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The '3D' solution to the north east problem


b Sirisena Cooray

(July 13, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The north eastern problem cannot be solved only through war. Negotiations are not the answer either. While the war is going on there must be a '3D' approach to the north and the east - Devolution, Democracy and Development. All three are necessary to bring peace and normalcy to the north and the east and to Sri Lanka.

This is the only real alternative to separatism. This is what President Premadasa meant when he said 'Eelam illai, Ellam kudutharei' (not Eelam but everything else).

The people of the north and the east are undergoing untold hardships. Tamil people all over Sri Lanka feel frightened and insecure. They do not know what tomorrow will bring. They need to be reassured. It is only through a programme consisting of devolution, democracy and development that we can reassure the Tamil people.

There must be rapid development in the areas liberated from the LTTE. The people must be given everything they need for a decent standard of living - such as houses, electricity, water, jobs.

Development

During the time of President Premadasa, even in the midst of the war, development took place in the north and the east. There was a presidential mobile service in Vavuniya and several garment factories in the north and the east. Immediately after an area is liberated we would move in and build houses for the people of the area. I remember initially Mr. Premadasa wanted 1000 houses to be built in three months.

Democracy too is essential. In the LTTE areas there is no democracy, as everyone knows. That is why there must be democracy in the liberated areas. In the liberated areas the people must be free and safe. There cannot be abductions, extortions, killings, and other acts of intimidation. Elections, when they are held, must be free and fair.

Devolution is the third necessity. Many people have highlighted the need for a political solution. The Tamil people must feel that they have sufficient authority to manage their own affairs.

The Apex Council

When it comes to a political solution there are two thorny issues. One is that of the merger. The other is the amount of devolution.

Most Tamils want the merger. The Sinhalese and most Muslims are opposed to it. How do we reconcile these different points of view? I have always felt that linkage through an Apex Council is the best way out of this problem.

The greatest advantage in the Apex Council formula is that it can be implemented without any delay since it can be formed with an Act of Parliament with a simple majority. Therefore we need not wait for a two thirds majority. Since the Apex Council will be formed through an Act of Parliament it will be answerable to parliament.

The Apex Council will consist of members of the two provincial councils in accordance with the ethnic ratio of the two provinces. The two governors and the two chief ministers of the provinces will be ex-officio members of the Apex Council. Other members will be selected from among provincial councillors in a secret ballot.

The Apex Council will deal with all contentious issues. All view points will be heard and no injustice done against any ethnic or religious community. When necessary the Apex Council will also coordinate with the president and the parliament.

This way the north and the east can be linked without causing problems to the provincial minorities, the Muslims and the Sinhalese.

Power

Asymmetrical devolution. A majority of people outside of the north-east do not require devolution. This has been used to reduce the number of devolved subjects and to inflate the concurrent list. This problem can be taken care of via asymmetrical devolution: devolve power to those who want it, since in Sri Lanka devolution has become necessary due to history and politics rather than geography.

Governor to be a ceremonial head.

Reducing the concurrent list to a minimum with as many subjects as possible transferred to the provincial list.

A provincial subject cannot be transferred to the centre without a two thirds approval of the provincial council and a provincial referendum. This will give the people of the province a sense of security and prevent arbitrary action by a majority dominated centre to dilute or even sabotage devolution of power to the minorities (this may require a constitutional amendment).

Land: the subject of state land to be transferred to the concurrent list; this can prevent both the centre and the periphery from abusing state land in favour of this or that ethnic group.

Introduction of a provincial public service side by side with the national public service.

Implementation of the clause on devolving police powers to the provinces fully.


Most Sinhala and Muslim people are not opposed to devolution. The Tamil people want it. It is therefore the duty of the government to present a solution to the country without any further delay. Even to win the war we need the support of the Tamil people. If we do not make an effort to improve their lives and reassure them about their safety, why should they support us?
(The writer is chairman of the Premadasa Centre)
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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