Northern Province Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran outlined the problems of the North and assured government of support in addressing the priorities of the North. He also welcomed certain measures of the government such as removal of military governor as symbolic of a gesture of a step in the right direction.
He was delivering an address at a special meeting of the Chief Ministers with Public Administration Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Karu Jayasuriya. In his address, he continued:-
‘At the outset, I must apologise to the Hon. Chief Ministers present for my delayed participation today. We in the Northern Province, had our first meeting with the new Governor, Hon. Mr. Palihakkara, earlier this morning and it was important that as the elected representative of the people of the Northern Province I was there to welcome a civilian governor with human rights credentials, on behalf of the weary and battered Northern populace. I must also thank H.E. the President, the Hon. Minister and the newly appointed Governor of the Northern Province for making the necessary arrangements for me to come to Colombo in time to participate in this important meeting.
The replacement of the military Governors in the North and East with respected members of the foreign and civil services, combined with measures such as the removal of the travel restrictions to the North, signifies a symbolic step in the right direction in commencing the process to restore civilian administration and also hopefully in addressing the issue of demilitarisation. As I have highlighted on many occasions previously, Sri Lanka’s perspective on security over the last several years has been entirely through the prism of “national–state security”. In striving to enforce national -state security we forgot that governments are elected to ensure “human security”, which encapsulates economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security and political security. Besides, it is also important to understand the root causes of the ethnic conflict namely the structural causes and the denial of collective security of the Tamils of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. This brings us to the issue of collective security of defined groups of people which is also an essential part of human security.
The steps taken by the fledgling government indicate that it has jettisoned the repressive notion of “national-state security ” and embarked on a course towards “human security”. This kind of course correction is a long and arduous task. It needs reforms across many sectors. For instance, Human security cannot be achieved without the rule of law. The steps taken by the Government to replace the unconstitutionally appointed Chief Secretary of the Northern Province with a constitutional appointment, and its courageous decision to reinstate the de jure Chief Justice and oust the de facto Chief Justice, whose purported appointment cast an indelible stain on the history of our judiciary, demonstrates the Government’s commitment to restore the rule of law. From the time I was invited to address the annual judicial officers conference at the beginning of the impeachment saga to my address at the convocation of the courageous President of the Bar Association, Mr. Upul Jayasuriya, upto the Kannabiran Memorial Oration I delivered in India three months ago, I have highlighted the threat to the judiciary and the illegal appointment of a de facto Chief Justice. I therefore congratulate H.E. the President, the Hon. Prime Minister, the Hon. Minister Jayasuriya whose portfolio includes “democratic governance” and the other members of the Government for taking a difficult, courageous and correct decision.
Many more difficult decisions would have to be made if we are to heal wounds, build trust, and progress as a country. The Government’s task, particularly in the context of the forthcoming general elections, is extremely difficult. I am confident that the Tamil Speaking People of the Northern and Eastern Provinces are aware of the numerous difficulties and will have patience and hope for this Government. We, the representatives of the Tamil Speaking Peoples, wish to give you two assurances. The first is our willingness to co-operate with the initiatives of this Government which will address the long overdue post war needs and priorities of the North and Eastern Provinces and second is a reiteration of our commitment to a non-violent, democratic, equitable political solution based on the principle of collective security of our community within a united Sri Lanka.
What my constituents in the Northern Province would like the Government to understand is that they have borne the brunt of the war like no other in the country. To give it some perspective around 6-7% of our population consists of War Widows. Thousands of acres of land are still occupied by the Military, which continues to be engaged in commercial, agricultural and leisure activities to the exclusion of the owners of those lands. As I stated at the University Grants Commission National Conference on “Post War Socio – Economic Development and Constructive Engagement with Sri Lankan Diaspora” held in February 2014, the administrators in Colombo must realize that the North is not a normal society. This is a society that experienced the trauma of screeching air vehicles going past at lightning speed on a daily basis without knowing where the next human tragedy will take place. The members of this society have undertaken journeys where they had to leave their injured or the dead wherever they had fallen. They have lived the artificial and unhealthy life of an IDP in strange circumstances, having led a life of comparative ease and tranquil in places of their hereditary birth until then. They have been uprooted from their traditional hereditary habitats and cultural ambience. Therefore we cannot have a “one size fits all” policy for the North or the East. Those of my friends here who are lawyers will appreciate that the treatment of unequals equally amounts to discrimination. I would like to table my speech on that occasion, which sets out our view on the policy changes that are essential for post war socio-economic development in the Northern Province.
