Review Of Draft National Trade Policy

Sri Lanka Association for Political Economy (SLAPE) being a body of professional Economists engaged in discussing, formulating and appraising national economic development policies and strategies, felt it opportune to examine the Draft National Trade Policy, as the subject is very current, and relevant to the ongoing discussion on the proposed bilateral and regional preferential trade agreements. A panel discussion was thereby held on October 19th at the University of Colombo with Dr Ravi Ratnayake, Advisor to the Ministry of International Trade, and one of the architects of the subject policy draft, Mr Samantha Kumarasinghe, Chairman of Nature’s Secrets Company Ltd, Mr Anushka Wijesinha, the Chief Economist of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and Dr Kenneth De Zilwa, Director of Econsult Investment and Advisory Services, as panelists and Professor W D Lakshman, the Vice Chancellor of SANASA Campus and the Convenor of the SLAPE chairing the session.

The SLAPE, guided by the objective of taking care of national development interests, is of the opinion that what was revealed through the panel discussion are of national importance, and therefore considers it opportune to makethe policy makers as well as the general public aware ofwhat transpired during the session. Hence, this statement.

Many important issues were flagged during the discussion. Among those, the principal concerns included: (i) the need for the draft National Trade Policy (NTP) to be guided by and/or designed within the broad framework of a solid well-thought out national development plan, (ii) the necessity of developing such a policy within a national industrial policy that has been lacking in the entire post- 1977 period, (iii) the evidence indicating that ‘free trade’ in itself has never ever led to economic development, so that the necessity to find alternative policy direction to the orthodox ‘free trade’ panacea, (iv) the failure of the draft national trade policy to recognise the complementarity of import substitution strategy to the notion of export-led growth.

Most importantly, it was revealed through the discussion that the draft National Trade Policy has not been guided by a solid national development vision. Any policy on international trade has to be developed after a thorough strategic appraisal of all potentially influential determinants and their interrelations, including national economic development, wellbeing of people, national autonomy and sovereignty, and geo-political interests of regional countries. As the draft trade policy document itself highlights, SLAPE emphasizes that the Government ought to carefully review the progress achieved through, and continuing non-trade barriers under, Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ILFTA) before embarking on signing a comprehensive agreement in the form of ETCA. The draft policy paper does not indicate that such strategic studies have been undertaken. Therefore, the SLAPE requests the Government that it should not rush through to develop a national Trade Policy for Sri Lanka but should properly appraise the ground reality and set national development goals prior to formulating national policies on any sector or activity of the economy.

What seems to be intended through this draft trade policy is promotion of exports. However, only a scanty attention seems to have been paid to develop the national production capacity, and the industrial competitiveness, which are essential ingredients for any successful and sustainable export drive.

Therefore it’s imperative that the trade debate be centered on a suitable industrial policy, which has a home grown approach that would take Sri Lanka to export markets. A trade policy per se would not achieve this objective.We urge that the Government should first create new productive avenues through such an industrial policy, possibly emphasizing the role of technology innovations and adaptations. Any trade policy contemplation to promote exports without such a productive foundation would be unsustainable and meaningless.

The draft Trade Policy appears to be over-whelmed by the desire to augment export earnings, in which the positive role that import substitution could play has not been given its due place. While appreciating the limitations imposed by the market size of the local economy, complete neglect of the potential developmental impetus of import substitution is deplorable. One dollar of foreign exchange saved through import substitution is likely to generate greater economic value than one dollar earned through exports, because of already high import intensity of our exports. Therefore, SLAPE opines that any national trade policy without an adequate emphasis of import substitution possibilities would not be pragmatic or sustainable.

It is unfortunate that the drafters of this trade policy document have ignored the increasing world trend towards national economic protection.Though it was highlighted during the discussion that “productive” import substitution could be promoted, and though the draft Trade Policy also contains some references to this effect, no significant effort has been made to introduce operational mechanisms to realise such a strategy.Without this, the mere reference to a“productive” import substitution would merely be a red herring to justify neoliberal export-orientation.In that context, SLAPE suggest the government to incorporate clauses that would protect, groom, promote, and develop national industries, both in State and Private sectors, including those in the SME sector,thereby making the country less vulnerable to the BOP crises.

A careful scrutiny of the draft national trade policy shows that it is more an attempt to pave the way for preferential trade agreements. The outcomes of implementing such a policy is bound to be lop-sided as many fundamental developmental issues linked to trade, – e.g. issues of social wellbeing, creation of employment opportunities and remunerations for local labour force, and national self-reliance in respect of essential goods and services, and national sovereignty in the context of evolving geo-politics – could go unaddressed. We, in the SLAPE, wish to submit to the Government that international trade agreements, if ever considered, should be judged according to a trade policy framework anchored on a national development agenda. Trade policy, we must emphasize should not be driven by interest groupsfavouring preferential trade agreements.

SLAPE also wishes to bring to the notice of the policy makers the apparent contradictions within the draft policy framework itself. That the draft policy’s close alliance to free-market economic policies becomes evident when it explicitly advocates the level-paying-field idea. That premise is grossly violated when trade promotion through preferential trade agreements are solicited through the same policy. Even though SLAPE does not subscribe to the economic policy ideology that free market economic policies would do good for developing nations and their national socio-economic interests, it acknowledges the advantages offered to consumers by way of fair competition, whereby the quality and price of a purchase would be left for consumer’s choice. It is this advantage, which eventually is expected to stimulate competitiveness and inventive and innovative instincts resulting in efficiency, which could possibly be the most important positive attribute of free-market economic policies. Unfortunately, it is this unique advantage of free trade which will be lost if substandard and otherwise uncompetitive products or services gain price advantage owing to preferential treatment granted to one or a set of countries through such trade agreements. This cannot be considered development friendly, which, in contrast to the policy of equal treatment and fair competition, inhibits the right of the consumer to obtain best products at the lowest price. On a separate note, this policy framework also appears to have failed to address possible negative implications of reduced import tariffs postulated through the draft policy on Government revenue, which is already at very low ebbs.

Sri Lanka has been more or less following free market economic policies ever since 1977.It is beyond doubt that our track record of development achievements through this policy orientation has been far from satisfactory. It is neither rational nor pragmatic if policy makers presume that the cause for such failure is “inadequate dosage” of free-market prescription and “improper behavior of the country in implementing such policies”, while conveniently forgetting the possibility of “wrongful prescription”. Theprescription of trade liberalization,in the absence of industrial policy,is being questionedby many renowned economists.It is the position of SLAPE that free-market prescription itself was a cause for present economic ills of our nation. Further increased dosages of the same medicine could yield catastrophic outcomes.

Quite apart from the contents of the draft national trade policy, the SLAPE is surprised by the fact that no proper and transparent consultative process has been adopted in its preparation. SLAPE is unaware of any explicit involvement of any of the country’s professional bodies in Economics, including Sri Lanka Economic Association (SLEA), Sri Lanka Forum of University Economists (SLFUE) or SLAPE itself. It is deplorable that the decision makers ignore professional assets within the country in venturing into such nationally important strategic endaevours.

It is the utmost hope of the SLAPE that the policy makers, including the President, the Prime Minister and the Minister of International Trade, will seriously consider the above mentioned concerns and will exercise due diligence in compiling national policies and in contemplating supra-national agreements with other countries or regions which are likely to bind even the future generations of Sri Lankans who are yet to be born. It is our request that nationally important policies and strategies are put into widest possible discussion and debate.

-W.D. Lakshman

 

Women Human Rights Defenders In Sri Lanka: Challenges

The word ‘defender’ connotes agency and strength while the word ‘victim’ connotes passivity and susceptibility to harm and violations in the physical as well as mental sphere. However, there is a subtle or no difference between these two categories when it comes to the real world. The roles can change, as a victim can become a defender in any moment and a defender can become a victim. The many human rights violations perpetrated against and suffered by women during the war, which was side-tracked due to the sole focus on celebrating a masculine victory of the war under the previous regime, has to be addressed immediately. On the other hand, focus of human rights in the post war context under the new regime has masked other forms of human rights violations occurring in a day to day context against women. As women comprise of the larger part of the picture of Human Rights Defenders, the constant and additional challenges they encounter due to their gender, needs to be addressed. While both men and women are victims of patriarchal structures, this piece focuses on the challenges faced by women as human rights defenders.

In a militarized and patriarchal society, as the space of violence is possessed by men, women are left with the struggle for human rights, as advocates of non-violence and justice. Where men were killed and abducted, in place, women were left with ‘human rights’ to shield themselves in the brutal aftermath and seek justice for the loved ones they lost. In Sri Lanka, while men were killed and abducted in the context of war, their female relatives took on the role of human rights defenders. They faced and continue to face constant struggles in order to seek justice for their loved ones. The struggles of these women extend its horizons beyond boundaries of ethnicity, religion, class and other socially imposed categories upon them. Against this background, women took the frontlines as human rights defenders who fought their struggles most often in isolation and sometimes as groups, to reach the goal of justice.

When the husband, father or brother either goes missing, is abducted or killed, women have no option but to interact with the authorities which are highly masculine as well as patriarchal for recourse. In Sri Lanka, these women have to interact with military, police and with local authorities to make complaints, obtain compensation, relevant documentation, as well as their bare necessities. The lack of gender sensitivity in the institutional structures could be seen as a discouraging factor for women to stand as human rights defenders and will serve to exacerbate specific forms of violence against them.

The other challenge faced by women human rights defenders, especially under the period of transitional justice is, the massive attention drawn to the human rights discourse built around the war and aftermath of the war. The visibility or the lack of it of ‘other’ women human right defenders has become a challenge which needs quick attention. As the attention is focused on the human rights violations which took place during and after the war this has served to deepen the fraction between political and socio-economic rights. In this light, women human rights defenders who are in constant struggle to achieve social and economic rights are in need of ‘visibility’. For example, female sex workers are invisible in the arenas of human rights as they are labeled as ‘prostitutes’ and ‘illegal workers’. Although they are effortlessly speaking up for their rights, already constructed prejudice about them obstructs them from being active as human rights defenders. These communities need ‘visibility’ as ‘humans’ first and foremost to enjoy and then in order to defend their rights.

The vacuum of violence created in post war Sri Lankan society, has found another “other” as target, ie the Muslim community towards the fulfillment of this void created. As a result, the Muslims are being attacked by certain elements which are politically driven but labeled themselves as ‘Sinhala Buddhists’. These constant attacks be it physical, psychological or verbal targeting the Muslims has resulted in the community isolating themselves from the rest of the communities in order to create their safe zone and as a result of the fear of being culturally wiped by and assimilated to the Sinhala majority. However, this has significant implications on the struggle by Muslim women against unfair marriage laws. This struggle has succumbed to divisive politics of ‘Muslims’ and ‘Sinhala Buddhists’. While some of the Muslims women are fighting against these unfair marriage laws practiced by the community, some of the Muslim women are caught in between divisive politics of ‘Sinhala-Buddhists’ and ‘Muslims’ and are marching for the unfair marriage laws. Politics of ethno-religious divisions and structures of patriarchy has set one part of the women who are themselves victims of the unfair law, against the women who are fighting against the unfair laws of marriage.

The patriarchal structure where, women are seen as ‘ornaments’ belonging to the private sphere is obstructing women from being human rights defenders. According to a conversation with one of the women Activists in Puttalam, Ms. Indrani Kusumalatha

‘I work as a woman activist. At first I had pressure from my family. They didn’t like me being an activist. But gradually it changed. It was a struggle to convince them’.

It is challenging to question and function amidst the patriarchal, militarized, and Victorian patterns of thinking where women are located in mere passivity. These structures embedded in the patriarchal mind sets (of both men and women) see active women with agency as a challenge and are in constant effort of silencing them.

