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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2737

Sri Lanka’s United National Party reveals its Position on National Issues: To Asian Tribune: “We are for Maximum Devolution”

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Las Vegas, Nevada. 30 December (Asiantribune.com): Sri Lanka’s main opposition United National Party (UNP) has dropped the label “federalism” but supports maximum devolution of power to the periphery. The party is reluctant to identify a unit of devolution. The party has its doubt whether the Rajapaksa administration broke the back bone of the Tamil Tigers in recent military offensives. The UNP believes that problems faced by the Sinhalese villages are a result of the unresolved National Question and that is why, the visiting party stalwarts say, the plight of the Sinhalese is not taken much seriously by the international community.

The General Secretary of the UNP parliamentarian Tissa Attanayake and Assistant Secretary of the party Dr. Jayalath Jayawadana met with Asian Tribune in Las Vegas, Nevada to engage in a dialogue about pressing national issues facing Sri Lanka and to express the stand their party has adopted on many pressing problems in their South Asian nation.

Both Attanayake and Jayawadana were very serious when they branded the Rajapaksa administration as the worst regime in the history of Sri Lanka to violate civil liberties of the masses.

Here is the full text of the interview Asian Tribune obtained last week from the visiting UNP stalwarts before they participated to inaugurate a party branch in Las Vegas in the State of Nevada.

Asian Tribune: Dr. Jayawardana, you are the one who keep in touch with Tamil minority groups and you are the one who informs the party, after having a rapport with them, their sentiments. How would you characterize civil rights situation and the minority rights in Sri Lanka?

Jayalath Jayawadana: Two weeks ago I was in Geneva to attend the Inter Parliamentary Union, and made presentation to its Human Rights body about the human rights violation in Sri Lanka. For the first time I took up the matter of life threatening situation that ten parliamentarians face, not only of the UNP but also of TNA and Mano Ganesan. The IPU has taken a public decision that 10 opposition parliamentarians have faced life threatening situation.

Asian Tribune: What you say is - you are aware of human rights violations in 1971 and 88/89 period during the JVP insurrection, and what you say is after the advent of the Rajapaksa administration the human rights situation is far worse that what Sri Lankan witnessed in 88/89 and has deteriorated to an explosive situation.

Jayalath Jayawadana : Absolutely. Now, Rajapaksa was elected as president on 17 November 2005. Up to now 10,000 people have been killed. And 300,000 people have been internally displaced.

Infact, Mr. Tissa Attanayake, the General Secretary of the party is the most suitable person to present views about the re-organization of the party and the ‘Panditharatne Report’ about the re-organization of the party.

Asian Tribune: I will pose questions about the North-East situation, the ongoing military onslaught and the peace process from Dr. Jayawardana. The questions about the party, its internal problems, dissidents and re-organization, I will direct questions to Mr. Attanayake.

North-East Issue & Devolution

Asian Tribune: The 2002 Cease Fire Agreement between the GSL and LTTE was signed under the Ranil Wickremasinghe administration. At that time the UNP came to a definite position regarding the devolution of power to solve the National Question. The position the UNP took at that time was that a federal system was most suitable to the country. In fact the international community supported the Wickremasinghe administration position of devolution of power. Even though the United States Department of State did not openly say that the best system for Sri Lankan was a federal system they covertly supported the idea.

Now, about three months ago, the UNP took a couple of steps back to abandon the policy of federalism to say that the unit of devolution should be the province. Why did you change the previous position?

