Amendment was removed altogether, but some people in the Government are not keen on doing that. Therefore, we are asking the Government to remove the police and land powers in the Thirteenth Amendment. In addition, the opportunity to pass a resolution to merge the Northern and the Eastern Province should also be removed.”

These are statements made by the Hon. Gentlemen through the press at different times and I quote from those reports that appeared in the media. Furthermore, Sir, the Minister, Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella went on to say this in the course of a statement that he made.

Land and police powers
He said very clearly – I think I must place that on record – “If the TNA is coming for discussions on land and police powers, it is a waste of time. There is no use in proceeding with talks, if they want to discuss those issues”. That was the position. There are provisions in the Constitution pertaining to land and police powers; there are provisions in the Constitution pertaining to the merger of the Northern and the Eastern Provinces. But, here these Gentlemen are saying that these things must be removed and that cannot be allowed. How can the TNA go to the Parliamentary Select Committee in this situation? This is why we did not go to the Parliamentary Select Committee. In fact, the Cabinet took a decision that they would remove some of these provisions in the Thirteenth Amendment, that they would amend the Thirteenth Amendment. Consequently, I had to get in touch with Delhi and I had a meeting with the Indian Prime Minister on the 18th of June, 2013. At the end of that meeting that I had with the Indian Prime Minister with my delegation, there was a statement made by the Ministry of External Affairs of India and this is what they said in that statement. I quote:

“It was noted that the proposed changes raised doubts about the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government to India and the international community, including the United Nations, on a political settlement in Sri Lanka that would go beyond the 13th Amendment.
‘The changes would also be incompatible with the recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), set up by the Government of Sri Lanka, calling for a political settlement based on the devolution of power to the provinces,’ ”

It was further stated by the Ministry of External Affairs that Dr. Singh stressed on the expectations that the Sri Lankan Tamil Community should lead a life of dignity as equal citizens and reiterated that India would make every effort to ensure the achievement of a future for the community marked by equality, justice and self-respect. It was after this statement and after the special National Security Adviser of India visited Sri Lanka and met with the President that these proposals were abandoned that this was given up. Sir, I want to make it perfectly clear that we are certainly not responsible for the stalemate.

LLRC recommendations 
Before I conclude, sir, I would also like to refer to what the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission were in regard to a political solution. This is what the Para 9.184 of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission stated, I quote:

“The Commission takes the view that the root cause of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka lies in the failure of successive Governments to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil people.”

This is what the LLRC said. They went on further, Sir, with their recommendations and I will read very quickly two other paragraphs.

Paragraph 9.236 states, I quote:

“The Commission wishes to underline the critical importance of making visible progress on the devolution issue, in order to ensure the success of any process of lasting and sustainable reconciliation. The Commission therefore recommends that the present opportunity be utilized to launch a good-faith effort to develop a consensus on devolution, building on what exists – both, for maximum possible devolution to the periphery especially at the grass roots level, as well as power sharing at the centre. This consensus should be one that will enable peoples’ participation in governance decisions affecting them and avoid costly and unnecessary duplication of political, bureaucratic and other institutional structures that hamper efficient, cost-effective and transparent governance.”

Paragraph 9.237 states, I quote:

“To this end, the Government must take the initiative to have a serious and structured dialogue with all political parties, and those representing the minorities in particular, based on a proposal containing the Government’s own thinking on the form and content of the dialogue process envisaged. That dialogue must take place at a high political level and with adequate technical back-stopping.”

Sir, where is the Government’s proposal? The LLRC Report came out in November, 2011. Next month it will be completing three years. Where is the Government’s proposal? Is the Government yet prepared to come up with the proposal? Does the Government have a proposal?

Therefore, Sir, the collapse of the bilateral talks was entirely due to the Government’s actions. The Government did not attend the bilateral talks on the 17th, 18th and 19th of January, 2012. We made two efforts thereafter to recommence the talks. That failed. You tried to amend the Thirteenth Amendment. You tried to remove important provisions in the Thirteenth Amendment. That is part of this country’s Constitution. You cannot do that. We are having all this trouble in this country today, because the Soulbury Constitution of 1947 was repealed by the 1972 Constitution. All the safeguards given were removed and you did what you wanted.

We have worked with the Government to arrive at a solution to our problems. We are prepared to do that. But the Government is playing foul; the Government is not being genuine. I am not confronting the Government. I respect many people in the Government. I respect President Rajapaksa. I am prepared to talk to him and resolve this question. I am not a stooge of the Government. I am also not a person who will confront the Government. I am a person who would like to work with the Government. My Party would like to work with the Government. We are prepared to negotiate an honourable solution, a reasonable solution, an acceptable solution, a durable solution that will be acceptable to all the people in this country.

– From the speech made by Hon. Sampanthan at the budget debate on 30th October 2014.

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Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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