Against this background, being a Women Human Rights Defender is a unique challenge as their activism is questioned by not only the State and non-State actors, but also their families and loved ones who generally work as the safety net of a person. Further, the massive fund allocations and concentration for human rights violations centered round the war and aftermath of war, distracts the visibility of ‘other’ women human rights defenders in Sri Lanka.

-Anushka Kahandagama

 

Thowheed Jama’ath Condemns Wijeyadasa’s Inflammatory Speech, Responds To All Allegations Against Muslims

Sri Lanka Thowheed Jama’ath (SLTJ) organisation has today condemned the statement made in Parliamentby the Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe about the Muslim community. They have also responded to the allegations levelled against the Muslims by the minister.

We publish below the statement issued by Sri Lanka Thowheed Jama’ath by in full:

On last 18.11.2016, Hon. Minister of Justice, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe addressed in parliament about the steps that the government of Sri Lanka has taken with regard to restraining the racialist activities in Sri Lanka. While accepting the minister’s views about taking severe legal action against those who involve and sow the racism in the country, we totally find fault on the knot that the minister has made between terrorism and Islamic organizations together with religious education institutes.

ISIS terrorists must be eradicated

Hon. Minister recorded a view point that 32 members of 4 Muslim families from Sri Lanka have gone to Syria to join the international terrorist movement, ISIS and the Sri Lankan people are much frightened with regard to it. Indeed, for the first time, the said view that some Jihad groups functioning in Sri Lanka have connection with ISIS is a point that was spread in Sri Lanka in the previous government.

However, the then Defence Secretary refused this opinion and issued a denial report in public saying that it is not only the wrong statement but also Sri Lanka has not got such an organization. Even when if it was later confirmed that a few members of a single family from Sri Lanka have gone to Syria to attach ISIS, the whole Muslims living in Sri Lanka and the total Islamic religious and civil organizations together fervently condemned this activity and had declared that ISIS was a vulgar terrorist organization and their entire agenda were un-Islamic. All the Muslims in person and with their organizations strongly said in their statements and reports that the activities of ISIS had no a minute connection with Islam and the entire Muslims in Sri Lanka were unsupportive to any form of terrorism.

No any Muslims in Sri Lanka agree with terrorism or terrorist activities. Thowheed Jama’ath, on behalf of all the Muslims in Sri Lanka, request the government of Sri Lanka to take necessary measures to immediately arrest any individual person or an organization if they keep link with any terrorist organization in Sri Lanka or outside the country.

When the situation is in such a condition, a matter that was wrongly spread a long ago against a particular community in the country and the proper answer was also given at the same time by the same community individually and organizationally, how a responsible Minister, all of a sudden, superficially without looking at the people, place, time and the situation can reveal such a statement in Parliament when the racist waves are intentionally being raised in the country against Muslims. This would definitely increase the density of the problem and fearing in all societies rather than reducing. We therefore would like to bring this matter to the utmost consideration of the Minister that tying all Muslims and Islamic organizations with terrorism will sharpen the volume of the issue between multicultural communities in our mother land.

Are Muslims brainwashed for terrorism in Islamic Religious Schools?

In Hon. Minister’s speech, he accused that the foreign Islamic scholars who come to Islamic international schools in Sri Lanka are teaching terrorist views to Muslim students in order to wash their brains towards terrorism. This false accusation was also spread in Sri Lanka by some racist movements in the majority community of the country in the ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime and the Muslims community and its organizations clearly answered to this allegation at the time of its arrival.

If such incidents are occurred in Muslims educational institutes as per the statement of the Hon. Minister, we earnestly request the Minister to take necessary action against such Islamic schools on the basis of the proper evidence and proofs.

These allegations have been put forwarded in Sri Lanka as rumours since the year 2012 without giving any single proof. A racist or a racist movement can spread a false message of this nature, but it is unfortunate that an Hon. Minister of Justice being in a very accountable position expresses such a fake statement through his tongue which is fiercely pricking the hearts and minds of helpless Muslim community of this mother Lanka. We undoubtedly consider that this statement would have created a flawed sight in the mind of other religious followers with regard to Muslims’ educational institutes.

We are very much sad to mention herewith that it is unfortunate, that the Minister’s notions about Muslims’ educational institutes are like pouring kerosene in the flaming fire of racism in Sri Lanka at the movement.

Are there fightings of religious sects among Muslims only?

Another viewpoint that the Hon. Minister has put forwarded is that Muslims are fighting among themselves with divisions of religious thoughts and views. It is natural that there are different kinds of religious sects with various opinions and views within a major religion. Such divisions are irreparable in any religion in the world. Muslims are not exceptional to it. Like Theravada and Mahayana among Buddhists, Roman Catholic and Protestant among Christians, Brahmin and Sutra among Hindus, Muslims are also divided with different kinds of sects and groups with different views and opinions. Though, Islam does not allow these divisions among Muslims. Due to misunderstanding of certain things, Muslims are divided themselves.

However, the Minister’s talk has created a notion among the general public that the Muslims only have such divisions and group fighting among their religious sects. When it is connotatively said, together with the erroneous views that the Muslims’ educational institutes are teaching Jihad motivated syllabi for Muslim students to join ISIS and Muslims are fighting among themselves creating disharmony to the nation, these opinions of the Minister would certainly make an awful remarks say Muslims are terrifying people and they are needless to this nation as said some racist movements.

Is the General Secretary of Sri Lanka Thowheed Jama’ath, Abdur Razick remanded for insulting Buddha?

As the Minister has revealed the above misinformation which would be able to cause a misunderstanding code among other religious people about Sri Lankan Muslims, he also has said the arrest and remand of the General Secretary of Thowheed Jama’ath was on the basis of the reason that he had said “Buddha ate human flesh”. While talking about taking action against the Buddhist – Muslim extremism, Hon. Minister joined and knotted the General Secretary of Thowheed Jama’ath with extremism.

We would like to remark here that this expression of the Hon. Minister’s is too being incorrectly portrayed by the people. We never accept the descriptive wording of the Hon. Minister looping Thowheed Jama’ath with extremism. This is because of the fact that Thowheed Jama’ath never talked about using harsh extremist words like beating, cutting, attacking or killing towards any majority or minority religious individuals or groups of the country at any movement.

Whenever some members of specific racist organizations described Islam, Al-Quran and Muslims wrongly, Thowheed Jama’ath always faced them with democratically accepted ways and means of expressions so far. It is true that the racist movements are up to this minute, expressing heartburning phrases damaging our religious belief, threatening us that they are preparing to kill us in the forthcoming days, and startling to demolish our properties. But Thowheed Jama’ath would like to strongly emphasise that we have never involved such extremist activities up to the date in the country.

In the same way, the Minister has said that the reason for the arrest and the remand of the General Secretary of Thowheed Jama’ath was due to insulting Buddha. This view of the Hon. Minister is false because there has been already a court case on trial for several months without verdict whether the Secretary has insulted the Buddha or not. The court has not yet judged that the Secretary has involved in insulting a religion. Showing a pending court case without verdict and describing it as the cause for the arrest and remand of the Secretary is untruthful and sowing unnecessary viewpoints in the mind of the ordinary people.

We would like to bring this matter to the Hon. Minister’s notice that court has not accounted for the cause of arrest and remand of General Secretary as the reason that the Minister has expressed.

Justice should be erected against racism

Although the Parliamentary speech of the Hon. Minister of Justice began as the views against those who reveal racism, it is vividly clear that the all knotted things with terrorism in the middle are oriented with Muslims and Islamic organizations.

At this critical point, it is true to say that the viewpoints of this nature would absolutely produce huge vibrations in the general public of the country where racist opinions are continuously disseminated in social and other media. We and the all Muslims of this nation are fearful whether the views stated in the Minister’s conversation would pay the way for the racist who have been thirsty for the past few years to make divisions among the multi-ethnic diversities through ethnic riots, extend opportunities for foreign powers who are very much ambitious to induce local turmoil that provides them profits, and give provender for those who are wandering with power hunger politicizing everything in the country to protect their seats in Parliament and come into power from the back door.

We therefore earnestly request the Hon. Minister to publicize true information and views without providing opportunities for such turncoats.

Muslims are not third class citizen of this country. We are aboriginal citizens of this nation. Our and our forefathers’ umbilical cords were buried in this land. The contribution of Muslims to this country in relation to the growth, development and co-existence are equal in accordance with the percentage of the Muslim population and it cannot be underestimated in any way. For the past three war-prevailed decades, Muslims of this country suffered a lot and being chased away from their native place as they severely opposed terrorism and separatism. So far they wander here and there as refugees without being resettled. Thowheed Jama’ath would like to further elucidate the fact on behalf of the Muslims very clearly that Sri Lankan Muslims so far in the history of the nation did not make any attempt to separate the country. We have been always peace loving people of this mother Lanka. We love this country very much as it is our flesh and blood.

M.F.M RASMIN MISc
Asst. Secretary
Thawheed Jama’ath (SLTJ)

Obstacles To Ranil’s Destiny

I was tempted to write this piece by the outspoken remarks of an Islandeditorial under the title “O tempora! O mores!” After highlighting a list of failures by a young minister holding an important portfolio, the editorial raised the question, “If it (the Government) had been really serious about developing vital sectors … it would have got very senior Cabinet members to helm the relevant ministries without turning them into playpens for politicians still wet behind the ears.”

Economic Statement

By Ranil Wickremesinghe –

With regard to the current state of the economy and the Way Ahead, I would like to recall the speech I made in the House on the 05th of November 2015.

We can once again become the resplendent nation we were under Manawamma and Parakramabahu. But it is a path that must be pursued with determination, commitment and patience. Only then can we create the country that we can confidently pass on to the future generations.Ranil 28 07 216 Pic by PM's Media

At the time I made the statement last year, I affirmed that our collective economic journey requires revolutionary thinking, bold policies and initiatives that would transform Sri Lanka into a vibrant and prosperous nation. The National Government started work on a sound footing – by increasing the actual wages of the public sector including those of general workers. This process stimulated domestic demand and addressed the imbalance in income levels, the economic legacy inherited from the previous regime.

However, we acknowledge that much more needs to be done. We aim to enhance the income potential of Sri Lankans on a faster trajectory. During the last 60 years, Sri Lanka has not kept pace with the South-east Asian nations and has been only barely ahead of our South Asian neighbours. Doubling our current level of per capita national income from USD 4000 to USD is no magic trick – rather, it is setting in motion a planned effort to grow at a faster rate. If we continue to grow at our current rate of 5% per annum we will only double our personal income levels by 2033.

We can double our personal income levels by 2025 if we set in motion a growth rate of 7% per annum. This rate was achieved in the aftermath of the war in 2009 but the momentum brought on as a dividend of peace did not last.

In 2012, it went down below 5% per annum. Private businesses were nationalised while local and foreign investment dried up. Heavy state borrowing for economically non-viable state sponsored projects did not leave any funds for private investors to borrow from the banks.

In 2015, we have addressed the inequality in income distribution at a national level. Consequently, we have been able to uplift the income levels of low income earners and public officials. At the same time, tax levies are being imposed on affluent groups to fund higher wages and minimize government borrowing.

Along with The IMF, The World Bank and The Asian Development Bank, lending institutions of the US, Europe and Japan have expressed their willingness to lend Sri Lanka funds at considerably low rates of interest ; these funds would enhance and strengthen the economy. The last time such funds were made available was between 2001- 2004, when I was the Prime Minister. Today,

President Maithripala Sirisena and I have been able to successfully revive such funding sources towards assisting Sri Lanka.

For centuries, Sri Lanka’s location in the heart of the Indian Ocean between Western and Eastern Asia has made us active partners of inter-regional trade. The strategic importance of Sri Lanka as an Indian Ocean hub in the realm of global logistics and commercial activities has been widely acknowledged.