Tissa Attanayake: When the UNP came to power in 2001 we seriously discussed the devolution of power. During the Oslo Discussions and in the Tokyo Declaration the issue of federalism emerged. Our position was that, based on the Oslo Discussions and the Tokyo Declaration, we could move forward to have further discussions on the issue of devolution of power. What came out at Oslo and Tokyo Declaration was not a definite decision of any unit of devolution of power but a basis for further discussions on the issue. We have, in fact, not changed our position. We are now in the same position that we were before. What we in the UNP say is that any solution should safeguard the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka without any division at all. When we adopt a solution that will prevent the dissection of Sri Lanka we in the UNP believe that we can go to the maximum of devolving power to the periphery. We should not be slaves to ‘labels’ and that is why Sri Lanka’s politics have deteriorated because we were hanging on to ‘labels’. Because, this label ‘federalism’ is considered by the people of Sri Lanka as a system that divide the nation, and the JVP and other extremist groups have projected ‘federalism’ as a system that harms the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

So, the UNP decided not to hang onto labels like ‘federalism’ but we are in a position that there should be maximum devolution of power to the periphery. We strongly believe that what ever solution is arrived through negotiations such proposals should be subject to parliamentary approval and by the people at a referendum.

Thirteenth Amendment & Provincial Councils

Asian Tribune: I would like to draw your attention to the Thirteenth Amendment to Sri Lanka Constitution which took a clear legislative position of devolving administrative and political power to the provinces. The Thirteenth Amendment was adopted by the parliament in 1987. From 1987 through 1994 the UNP governed the country. Then in 1994 Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power. During the eight years of UNP rule and eleven years of Kumaratunga rule none of these administrations took any interest, seriousness and effort to implement the Thirteenth Amendment which gave wide political and administrative powers to the provinces. Explain why the devolution was not implemented from 1987 through 2005.

Tissa Attanayake: The Thirteenth Amendment was the result of the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement, and it was a new experience for the people of Sri Lanka. There was a widespread nation-wide agitation against this proposal by the SLFP and JVP (not the LSSP and CP) during that time. In fact, under the UNP regime, up to 1994 legislative enactments were passed in the parliament to give powers to the provinces as mandated by the Thirteenth Amendment. As a result provincial council elections were held to establish provincial councils. But with the advent of the Chandrika administration in 1994 the SLFP which were against the provincial council system took a lukewarm attitude toward devolution of power.

Asian Tribune: There was a consensus in the American Embassy in Sri Lanka during that time – I am personally aware of this because of my association with the political division of the embassy – that though the UNP and the SLFP were expressing their views in favor of devolution of power to the periphery in fact they were not serious about it because of the internal pressure by the Sri Lankan masses.

Tissa Attanayake: What you say is correct. This is a new experience for the people of Sri Lanka – devolving power to the periphery. The parliament had to enact much legislation to strengthen the administrative structure of the Provincial Councils. During the UNP regime until 1994 the parliament enacted laws. But I should tell that many government departments in Sri Lanka do not follow this pattern of devolution even now. Police powers, land alienation have not been properly implemented as mandated by the Indo-Lanka Agreement and the Thirteenth Amendment. These are the two vital powers that need to be devolved. In fact, Sri Lankan people are still in the psychological stage that this will bring a division in the country. We in the UNP believe that devolution of power does not divide the nation but unite a divided nation.

Asian Tribune: The devolution of power to the periphery in the minds of the UNP and SLFP is nothing but handing over power to the north and the east. With immense pressure from India, international community and to some extent from the United States, the UNP and SLFP succumbed to a political psychology that devolution of power can be fulfilled once the north and the east of the country gained autonomous political and administrative power. Some of the senior politicians both in the UNP and SLFP told me during that time “all these enactments, agreements and proposals are to give power to the Northern and Eastern Provinces and not to the rest of the country. Both parties are buried in this mindset”. Why not talk about devolving power to the entire country rather than highlighting the North and East.

Tissa Attanayake: Actually, when we came up with the Thirteenth Amendment and Provincial Council Act all of us were targeting the north and east. This is a precarious and unfortunate psychological situation we are in and we were in. The political parties who are opposed to the devolution of power have convinced the masses that this was an attempt to divide the nation. This is a very unfortunate situation.

The UNP, under Ranil Wickremasinghe’s regime (2001-04), took part and initiated many rounds of talks regarding the devolution of power. There were proposals during that time. What has now being achieved regarding the progress of the devolution concept is to the credit of the UNP.

