The Political Column

21st September1997

Sinhala Commission does the job for UNP

By Our Political Correspondent

The Sinhala Commission’s interim report which was published last Wednesday is likely to stir the hearts and minds of the nationalists, thus and fanning the flames of a political controversy across the country.

It would compel constitutional reformers to think afresh their approach to the country’s burning ethnic question, and devise new ways of persuading the common man to accept the government’s devolution proposals.

The Sinhala Commission headed by former Supreme Court Judge S.W. Walpita runs into the entire political web of the country, giving momentum to the feelings of the people in the South.

At the same time it is likely to be the center point of political debate throughout the country, making it more difficult for the government to achieve its goal.

In the circumstances, it is doubtful whether the “Thavalama Campaign” could penetrate and emerge to shape the opinion of the Sinhala people in the South.

The Indians appear more worried about the Commission report since they firmly believe that a permanent solution lies within the framework of the government’s devolution package.

These worries could be justified since the Sinhala Commission report is capable of provoking the thoughts of the Sinhala intellectuals and the Buddhist clergy to get on a common front to oppose the package.

Simultaneously one could see that some of the issues raised by the Commission are identical to that of the main opposition UNP.

Both the Sinhala Commission and the UNP appear to be on common ground when it comes to the issues such as unitary nature of the constitution, state land and Law and Order.

Some of the conclusions made by the Sinhala Commission in its interim report are as follows:


It is evident from our analysis that the effect of the Devolution Package would be not to convert Sri Lanka even into a normal type of federal state but to convert it into a very special federal state, the like of which probably does not exist anywhere else in the world.

It would be a state where a so-called government has no control whatsoever over the eight or nine parts into which the country has been split, since each part will have in respect of the 46 subjects specified in List II (the Regional List), full power to conduct its affairs in any manner it wishes with scant regard for the effect of its actions would have on other parts or on the country as a whole. We have also shown the disastrous economic consequences flowing from these proposals. As we pointed out earlier not even in the Federal Republic of Germany has such vast and untrammelled powers given to the States comprising the Federation.

But what is still more alarming is that the proposed North-East Regional Council which will be a Tamil majority council will be so powerful with full control over all internal matters, including law and order (police) and state lands and with the power also of borrowing internationally, that it will not only be able to unilaterally declare the independent state of Eelam, but unlike Varatharaja Perumal’s declaration, defend it successfully against all the forces the Sri Lanka government can muster against it since it will have at its disposition an army trained in the guise of a police force. Moreover it is likely to receive international support, and even recognition by some countries as an independent state. Spokesmen for the package state that no Region can break away in view of the Provisions of Article 2 which reads ‘No Regional Administration or Regional Administrations shall attempt by direct or indirect means, to promote or otherwise advocate an initiative towards the separation or secession of such Region or Regions from the Union of Regions constituting the Republic of Sri Lanka. However, here, we are concerned with realities, and not with the legal forms and niceties.

What must never be forgotten is that, ever since the formation in 1949 of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi or “Tamil State Party” (given the English name Federal Party) the creation of a separate state has been the objective of the Tamil politicians. It was in pursuance of such objective that Varatharaja Perumal made a unilateral declaration of independence ignoring all the provisions of the constitution.

o There is nothing to prevent an all powerful North-East Regional Council which has even been permitted to train an army in the guise of a police force, from treating the constitution as a scrap of paper and declaring independence, especially as there is now a pronouncement from the highest authority that the constitution is nothing but a “scrap of paper”.

o The result would be that all the heroic sacrifices of our armed forces and police in preserving the unity and territorial integrity of our country would have been in vain, since the foundation for the break up of the country would have been laid by the politicians through this Devolution Package.

o Fortunately for us, despite all the machinations of the politicians, the government cannot implement these proposals without the people’s consent. It is for this reason that the government has set in motion a gigantic propaganda campaign to make the people accept these proposals, by calling them peace proposals thus deceiving the people into believing that peace can only be restored by implementing them. Towards this end the propaganda campaign has been called the “Sama Thawalama” or “Peace Caravan”.

o But the fact is that peace cannot be restored through these proposals. Peace can only be restored by defeating those who have broken the peace, namely the LTTE. The LTTE has already rejected the “Package”.

o The implementation of the so-called “peace proposals” will therefore not bring peace. It is therefore the duty of all those who are concerned with safeguarding the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of our country and wish to ensure that it is not broken up and who are aware of the dangers of the government’s devolution proposals, to educate the people and see that they are not deceived by government propaganda, so that when they are called upon to vote on these proposals they will vote to reject it.