In this context, the foundation for a more sustainable economic model has been laid already, enabling us to recover from the inward looking economic policies of the past. Our exports with a value of USD 11 billion are contracting while garment exports remain static at USD 5 billion per annum. The garment industry will see a revival when GSP+ returns – we have already set in motion the process towards it being obtained once again.

Agricultural exports have declined as a result of prices for tea and rubber slowing down. It must be noted that in the plantations sector, some of the companies are being run well while others not so.

The Government plans to restructure the regional plantations companies by infusing new capital and introducing efficient enterprises.

Our export base has remained the same for over 30 years and is dependant on a narrow export base of garments, tea, rubber, gemstones and tourism. The economy cannot experience growth based on such limited exports.

A key economic contribution in the form of remittances from the Middle East remain volatile as oil prices fall and countries like Saudi Arabia are reducing the salaries of their own citizens. This will pose a new challenge to Sri Lankans employed in the Middle East.

As the global economy struggles to recover, Sri Lanka has been able to successfully navigate amidst changing economic dynamics, maintaining a prudent domestic economic level of growth.

The Government has encouraged the people living abroad and in Sri Lanka to invest in construction, which has resulted in a construction boom.

Sri Lanka is seeing a staggering growth in tourist arrivals as our image as a safe and a friendly tourist destination is growing rapidly. In the aftermath of a decade of neglecting markets, major international airlines and hotel chains are once more entering a vibrant Sri Lankan market.

We are now ready to enter the next and the most important phase of economic activity, that of creating new and productive jobs and livelihood for the young people. The creation of 1 million jobs will empower the youth and enhance their standard of living.

We need to sustain a higher rate of growth for the plans to succeed , one that will result in higher exports and a greater domestic demand. Such growth will also increase state revenue. As I mentioned last year, a drop in government revenue and an increase in commercial debt to its upper limits can have a drag effect on the economic development.

Achieving a high level of growth in exports need major capital infusion and greater investments. New technological innovations, better management of data systems and up-to-date market information systems are needed to achieve better results.

During the Eighties, having decided that outsourcing was a better option, Japan was reviewing moving operations to Thailand and Sri Lanka. The Japanese delegation to Sri Lanka arrived at the height of July 1983 riots and needless to say, we lost the opportunity to Thailand which obtained investments to the value of 50 Billion USD. There was a spillover of US Dollars 13 Billion into Malaysia as well.

As the then Minister of Industries I focused on promoting industrialisation. At the time, Vietnam has opened up as a market economy model and came to Sri Lanka for advise. Unfortunately, as the war progressed, we stopped pursuing industrialisation in 1997. Vietnam continued to engage in industrialisation.

Sri Lanka’s total export stood at US Dollars 1.9 Billion in 1990. Vietnam’s exports were worth US Dollars 2.4 Billion. Today, 25 years later, Sri Lankan exports have climbed to US Dollars 10 Billion while Vietnam retains exports valued at US Dollars 162 Billion, most of it based on manufacturing.

In 2003, as the then Prime Minister, I set in motion the application process for GSP+ , subsequently concluded by President Chandrika Kumaratunga. While Bangladesh also enjoyed concessional entry into the EU markets, Sri Lanka lost the GSP+ incentive in 2010.

In 2003, the Textile and Garment sector in Sri Lanka stood at US Dollars 2.5 Billion, while in Bangladesh, it was US Dollars 5.2 billion. Last year our exports went up to US Dollars 4.8 Billion while Bangladesh stood at US Dollars 26.6 Billion.

We must understand that in order to grow out of being a poor, backward country, we need to focus on large scale FDIs and accelerate growth.

Towards this direction, the Government plans to create a positive investment climate that will generate jobs. Hurdles that stand in the way of achieving growth for business start-ups will be removed. The processes of starting a business, getting construction permits, electricity connections and bank credit, registering property, protecting minority investors, the payment of taxes, trading across borders, the enforcement of contracts, the resolution of insolvency, and regulations governing labour market will be efficient mechanisms that will facilitate business growth. Additionally, the Government will also prepare legislations to establish a single window for investment approval. Further, we will hold discussions with the Trade Unions and relevant stakeholders. The targeted outcome is to bring Sri Lanka within the top 70 nations of the Doing Business Index by 2020.

We plan to build on these strengths and initiate plans for a logistical and business centre in the Indian Ocean. With this in mind, we have started developmental work on 3 international ports and airports, providing efficient connectivity within the region.

A new set of investment incentives based on Capital Allowances and low tax regime will be introduced; the details will be announced in the Budget

We plan to repeal The Export and Import Control Act and bring in new legislation on the lines of Singapore’s (a) Regulation of Imports and Exports Act and (b) Strategic Goods Control Act.
Current domestic market enterprises also have a greater role to strengthen the economy – in addition to expected Direct Investments of local and foreign origin. They too can add to export volume.

The Government will assist them to connect to the Global Value Chain by introducing a Trade Adjustment Package which will include Capital Allowance for new equipment.

Concurrently, we are reviewing the growing interest of local and foreign business concerns towards solving the twin problems of low private investment and the accumulation of vast debts by the Government.

As you are aware, during the last year, HE the President Maithripala Sirisena and I have travelled to key destinations with an objective of reviving the interest in Sri Lanka. We have met with success.

During my recent visit to Brussels, the officials of the European Commission expressed their confidence that the GSP Plus trade concession would be given favourable consideration. The Japanese Prime Minister has also appointed a senior official to especially coordinate Japanese Sri Lanka Joint Comprehensive Partnership Programme.

Towards creating newer markets for our exports, we are also negotiating three trade agreements; ETCA with India, and two FTAs with China and Singapore.

These are significant developments even as these two large economic regions struggle to maintain economic momentum in their domestic markets, which have been traditional export destinations for our businesses.

Most of us thought that our next generations would have to pay the debts incurred for Hambantota port and Mattala airport. Now, we have entered into a debt to equity swap. Chinese investors have made significant commitments to invest equity in the debt strapped Hambantota Port and the Mattala Airport as PPP ventures.

The Government plans to receive sufficient funds to offset these debts. You can now be assured that your children will not have to pay these debts but can reap the benefits of a dynamic, international air-sea hub.

Strong interest in utilizing these zones along with other such zones in the western province have been noted by investors from China, Korea and Japan. They plan to create an export market focused on Europe, China, Japan and USA and the crescent of markets around the Indian Ocean. Between the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia there exists a fast-growing population currently of over 2 billion people. This combined market has the potential of 3 billion consumers by 2050.

Going forward, our development strategy will be aimed at capturing trading opportunities within these identified Indian Ocean markets via pursuing trade liberalisation agreements with their governments. Concurrently, we are focusing on defining the two development corridors across the country – this will be a focal area for investment by the public and the private sector.

The logistical and infrastructural facilities that provide faster, secure links to the global value chain empowering viable business ventures, will be spearheaded for the first time in Sri Lanka, in these development corridors.

The two development corridors will correspond to the two distinct halves of the country irrigated by the two monsoons. The South-Western corridor will have as its major axis the proposed Kandy-Colombo highway linked to the existing Southern highway. This region has the strongest potential to link up with global value chains, because of its close proximity to the Katunayake airport and the Colombo harbour. This project envisages creating a Megapolis Development Authority to develop the entirety of the Western Megapolis an urban area of over 8 ½ million people.

A brand new financial city centre that will be based at the new reclaimed land development project alongside the Port of Colombo.

A sub-corridor that will stretch along the central highlands from Kandy via Nuwara Eliya to Badulla and linked to the Kandy-Colombo highway. This will connect the revitalized plantations economy and modernized agricultural pursuits and will also lay emphasis on tourism and service delivery initiatives.

The second North-Eastern development corridor will connect the Eastern Province and the North Central Province to Jaffna linking the Trincomalee Port City to the Rajarata. The completion of the Moragahakanda and the Malwatu Oya reservoirs will create new vistas for the country and will result in the region gaining more land for agriculture. It will further result in the historic cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura emerging as modern urban centres. Trincomalee will be urbanized and transformed into a world-class Port City.

Reconstruction of housing and civic infrastructure will be given highest priority within the previously war-affected areas around Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

While the priority remains economic stimulation and the improvement of individual finances, the plan also focuses on establishing a society in which every citizen has access to equal opportunities and individual rights are safeguarded – this includes the right to shelter. The Rural Housing Loan Programme, Urban Regeneration Housing Programme, Estate Housing Programme and Resettlement Programme are being implemented with focus on vulnerable groups. Plans are underway to construct 500,000 housing facilities for the middle-class to meet the rising demand for housing in urban and suburban areas, 65,000 houses for the urban underserved population, 65,000 houses for internally-displaced people in areas previously affected by conflict, and to fulfill 65% of the estate housing requirement by 2020.

I must emphasise at this juncture that we are committed to the sustainable development goals adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015. Our development of industry, services and agriculture will be guided by these principles. For instance, when we develop 15,000 acres of free trade zones in the South, we will undertake reforestation of unutilised lands in other parts of the country. Similarly, we are finding solutions to the overwhelming problem of solid waste disposal in our major cities. This is a hazardous situation affecting the lives of thousands of people , one left unchecked by the last government.

We are going ahead with schemes that provide safe drinking water to the communities in need of such projects around the island ; we are also seeking to improve treatment of waste water. The pristine status of our natural environment remains our most precious resource and has been praised by visitors throughout the centuries. We pledge to take utmost care to preserve our natural resources and our heritage within all our development efforts. The economic vision of the National Government will yield prosperity for all Sri Lankans. It is an economy that will share the benefits of development among all. One that will be friendly to all, beneficial to all, keeping its focus on including sustainable development as well.

What we are hoping for is a lawful economic environment that will set the stage for sustainable development. We will incorporate a sustainable development entity that will provide the necessary framework and initiate mechanisms required. I called this the third generation of economic reforms. The first generation was introduced by President Jayewardene, the second by President Premadasa. What is now envisioned by us here, is based on multifaceted economic linkages to global supply chains and the planned increase in trade development. Many qualified people prefer well-paying jobs that are given based on professional capabilities. It is not viable to maintain a low paying production based economy.

These developments will result in the creation of one million jobs and the expansion of the middle-class; a nation in which the farmers prosper and every child has access to education. Our end goal is prosperity for everyone. Every citizen must enjoy the benefits of living in a wealthier nation. This also includes the realization of the basic rights of every citizen – principally, housing. We view this as the first step towards ensuring total social inclusion, followed by measures to promote inclusive involvement in the economy, especially for women, while improving facilities for differently-abled persons to integrate into society and pursue their life goals with normalcy.

BUSINESS AND SECTORIAL PRIORITIES

Sri Lanka has evolved a variety of distinct economic sectors, which are capable of further integrating the country’s economy into the Global Value Chain. The digital economy, tourism and commercial agriculture are coming of age concerning their potential to offer high-value skills and remuneration to young job seekers in the country. With the new economic orientation that will include fewer opportunities with the government and more exposure and opportunities for entrepreneurs and skilled professionals, we aim to accelerate the broad basing of opportunities in these segments – the digital economy, tourism and commercial agriculture.

THE DIGITAL ECONOMY

The digital economy will empower our nation – through providing affordable and secure Internet connectivity to every citizen in any part of Sri Lanka, removing barriers for cross-border international trade. A platform for cashless payments will also be created. Digital technology will be included as a new subject in the school curriculum. We plan to foster entrepreneurship opportunities in digital commerce while providing training in cyber security monitoring and response.

MODERN MANUFACTURING ECONOMY

We shall strive to attain the status of a modern manufacturing economy that will include state-of-the-art equipment.

We plan to overcome the bottleneck of being a middle-income country with low wages in our pursuit towards greater prosperity for our people.