It is true that the Kumaratunga government too held many rounds of talks on the concept of devolution of power but could not progress beyond what the Wickremasinghe regime achieved on this issue. Remember when the Kumaratunga administration wanted to establish the Post Tsunami Operation Management (PTOM) the political atmosphere at that time did not allow her to fulfill that.

2002 Ceasefire Agreement

Asian Tribune: One cannot conceal the fact that after the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement under the Wickremasinghe regime there was relative peace that helped foreign investments to come, economic movement from the south to the north of Sri Lanka and that the Tamil youth who visited the south wondered as to why their areas cannot get the economic boom the south is experiencing. The devolution of power means not only the administrative and political power to the provinces but also equitable distribution of resources to all parts of the nation. Why is both the UNP and SLFP were responsible in inculcating a picture in the minds of the masses that devolution of power means division of the country, and why did the two political parties over emphasized the devolution to the predominantly Tamil north and the east which has a prominent presence of the minority Tamils. At least both the political parties to some extent got succumbed to external pressure to evolve a system that will distribute power to the periphery, especially to the north and the east. How much effort has both major political parties done to erase the psychology of the Sinhalese population which is 74% of the country’s total population that devolution is division of the nation.

Tissa Attanayake: Considering the measures taken by the UNP our party should be absolved from that allegation. Not only that the UNP was in a position that there should be a devolution of power to the periphery we took steps to achieve that. It is the UNP regime that brought the Thirteenth Amendment, passed the Provincial Council Act in parliament and established provincial councils. If the Wickremasinghe regime were not dismissed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2004 we would have gone very far to achieve the goal of devolution. Even with great obstacles the UNP moved forward to complete the process of devolution. If the UNP were allowed to move forward through the Oslo Summit and Tokyo Agreement the country would have traveled very far on the path toward devolution to find a solution to the National Question.

Now, what has happened now? And what has gone beyond what the UNP did? Today we are in a position of no talks whatsoever. We of the UNP are prepared even now to contribute toward that process.

Asian Tribune: Do you believe that the Tamil Tigers are responsible to a greater extent to this impasse or deadlock?

Tissa Attanayake: Definitely yes. We are in a position that the LTTE should not be defended. It is not the LTTE that should gain power. We should always condemn LTTE terrorism. But we should show the north that we are serious about bringing a political package to solve the crisis. That’s how we should win the hearts and minds of the people in the north. We should separate the northern Tamil people from the clutches of the LTTE. The 2002 Ceasefire Agreement began to bring economic and other bonds between the North and the South and led to the resurgence of the economy. During that time the LTTE faced a problem of retaining their cadre due to the resurgence of the economy those cadres witnessed taking place during that peaceful period. The fright Prabhakaran had was if the UNP regime continued and under that regime if economic revival took place he would have had the problem of maintaining and retaining his youthful fighting cadre.

Asian Tribune: What you say is this is an economic problem.

Tissa Attanayake:Yes, on the one hand it is an economic problem. On the other hand it is a development problem. Prabhakaran has made use of the economic plight of the people to hold them a captive people.

Asian Tribune: I am now turning to Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene. You are senior member of the party who is almost in charge of the issue of ethnic relations and issues that are related to it. Has the UNP opened or maintains a political dialogue with Tamil political parties and movements that are opposed to the LTTE?

Jayalath Jayawadana : I must further add to what General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said: When the Thirteenth Amendment was brought before the parliament to devolve power to the provinces under the Indo-Lanka Agreement the SLFP launched an island wide destructive campaign to incite the masses and obstruct the progressive trend that took place. The JVP too subscribed to the disastrous political campaign of the SLFP. Their point was that the creation of provincial council system will lead to the division of the nation. Since then, the UNP created a conducive atmosphere to genuinely devolve power to the periphery and took steps toward that. It is true it took a considerable long time. It is only the UNP that took measures to devolve power while ensuring the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation. Whether the UNP was in power or not it was only the UNP who took progressive steps toward solving the national question. Even Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government was bent on discussing the devolution concept because the UNP laid a solid foundation and created a conducive psychological atmosphere. Today even the JVP was prepared to talk about the devolution concept because of the progressive work the UNP discharged over a period of time.

