Bickering by Tamil politicians hampering development – Reginald Cooray
- Iranamadu Water Project, Vavuniya Economic centre, salt manufacturing stalled as a result
- Northern politicians only utter political slogans, but don’t do much for economic well-being of people
- Constitutional amendments are a must
- Some extremists demand what is impossible
- It is reasonable to say that military presence should be reduced in the country
- Yet, military presence isn’t an obstacle to life in the north
- The military assists in development work
- Caste based discrimination is a major hindrance to social progress in North
- Caste based discrimination is found in blood transfusion, use of burial grounds, playgrounds etc
- NPC has failed in delivering
Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray, in an interview with the Dailymirror, spoke about constitution making, social conditions and attitudes of politicians in the north. Following are excerpts of the interview.
Q: As the Governor of the Northern Province, how do you view the demand for power- sharing in this province?
It has to be viewed taking into account the history of our country. Mainly as a result of historical events, these constitutional amendments or constitutions were brought about. For example, the 13th Amendment took place because the successive Governments in the past couldn’t resolve the problem through legislative measures. The 13th Amendment provided for the setting up of provincial councils. To a certain extent, power has been devolved to the provincial councils. People are concerned both about the stability or integrity of the country and devolution. The 13th Amendment balances both. On the one hand, there is a demand for power devolution. It’s to be done. On the other hand, integrity, unity and stability of the country are to be preserved. The President has a very important role to play. Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP, in its constitutional proposals, has requested the presidential system to be retained.
Q : Is that in the present form or with certain alterations?
That is with certain alternations. But, the presidential system should remain. We will have to consider the power of provincial governors in terms of the powers of the President. The governor is the representative of the President. The President takes charge of the powers to protect the unity of the country, to ensure that provincial law making is done according to the Constitution. As the President’s representative, my duty is to work for these two purposes.
One is to make sure that the activities of the Provincial Council are carried out in accordance with the laws and the Constitution of the Country. The other is to ensure that integrity of the country is preserved. You remember that Vartharajah Perumal served as the Chief Minister of the North-East Provincial Council. He, in fact, hoisted the Eelam flag. As a result, the then President dissolved the Provincial Council. We experienced such a scenario at that time. Even today, we see some extremists trying to demand something not acceptable by the country.
We import salt from India. Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean. We don’t want such advanced technology to manufacture salt. An investor visited the north. He wanted to start manufacturing salt. That also encountered with multiple resistance.
Q : In the north where you serve as Governor, there is a huge demand for greater power sharing. What is your experience with Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran?
It is only a slogan so far. We can see after the constitutional reforms are introduced. Until such time, it will remain as a demand only. Political agitation is present.
Q : Actually, what is your experience in working with him?
Earlier, he was a judge. Now, he is a politician. As a politician, he does what all the others do. In the absence of Wigneswaran, the others will play the same role. **He hasn’t become a hindrance to my work.
Q: How does he collaborate with you in the discharge of duties?
He doesn’t have any discussion with me. For the past two years, we met only once or twice. It was only for the functional duties. I think that was regarding the appointment of provincial ministers or them taking oath. I used to meet him during certain events such as celebrations. That is all.
Q : How is it when passing statutes in his Council?
I have brought all the statutes that were passed by the Provincial Councils in the South. That is to help him. I collected all the statutes and gave them to him for his perusal. Without statutes, the Provincial Councils aren’t empowered. Devolved power can be empowered only by passing statutes. The Northern Provincial Council has passed only eight statutes. That isn’t enough.
Q : Does it mean the Council has failed?
I feel so. For the benefit of the people, in an area that was severely affected by the war, the Provincial Council should work very efficiently. The Provincial Council can act in this regard only if the statutes are passed. I think they have become a failure now.
Q : There is the allegation that the annual allocations are underutilized there. What is your view as the Governor?
There was an allegation like that earlier. The Chief Minister refuted that allegation. He said he was in need of more money. What I felt is that the allotted money couldn’t be spent because of contradictions. The Iranamadu water scheme could be taken for an example. It couldn’t be implemented because of contradictory and contrasting views held by the politicians. People of Kilinochchi want to use water in the Iranamadu Tank in their area itself. They argue that there is no water in excess to be used for drinking purposes. Yet, people in Jaffna are in need of safe drinking water. The Iranamadu water project is meant to supply drinking water to Jaffna people. It has been delayed for a long time because of contradictions.
After that, there was money allocated for an economic centre in Vavuniya. It also didn’t take off because of political tussles over its location.
Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera allocated money for a botanical garden in the north. That was also not implemented because of differences. When private investors arrive in the north, they are disgusted.
Q : What is the reason for that?
There is no cooperation between them. We import salt from India. Sri Lanka is an island in the Indian Ocean. We don’t want such advanced technology to manufacture salt. An investor visited the north. He wanted to start manufacturing salt. That also encountered with multiple resistance. There were agitations too. Some argued that it would affect the fishing industry. There were others arguing that it would affect agriculture.
The governor is the representative of the President. The President takes charge of the powers to protect the unity of the country, to ensure that provincial law making is done according to the Constitution The governor is the representative of the President. The President takes charge of the powers to protect the unity of the country, to ensure that provincial law making is done according to the Constitution.
Q : How will such contrasts in policies with regard to politicians affect the constitution making process then?
These politicians are used to utter slogans for political ends, not for the economic benefit of the country. They have been urging and agitating for political gains before, after and during the war. It has become part of their political psyche even at present.
Dengue has been controlled in other parts of the country. In Jaffna, Dengue is still raging. No action has been taken so far. No politician is interested in talking about such issues. All these local authorities come under the purview of the Chief Minister. I was the Chief Minister for ten years in the Western Province. I gave leadership to my council during that time in the greater interests of people. In the north, it isn’t happening that way. \
Q : There is a demand for the pruning of the President’s power to appoint the Provincial Governors. The demand is that it should be made mandatory for the President to consult the Chief Minister. What is your view?