STATE-OWNED ENTERPRISE (SOE) REFORMS

We will establish a Public Commercial Enterprise Board by law an organization that will manage SOEs enabling them to be more efficiently run on a commercial basis ensuring value for money. We are creating a Public Wealth Trust through which the shares in state-owned entrepreneur enterprises will be held in trust for the people.

FINANCIAL INCLUSION

With the passage of the Microfinance legislation in Parliament early this year, rural microfinance is now a legitimate activity. Urgent measures are being undertaken to link foreign microfinance providers with local communities to promote greater credit penetration in rural areas. The Ministry has already allocated five billion Rupees for a special SME financing scheme to empower business formation and development. A National Financial Inclusion Policy will be evolved by the Central Bank to set quantitative targets for opening of accounts, disbursement of SME loans etc. To enable this, we will be consolidating rural development banks (RDBs). Rural Development Banks have become the main channel for concessional lending to Small and Medium Enterprises. Their decentralized management structure is reinforced with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, through its newly created regional departments. We seek to initiate a nationwide campaign to encourage banking and endow a spirit of entrepreneurship among all.

TOURISM

The plan to make Sri Lanka a high value destination is on the cards. It will herald in prosperity that will showcase our cultural pursuits, wild life and the environment via provinces developed as unique tourist hot spots. We believe that Sri Lanka will be one of the finest travel experiences for the global traveller.

MODERNIZING AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES

It takes over a decade to modernize the sectors of agriculture and fisheries. We plan to establish a Rural Modernization Board, which will include all stakeholders. Fisheries and Poultry will be the first categories to be promoted for exports.

The difficulties faced in the tea and rubber industry will be reviewed. The Government will restructure the plantations sector to invite new capital and eliminate inefficiency.

NATIONAL AGRICULTURAL MARKETING AUTHORITY

Marketing of agricultural products is the most important link between the producer and consumers. We will establish a fully empowered National Agricultural Marketing Authority to coordinate the marketing of agricultural products, and develop existing markets, transport and storage facilities. In addition, new infrastructure facilities such as cool storage will be added at a divisional and regional level, for preservation of food before or after purchase. Providing large storage facilities for purchasing and storage during the harvesting season is an essential pre-requisite for implementing a guaranteed purchase price. It is planned to create 250 ‘polas’, farmer markets island-wide for farmers to bring their produce to local markets.

UPDGRADING HUMAN CAPITAL

The country’s current education system, particularly the higher education system, is being recalibrated to produce graduates who will meet the skill and knowledge requirements of the corporate sector. We will ensure a culture where job-oriented skill development will take precedence over the passing of exams, while introducing more real-life vocational situations and simulations to the curriculum.

INCREASING FEMALE PARTICIPATION IN THE ECONOMY AND GOVERNANCE

The Government is committed to creating good and safe working conditions through sufficient investments and promoting entrepreneurship to create quality and high paid jobs in the country while targeting to increase the female labour force participation rate to 40% by 2020. It is also acknowledged that female-operated Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) could well cater to the demands of the rising middle class, which is important to Sri Lanka now given the country’s move towards an upper middle-income economy. The Act has reserved 25% of representation for women in local authorities.

RECREATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE

In addition to the recreational parks developed around the country, life enrichment projects are underway to introduce recreational spaces in every province, complete with synthetic athletic tracks and Olympic-sized swimming pools.

EDUCATION

13 YEARS OF COMPULSORY EDUCATION

A fresh policy initiative for making 13 years of education mandatory is now in place.

A pilot project on providing 13 years of mandatory education will commence next year. Those who do not pursue higher education after O/Ls will be trained under an upper Secondary Vocational Education system. We will recruit teachers and instructors required for this purpose as well as enhance the additional number of teachers needed to fill the cadre requirements for the next three years. Our focus will be on ensuring that there will be no teacher shortages by 2019 and ensure all schools will have complete cadre. We will bring in a law for providing separate cadre for every school.

We will also commence school inspectorate to ensure that high quality levels are maintained in teaching. School boards consisting of parents, staff and past pupils will work towards maintaining high standards.

We will also commence a pilot programme to provide tablet PCs to all post O/L students.

Development of school infrastructure will be given to those needing to build capacity for new intake of students.

PROMOTION OF PRE-SCHOOLS AND DAY-CARE CENTRES

A five-year programme focusing on early child development (ECD) has been launched for improvement of systems and quality, to enhance the overall effectiveness and increase the enrolment of children for ECD programs. Early childhood development is not only meant for pre-school education, but includes interrelated segments such as health, nutrition, psychological condition, child care, probation and protection which are also essential components that will be considered in ECD.

EMPLOYMENT

In order to overcome the mismatch between skills acquisition and employment, we plan to empower young people without skills needed for employment, by providing them with additional training opportunities.

We will pool the services of Government and private sectors and utilize the Government network of state affiliated training institutions for this purpose. The accelerated Training and Employment programme will be a Public Private Partnership. The Government will make funds available both for training as well as supplementing the income of trainees in the Private Sector. This scheme will start in 2017 and will be fully operational in 2018.

HOUSING

The Government plans to construct 500,000 housing units for middle class and the working class, which will give them house ownership at a subsidized rate. These will be in the form of successful private-public partnerships and will be private sector driven. These will be based around vital nerve centres such as emerging cities, while encouraging the concept of sustainable urbanization; thereby strengthening the Government’s socio-economic pursuits and sustainable development goals.

The Budget proposal will include detailed information on these initiatives.

Today, what the economy needs is not more governance but to achieve a goal of prosperity that can happen via the liberation of the economy. The first generation of economic reforms introduced in 1978 set the country free from the ill effects of a closed economy. Today before us is the challenge of introducing the third generation of economic reforms. We have the potential to become Asia’s next economic success story if only we can face those challenges successfully.

A booklet that contains detailed information on the planned economic measures will be made available soon.

Mr. Speaker,

In the past, Sri Lanka has missed many opportunities to achieve truly viable economic success. We cannot let the opportunity before us slip once again. That’s why we must be able to comprehend the current global conditions and make the best use of our strengths, utilizing it successfully towards emerging an economically robust nation.

All of us may have personal opinions and different political affiliations but we as a nation must be able to rise above it all, to come together to take our country forward.

We have the best opportunity for that under the National Government.

We cannot hold the past accountable for not going forward into the future. There’s no use in shedding tears over the wrong economic pursuits of the past. Instead, we need to focus on the path forward, on our ability to compete successfully in a dynamic global market place and carve out our niche among the prosperous nations of the world.

The future generations will depend on us for choosing the right economic path. As a nation committed to sustainable development and success, only then can Sri Lankans become the empowered citizens of an economically sound nation.

PRIME MINISTER’S ECONOMIC STATEMENT IN PARLIAMENT ON 27TH OCTOBER 2016

Colombo Telegraph

Muslim Personal Laws Reforms; On Or Not?

By Ameer M Faaiz –

Ameer M. FaaizAmeer M. Faaiz

In announcing the decisions made by the Cabinet of Ministers last Wednesday, the Government spokesperson has stated, amongst others, that the Cabinet has decided to appoint a Sub-Committee of Ministers to study and recommend reforms to the Muslim law in Sri Lanka, with a view to bringing it in line with Sri Lanka’s international human rights treaty obligations.

In the absence of any clarification as to what is the status of the Committee appointed by the Minister of the Minister of Justice in 2009, to make recommendations for Muslim law reform, it is to be assumed that that committee headed by former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Saleem Marsoof has not been wound up. There are reports in the public domain, which indicate that the Saleem Marsoof Committee is still working on after almost 7 years of its establishment.

The Cabinet decision in question refers only to the need for aspects of the Muslim Personal law being made compliant with international human rights treaty obligations of Sri Lanka. This is an important call, which the Muslim community should respect. However, one should not forget that there are two significant benchmarks against which the need for reform has become more pronounced in recent years. The first remains the imperative of changing what today is a pre-modern, archaic Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act in Sri Lanka. It needs to be transformed into a legal regime that is fully capable of providing true justice, and not subverting it. That, no doubt, depends on a range of factors; policy that underpins it, persons who administer it, institutions that give effect to it, and, of course, leadership, truly courageous and imaginative, that sees beyond the pale.

The ongoing process of constitution making which should also address the issues of women and children and help empower these vulnerable segments of the society is the second, yet pre-eminent benchmark. This needs to be done through provisions that are entrenched, or mandatory, in the supreme law of Sri Lanka. The need for reform, in my view, rests on all these factors. The expected outcome of Saleem Marsoof Committee could be the need of the hour.

The current law and its challenges

The Muslim Marriages and Divorce Act (MMDA) enacted by Sri Lankan Parliament in 1951 govern the Muslims of Sri Lanka. This law has been amended a few times, mostly, to fill in procedural shortcomings. Emphasis must be made that although it is known as MMDA, it is, however, not a pure and simple reflection of the Sharia law that is applicable in respect of marriage and divorce within the Muslim community. This law, in fact, is a kind of an amalgamation of some Sharia aspects and some customs practiced then, as chosen and codified by a group of men that subsequently became law. Ironically as it stands today it accommodates features that are contradictory to Sharia stipulations.

This law governs ‘with respect to the marriages and divorce’ of all Sri Lankans born to Muslim parents and/or those who subsequently embrace Islam marrying amongst themselves.
The implementation of this MMDA is riddled with a host of constraints, in particular discrimination meted out to Muslim women since its enactment. The demand that the law must be amended to rectify these shortcomings date back at least to 30 years. Muslim women have been in the forefront of the call for reform then as now.

The practical discrimination meted out to women and also to children for years has been brought to the attention of the leaders of the Muslim community. There has also been an acknowledgment that this law needs to be reformed in that different committees were set up in 1956, 1984 and 1990 by the Government to propose reforms. Except formulating recommendations, these committees achieved next to nothing. Being compelled by the demand from within the community and realising the imperative need for change, a Committee was set up by the then Justice Minister Milinda Moragoda in 2009 comprising 16 members including three Muslim women, a few eminent lawyers amongst others and was headed by Justice Saleem Marsoof.

The original remit given to the committee was that it should come up with its reform proposals within six months. The fact that it is several years hence and that we are yet to see any concrete recommendations is a sad reflection of the importance placed (by) on this committee which consisted of professionals, jurists, educationists and activists. The delay has unfortunately reinforced the argument that the community on its own is not going to bring about the required meaningful reforms or is incapable of doing so.

Renewed hope?

It is in this backdrop that it was good to read that justice Saleem Marsoof saying that his committee would come up with its report by November. In saying so he has also acknowledged the call for the release of the report and that there are ‘extreme members opposed to more liberal views’, perhaps contributing to the delay. The impression that a few individuals who may be interested to perpetuate dominance over a community against accepted norms impede him and other members in their work does not augur well.

It is also hoped that the committee would have actually gathered views of larger sections of the society impacted by the implementation of the existing laws including by consulting those who have faced the brunt of it. Justice Saleem Marsoof and a majority of the other learned men and women in the committee would know very well that they were appointed to the committee for their erudition, proven objectivity and integrity and hence would do well not to be held up by a couple of individuals with no societal or public accountability.

It is important to note that the committee itself was appointed upon an acknowledgement that all is not well with the said MMDA or its implementation thereof. In fact the government has on many occasions been compelled to assure and/or give undertakings to the UN and other partners that it would reform discriminatory laws.