The most vital political hurdle Sri Lanka cleared was the Cease Fire Agreement the Government of Sri Lanka signed with the LTTE on February 22, 2002. Since Sri Lanka gained independence it was Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe for the first time a Sinhalese cabinet minister was appointed in charge of the affairs of the north which is predominantly Tamil. I had that privilege. Ranil Wickremasinghe regime opened the main highway that joined the north and south. A close bond between the north and south was developing. Until the ceasefire agreement was signed this country was effectively divided in to two. The American Embassy in Colombo and the US State Department were aware of this. After the ceasefire agreement went in to force those who could not travel from the south to the north and north to the south had the freedom of travel and establishing contacts.

It was after the ceasefire agreement that Douglas Devananda’s EPDP, EROS, EPRLF organization had the opportunity of joining the democratic political framework of the nation. Even the LTTE established a political wing to participate in the political affairs of the nation. The Indo-Lanka Agreement and Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement that paved the way for these radical organizations to join the democratic mainstream. Today they are represented in the current parliament. Douglas Devananda is a minister today.

The ceasefire agreement also paved the way for the Ranil Wickremasinghe government to re-open the Government Secretariats in Killinochchi, Mannar and other districts in the north and east. Banks were opened in the north, Peoples Bank and Seylan Bank. After twenty years civil administration was established in the Districts of Killinochchi and Mulaitivu because of the farsighted policies of Ranil Wickremasinghe. I am not saying that the Sri Lanka government’s total civil rule was established in those districts. But Ranil Wickremasinghe government achieved a partial success during a short period of two years. The UNP regime endeavored to change the mindset of the Tamils of the north and give them a glimpse of economic development activities that were taking place in the south.

We in the UNP, even at present, are in a constant dialogue with Tamil political parties that are in the mainstream of democratic politics in the country.

Asian Tribune: Is the UNP involved in the All Party Political Committee that was established to search a political package and proposals to the National Question?

Tissa Attanayake: Yes, we in the UNP always supported the deliberations of the committee. In fact, we submitted our proposals to it. But the government does not seem to be taking much of an interest in the working of the committee. The government rejected a report issued by the committee.

International Community & Human Rights

Asian Tribune: Do you accept the position of the major players of the international community who are assisting Sri Lanka to bring a solution to the National Question namely European Union, United States, Japan, Norway etc, that the Rajapaksa administration has taken a lukewarm attitude toward the working of the Committee?

Tissa Attanayake: Absolutely yes. The chairman of the Committee Prof. Tissa Vitharana, a government minister, has shown interest in taking the dialogue forward but even he is not taken seriously by the Rajapaksa administration.

Jayalath Jayawadana : See what a response the international community has toward the Rajapaksa administration. Rajapaksa administration invites international human rights and UN experts to visit Sri Lanka to observe but when they give reports adverse to the government they are branded as Tamil Tiger agents by cabinet ministers. The visiting UN officials are not allowed to travel to Killinochchi. The international community does not have a high regard for this administration. Recommendations given by the UN officials are openly rejected by the government.

The creation of the Human Rights and Disaster Management Ministry by the Rajapaksa administration is nothing but to hoodwink the international community. The Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, when he was in the UNP he was the chairman of the parliamentary committee on human rights and represented the parliament in Human Rights Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to present facts about human rights violations. Today he is dumbfounded when the IPU declared that human rights of ten parliamentarians have been abused. Two parliamentarians were brutally murdered during the administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was this same Mahinda Rajapaksa who made representations to the IPU in 90/91 period about the violation of human rights of parliamentarians.

Under Rajapaksa’s watch there are blatant violations of civil rights, mass disappearances, harassments are taking place.

