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We are ready to discuss better devolution with the government


5 June 2013 06:30 pm - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Jaffna district Tamil National Alliance (TNA)  MP Suresh Premachandran stressed the need for extensive devolution of power to the provincial councils. In addition to land and police powers, he asked for financial powers to raise foreign loans and grants for developmental needs. Also renewed is the call for the re-merger of the north and the east.  MP Premachandran is also the leader of Eelam People Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), a former Tamil militant group that joined the democratic stream after signing the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987. Also, he was a member of the merged North-East Provincial Council at that time.
 Here are the excerpts of the interview with him

Q:How important is the Northern Provincial Council Election for Tamil people?  
The provincial council system was introduced because of the Tamil problem. Otherwise, there was no need for it.   It came into being after signing the Indo-Lanka Accord. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced to implement the Indo Lanka Accord. It is especially for Tamils. Yet, the provincial councils were set up all over the country.   However, Tamils continuously argue that the provincial council system lacks enough powers to run affairs in the proper sense.  They asked the successive governments to upgrade   these powers devolved to the provinces or to go beyond the 13th Amendment. Various Tamil parties put forward that idea. All the provincial council elections were held. In the meantime, the war erupted.In the east, the government had the election immediately after the area was liberated from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). They did not delay it. However, even after four years, the government has not done it in the North. Some parties are against police and land powers whereas others want to abrogate the 13th Amendment in its entirety. At the Independent Day speech, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said there was no need for devolution, and development alone would be enough.  There are others who made statements to that effect. The government is not positive about holding this election.  The alliance partners of the government are against it.  But, Tamils want a power sharing arrangement.

Q:You mean that the government is not sincere enough in this case.
They are not sincere at all. Actually, we do not know what will happen. If the President wants, he can ask all his alliance partners to stop talking against the election. He can do it within a matter of a few minutes if he wants. They can be asked to desist from making strong statements.

Q:It means the TNA takes serious note of such criticism?
Actually, that criticism is intensified day by day. They make a lot of noise against it. Tamil people are not happy with it.

Q:You belong to a political party that renounced militancy and embraced democracy after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord.  In that sense, how important is the 13th Amendment as a base for addressing your political concerns?
When we handed over weapons, we thought the problem would be resolved. We participated in several meetings.  I participated in the Mangala Munasinghe Parliamentary Select Committee. I was a member of the round-table conference convened by late President R. Premadasa. I was talking with former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. I was a member of the TNA delegation that had talks with the present regime. We are repeating the same thing over and over again. Yet, we could not reach any finality. There was the Mangala Munasinghe report. Again, there were two sets of proposals put forward by President Kumaratunga in 1995 and in 2000. The All party Representative Committee (APRC), under the chairmanship of Professor Tissa Vitarana, compiled a report. Besides, we, the TNA, handed over some proposals. Still, we could not come to any conclusion. Everybody accepts that there are problems for Tamils. That is why, they have appointed committees from time to time.
Actually, I am fed up of everything. What is the use of it now?  We are repeating the same, again and again like a student, who failed an exam, being asked to repeat it.

Q:If the election is held in the North, how confident are you of winning it?
Definitely, we are going to win. There is no other way of preventing that victory. This is what everyone says. The ruling party allies admit it.  Intelligent people know it well. The ruling party allies do not want the Northern Provincial council to be controlled by the TNA. They want everything under their control.

Q:If you win the election, will you use it as a stepping stone to achieve further devolution of power?
You are well aware that we fight for extensive power sharing even in the absence of a provincial council in the north. We talk about police, land, financial and taxation powers. We also ask for the curtailment of the governor’s power. It is an executive post appointed by the President. We need the power of that post pruned. The Governor has more powers than the elected members.  There must be radical changes in the Constitution for it.

Q:It means you demand the right to   self-determination?
Self-determination means looking after ourselves. We do not say we want a separate state. Within a united Sri Lanka, we   must be given powers to determine our destiny. That is within a united Sri Lanka.