This being so, perhaps unwittingly the government at times in trying to buy time or to wriggle out of the situation, has misstated facts in response to queries relating to Muslim law. The unedited informal summary of record of the Committee on Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, captures what the delegation of Sri Lanka stated in August 2016 thus: “In answer to the questions relating to the application of customary laws, a delegate said that customary laws had been in place in the country since before the colonial era.  These laws were recognized and codified, and regulated aspects of life such as marriage, inheritance and divorce.  Sri Lanka’s legal system was therefore a mix between legislation and customary laws which were constantly monitored and reviewed.  Any change of customary law had to originate from the communities themselves, a delegate said.  Their application was not automatic, but rather a personal choice by the concerned individuals.  Specific constitutional provisions recognised and protected customary laws, he added.  A special committee had been established to discuss the codification of customary laws governing marriage and divorce for the Muslim community.” (emphasis is mine).

Discrimination at the core

Main areas of contention, as delineated from the on going discourse is about the discrimination meted out to Muslim women and children under the cover of this law. The areas of discrimination, amongst others, range from permissible age of marriage, women not being able to be appointed as Quazis, women not being required either to give or withhold their consent expressly when being given in marriage or contracting marriage, to unequal treatment of spouses when in polygamous marriage.

Many Muslim majority countries have raised the minimum age of marriage. This is generally true of most rich Gulf Islamic States, and includes Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and Morocco. However, Women are appointed as judges and Quazis in Indonesia, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan and Morocco. Similarly in keeping with the Quranic injunctions, Malaysia has imposed stringent preconditions in the case of polygamous marriage and further in progressively interpreting the Quran, Turkey criminalised polygamy in 1926 and Tunisia banned it in 1956, both predominantly Muslim States.

Islam for justice

Justice Weeramantry, in his seminal treatise “Islamic Jurisprudence an International Perspective”, has traced the Islamic fundamental tenets as the founding base for the Universal Declaration on Human Rights Charter. UDHR remains at core of all other treaties including in particular, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Justice Weeramantry goes on to trace as to how Islam paved way for, and ensured protection of, equal rights between men and women at a time women and children had virtually no rights. He quotes verses from Quran extensively in drawing attention to directives that ensure that men and women are equal.

Justice Weeramantry is not the only jurist to have reiterated that Islamic jurisprudence is the predecessor and the forerunner to the current internationally accepted human rights norms. Nisrine Ahamed, in her treatise “Sharia Muslim States and International Human Rights Treaty Obligation”, outlines a number of areas where Islam brought positive changes, contributing to improvement of human rights.

It is undeniable that some of the discriminatory practices rooted in personal laws in Sri Lanka derive their justification from Article 16 of the Constitution, which permits the validity of the written or unwritten pre-existing laws.

Article 16; Charter of Servitude for women?

The call for the repeal of Article 16 in the Constitution is the culmination of the longstanding frustration over the failure to make right the wrongs meted out to the women and children. Ironically these are perpetuated by men and male-dominant institutions that continue to trot out unsubstantiated facts and unsustainable reasoning for the continuation of discriminatory practices. It must be realised that it is the State’s – not a community’s – responsibility to ensure equal treatment of all its citizen.

Those who are bent on perpetuating discriminatory practices, taking cover behind Article 16 argue that, the Government seeking to change the law would only evoke the religious feelings amongst the Muslims. That is a trick up the sleeve of these oppressive elements, and the Government should not fall prey to it. Worse still, these elements try in vain to make it look that the call for the repeal of Article 16 is intended to repeal the entire Muslim Personal Law, not just the discriminatory parts of it.

Politicians’ responsibility

It is in this backdrop that it was startling to read reports which implied that the Leader of the SLMC was surrendering his democratic obligations towards his constituency to what he called “supreme body”, which is the code name for the All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulema (ACJU).

Isn’t it he who said he stood for minimum age for marriage for women and that Muslim women could also be Quazis? We must note that people did not elect the ACJU, but Mr. Hakeem and several Muslim men as their representatives in the Parliament. A sweeping statement passing the onus to ACJU would only evince the total abdication of responsibility, if not leadership. I know Mr. Hakeem tried to prevail upon the Saleem Marsoof committee to release its recommendation when he was the Minister of Justice, emphasizing its importance.  He would have done so with a view to seeing how best it could be implemented when it is out. Where is that moral responsibility now?

It is important that politicians, professionals, community leaders, activists, people’s representatives and people from all walks of life come together in addressing and reforming social issues. Other political leaders within the community should also play a positive role without competing with Mr. Hakeem in saying the hardest.

ACJU, as it claims itself, might be able to provide some guidance or opinion but to let them decide for all of us would only lead to putting the community in a pre-modern, time-warp. A majority of them have neither the legal nor social capacity to do that, as could be seen in some of their recent statements and actions on matters that affect the community. Further ACJU is a members’ only organisation consisting exclusively of men. There is no way that their competencies can be tested through a public and /or objective system. All stakeholders within the community need to look at such issues in a socially conscious, yet nationally responsible manner.

On the contrary, elected representatives have been so chosen by the public to contribute to the governance of the country, and to make policy and legislate on behalf of the people. If they are to abdicate this responsibility, they should honourably resign and perhaps help the ACJU to get elected instead.

It is pertinent to draw the attention that three men involved in the Nallanthaluva mosque administration have now been remanded, charged in the Puttalam Magistrate Court apparently for having carried out punishment akin to lashing a woman publicly for her alleged immoral behaviour. It is understood that pressure has been exerted on the woman to withdraw her complaint.

Needed: A constructive approach

It is our expectation that reform initiatives should draw on experiences and reforms carried out by progressive Muslim countries that not only help ensure gender equality, social justice, ethnic and religious pluralism, but also creatively provide for the basic tenets espoused by Islam. The reformed law should proactively protect and safeguard children’s right so that they can grow into worthwhile citizens without being forced into early marriage that breeds social outcasts. It would be rather ridiculous if it would emerge that even after almost 7 years, a committee consisting of a majority of eminent persons has not addressed these aspects, and/or has not finalised its report as expected.

It is my strong conviction that Islam is for all human kind and for all times, and, is just and equitable. It cannot – and should not – be interpreted to provide inequalities between men and women. The Quran clearly emphasises equality and justice. In seeking to transform the law, it is timely to seize this opportunity and make the much wanted and long-awaited changes, whether in the form of constitutional reform or legislative reform.

In Sri Lanka’s contemporary history, committees are not immune to manipulation. It is our strong expectation that any committee or process that would address the issue of reform would do justice by the people that demand it. There should be no room left for the Muslim members in Parliament to try to pick out one or two recommendations emanating from the process, and use them to keep the judicial review away from the Muslim Personal Law, or suggest the repeat of a more protracted intra-community consultation. If that happens, when the proposed constitutional reforms become a reality, everyone in this country would be constitutionally entitled to be treated equally except those cry for it – and deserve it: Muslim women.

*The author, Ameer M Faaiz, LL.M., is a practising lawyer who has also been a civil society and a political activist and his current positions include Director – International Affairs of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Director – Secretariat for Muslims.

Colombo Telegraph

Unravelling Of A Don(ald Trump); A Bizarre Turn Of US Elections

By Vishwamithra –

The world keeps ending but new people too dumb to know it keep showing up as if the fun’s just started.” ~John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich

Premadasa

trump“This is not something we can ignore…this is not something that we can sweep under the rug…the shameful comments of our bodies…it’s cruel and it’s frightening…and the truth is it hurts”, no person has articulated the disgust, danger and degradation of one candidate of the United States Presidential Elections more accurately and so succinctly than Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the nation. A telling indictment of a man who pretends to be the lover of all women, the speech Michele Obama delivered in Manchester, New Hampshire, one of the so-called swing States in the upcoming US elections, has moved many a mind, swayed many a heart and sure to galvanize many a voter. A political oration with an apolitical theme, appealing to the very core of every woman, girl, man and boy, was indeed a fresh wind in a desert of barren ideas and infertile rhetoric.

Evisceration of the phenomenon called Donald Trump without mentioning his name even once was a masterful craftsmanship on the part of the speechwriter who they say is the First Lady herself. America, an allegedly sophisticated democracy, has fallen into the gutters; the defenders of world’s freedom and liberty have been exposed as mortal sinners of the worst kind and gutter-politics has taken over the psyche of the media and punditry of America. By every measure Donald Trump has declared himself unqualified to lead America in the 21st century but his worthiness as a temperamentally fit person to lead a nation that is arguably the sole super power in the world has been bared open. This is where the reasonableness of the American voter counts. With all conventional wisdom and traditional values thrown out the door, Donald Trump is running a campaign of a radical bigot. His bigotry has exceeded the frontiers of the reasonable thinking of reasonable men and women.

Although one might attribute a more than deserving judgment to the latest revelations and indiscretions on the part of the ‘Don’ some years ago, if there is any one single reason for the Republican Party to lose in the upcoming elections is the party itself. The Republican brand has been damaged beyond redemption long year ago. In an increasingly diversified demographic dynamic, the Republican Party, instead of embracing the fast-multiplying numbers of the non-white ethnic groups in the United States of America, by choosing Trump, it has dug itself in a bottomless pit from which any extrication seems impossible. The core of the Republican Party is white; its core economic principles are of anti-social justice genre, its base is fundamentally archaic and appealing to the base instincts of those pilgrims who arrived at the ‘Brave New World’ two and a half centuries ago and with his slogan “Make America Great Again” the Don is essentially making a patently discriminatory political thought process which means ‘Make America White Again’.

Donald Trump is not a product of the great American Dream; on the contrary, he is a reflection of the great American Nightmare, reflecting each and every nasty piece of greedy (b)millionaires who have made enormous profits by circumventing a sophisticated, nuanced tax system and exploiting a gullible galaxy of customers in the country. Whether it be the Trump University, beef steaks, six personal bankruptcies, making nearly a billion dollar loss on casinos in New Jersey city, the bragging that does not stand any intellectual inquiry has inflated his ego to such a nauseating height, he is refusing to step down from that self-made pedestal of inner self-adulation. In the Republican Primaries, he managed to get away with all his pseudo-achievements as a one in a generation. But in the face of genuine tax-paying billionaires such as Warren Buffet and Michael Bloomberg, Trump’s apparent evasion of taxes has made en extremely negative impression on the millions of tax-paying working people, it would be an impossible task for him to stand as a spokesman for them. The temporary illusion that he is indulging in now will disappear and the delusional world that was created by the Limbaughs, Hannitys, O’Reillys and Savages and the likes over the last two decades will once again collapse. The rut that Mitt Romney fell into in 2012 is awaiting the Trump bandwagon.

American voter has to be utterly insensitive to the basic decencies of human values to elect a man who questioned the birth place of the first Black President of the United States of America. However, given the massive dislike shown by the American electorate, at least according to the recent polls, towards Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton, the so-called pundits of the conservative end of the political spectrum in the United States are hallucinating a Republican-led Executive branch in the coming four years. Predictions in a volatile political market is foolhardy. Predictions belong in the gloomy arena of astrology. Political thinkers however can make a calculated and educated forecast. It is extremely difficult to forecast a Trump victory at the forthcoming Presidential Elections. The fundamentals of political campaigning are against Trump. Unity of the Party that Trump represents, popularity of the incumbent President, the ground game of each Party and clarity of one centrally focused message are all working against Trump and his Party. What will be the real surprise is the collapse of the Republican Party at the Senate and House of

Representative levels, the incoming Democratic President might enjoy a majority of both Houses.

America has not fallen to an abyss for the realization of a Trump revolution, neither economically nor socio-politically. The scorched-earth policy adopted by Trump in the final weeks of a campaign is not a sign of a winning candidate. People would be best advised that Hitler too adopted one such last-hour policy. Near the end of World War II, Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz (Gert Froebe) received orders to burn down Paris if it becomes clear the Allies are going to invade, or if he cannot maintain control of the city. Trump’s perpetuation of ‘rigged election-cry’ reminds one of this somewhat similar phrase during the last days of World War ll. Is the proverbial Paris burning? Not yet, and may never will.