Whatever the Sinhala Commission says, it is evident that the government would go ahead with the package, but certainly the Commission report would be an additional burden for the government since it would have to carry out a counter campaign against the Commission’s move.

At the handing over ceremony of the Sinhala Commission report there were many politicians. Minister D.M. Jayaratne was prominent as a government Minister, while the UNP was represented by Karunasena Kodituwakku, Susil Munasinghe and M.H. Mohamed. DUN(L)F leader Srimani Athulathmudali too was present along with Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake.

The Mahanayakes of all the Orders, including the prelates of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters were present on the occasion which was described as a great show of strength and unity as far as the Sinhala people are concerned.

The presence of Minister D.M. Jayaratne at the handing over ceremony has come into political focus and many analysts are baffled as to whether the People’s Alliance is divided over its own political proposals.

Mr. Jayaratne is not only a Senior Cabinet Minister but also the General Secretary of the PA. However it is not clear at this stage as to whether he represented the PA or participated in his personal capacity as a sympathiser to the Sinhala cause.

Whatever his position may be it gives rise to many political questions as to whether the government is sincere in its effort to devolve power or whether its another political drama of the decade.

But what is more clear is that there is vehement opposition within its own ranks though it has been under the surface. In the circumstances, the government is facing its biggest dilemma as to how it could overcome this problem .

Perhaps the happiest man in this episode is UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, since the Sinhala Commission has apparently accomplished what the UNP were not able to do.

Mr. Wickremesinghe has employed delaying tactics as far as the political package is concerned; without taking a firm stand on controversial issues.

His point of view appears to be that he would take a stand once it comes to Parliament and not before that.

However Mr. Wickremesinghe would be compelled to make up his mind before his proposed visit to India in October, where he is scheduled to meet Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral.

By this time former Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Nareshwar Dayal would play a more prominent role on the package as the Secretary in Charge of Eastern Affairs of the Gujral government. A firm advocate of the government devolution proposals, Mr. Dayal is likely to give a push to the package in spite of all opposition levelled against it politically.

At this juncture the government’s main desire is to talk to the UNP to arrive at a consensus before talking to the LTTE on the package, but it seems that all these efforts would be extremely difficult, since there is an element of fear inculcated in the minds of the Sinhala people.

Amidst all these controversy the Ministers are getting ready to present a severe indictment against Sri Lankan heads of missions abroad.

Their main complaint is that the Ambassadors posted to foreign destinations do not perform their duties properly attending to the requirements of the visiting Ministers.

This matter became a subject of intense discussion among Ministers after Minister Ashraff raised an issue pertaining to Minister G.L. Peiris at a meeting of the High Post Committee held recently.

When Ambassador designate for Washington Dr. Warnasena Rasaputra appeared before the committee Minister Ashraff posed queries about allegations levelled against Dr. Rasaputra during the visit of Minister G.L. Peiris to Malaysia.

The main allegation was that Dr. Rasaputra as the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Malaysia did not attend to the official requirements of the Minister while the Minister was on a visit to Malaysia. Minister D.M. Jayaratne who was also a member of the High Posts Committee cited several incidents where he was personally involved and told the Prime Minister that appropriate action should be taken against them.

One Minister told this column that they did not want their personal attention when they are on private visits, but certainly they should look into the security of the Ministers even though they are on private visits to those countries.

He said this issue will be raised at the Cabinet shortly in the presence of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

Besides this, the meeting of the Secretaries of all parties representing the People’s Alliance which was scheduled to be held on Thursday was put off due to the death of the Prime Minister’s advisor and Deputy Secretary of the SLFP Yasaratne Tennakoon . Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike who telephoned both Minister Dharmasiri Senanayake and D.M. Jayaratne advised them to make all necessary arrangements and to attend to the requirements of Mr. Tennakoon’s family. Mr. Tennakoon was the elder son of former Minister T.B. Tennakoon who served in Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike’s Cabinet for a considerable period.

The meeting of the PA leaders however will be taken up on Wednesday this week where they would discuss the verbal dual Parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara had with Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Minister Samaraweera had personally complained to the Secretary General of the People’s Alliance about the conduct of Mr. Nanayakkara and alleged that his main aim was to embarrass the government.

Another matter that would figure prominently at the next meeting would be the role of DUN(L)F member Ravi Karunanayake.

The PA decided to examine Mr. Karunanayke’s role and other affiliations after Mr. Karunanayake’s scathing attack on government policy in Parliament, and thereafter at the group meeting.