Asian Tribune: We see a trend in the Rajapaksa administration slowly moving away from the influence of the West. President Rajapaksa told me in Los Angeles on September 28 during the Asian Tribune interview that the West backed Ranil Wickremasinghe to be the leader of Sri Lanka; he used the words “West bet on him”. Since the West was displeased, the President said, “They are harassing my government and pinching me.”

Tissa Attanayake: These situations arise. Some support and others do not. But once you become the head of state you should be able to deal with the international community in a diplomatic manner. He doesn’t have people around him who are knowledgeable of public diplomacy and the art of diplomacy. He has problems with not only America but also with India. See what a mess they were on the Pakistan issue in the Commonwealth. The President and the Foreign Minister were in the same hotel but the Foreign Minister took a misstep regarding the Pakistan issue. A day later the Cabinet had to repair the damage. Pakistan is our strong and close military ally. President Rajapaksa ignoring the international trend sought special relationship with Iran. A country can have the normal relationship but not a special one going against the international trend. Naturally Sri Lanka gets isolated, and this is the result of lack of knowledge of the art of international diplomacy.

GSL Military Offensive

Asian Tribune: Do you believe that the Rajapaksa administration has militarily disabled the LTTE, that the administration has broken the spine of the Tamil Tigers, an achievement no previous governments were unable to achieve?

Tissa Attanayake: There are military offensives against the LTTE. And, we should not forget that this onslaught is against a terrorist organization. This is a guerilla organization, and such an organization does not engage in conventional war with the military of the state. They retreat at times for strategic reasons and later come out to attack the military.

Now see, the government was jubilant that it liberated the Eastern Province. But there is sporadic violence, attacks and explosions in the East. Anuradhapura military installation was attacked, and so was the attack on civilians in Kantale. All these incidents occurred when the government said that they broke the backbone of the LTTE. We do not know what strategy they (LTTE) have adopted at this moment. We in the UNP at no stage belittle the contribution of the members of our armed forces. But what we like to highlight is the massive fraud taking place in the name of military operations against the LTTE. There is a complain against the Defense Secretary regarding the purchase of MIGs. The government has established its own arms procurement agency called the Lanka Logistic Services Agency, and who is the head of this agency? The Defense Secretary.

Erosion of Tamil Support for LTTE?

Asian Tribune: Do you believe that the cooperation, support and assistance of the Tamils the LTTE had in the past has dwindled or eroded?

Tissa Attanayake: No, we are not in a position to say that. Even the support of the Tamil Diaspora in other countries has not lessened. Imagine the monetary, moral and other support extended by the Tamil Diaspora in Western nations. That has not gone down.

Asian Tribune: According to the latest census in Sri Lanka, 54% of the minority Tamils is living in southern districts where the Sinhalese are a majority. It is a reality that the Tamils living in LTTE-controlled areas in the Districts of Mulaitivu and Killinochchi have gone down in numbers. If so, what problems do the main political parties in Sri Lanka have in arriving at solution that can be acceptable to those minority Tamils who are out of the clutches of the LTTE?

Tissa Attanayake: We in the UNP always contend that while militarily battling with the LTTE we should win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people. They have social problems, economic educational issues and development issues. As a result they are in utter misery. We have to win them. That is why the Ranil Wickremasinghe administration implemented a program of action to win them.

Jayalath Jayawadana : Today there is 500,000 Tamils are in the District of Vanni. Do they get the basics? Do they get the reasonable supply of consumer goods? They don’t get adequate medical facilities, housing etc. The Mahinda Rajapaksa administration has totally neglected those 500,000 Tamils living in Vanni. This is what we call playing in to the hands of the LTTE.

Asian Tribune: But the government says that adequate supplies are sent to them.

Jayalath Jayawadana : No, that is not correct. In the name of military operation against the LTTE the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration has ruined the economy, the inflation has increased 22% and the cost of living is unbearable. The truth is the government is top heavy with 108 ministers and government spending associated with it is unbearable for the economy.

