Feature Article

Colombo urged to drop ‘double standard on interim mechanism’

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 03 June 2003, 18:07 GMT]
“The cease fire agreement (CFA) between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers has no basis in the laws of Sri Lanka. It is an extra constitutional instrument on which the island’s peace has stood for more than 15 months. Therefore, why can’t the Sri Lankan government look beyond the constricting parameters of its constitution to formulate an interim mechanism for rebuilding and rehabilitating the war ravaged northeast? We are urging the Sinhala polity to drop its double standard on this matter for the sake of peace," Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham, a senior Tamil National Alliance MP, said Tuesday.

“We are saying this because there isn’t the slightest leeway under Sri Lanka’s constitution to set up an interim mechanism with the necessary executive power and fiscal authority to cut through the mass of red tape to achieve the objectives of rebuilding and rehabilitating the northeast to stabilise the peace process and lay a firm foundation for cementing trust," he said.

“When we met him yesterday, we drew Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s attention to fact that the CFA has existed completely beyond the pale of Sri Lanka’s constitution for more than 15 months and yet has been the sole basis for the tranquillity and prosperity the island has witnessed during this period," Mr. Pararajasingham told TamilNet.

A group of TNA MPs met Sri Lanka’s PM on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the concerns of the LTTE regarding viability and operability of the interim mechanism proposed by Colombo recently.

“We told the PM that the apex body as formulated in the latest proposal sent by his government to the Liberation Tigers cannot do anything more than proffer advice to the board and the special commissioner who would head it," the TNA MP said.

“Tamils are fully justified seeking an extra constitutional interim mechanism to rebuild and rehabilitate the northeast because they were never party to the constitution which Britain left behind when it gave independence to the island in 1948. And also because they have, until this day, remained steadfast in their refusal to yield to or endorse the two inflexibly unitary constitutions that irremediably concentrated the legislative, financial and judicial affairs of the island in the hands of the Singhalese in 1972 and 78," Mr. Pararajasigham said.

Tamil constitutional experts say that the new set of proposals sent by Colombo to the LTTE this week on the interim mechanism fail to address fundamental and currently insurmountable legal impediments, which would impede its effective operability.

One of them said that beneath the veneer of administrative structures suggested in Colombo’s proposal the basic question about executive and fiscal authority required to administer and utilise funds for rebuilding the northeast remain unanswered.

“Also according to Article 44 of Sri Lanka’s constitution the board under the apex body can exist and function only at the sole discretion of the President. This is not possible under the present state of Sri Lanka’s co-habitation politics. If the President dissolves Parliament the whole thing would fall apart like a pack of cards," one of them pointed out.

“The 70 million USD pledged in Oslo in November last year by the donor community could not be utilised because Colombo was unable to come up with a legally operable mechanism to effectively administer and utilise those funds. Generally the red tape tends to get so complicated even in the provinces outside the northeast that the island’s ability to absorb and utilise aid is remains low. It is in consideration of this circumstance that the LTTE is requesting Colombo to come up with a mechanism unbridled by the cripplingly constrictive legal parameters to lay a firm, tangible foundation on which to build a permanent and acceptable political settlement to the conflict," he said.

The Liberation Tigers say that they have to circumvent the red tape and administrative structures that work at cross-purposes and severely undermine institutional and private sector capacity to absorb aid usefully. They charge these severely diminish the means for capacity building not only in the northeast but also in the other parts of the island.

The chief executive of a province in Sri Lanka is the Governor appointed by the President. Then there are the government agents as the chief administrative heads of the districts that comprise the province. Directly under them are the Divisional Secretaries and village officials.

These are essentially functionaries of the central government – the administrative expressions of Sri Lankan Parliament’s (i.e. the Sinhala majority’s) sole, inalienable control over legislation and the island’s finances.

In addition to these there are many statutory boards and authorities established by acts of Parliament such as the Urban Development Authority (UDA), Water Resources and Drainage Board, Mahaweli Authority etc., These are answerable only to Parliament and the Cabinet, which allocates their finances.

Singhalese invariably dominate these bodies for they are seen by Sinhala ruling parties as instruments for purveying of political influence and patronage. Tamils charge that such statutory authorities were deployed strategically by Sinhala nationalists to undermine their demographic, political and economic basis in the northeast.

The Gal Oya Board and the Mahaweli Authority are cases in point, according to them.

(The two bodies were responsible for settling tens of thousands of Singhalese in Tamil districts after forcibly evicting locals from their traditional hinterlands)

“All the main towns in the northeast come under the administrative and fiscal purview of the Urban Development Authority (UDA). But the UDA being what it is under Sri Lanka’s unitary system does not spend a red cent on Jaffna or Batticaloa. Only the Parliament and President can have a say over these bodies. The board under the Apex Body as proposed by Colombo cannot do anything about the activities of these statutory authorities. This would be so because the so-called board itself would have to be established as a statutory authority like them," a senior government official in Jaffna said.

“Then there are the government departments under central government ministries and provincial ministries. What would be the executive power of the Apex Body as formulated in the latest proposal of the Sri Lankan government to co-ordinate and direct the activities of these departments, overriding their status under central and provincial ministries?” he asked.

The numerous extensions of the Sri Lankan Parliament’s sole legislative authority and exclusive control over the island’s finances in addition to the President’s inalienable executive authority have produced a complex and constitutionally inextricable web of red tape that impedes the effective utilisation and administration of foreign aid, the Tigers say.

“It also stymies the important objective of capacity building in the northeast with a view to developing adequate ability to absorb donor funds usefully," a Tamil political observer said.

“This is why we say the Sinhala polity should look beyond the debilitating limitations of its constitution in the manner that it unhesitatingly cemented the cease fire agreement last year though it was not at all in conformity with its laws. But the CFA is only a part of the foundation on which the peace process stands. Colombo should grasp this fact and take a bold political decision in the larger interest rather than uselessly beating about insurmountable constitutional issues," he said.


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