One would ask, how is this relevant to the local Sri Lankan scene? Let us relate the story of Donald Trump to the realities of Sri Lankan politics. Trump’s appeal to populism and the ‘forgotten working man’ would naturally remind one of another populist leader of yesteryear- R Premadasa. One of the greatest stories of Sri Lankan politics is the phenomenon of R Premadasa. Whatever his policies and execution of those policies and his nasty political philosophy which was more on the strain of Stalinism, were, the rise of a man born in the lowest stratum of society and climbing up to the pinnacle of leadership of his political party and later the country, is a remarkable story by itself. When Premadasa preached policies and principles of populist genre, one would not argue the authenticity of those policies as the messenger of those policies suited the message. This is where Trump fails. He is the last person to pontificate as to how to safeguard the rights of a class of people whose very rights were suppressed and exploited by a cunningly manipulating businessman like Donald Trump. When Premadasa was elected President of Sri Lanka, he defeated a Kandyan, Govigama, Buddhist aristocrat. When compared to Premadasa, Donald Trump‘s story is glaringly deficient in character and perception. Born with the proverbial silver spoon in his tongue, Trump was a warped product of the American Dream that drew its inspiration from those who exploited each and every economic dynamic that went wrong with the free market economy. He greeted the collapse of the housing market; his Trump University was exposed as a scam school that imparted nothing to its students and extracted everything from them including their dignity.

There is no moral or political equivalent to Donald Trump in Sri Lanka. While preaching ‘law and order’, he is not spared by those discerning voters that his ‘law and order’ is without law and only order- a sure signal of an autocratic leader exploiting the gullibility of an unhappy faction of an electorate which is mistaken for the whole. The humbling part of this miserable saga would be the total collapse of a once great political entity, Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party. Unravelling of the ‘Don’ has begun. The tragedy is, with that beginning, a political party which was once held in high esteem by its supporters as well as its antagonists, is going through some irreparable fissures that have begun to appear, caused mainly by the bigoted campaign conducted by Trump and his cohorts. And it would take a long time to heal.

Colombo Telegraph

Tamil Mytho-Maniacs Heading Towards Nandikadal Again

By H.L.D. Mahindapala –

H. L. D. Mahindapala
H. L. D. Mahindapala

Dost thou know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed – Count Oxenstierna, 17th century Swedish statesman.

After attending the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, 2012, Dr. Noel Nadesan, novelist and Editor of the Australian Uthayam, and I were hanging around at the airport waiting to catch our flight back to Melbourne. As we had oodles of time on our hands we decided to have a coffee, more to dispel the boredom than for the need of a stimulant. On the way to the nearest coffee bar we bumped into amiable Gary Anandasangaree, the son of V. Anandasangaree, the veteran Tamil politician who survived the horrors of mono-ethnic politics of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the father of the Vadukoddai children who killed more Tamils (including his lieutenant, Appapillai Amirthalingam) than all the others put together.

Gary too was waiting to catch his plane to Canada. And, like us, he had time to kill. Gary then was a practising lawyer, aspiring to be a parliamentarian in the Canadian Parliament. Since then he has advanced to the next level of an MP, representing the Scarborough-Rouge Park constituency.

It was a pleasant meeting. We spent a little over an hour debating the Sri Lankan situation. We both stuck to our points of view and neither was conceding anything to other. This is typical of the debates that engage the expatriates in the diaspora. But I must confess that Gary was suave, polite and having imbibed strands of the democratic Western culture, sparred with me without the fanaticism of some of the Tamils abroad. We covered many aspects of the Sri Lankan crisis and one single aspect that is relevant to this essay was his denunciation of the Sri Lankan political culture which he said would not open space for a Tamil to become a prime minister. This accusation is a part of the litany of complaints which they repeat ad nauseam.

In the main, the Tamils argue that all governments have been “Sinhala governments” which had consistently denied the Tamils their rights. The known facts, however, prove that practically all governments consisted of Tamils and Muslims, including, at one time, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam’s representative, M. Tiruchelvam. In fact, the Citizenship Act, which they say was a discriminatory piece of legislation to deprive the Indian Tamils their citizenship, was passed with the consent and vote of the then Tamil leader, G. G. Ponnambalam who was a member of D. S. Senanayake’s cabinet. Ignoring this, they blame only “the Sinhala governments”.

Besides, the cry of “discrimination” was raised and taken to the violent extreme only by the Jaffna Tamil leadership and not by the other two minorities, the Muslims and the Indian Tamils.They also spoke Tamil. The discriminatory issues raised by the Jaffna Tamils should have affected them too, if they were valid. But they resolved their differences without resorting to brutal violence. Nor did they join the Jaffna Tamils in their campaigns against the Sinhala-Buddhists. So why did only the Jaffna Tamils resort to violent fascism, abandoning the democratic mainstream? What did they achieve?

Getting back to Gary’s accusation, my answer was that the issue of a Tamil becoming a prime minister was within the realms of possibility, if the conditions are ripe. In any case, I pointed out that the chances of a Tamil becoming a prime minister were much better than that of his father getting a “visa” to enter Jaffna. It was a time when Velupillai Prabhakaran was ruling the roost in the Jaffna and targeting Tamil leaders who were a threat to him. I quoted his father who had said that he was given the freedom to protest in Jaffna when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike opened the Jaffna University but the Tamil thalaivar, Velupillai Prabhakaran, who claimed to be the “the sole representative of the Tamils”, would not let his father even step into the north. I said that his father, like most of the old guard in Jaffna, could live under the protection of “the Sinhala governments” but not in the place which is called the “homeland of the Tamils”.

I also reminded him that in the past the Sinhalese had opted to have Tamils as their kings and there was nothing to prevent a moderate and rational Tamil becoming the prime minister. In fact, Lakshman Kadiragamar, who had won the confidence of the Sinhalese, was on his way to become the prime minister when he was assassinated (2005) by a Tamil Tiger terrorists, I said. Even the latest developments prove the possibility of a Tamil becoming the prime minister. If a Tamil can become the Chief Justice what would prevent a politically qualified Tamil to be the prime minister? Besides, both A. Amirthalingam and R. Sampanthan had been appointed as the leaders of the opposition without the requisite numbers in the House to hold that position. If a minority Tamil can beat the majority Sinhalese and become the leader of the opposition isn’t there the possibility of a Tamil becoming the prime minister under favourable conditions?

In an attempt to drive his point home, Gary cited the example of Barack Obama, a member of the black minority becoming the President of white America. I countered by saying that Obama was elected not because he was black but because he was white. Obama made himself acceptable to the white majority by articulating and defending their values, their aspirations, and their interests. He went all out to identify himself with the greater America. He succeeded because he was more white than Bush. Available statistics prove that he had killed more civilians than Bush in “protecting the national interests of America”. In fact, when his family pastor in Chicago, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who baptised his children, declaimed America, crying out loud from his pulpit : “Not God bless America but God damn America!”, he quickly dissociated with such anti-American politics which he considered blasphemous.

Besides, how many votes would he have got if he followed Malcolm X or Louis Farrakhan who advocated a separate state for the Afro-Americans? Clearly Obama won not by identifying himself with the Afro-Americans but with the White Americans. Of course, he is with Afro-Americans like the way white liberals are with this minority groups. But, in essence, Obama succeeded because he decided to work meticulously and unerringly within the white framework.

Gary too can succeed only if he gets out of Tamil ghetto in Toronto and embraces the greater Canadian community. How far can he go if he demands a separate state in Toronto? Even the French Quebecois are finding it difficult to get ahead with their separatist agenda. What are the chances of Gary succeeding if he adopts the politics of Prabhakaran and Wigneswaran in Canada?
The irredeemable flaw in Tamil politics is that they prefer to believe in their myths and not the realities facing them. They blame “the Sinhala governments” at all times because that is the only diversion they can provide to cover up their inherent failure to serve the socio-economic needs of the Tamil people. For instance, Tamil propaganda machine had blamed “the Sinhala government” for every Tamil leader killed by the Tamil Pol Pot, Prabhakaran. They never accepted responsibility for their criminal activities. In their heart of hearts they hero worship Prabhakaran – the most efficient mass killer of Tamils after Sankili. But they abandon him when they can’t defend his Pol Potist fascism and accuse “the Sinhala governments” of creating him. As usual, they want to have it both ways. The Jaffna Tamils prefer to hide in their myths because there is no hope in the grim realities facing them. They fear that the advancing realities will drag them to Nandikadal again.

The “Sinhala governments” have become the scapegoat for their failed politics. They even accused “the Sinhala government” of assassinating Neelan Tiruchelvam (1999). And, believe it or not, some pro-Tiger elements in the West, had swallowed that lie hook, line and sinker. For instance, at a Geneva session I openly accused the Tamil Tiger terrorists of planning and executing the cold blooded murder of Neelan. Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of the Opposition in UK Parliament, a pro-Tamil Labourite, was seated next to me. When I finished my presentation he turned towards me and asked why I blamed the LTTE. I replied: “Simple! Only the Tigers produce suicide bombers. No one else. The Tiger footprints were all over Neelan.” He turned away with a sour face.

These remarks are written as a prelude to the latest news item published in the Indian Express (8/10/2016) extolling the achievement of Gary in getting a resolution passed in the Canadian Parliament declaring January as “Tamil Heritage Month”. The news item did not elaborate as to what form or shape this would take. It merely stated : “Come January, when Tamils around the world will celebrate Thai Pongal, the whole of Canada will celebrate it as Tamil Heritage Month. Festivities for the inaugural Tamil Heritage Month across Canada will commence in January 2017, which coincides with the Canada 150 celebrations…..”

My friend, Mahinda Gunasekera, a leading activist in the Canadian front combating anti-Sri Lankan propaganda, explained to me that the motion presented by Gary Anandasangaree, MP (Liberal Party) was adopted by the House of Commons of Canada in October 2016. He added : ”The Tamil organizations would have lobbied the various federal legislators to win their support, mainly those MPs in the Greater Toronto Area where most Tamils live and make up a fair share (10 to 15 per cent) of the vote bank, which makes it helpful to win the assent of the legislators. Although adopted by the House of Commons, it is not binding on the populace. For the Tamils in Canada who have had an unfavourable media with several of their members engaging in crime and violence such as passport fraud, credit card fraud, human/drug smuggling, extortion, funding of the LTTE which is a designated international terrorist group banned in Canada effective April 8, 2006, staged accidents to swindle auto insurers, intra-community gang violence including shootings, etc., necessitating the Toronto Police to set up a Special Tamil Task Force, will now be able to use the official declaration of the Tamil Heritage Month’ to whitewash their past ugly history. Although this declaration does not entitle the Tamil community to any special privileges or grants from the three levels of government, they have succeeded in milking every level (municipal/provincial/federal) to the fullest of all grant funding available to the multi-ethnic community.”

All said and done, Gary deserves a pat on the back for getting the resolution passed even though it is only a cosmetic exercise to give a bit of shine to the exaggerated claims of Canadian “multiculturalism”. To the Tamils, of course, this would be an additional boost to their ego. They would claim this resolution as a great victory for the Tamils. They will use it to taunt the Sri Lankan government of not giving the Tamils their due place, their rights and dignity unlike Canada which has declared January as the “Tamil Heritage month.” But a close examination of this statement would reveal that it is nothing more than hot air. It does not elevate Canadian Tamils to anywhere near the status enjoyed by the Tamils in Sri Lanka. In fact, not even in India, the only historically valid homeland of the Tamils, do the Tamils have the dignified status granted to the Tamils by “the Sinhala governments”.