This is not the first time the Eastern Province was liberated. When D.B.Wijetunga was President and Ranil Wickremasinghe was Prime Minister that government not only liberated the Eastern Province it held democratic elections and brought civil rule to that part of the country. So, there is nothing to rejoice about it.

Why UNP not Viable Power

Asian Tribune: If the country is in recession, high inflation, sky rocketed cost of living, human rights abuses, disappearances, so called corruption and the economy is in shambles according to your assessments and analyses, why is that the UNP still unable to capitalize on this situation to mobilize the masses against the government and become a viable political force that could influence the governing style of the Rajapaksa administration? For the first time in the parliamentary history of Sri Lanka the UNP, under Ranil Wickremasinghe’s leadership, lost close to half of its parliamentarians including its deputy leader when they joined the government ranks. I don’t remember a mass exodus of this proportion in the history of parliamentary system in Sri Lanka.

Tissa Attanayake: The UNP has not shirked its responsibility in working among the masses to make them knowledgeable about the situation in the country. We have launched several programs toward this. Those programs are aimed at mobilizing the masses, especially on the issue of cost of living. The economy. The ‘commission-based’ military operation. Corruption. And the suppression of media freedoms and freedom of expression.

Asian Tribune: You didn’t answer my question of mass exodus of UNP Members of Parliament joining the ranks of the government despite the fact that you present a grim picture of the country under the watch of President Rajapaksa.

Tissa Attanayake: I describe this breakaway of 24 UNP MPs as a result of their greed for positions. They have been bought. They were elected under the UNP banner and they have no right, under the constitution of the country, to cross over to another political party. I dismiss that they joined the government ranks for the sake of the country and the motherland. They were elected to uphold the policies of the UNP and they have no moral right to abrogate that. Every one of them has been awarded ministerial positions. They are on a ‘contract’ with Mahinda Rajapaksa to destroy the UNP.

Asian Tribune: One of the UNP dissidents Mano Wijeratne in a statement said that before the UNP lectures democracy to the government it should implement the Panditharatne Report to bring democratic changes in the UNP and democratize the party.

Tissa Attanayake: Mr. Mano Wijeratne may be unaware that several recommendations of the Panditharatne Report have been implemented. One was an election of office bearers. There was a clause that active parliamentary politicians should not hold high positions in the party. Panditharatne Report recommended a change in that. Another recommendation was that when the party Executive Committee is appointed all sections of the party grassroots should be represented. In November 2006 we brought amendments to the party constitution on the recommendations of the Panditharatne Committee. These amendments were brought to the constitution after long discussions in the Executive Committee and the Political Affairs Committee. The UNP parliamentary dissidents were in the Executive Committee when all these issues were discussed. All democratic resolutions were adopted by the party. There main objective was to give some excuse to join the government, get portfolios and perks.

In October 2006 the UNP and the Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding, and in that both parties agreed to gave a common approach toward the National Question, economy and national security. The dissident UNP parliamentarians were in the Executive Committee when we ratified it. The next January, when Ranil Wickreamsinghe was in India, a group of UNP MPs joined the government. President Rajapaksa should have told them that there was an agreement between the two parties and to support the government while in the UNP. In fact, according to the agreement the UNP pledged not destabilize the government. Without even seeing the Budget the UNP supported it in November 2006. They joined the government to get perks and other portfolios from Rajapaksa.

Why no Mention of Sinhalese Issue

Asian Tribune: Why is that all political parties focus their attention only toward the Tamil issue? Why are they not discussing the pressing issues of the Sinhalese? As much as the Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims too have socio-economic and political issues.

Tissa Attanayake: Problems of every ethnic community in Sri Lanka is caused by the ongoing war against the LTTE.

