The TNA’s way forward

Saturday, 28 September 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By R.M.B. Senanayake There was a storm created during the election campaign by the TNA manifesto which referred to their demand for federalism. This was interpreted or misinterpreted to the Sinhalese masses as a revival of the demand for a separate state. Such interpretation no doubt was useful to mobilise the support of the Sinhalese voters in the NWP and the CP elections. The TNA denied that they wanted a separate state. 13th Amendment But even a sober politician like the National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, who earlier forged an alliance along with other leftist members in the Government to oppose any move to amend the 13th Amendment, has said that the TNA’s election manifesto was an attempt to divide the country. He has also added that the Northern Provincial Council would be assigned the same powers as the other provincial councils and would not be given any powers that have not been vested with the other councils. So the TNA has to take note of these fears among the Sinhalese. Whether the demand for self determination in the form of federalism can be outlawed is now before the Supreme Court. But the 13th Amendment is not federalism. The important principle underlying federalism is that the division of powers between the Centre and the Province cannot be changed unilaterally by the Central Government. A watered-down form of this protection is in the 13th Amendment, which required the approval of all the provincial councils if there was any change in the division of powers. Of course this clause is inadequate and the present Government has even sought to change even that. So perhaps this principle needs to be re-introduced and made unequivocal in the Constitution. Making the Provincial Council work But for the present the best option for the TNA is to put this demand on the back burner and instead seek to make the Provincial Council work. Otherwise it would expose itself to the charge that it wrecked any chance of working together under the 13th Amendment. There are several gaps and overlaps in the division of powers in the Law which requires patience and understanding to iron out. The Government should show understanding and allow the TNA to run an administration exercising the powers devolved. The TNA should cultivate the goodwill and understanding of the President and make a genuine attempt to make the Provincial Council work. So the first step is to build a dialogue with the President to resolve the administrative obstacles and bottlenecks rather than to demand expansion of the powers and functions of the PC. The Governor is the President’s representative and despite the bad relationship with the present holder of the post, the TNA must display maturity and repair the estranged relationship. It is good that Justice C.V. Wigneswaran will be the Chief Minister. The TNA will have to separate the functioning of the PC from its political activity. It will have to operate at two levels leaving those in the PC to deal positively and amicably with the permanent politico-administrative Establishment of the Central Government. Those in charge of the PC should seek to have a dialogue on ironing out administrative problems and avoid the political demands. This includes the Tamil grievances relating to lands and military occupation. If the Government is wise it would extend its cooperation to make the PC work. This will enable the Government to win the goodwill of the UN. The Government should activate the Finance Commission and see that the funds to the Provincial Council are allocated by the Commission as per the Constitution rather than through a particular Minister or Ministers. In short it must conform to the provisions in the 13th Amendment which have been hitherto ignored in dealing with the PCs of the south. If the Northern Provincial Council can tap into the funds of the expatriate Tamil community it would benefit the whole country for there is only one currency and one Central Bank and any inward flow of foreign exchange will strengthen the balance of payments of the whole country. It would also spare the majority Sinhalese of the burden of development of the north. Working relationship with Central Government The working relationship with the Central Government as originally provided for in the 13th Amendment should be put into practice and this is the responsibility of the TNA as well as the Government. The Government will have to acknowledge and respect the rights of the Tamil people to exercise the limited self governance provided for in the 13th Amendment. The Government should be guided by the UN Charter. It does not recognise any “people” to secede or have a separate State. It does not recognise a right to armed struggle for independence such as was undertaken by the LTTE. But it seems to be illegal under International Law to deprive a ‘people’ of their rights by using force or violence against them. The TNA has to acknowledge that its PC members do not have politico-administrative experience. Their experience is political and in agitational politics at that. So the Members of the Provincial Council will have to learn the subtle relationship between the politician and the administrator. This relationship broke down after 1956 and SLFP politicians of the National Parliament interfered in the administrative decisions of the bureaucracy. This has led to the total collapse of the district administration in the south. Since the politicians of the north were out of power, the district administration of the north had less challenge on this score. Bring back good governance No man can serve two masters and the officials require clear lines of authority and unity of command. These principles of public administration have collapsed in the south. The TNA has an opportunity not to politicise the administration and instead run a proper administration through the established bureaucracy without appointing political stooges or interfering in day to day administrative decision making. The Tamil public from my little experience in the north show the same tendency to take unfair advantage over others and do not hesitate to exercise political influence. They know that without political contacts they cannot get a child to a job or even to a good school. But such clientalism is the bane of our democracy in the south. The TNA must shun special favours for their supporters. They must bring back the type of good governance we had under the British and which existed up to 1956 under Independence. The TNA should do their best to work with the District Administration of the Central Government in the Kachcheris without allowing their mistrust of the military Governor to affect their relations with the District Administration of the Central Government. Through the war years there was the fascist administration of the LTTE and the military administration of the Army. The people of the present generation are not familiar with a normal civilian administration and it is up to the TNA to show them just that. The TNA must realise that the administration is in transition mode. The Government must also realise that the armed forces will have to withdraw into the background and allow a normal civilian administration to function. The armed forces should not interfere in the daily lives of the civilian population or local politics. The future of the country depends a lot on the working of the Northern PC. Federalism is a matter of Constitutional Law but the working of a federal system depends as much on the working relationship between the Central Government and the Provincial Councils. So a good relationship with the Central Government is a sine qua non for both the Sinhalese and the Tamil people. Let us give the Northern Provincial Council a chance.