Mr. Karunanayake, while defending his former leader Lalith Athulathmudali attacked the government during the previous government group meeting, for not keeping its pledges to the people.

In the ensuing argument Mr. Karunanayake had a long drawn verbal dual with President Kumaratunga to the consternation of the PA hierarchy which prompted this course of action.

The other issue which would come up for discussion would be the President’s decision to restrict foreign trips of MPs .

This decision had been taken because of confusion caused by some Cabinet Ministers and officials using their own channels to arrange overseas trips, sometimes jeopardising Sri Lanka’s national interests and placing overseas missions under severe logistical strain.

But now the other constituent partners of the People’s Alliance are to challenge this move on the ground that according to the PA agreement the President has no power over the members.

They argue that since their agreement is with the PA any direction should flow from the Head of the People’s Alliance and not the President.

The weekly Cabinet meeting was also held on Wednesday, but with Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike in the chair and the Minister D.M. Jayaratne made an unusual move by presenting a Cabinet paper which the Ministers had refused to approve at an earlier occasion.

The aim of the Cabinet paper is to set guidelines for imports, when there is a shortfall in locally produced items.

The Cabinet paper said such a shortfall of locally produced food items should be taken into account by the Agricultural Ministry and the Ministry should be solely responsible in advising the Trade Ministry as to how they should replenish the stocks.

Minister Jayaratne’s paper also spelt out guidelines in fixing the prices and specifically said that it should be well above the cost of production of the same item when it is locally produced.

The Cabinet paper also said that prices of such imports should be determined by a committee comprising representatives from the Ministry of Trade, Ministry of Agriculture and the Treasury.

Minister Kingsley Wickramaratne opposed the move vehemently saying that it would go against international trade practices and the concept of open economy. He also said this matter should have been brought when the entire Cabinet was present.

But Minister Jayaratne was smart enough to break the ice and convince others by citing the government Agricultural policy and its recent policy statement.

The Ministers ultimately agreed to carry the proposal through, but there are doubts as to whether this could be implemented fully.

Meanwhile, the latest development in the political arena is the meeting between NDUN(L)F leader Srimani Athulathmudali and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at the former’s Flower Terrace residence. NDUN(L)F Parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake also participated in the discussions which centered on the proposed political package to end the ethnic crisis and the present cost of living which is sky rocketing day by day.

The discussion between the two leaders was fruitful and was followed by a further meeting at Sirikotha on the following day.

But Ms. Athulathmudali’s visit to Sirikotha was to participate in a seminar organised by the Fredrick Newman Steftung on political strategy.

When Ms. Athulathmudali arrived at Sirikotha with Ravi Karunanayake, several party members, including Party Chairman Karu Jayasuriya were seated in the hall where the seminar was to be held.

As Ms. Athulathmudali entered the hall, the amused members of the UNP welcomed her cordially, and wanted her to take a seat at the head table. A few minutes later, when UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe arrived, both Ms. Athulathmudali and Ravi Karunanayake along with UNP Chairman Karu Jayasuriya left the hall for another tete-a-tete. At the seminar on political strategy, the importance of planting moles in other parties to gather information was discussed at length.

It appears now that the UNP’s strategy has begun to bear some fruit. It was evident from the Beliatta sit-in protest. A large crowd gathered, though area politician Ananda Kularatne did not actively participate. The UNP braved all the threats and bombs, it was far better than the UNP’s countrywide protest meetings organised sometime back which proved to be an utter flop.

One prominent UNPer said experience counts and when novices are assigned with such tasks it does not take off.

“The Beliatta sit-in protest was organised by H.R. Wimalasiri under the able supervision of former Minister Ronnie de Mel”, he added.

On the same day of the sit-in protest there was a musical extravaganza and a cricket tournament organised to diminish the effect of the protest.

The musical extravaganza organised by the PA supporters was to be graced by two UNP Parliamentarians Mervyn Silva and Rajitha Senaratne, but at the last moment they decided otherwise after receiving specific instructions from the party hierarchy. Amidst all these UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe made arrangements to be present at the venue of protest on time and arrived at Mr. Ronnie de Mel’s house in Devinuwara the day before.

This was the first Sathyakriya performed by the UNP against the People’s Alliance government after it came in to office in 1994", one UNPer said.

“It was reminiscent of the first Sathyakriya of the late President J.R. Jayewardene in Anuradhapura who performed his maiden demonstration, against the then United Front government in 1974”, he added.

Ironically the Beliatta protest was just two days before late President Jayewardene’s 91st birth anniversary which fell on September 17.

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