TAKING centre stage to defend the policies of his Government, President Maithripala Sirisena attempted to reset the discourse on reconciliation back on the right track by taking his detractors to task in Parliament.
Sirisena, joining the debate on the Defence Ministry in the House, drew parallels with the actions of the former Government and reiterated national security remained his priority.
Despite challenging times due to the release of political prisoners and understanding possible domestic measures that can be established to honour pledges made to the international community, Sirisena was quick to point out the necessity of providing bail to Tamil prisoners arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
Sirisena also recalled the release of 12,000 LTTE cadres by the previous Government and drafting into mainstream politics key LTTE leaders Pillayan and Karuna. However, he did praise former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has consistently criticised Government moves to release prisoners. Sirisena rightly put the situation in perspective by pointing out that it was essential to engage with the Tamil community and cautioned against racist ideologies masquerading as nationalism.
The Government is embarking on the colossal task of creating a solid legal framework to undertake accountability measures that will bridge the trust deficit between the Government and the affected community. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera was optimistic about the Government’s planned course of action in terms of empowering the domestic legal system to competently handle the challenges that lie before it.
President Maithripala Sirisena has called upon all the political parties to express their opinions on the formation of a domestic mechanism to investigate alleged human rights violations while assuring the people that the proposed mechanism will be within the provisions of the Constitution. He also reiterated Sri Lanka’s commitment to facing the Geneva proposals despite some parties suggesting that they be completely rejected.
The President also lost no time in inviting all political parties to submit their proposals to the Presidential Secretariat and begin discussions on a domestic mechanism, the clock ticks on as the January deadline for the domestic framework, as stated by the Foreign Minister, nears.
The Government has shown its interest in moving forward with a process that would bring solace to millions and true reconciliation to this country. The importance of including the parties in this process could also be commended. However, the Government must be cautious in its approach, especially with the more disgruntled sections of the political sphere, so as to not delay the process any further.
The Government has promised tangible results from the domestic process within 18 months while Minister Samaraweera has called for “patient understanding” from the international community with regards to Sri Lanka’s fight for accountability and justice. All pledges it must now try and honour. Yet one point President Sirisena did not explain was why defence expenditure remains high in Budget 2016.
As Sri Lanka embarks on arguably its most significant journey yet, the Government must ensure that even though our fate has now finally been placed in our own hands, our ambitions and objectives don’t veer away from the truth and reconciliation the country desperately needs.