Q:In this case, you ask for police and land powers fully devolved to the provincial council?
Yes, we ask for land, police and various other powers. If you go to a federal state, you can see it. In the United Kingdom, Scotland has its own parliament. Ireland has its own Parliament. Federal states such as the United States, Canada, Switzerland and even India have their own systems.

Q:in your view, what country does have the best devolution model for Sri Lanka?
We are ready to discuss with the Sri Lankan government to work out a better system for Sri Lanka. That is a power sharing arrangement best suited for the country.

Q:What are your views on the Indian model?
Still Indian states are fighting for more powers. They have appointed various commissions to find how more powers can be devolved to the states. In Canada, there is greater power sharing than any other country. In Australia, there is a system. Definitely, multi- religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural countries need power sharing.  Then, there will be stability and economic prosperity.

Q:You mentioned that you ask for financial powers. Do you want to be totally independent of the central government in this respect?
I do not say total independence. There can be a central bank to regulate the financial system as of today. But, the provincial council should have enough powers to deal with financial matters. The council must have powers to raise foreign loans and grants for development activities.  It can be done with the concurrence of the centre. I do not ask for total independence. We want to develop our areas. For that, we must be in a position to deal with other financial institutions. Otherwise, it is difficult to depend on government allocations for developmental needs.

Q:Along with police power, do you ask for defence power?
Defence is a matter squarely lying with the security forces.  The army, the navy and the air force are there to deal with it. We do not ask for it. We want police power to maintain law and order in our areas. We are talking about it only.

Q:Do you still demand the re-merger of the north and the east?
Yes that is true.

Q:Are these your personal views or those of the TNA as a whole?
Before the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed, we dealt with the then India’s Prime Minister the late Mr. Rajiv Gandhi. We categorically said at that time that we would not support the Indo-Lanka Accord unless the two provinces were merged. Then, they agreed to the merger. Yet, there was a clause in the Accord that provided for a referendum for the merger. After the lapse of 18 years, there has been no such referendum in the east. That was the moral agreement between the then President J. R. Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. On these matters, there are no differences among the alliance partners of the TNA.

Q:If the provinces are re-merged, what will happen to Muslims in the east?
There are not only Muslims but also Sinhalese. It is not a problem. We will make all three languages-Sinhala, Tamil and English- official languages in the area. There are Tamils and Muslims living along with the Sinhalase in the South. Likewise, all the communities will live in the North and the East.

Q:Then, where do you have differences of opinions?
There are differences on various other matters. Apart from the Ilanakai Tamil Arachu Kachchi (ITAK), all the other Tamil parties want the TNA to be registered as a separate political entity. Yet, ITAK has not accepted it so far.

Q:How are you going to move ahead with such differences?
Since 2000, we have functioned as an alliance, not as a registered party. We are now planning to move ahead with a structure. I had a meeting with ITAK General Secretary Mavai Senathirajah. We need to have a political structure in place.  I hope it will happen.

  Comments - 2

  • mahesh fernando USA Thursday, 06 June 2013 04:00 PM

    Premachandran is saying that he wants "police powers to maintain law and order and not military powers". We have problems with law and order in the other parts of the country. Should we give separate police powers to those areas?
    After getting police powers in Jaffna, Premachandran will say "Now we have a problem with military powers", and the list will go on. He is also mentioning "our area". He better understand that there are no areas in Sri Lanka, where he can state "our area".
    Premachandran is the same old tiger with different clothing and hiding behind the democratic system.

    Mr. B. Wijeyasingha Thursday, 06 June 2013 04:52 PM

    There is no such thing as "Better devolution of powers" for the very act of increasing power in the provinces also increases the power to demand a separate state. As for economic development that was obviously put in there to show a more "open" approach to devolution. To date Colombo has handled investments across the land perfectly well without devolving powers.

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