Take for instance, the declaration of January as “the Tamil Heritage Month”. The month of January was declared as the “Tamil Heritage month” because Thai Pongal falls on January 15. Despite what the news report states, the Canadians are not going to drop everything else and spend the whole month dancing kavadiwith the Tamils in the kovils. That is the hype. The reality is that the Tamils have been given far greater respect and dignity in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka they are entitled to two other days as public holidays. March 7 is a national holiday to celebrate Maha Sivarathri. And October 29th is also declared a national holiday to celebrate Deepavali. These are substantial and meaningful acts enacted to honour and respect the Tamil community. “The Sinhala governments” have gone beyond empty words in a parliamentary resolution. The vilified “Sinhala governments” have bestowed glory and respect to the sacred days of the Tamils long before Canada took to “multiculturalism”. Words in a resolution are cheap. But have they granted even one day as a holiday for the Tamils? No such honour has been granted to the Tamils in Canada. Nor will they ever get such privileges. In short, while the Sri Lankan Tamils will be enjoying each of these three days as a holiday the Canadian Tamils will have to toil the whole day at work.

The “Sinhala governments” have also declared the sacred days of Muslims and Christians as statutory holidays, despite Article 9 of the Constitution which is meant to give only Buddhism “the foremost place”. Canada, which claims to be a secular state, has declared only Easter, Christmas and Boxing — all three celebrate Christian events – as national holidays. Is this secularism? Is this multiculturalism? If only the days sacred to the Buddhists were declared as holidays in Sri Lanka the Tamils would have gone round the world, crying from roof tops, accusing “the Sinhala governments” of discrimination. But the Tamil Canadians are quite content to live as second-class citizens without due recognition given to their religion. This inability to distinguish between illusion and reality confirms only the incurable propensity of the Tamils to believe in their own myths. In Canada they hail Christian supremacy as a mark of democratic secularism. In Canada they are quite content to accept obediently their second-class status without a protest. But in Sri Lanka they will complain to the Canadian High Commissioner that they have been deprived of the sanctity of their sacred days.

According to my understanding of the news item, the Tamils can organise their own celebrations throughout the month and enjoy it as much as they want. So what’s the big deal? They can do that with or without the resolution from the Parliament. Contrast this to the respect given to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It goes beyond empty words uttered in the Canadian Parliament to make their sacred days more meaningful. At least the holiday would give the pious Tamils the opportunity to devote their day for spiritual activities, without being encumbered by labouring in whatever place they work. Tamil bigotry, bent on demonising the Sinhala-Buddhists, refuses to recognise the higher status granted to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. They will continue to dismiss these acts of “the Sinhala governments” that give equality and dignity to the Tamils as having no value. They argue that they will get equality and dignity only under their “Pee-lam”.

Their double standards expose their hypocrisy. Take the case of the Tamil expatriates who boasts of being treated as equals, unlike in Sri Lanka. In which Western democracy are their sacred days recognised as holidays? Or their language given the official status? Or their culture honoured the way it is done in Sri Lanka? Which Canadian prime minister would go to a Hindu kovil to pay pooja and worship a Hindu deity? Of course, a Canadian prime minister may make a political visit to a Hindu kovil to grab Tamil votes. Nothing beyond that. But these cosmetics and optics satisfy the Tamil Canadians because they see their heavenly paradise not in kovils but in the supermarket.

Besides, they dare not admit their second-class status in Canada and in other Western nations because it would give the lie to their bogus claim of being discriminated by “the Sinhala governments”. So they pretend to be equal to the Canadians when their culture and religion are not on par with that of Sri Lanka. They pretend that they are equal when the Tamil Hindus are herded into a Christmassy barn to enjoy only Christian holidays. So don’t be surprised if they go out of the way in January 2017 to celebrate some puffery in the Canadian resolution and even dance a kavadi, beating a drum that produces only sounds ( goo-ooo – rung! goo-ooo-rung!) as vacuous as the words in the Canadian resolution.

Canada, which has the largest concentration of Tamil expatriates ( “from just around 150 in 1983, the Tamil diaspora has grown manifold to an estimated 3 lakh plus at present” — Indian Express) boasts of being the first to introduce “multiculturalism” to the world. The one-eyed jacks of Canada hardly know that tolerant multiculturalism has been an established way of life from the time the Indo-Aryan settlers (Sinhalese) transformed the primeval jungles into a habitable civilisation in the pre-Christian era. They are unaware that the inter-ethnic relations exploded into violence only after the mono-ethnic extremism of the north abandoned the traditional principles of co-existence in a pluralistic nation and pursued divisive politics to create an exclusive racist enclave for the Tamils of the north. Their racist ideology based on hate politics of the “other” (i.e., the Muslims and the Sinhalese) resulted in ethnic cleansing of the north. Their hate politics turned into Pol Potist violence dragging the Jaffnaites to the lowest circle in the Tamil inferno.

The irony is that the Tamils of Canada, like the Tamils in other affluent Western societies, are quite happy to live as second-class citizens in their Western places of domicile without any of the social, political and cultural gains that had elevated them to the level of the most privileged community in Sri Lanka. (I shall come to this aspect on another day.)

But for the moment let us consider how Canada had treated its minorities, particularly its First Nation and the Innuits. Take, for instance, their national flag which displays only the maple leaf, representing only the White settlers who destroyed the indigenous people and their culture. Compare that with the Sri Lankan national flag. The two leading minorities – the Tamils and the Muslims – are represented side by side with the majority Sinhalese. A national flag is the highest symbol of any nation. The Tamils in Canada are quite happy with the Maple Leaf – a symbol that has ignored the existence of Tamils and other minorities as citizens of Canada.

Sri Lanka, on the contrary, went out of the way to give the minorities their due place in the national flag. The Tamil leader, G. G. Ponnambalam and the Muslim leader, T. B. Jayah, sat in a committee with the Sinhala leaders to design the flag of the nation. The orange stripe gives the Tamils the highest place of honour, as equal partners, in the nation. And the green stripe represents the Muslim. There are 193 flags flying at the UN and only the Sri Lankan flag has given a place of honour to the Tamils. When the president salutes the flag he salutes all three communities without any discrimination. That is the highest place of honour that can be given to any community in any nation. Tamils fly high in the Sri Lankan flag.

Take also the case of the national anthem. It was first sung in Tamil on Independence Day and, though it was not featured at state function for some time, it has been revived once again. It was reported that there were tears in the eyes of R. Sampanthan when he heard it being sung in Tamil. More than the music his heart must have been overflowing with the elated feeling roused by the sweet sounds of the Tamil language ringing in his ears. The Canadian national anthem is sung in French and English. Since Canada is supposed to be more liberal, democratic and pluralistic than Sri Lanka when are the Sri Lankan Tamils likely to listen to the Canadian national anthem in Tamil? If it can be sung in French why not do so in Tamil too? Does the secular Canadian state recognise only the English and French as citizens of Canada?

It is clear that the Tamils have no symbolic representation at the highest level of the Canadian state to make them feel that they are respected citizens of Canada. They are reduced to invisible non-entities. To emphasise the difference it is necessary to repeat that in Sri Lanka their identity is given a dignified place in the flag. Their language is enshrined as an official language. Their dignity is reinforced each time the national anthem is sung in Tamil. And their religion has been placed on the same privileged position as the other religions. But in Canada no language, no flag, no national anthem, no religion to give them even a semblance of dignity at the highest level of the state. So of the two nations which one has given the Tamils their due place as a minority? Is it Canada? Or Sri Lanka? So who is discriminating against whom?

Leaving aside the lunatic fringe, “the Sinhala-Buddhist governments” have established, from day one of independence, and with incremental steps to this day, that the minorities should not be reduced to second-class status. They have gone out, as far as they could, to be inclusive. The Canadian example proves it. There was / is discrimination of sorts no doubt. The fact is that in Sri Lanka discrimination is the only factor that is shared by all communities. The myth is that it is applied only to the Tamils by “the.Sinhala governments”. As everyone knows, it was the Sinhala youth who first took up arms, crying discrimination. Their cry was on a class basis. The Tamils turned it into a racist cry. And like the Sinhala fascist of the JVP the Tamils fascists too had to pay a heavy price for resorting to violence.

Of all the minorities only the Tamils of the North – not any other region – raised this racist cry and dragged it to the extreme. And they reaped what they sowed. The irony, however is that studies have confirmed that the Tamils have been the most privileged society in Sri Lanka. (More of this later). Their cry of discrimination has been to exploit victimology as their favourite marketing tool to gain political mileage. They raised the cry of “discrimination” as an anti-Sinhala-Buddhist slogan purely to retain their feudal and colonial powers, privileges, positions and perks. In reality, the English-speaking, Saivite, Vellahla Tamils of Jaffna never lost their grip on Jaffna and outside Jaffna from feudal times. (They lost it for a brief while when their protégé, Prabhakaran, put them in their place). The primary objective of their politics was to cling on to their feudal and colonial status. They could do so in the 20th century only through violence. That is how they came to drag the Tamil people to Nandikadal.

Which takes me to Count Oxenstierna quoted above. The ignorance that darkens this vexed issue is as vast as the clouds that covers the sky in the rainy season. In the case of the Vellahla leadership of Jaffna, they manufactured political myths to keep the Tamil people in the dark. As a caste transiting from Vellahlaism to a 20th century class they could no longer maintain their supremacy based on Arumuka Navalar’s Saivite theology which elevated the Vellahlas, the Sudras, to the acme in the caste hierarchy. The old feudal order was dying, if not dead. Having lost Saivism as a justification they took to racism to hold the divisive forces rising within the peninsula under their casteist jackboots They could maintain their supremacy only by diverting the focus on an external bugbear – the Sinhala-Buddhists. They manufactured political myths and theories to hide the internal dynamics of casteism that had distorted and perverted Jaffna politics.Having lost Vellahlaism as a hegomonistic force, legitimised by revised Saivite-Navalarism, they raised anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hate politics as a defensive mechanism to retain their grip on peninsular politics.

As shown in the Canadian example, they held a higher status both in Jaffna and outside the peninsula than any Tamil in the affluent West. But they cried discrimination which was the most marketable slogan to demonise the Sinhala-Buddhists. The English-speaking, Vellahla, Jaffna Tamils constituted the most reactionary political force that fought tooth and nail from feudal times to retain their power as the ruling caste/class. It is the non-Vellahla Tamils who had to pay dearly with their lives.

The darkest chapter of Sri Lankan history has been the criminal oppression of the low-castes by the Vellahlas. Obsessed with a misguided sense of caste superiority they enslaved and persecuted their own people throughout their brief history. They never opened out to embrace liberating ideologies either of the Left or the Right. They were stuck permanently in the narrow rut of casteism, racism and now rabid Saivism. They never produced an enlightened leadership to lead Jaffna out of its oppressive, fascist past. In the end the best of the English-speaking, Vellahla, Jaffna Tamil elite begat the Vadukoddai Resolution, which begat Prabhakaran, which begat Pol Potist fascism, which begat Nandikadal. Prof. Kumar David put it more bluntly when he condemned the Tamil leadership as a bunch of “congenital idiots”. The record reveals that the Tamils of the North suffered more under the Tamil leadership that under any other regime.

It is their folly that led the Tamil people all the way to Nandikadal. The new signs rising in the peninsular landscape indicate that the “congenital idiots” of Jaffna are preparing to take the people, once again, to Nandikadal.

Colombo Telegraph

Ezhuka Tamil: The New Reality – No Threat To Anyone

By Usha S Sri-Skanda Rajah –

Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah
Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

Democracy is the belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves.” – The Cambridge Dictionary

What happened on the 24th of September 2016, was a magnificent exercise in democracy, more profoundly a mobilisation of people for a higher purpose, a dynamic display of people power, with a tempo raising, awe-inspiring slogan, ‘EzhukaTamil’ (‘AriseTamil’) – now seen as the new reality and what must, and is, and will be the oh so confident and convincing pathway for Tamils in attaining their aspirations for equal rights and self governance in the island once called Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka.

