Treating the devolution question

Saturday, 27 November 2010 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

WITH the visit of Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna, attention has returned to the ethnic issue and the contention over political devolution.

Over the past few months the focus that was almost exclusively limited to economic issues, with the central point being on the Budget, has swivelled to the core issue of the war and what can be provided to the Tamil population.

The means to this end are still under discussion with a group of Tamil Ministers meeting with the President yesterday to hand over their suggestions.

The All Party Representatives Committee (APRC) headed by Prof. Tissa Vitarana handed over its report to the President last year, but little has been done to implement or discuss what it contains. Ideas, examples and viewpoints have been filtering in from different quarters all around the world, but the Government has remained largely tight-lipped about the specifics of power devolution.

Over a year-and-a-half has lapsed since the end of the war and people of all ethnicities are getting impatient for a solution. It is by no means just the Tamil population alone that is concerned about the changes that could affect the governance of this country; most moderates are also keen that justice should be served.

Transparency is important at this point. Whatever the Government plans are, they should be freely discussed with the population. People should be aware of what is happening before accusations of political ‘deals’ sully the ethics of this endeavour that has threatened to separate Sri Lanka for decades. Even though President Mahinda Rajapaksa has insisted that he would concentrate on a “home-grown” solution to the ethnic problem, concerns remain due to the haziness of this concept.

Previous pledges to the same effect have had dissatisfying results and most people are understandably cautious in their approach to power devolution. This loaded term has been dusted off yet again and stakeholders are becoming concerned about equitable treatment of the entire Tamil population.

The challenges faced by the Internally Displaced People (IDP) are also of concern since returning these people to hastily-made dwellings is not rehabilitation. They must be reintegrated into society, found livelihoods and made independent. The road ahead for many is hard and long-term policies are needed to ensure they are not forgotten. The Muslim people displaced from Jaffna need to be considered in this equation as well and power devolution should not leave out these stakeholders anymore than it should ill-consider the Sinhalese living in pockets in these areas.

The ideals and ethics that should be followed in such an instance can make all the difference. It can make the difference between another war and lasting peace. Nothing – economic, social, political or otherwise – will grow unless a sustainable solution is found to the ethnic question.

Dissent is not disloyalty. Different political parties, especially minority parties, need to be given an understanding ear in this instance. Britain’s war-time Premier Winston Churchill once said that in victory a country must be magnanimous and that is exactly what the Government as well as the political parties and people will have to be if we are to keep a united Sri Lanka.