October 18, 2012,-
By M. A. Sumanthiran-Pages: 2
In regard to a political solution the TNA placed before the government delegation in writing at the very first meeting itself, the speech made by President Rajapaksa at the inaugural meeting of the APRC and the Committee of Experts in July 2006, which was referred to in my article last Sunday, as the position that would be acceptable to the TNA. On the invitation of the government delegation a further outline was given at the second meeting. Again at the invitation of the government delegation, the TNA tabled a comprehensive set of proposals at the third meeting held on March 18, 2011. This included proposals in regard to the structure of governance, the division of subjects and functions between the centre and the devolved units and fiscal and financial powers and other matters relevant to the achievement of an acceptable and durable political solution. The TNA invited the government’s response to these proposals and despite the government’s commitment to so respond, no response was forthcoming for several months. Consequently, no meaningful or purposeful discussion could be held on the discussion papers tendered by the TNA. This was clearly demonstrative of the lack of a genuine commitment on the part of the government to the evolution of an acceptable political solution. While attempting to show the world that the government was engaged in a political process as an integral part of reconciliation, what the government was really engaged in was no more than a deceitful exercise. It was in these circumstances that the TNA questioned the continuance of such a deceitful process. The TNA, therefore, called upon the government to meaningfully define and state the government’s response to three issues: 1. The structure of governance, 2. The division of subjects and functions between the centre and the devolved units and 3. Fiscal and financial powers, within a period of two weeks, to carry forward any future dialogue. However, as usual, the government went to town, accusing the TNA of behaving like the LTTE – laying down conditions and setting deadlines!
With the breakdown of the talks, the TNA leader met the President at his invitation. Two agreements were made at that meeting. First, it was agreed to bring to the negotiating table, five previous proposals of the Government in lieu of a response by the government.
This agreement was recorded in the minutes of the meeting held on Sept. 16, 2011 as a statement of the Leader of the TNA: “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, Governments proposal for constitutional reforms 1995, 1997 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.” The second agreement was also recorded in the same minutes to say that once consensus was reached at the bilateral talks, which can be taken to the PSC as either the government proposal or the joint government -TNA proposal, the TNA would join the PSC process. On the basis of these two agreements, the TNA made its comments on the draft Terms of Reference for the PSC and the government incorporated all of those and placed it on the Order Paper of Parliament on 10th October 2011. This was the first concession made by the TNA, after the government went back on its promise to respond at the bilateral talks.
Subsequent to this adjustment, the bilateral talks recommenced and three meeting were held in the month of December 2011 at which devolution of land powers was discussed. Three further meetings were fixed for the 17th, 18th and 19th of January 2012. But, on all those three days although the TNA attended, the government delegation failed to turn up! Instead the government started to insist that the TNA must join the PSC, if the bilateral talks are to continue – contrary to the agreements reached and recorded in the minutes. In order to break the deadlock, the Leader of the TNA met with three members of the government delegation on the 27th of January 2012 and made further concessions. By this, it was agreed that the TNA would nominate names to the PSC simultaneously with the recommencement of the bilateral talks and that the PSC would be convened only after substantial agreement was reached at the bilateral talks. This was reduced to writing and given to the government delegation on the Jan. 31 2012 to obtain the concurrence of the President. But, sadly, there was no comeback.
The third attempt was an initiative made by the Leader of the Opposition in May 2012. The Leader of the Opposition and other UNP leaders had a meeting with the President and several ministers, where they were told that there had never been any TNA-Government talks and that it was TNA-SLFP talks! Apart from the original letter from the Presidential Secretariat, the joint statement issued after every round of talks clearly identified the delegation as government delegation. Once this was resolved, a particular agenda was agreed to according to which the Leader of the Opposition would nominate names to the PSC after further discussion with the TNA and the JVP. The text of that agenda was agreed upon after several drafts were exchanged. Once this was agreed, the Leader of the Opposition wrote a speech, gave copies of it to the government and the TNA and made that statement in Parliament on May23, 2012. It had been agreed that the government would endorse the agenda suggested by the Leader of the Opposition. But, sadly again, no such endorsement was made on the floor of the House!
This is the true state of affairs with regard to the government-TNA talks and the PSC. There is documentary proof for all of the above. Despite all this, the government continues with its misinformation campaign blaming the TNA for its ‘inability’ to evolve a political solution. It even has the temerity to ask the TNA to forget all of this and start afresh by walking into the PSC empty-handed. That is not a bona fide invitation. That is a ruse to cheat the TNA and the Tamil people yet again. Although the government has repeatedly given assurances to India, in particular, and to the international community in general, that it would evolve a political solution by implementing the 13th Amendment in full and going beyond that so as to make devolution meaningful, our suspicion is that the real agenda is to repeal even the 13th Amendment! This is now proved by the utterances of the Defence Secretary. The PSC is clearly the vehicle by which the government intends to achieve this objective. That is why the TNA has insisted on reaching an understanding prior to entering the PSC process.
Some people glibly ask the question: Isn’t the PSC a perfectly democratic process? How can you refuse to participate in a process that will bring about a solution that is acceptable to the majority of the people of this country? These people forget that it is precisely the issue of majoritarianism that has plagued this country since independence. Simple majoritarian rule is what disempowered the numeric minorities of this country. Consider this: A section of the citizens who voted in the 1947 elections were deprived of their citizenship itself and their franchise soon after that by a democratic majority vote in the first Parliament! Subsequent to that Sinhala Only and several other legislations were all passed using this same democratic process and the will of the majority. The Tamil people were left out of the process of constitution making in 1972 and 1978 because they were numerically a minority. It is this exclusion in the nation-building process that led to alienation and a violent conflict. But, if there is to be reconciliation and a new beginning, this mistake of the past must not be repeated. The TNA cannot be coaxed into the PSC with the ulterior motive of making a ‘majority decision’ there! The problem of majoritarianism cannot be solved by means of a majoritarian approach. That problem got confounded by the unilateral abrogation of several agreements (Banda-Chelva, Dudley-Chelva) and is repeated even now. If the government is not willing to keep the several promises it made to the TNA in the last two years, what hope is there that it will act honourably in the PSC?
Posted by Thavam