Some matters have to be attended in consultation with the Chief Minister. Otherwise, devolution won’t work. If everything is done at the discretion of the Governor it wouldn’t amount to devolution. The Chief Minister has the power. He has the elected members. The elected representatives should have the right to rule the area concerned. In appointing the Provincial Ministers, I have to consult the Chief Minister. After passing statutes, they are sent to the Governor. The Governor has to check whether they are in line with the law of the country among other things.
Q : Yet, if the Constitution is amended enabling the appointment of the governors only with the concurrence of the Chief Minister, how will that affect?
Concurrence does not mean approval. There can be consultation. It is not the final say. For example, there will be two or three names proposed for the post. Then, the President can decide who is to be handpicked.
The Iranamadu water scheme could be taken for an example. It couldn’t be implemented because of contradictory and contrasting views held by the politicians.
Q : Can the Chief Minister reject the appointment during such an instance?
According to the proposed amendment, he can reject such an appointment politically, but not constitutionally.
Q : Does it mean the current provisions related to the appointment of provincial governors will be changed in the new Constitution?
It will be changed. There will be consultation with the Chief Minister concerned, but things won’t happen according to his wishes. The final say remains with the President.
Q : What is your view on the concurrent list that outlines subjects to be shared both by the centre and the provinces?
It’s better if we can abolish the concurrent list. Yet, there are some places where both parties should get together and take decisions. The concurrent list is very important in this instance. Sri Lanka is an island. But, it’s one unit. The provinces are there. Take for example, Mahaweli River. It flows through several provinces. If the Government wants to commence a project, it will have to consult all the authorities of the riparian provinces. The concurrent list should remain in relation to certain subject areas like that. I don’t hear of people being harassed by the military now. Instead, they are helping the people. The military plays a huge role in development works. They have the capacity. In the north, there aren’t enough contractors. The army fills the vacuum.
Q : What about education as a devolved subject?
There is no big problem as such. At the moment, within the provinces, they have power to administer the education sectors. If it’s against the national policy, a question will arise.
Q : How optimistic are you of this constitution making process?
The constitutional amendments are a must.
Q : How strong is extremism there?
It isn’t strong. But, it seems strong in the media. Extremist views are publicized highly. That trend isn’t on the surface. Ordinary Tamil people wish to coexist peacefully.
Q : How do you see the demand for scaling down the military presence in the north by the Chief Minister?
During the time of the war, we needed some military strength. The same strength isn’t needed throughout the country now. We don’t recruit personnel for the military now because there is no necessity for that. During the time of the war, we were compelled to recruit those even without basic qualifications. When they say there should be a reduction of military personnel, it is reasonable.
If the presence of the military is an obstacle in the way of people, it is to be curtailed. We have to find out whether there are obstacles.
I don’t hear of people being harassed by the military now. Instead, they are helping the people. The military plays a huge role in development works. They have the capacity. In the north, there aren’t enough contractors. The army fills the vacuum. They play a role in the eradication of Dengue. In fact, they helped when there was a blood shortage at the Jaffna Hospital. The army personnel donated their blood. Who benefited? The Tamil people benefited. There is a reluctance among Tamil people to donate blood.The Sinhalese are used to donate blood.
Yet, people in Jaffna are in need of safe drinking water. The Iranamadu water project is meant to supply drinking water to Jaffna people. It has been delayed for a long time because of contradictions. After that, there was money allocated for an economic centre in Vavuniya. It also didn’t take off because of political tussles over its location. Minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera allocated money for a botanical garden in the north. That was also not implemented because of differences.
Q : Is it because of a caste issue, which was reported in the media earlier?
The caste issue is strong there. In fact, the caste factor is accepted by the religion, culture and tradition of that society. That is the biggest problem. According to our system, the caste system isn’t approved. Yet, it is in practice even within the Sasana (Buddhist clergy). In Hinduism, it is accepted. It is very serious.
Q : How has it affected public life there?
One thing is blood transfusion. We see the segregation when it comes to the use of burial grounds. There is demand for separate playgrounds due to the presence of the caste issue. Villages are also segregated according to the caste system.
Q : Is it becoming like in India?
Yes. There is no legal recognition though.
Q : Has it hampered development work?
It will affect even the economic activities. Land owners are mostly high caste people. The others don’t have land. High caste people don’t live in Sri Lanka now. They are in the South or outside the country.
This is a fair interview. But the correspondent did not raise the issue of private lands occupied by the armed forces. In Mullaitheevu district alone about 14,000 acres are occupied by the armed forces which consist of deeded lands and permit lands. The consequences of such omnipresent militarisation are widespread. Tamils must fear for themselves and their children as they encounter security forces on roads, in markets, and in schools while their community development is continuously obstructed. Trust within Tamil communities is inhibited by uncertainty over who may be reporting to the military. The military’s extensive presence inhibits freedom of speech and freedom of thought, since the military’s shadow hovers over all political activities, suppressing engagement in civic forum. It has become so engrained in Tamil society in the North-East that it no longer needs to be visibly seen for its presence to affect the community. The normalisation of the military’s presence in various aspects of life in the North-East has led to Tamils internalising this oppression. The disproportionate presence of the security forces in the North-East (Mullaitheevu district 1:2 ratio) is justified as being essential to prevent another armed insurrection from within the Tamil community against the State. This is a cynical argument which is deployed to normalise militarisation while being oblivious to the shared perception of the Tamil community which regards the Sri Lankan security forces as an occupying force. This contradicts the Governor’s claim that the armed forces are helping Tamils.