Asian Tribune: That’s not what I saw when I did a comprehensive socio-economic and political research/survey in early 90’s when I was working for the US State Department at Colombo’s American Embassy. The survey covered fifteen Sinhalese-majority districts. It took approximately six weeks to complete. The Chief Economist of USAID accompanied me to do this extensive survey. The unit we chose for the survey was the Pradeshiya Sabha (divisional council), the new unit that was created combining village and town councils under the Provincial Council Act. We interviewed all categories of people, at the village level that included peasants, workers, clergy, teachers, youth who were with the JVP and affiliated to other political parties, white collar workers, political party activists and office bearers, elected members of Pradeshiya Sabha etc.

We found the utter misery of the Sinhalese peasants, they are unable to obtain a reasonable price for their produce, schools are ill equipped, there was no employment generation, youth are unable to go beyond Grade 12 due to the government’s inability to provide reasonable and decent educational facilities, basic government services were not reaching the rural masses, the local government units are not adequately funded to start village and town level projects that benefit the broader masses, the infrequent visits of elected parliamentarians and people in village level living with absolutely no hope.

These are all predominantly Sinhalese villages. Now, my point is all political parties, including the two major parties, have not focused their attention to the plight of the Sinhalese but endeavor to champion the cause of the minority Tamils. The political establishment has failed to understand that as much as the Tamils face socio-economic problems the rural Sinhalese masses too face the same problems.

Why do you always highlight a single, the Tamil issue, as the only issue Sri Lanka is facing?

Tissa Attanayake: I agree that everyone is focusing on the National Question, and all other issues have been forgotten or suppressed. I recognize that the Hambantota farmer as well as the plantation Indian Tamils faces immense hardships. Also the farmers in the central hills and Anuradhapura too face serious issues. The people who live in the Western Province face the highest cost of living. Not that we have ignored these issues, we talk about these issues.

But the entire world has focused on one issue: the North and east problem. Why? My question is also why do we allow them to discuss only one issue. Because these are issues, the issues that face the Sinhalese, can be solved internally.

Our view is that all these problems are finally connected to the terrorist and north/east issue. These problems of the south are well connected to the National Question of Sri Lanka.

Jayalath Jayawadana : When there is no peace in a country there can be no progressive development of the economy. If America faces a situation similar to ours will that country focus on economic development? Sri Lanka cannot afford to bear this military expenditure. When there is high military expenditure the development of the nation becomes retarded. It is this war that has become the main obstacle to all the problems the people face in the south.

Supremacy of Parliament

Asian Tribune: I read a recent statement by Ranil Wickremasinghe that certain executive powers should be transferred to the parliament. The UNP made use of the 1978 constitution with enormous powers. The then opposition SLFP, and later Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake, after they left the UNP, was critical of the constitution that concentrated power on the Executive. But when Ms. Kumaratunga was in power she never changed it but enjoyed that power. Now, Mr. Wickremasinghe says that the Executive has too many powers and should be transferred to the legislature.

Tissa Attanayake: This is a proposal to launch a dialogue with many sections of the Sri Lankan society. The 1978 Constitution has good feature as well as features that have become obstacles to social progress. We saw it by experience. Just because we enacted this constitution we need not hang on to it. That is why Ranil Wickremasinghe said that the parliament should totally have fiscal powers. The parliament does have fiscal powers but the constitution has certain provisions where the president can usurp those powers. The other features that need to be changed are the election system; the presidential powers of dissolution of the parliament do not ensure certain rights. We in the UNP experience that. President, who has a mandate from the people, dismisses a parliament which has obtained the same mandate from the electorate. This is very unreasonable. On the other hand, we need a constitution that mandates the president to be answerable to the parliament. The committee system needs to be strengthened.

Asian Tribune: So you are seeking changes to the constitution after experiencing the obstacle that were in it.

Tissa Attanayake:Definitely yes. The parliamentary committees do not have powers to implement their findings.

Asian Tribune: Under the United States Constitution Congressional Committees have extensive powers that cannot be removed by anyone.

Tissa Attanayake: The parliament should not be subject to presidential powers, it needs independence to function separately without the interference of the Executive. Supremacy of the legislature should be restored.

- Asian Tribune -

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