In essence, I noted that we are in a post-war society not a post-conflict society, which in turn requires resolution of the causes of conflict; economic development is fundamental and any attempt at achieving it requires a holistic approach; we need to engage the diaspora; and finally we need to understand that a one size fits all approach cannot be adopted. I further pointed out that three policy failures have plagued us – The first is the tragic abandoning of a pluralistic identity of Sri Lanka and adopting a majoritarian approach. The second is the historical folly of not being people-centric. The third is the unfortunate policy paradigm of viewing security and freedom as competing interests and not as complementing values.
I should also point out that the very idea of Provincial Councils came into existence because of the problems faced by the Tamil Speaking People and what was contemplated was to have a measure of power sharing with the North-East. However, due to the machinations of the then President, the Provincial Council system was introduced across Sri Lanka. While we have no issue with the establishment of those Provincial Councils, it would be best to bear in mind that the other Provincial Councils were not created because the people of those Provinces requested it – but because it was a convenient political red herring. On the other hand the Provincial Council for the North-East was the result of the agitations of the Peoples of those Provinces.
Therefore there are two reasons for treating the North and East as special cases. The first is the practical issue of having to look after Provinces which have suffered immeasurably and have serious livelihood issues. The second is the fact that the Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils have their constituents’ mandate that was behind their creation. Those mandates need attention and fulfilment.
Understanding the basis of the creation of the Provincial Councils is important for another reason. In order to honestly arrive at a political solution one has to understand the inadequacies of the Provincial Council system. In fact in 1987 itself the TULF intimated to the Indian Prime Minister the inadequacies of the 13th Amendment, and it would be appropriate if I table the letter of 28th October 1987 as well. The fears expressed in the letter turned out to be prophetic as successive governments not only refused to implement the 13th Amendment but also took legislative and administrative steps to dilute it. From the bringing of Divisional Secretaries and Government Agents under the Central Government to the insidious and invasive Divineguma Act, the 13th Amendment has suffered numerous assaults.
Long term political issues cannot be resolved overnight even if there is goodwill on both sides. It requires the building of trust and for that the freedom of information and the exchange of ideas have to be fostered. The previous regime painted the Tamils as terrorists bent on partitioning Sri Lanka and the Muslims as extremists. We need to overhaul that idea and show that we are co-owners of this resplendent isle committed to pluralism, democracy and non-violence. Both sides need to acknowledge the atrocities and crimes committed during the war, and justice should be meted out. Sweeping injustices and crimes under the carpet cannot evolve a solution, it can only fester resentment and animosity.
The immediate post war needs and priorities of the People of the Northern Province should be addressed. Their lands and livelihoods restored. Though, I am the Chief Minister of Northern Province, the Opposition Leader in Eastern Province has brought to my notice the needs and priorities of the Tamil speaking people in the post war context in Eastern Province, which are similar to the issues and challenges faced by our community in the Northern Province and is in need of redress. We need to engage the diaspora and channel their expertise and finances into the development of this country. We have suffered severe brain drain and have serious shortages of competent personnel. We must rally round and bring back our best and brightest. We must be guided by the principle that the most vulnerable should be addressed first. In this context, I am glad to say that I had a productive meeting with the Hon. Minister for Resettlement and Reconstruction, who understands the enormity of the task before us. From the perspective of the Northern Province I wish to urge that a comprehensive needs assessment be carried out with the participation of the people’s elected representatives and that long, medium and short term plans be devised. We have been prevented from functioning systematically in the one year that I have held office and my people have great confidence that those obstacles will be removed. In fact, with the appointment of the new Governor, we are confident that we can progress smoothly.
Having stated the above, I should like to inform you Honourable Minister that our Board of Ministers have forwarded to His Excellency the President our 100 day’ work plan to coincide with the Government’s 100 day’ plan and have commenced interactions with the Honourable Minister for Rehabilitation on the issues outlined therein. In this context, I am glad to say that we had a productive meeting with the Hon. Minister for Resettlement and Reconstruction, who understands the enormity of the task before us. Our Board of Ministers are also keen to meet with you at your earliest convenience Sir, to discuss our 100 day’ plan and to agree on an appropriate implementation schedule to serve the war affected citizens in our Province, particularly in this current post war context.
My dear brothers and sisters, we are finally within reach of chartering a course that could transform our beloved country. Let us not miss this opportunity for a reversal will probably destroy all chances at democracy and peace.”