Clothed in peace, ‘EzhukaTamil’, is ironically the ‘weapon’ of the future, the only vehicle available for the Tamil speaking people to articulate their aspirations, towards realizing a permanent political solution and to achieving the long eluding reconciliation with their Sinhala brethren, leading to harmony and prosperity for all.

There’s nothing to lose but everything to gain by ‘EzhukaTamil’.

The movement is not against you; it’s not against් anyone.

As articulated so eloquently on that day, with much clarity, truth and resolve, by the consummate statesman and gentleman that he is, the former Justice of the Supreme Court, presently Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council and co- chair of the Tamil People’s Council (TPC), ‘EzhukaTamil’ rally, in his words, was not convened to provoke any animosity against anyone at all but to underscore the Tamil speaking people’s fundamental rights and to show their peaceful resistance to all forms of tyranny unleashed against them and to make known to the international community, their legitimate political aspirations – the Chief Minister in his speech covering the whole gamut of serious concerns that the Tamil people have.

The organisation behind ‘EzhukaTamil’, TPC . whose brainchild it is, should be commended for what it achieved that day. TPC, a non-partisan entity of 35 members – comprising, “experts from all areas including religious leaders, professionals, civil societies and political parties,” from the North-East, has as its co-chairs, apart from the Chief Minister, Dr P Lakshman, Consultant Cardiologist at the Teaching Hospital, Jaffna and Mr. T Vasantharajah, the secretary of the Batticaloa Civil Society.

The TPC have come together, according to their profile, “to look into the Tamil people’s wellbeing, safety and integrity.” It was inaugurated on 19.12.2015, pledging, “to function with truthfulness, righteousness and with no ulterior motive so that a conducive situation is established for the Tamil people.”

It was incredible how well the rally was conducted – for us watching live on our computer screens overseas, it was unbelievable, just the logistics alone – it was fascinating to see how masterfully it was accomplished. I was impressed how it went without any untoward incident and how well behaved the crowd was and that there was no visible sign of any need for crowd control.

One had to pinch oneself to see the Chief Minister, addressing the throngs of people who had spilled over the Jaffna esplanade conservatively estimated at around fifteen to twenty thousand, possibly more. Referring to them as people gathered, in the main, to unanimously state publicly their demands for fundamental rights, to express their opposition to the oppressive measures taken against them and to broadcast to the world what their objectives are politically – he made one thing clear – that ‘EzhukaTamil’ wasn’t against anyone:

“The ‘EzhukaTamil’ rally is neither against the regime nor the powers that be; neither is it against the central government, nor our Sinhalese brothers and sisters; nor the Buddhist Sangha, it’s not even against the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi, who have expressed support for our policies, in fact many of them being present here, the only difference of opinion centering round the issue of whether the timing was most opportune,” the Chief Minister said, reiterating that no amount of engagement in parliament or through provincial councils would equal the enormous strength people power can wield in their journey towards securing their rights (the Chief Minister tackled very persuasively the question of timing later in his speech) .

‘EzhukaTamil’ must be understood for what it truly stands for. What each and every person should do is to listen to the Chief Minister’s speech to know the concerns the Tamil people have and how justified, fair and lawful their demands are and why ‘EzhukaTamil’ had to be.

Taking time to understand is a courtesy every Sinhalese must show to the Tamil people.

Mindless hawkish elements, must be informed, this is not war declared, far from it – those hawks who, “ruthlessly pursued a military solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict with no concern for civilian safety,” should stop giving the wrong interpretation to pursue their own ends, arousing bad feelings, against what is essentially a cry, a people’s plea for rights.

No, this is not “extremism” raising its head as some Sinhala extremist politicians and religious fanatics would try to portray, idiotically fanning the flames of Sinhala Buddhist bigotry..

Nothing much can be gained to convince those who think the Chief Minister should be jailed – falsely alleging that he’s expressed hatred against Lord Buddha and Buddhism and breached the constitution, obstructing free movement and freedom of worship..the same applies to those who erroneously claim the whole island is Buddha’s Sacred land and that the Chief Minister should be outlawed with his contingent to India together with bag and baggage, forgetting their own claim according to the Mahavamsa, that they are descendents of Vijaya and his 700 bandits outlawed by India who drifted to the island from where else – nowhere but India.

It is critically important that Sinhalese Buddhists try to understand the sensitivities relating to this deeply polarising and often misunderstood issue of forced ‘Buddhisisation’ of the North and East, that’s inextricably linked with forced colonisation, both backed by the state. They should stop listening to those who are wilfully misconstruing what the Chief Minister said at the rally relating to the erection of Buddhist statues and viharas in non-Buddhist areas – what he said or didn’t say, creating a controversy, which prompted him quite correctly to explain in Sinhalese, at a sports event, with the President in attendance – the Chief Minister thought it important to clarify the Tamil position relating to Buddhist statues mushrooming in far too many places in the North-East where there were very few Buddhists living. This kind of activity is seen by most Tamils as a strategy intended essentially to increase Sinhala colonisation activities to blur the demography in the area, which is a real concern for the Tamils.

In my view the push for integration by Sinhala politicians, manifested in state sponsored colonisation together with the militarisation of the North and East with the army involved in civic activities, will result in the disintegration of the Tamil Nation: Looking at the demographical changes that have taken taken place over the years it is a justifiable concern. Taking the Eastern province alone, according to the 1881census, the Sinhala population was initially 5,947 that’s now grown to 359,136 persons according to the 2012 census.

In terms of the Northern province, the Sinhala population, going by the 1881 census grew from 1,379 to 32,331 persons under the 2012 census.

In addition more importantly, according to the article that appeared in the Colombo Telegraph written in July 2012, the number of security personnel in the Northern province number around 198,000 with one security personnel for every 5 civilians:

“Given that 75% of the army’s divisions are stationed in the Northern Province, in addition to other formations such as task forces and independent brigades and regimental units, it is not unreasonable to assume that at least 60% of the army, i e, approximately 1,80,000 personnel, are stationed across the Northern Province…..

Of course these figures are for the Jaffna peninsula and the islands alone.

However one must add to this 1,80,000, the share of personnel from the navy, the air force, civil defence forces, intelligence and the police, including the special task force, etc, based in the north. Assuming that the combined presence of all these latter entities accounts for 10% of the army’s strength (18,000), again a very conservative estimate, this makes for a total of 1,98,000 security personnel in the province. This amounts to a ratio of 1 security personnel for every 5.04 civilians in the Northern Province or a force density of around 198.4 security personnel per 1,000 civilian population.”

The concerns Tamils have are further exacerbated by how the general landscape has changed in the Tamil areas with security personnel and their families vigorously involved in civic, economic, religious, cultural, agricultural and educational activities with parallel infrastructure being built around this to maintain this never decreasing but fast growing security community, bolstering its activities and needs. Use of alcohol, substance abuse and prostitution is increasing – leading to increased suspicion that these are being promoted and manipulated to weaken and destroy the culture and heritage of the Tamil people.

Any argument comparing this to that of the concentration of Tamil people in the capital Colombo from time immemorial, who are well established and owning property and businesses just like the Sinhalese, is insane. No one is claiming those areas to be territorial units of the Tamil Nation, only the North and East alone, comprising 8 districts.

‘EzhukaTamil’ shouldn’t pose a threat to Tamil politicians, who might be afraid and unwittingly believe the wind has been taken off their sails, thinking unjustly that their position is not secure, that the conveners have political ambitions intended to depose them. Rather, it would be better if Tamil lawmakers realise that having people power behind them, during a challenging time such as now, is indispensible, when they have to deliver to the Tamil people the mandate received, especially in the wake of a new Sri Lanka constitution being drafted as we speak.

Whilst, this is true, (the point about delivery on the Tamil side I mean), the trials and tribulations of Tamil politicians since independence, having to work with an insensitive, unwilling and uncooperative bunch, called the Sinhala Buddhist establishment, is also so very true. Only a few days ago Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe seemed to break the vow of secrecy that members of the sub committees appointed to help draft the new Sri Lanka constitution signed up to, by announcing publicly and most incorrectly that all parties, and even TNA agreed to Buddhism having the foremost place in the constitution, when contrary to that, TNA believed in a secular constitution giving equal place to all religions practiced in the island. It’s heartening to hear M A Sumanthiran MP release a video to clarify TNA’s true position, showing the kind of leadership Tamil people expect from their representatives. Further, his public condemnation of the draft legislation written to replace the ‘Prevention of Terrorism Act’ (PTA) was also welcome, comparing it to, “old wine in a new bottle.”

Similarly, the opposition leader R Sampanthan’s defence of both the ‘EzhukuTamil’ rally and the Chief Minister in parliament is another encouraging sign that Tamil politicians who may have been wavering, whether to stand behind this manifestation of people power, because they were involved in the reconciliation process, are seeing the light, that they need the people’s backing in their deliberations and engagement with their Sinhala counterparts as they undertake the task of securing Tamil rights for posterity. It is the way to go – building solidarity among Tamils is key, as the narrative that matters – the fight for the right to self-determination is moved along to fruition with people power.

There are those who sadly do not think ‘EzhukaTamil’ achieved a massive victory for the Tamil people because nothing has been realized yet. On the contrary, in truth, the courage shown by the people, under military occupation, leaving war-fatigue, loss, injury and misery behind them, in coming out of their shell and rallying – embracing non- violence and sworn to democratic principles, must not be under-estimated..Sinhala regimes aren’t going to give us our rights on a silver platter, amidst pomp and pageantry, jubilantly jumping up with drums beating and all.

‘EzhukaTamil’ will be there for the long haul, if it has to. Hope it won’t be long..

No need to worry about the likes of whom who regretfully perpetuate an inferiority complex among the Tamil people, by saying the Chief Minister unbeknown to him is actually a plant of the Sinhala Buddhist racist bigots, who want to create enmity towards the more reasonable among the Sinhalese, that this could further distance the Sinhala people and hurt their feelings, forcing the Tamil people towards subscribing to failure once again – believing this gives fodder to the Sinhala media which relishes with its tongue out, waiting for such instances which exacerbate racial hatred, taking the Tamil people on their next path to destruction..I am not saying this, some losers did.

It is a pain to hear those who think that the Tamil people haven’t adequately made their aspirations known to the Sinhala people! What an outrageous claim for some Tamils to think not enough is being done to talk, to negotiate when considering the numerous broken pacts and the failed peace process which are a testament to the patience of the Tamil people. It’s important for people know that the TPC have expressed a strong desire for a substantive discussion, emphasising the, “need for a political agreement prior to a constitutional enactment.” It’s not known if the TNA members on the steering committee of the Constitutional Assembly have engaged in talks with the TPC on their ‘final proposals’, a great model that must be considered in its entirety along with TNA’s proposals in the constitution drafting process – a meeting of minds and a united front by the Tamils avoiding any fallout is such a priority at this crucial hour.

Let’s not forget the resolution to turn the Sri Lankan parliament into a Constitutional Assembly introduced by Ranil Wickremesinghe in January was adopted in March, sadly, minus the section in the original resolution, which talked of, “providing a constitutional resolution of the Tamil national question.”

All politicians and cabinet ministers who say, “Sri Lanka will be a unitary state,” and there would be no stopping to establishing more military camps in the Tamil areas are once again making the same mistakes their colleagues and predecessors made that would necessarily create an impasse which is quite definitely detrimental to all the players. Rejecting any move to continuing a unitary constitution, the TPC has prepared a document containing “final proposals” for, “finding a political solution to the ‘Tamil National Question’”. It’s a fully comprehensive and substantive document, a must, must read, describing the framework upon which a federal constitution must be written, the relationship and the division of power between the ‘Federation” and the ‘States’, extensively listing the powers devolved to the States including fiscal, land and police powers and powers to attract and entertain and control foreign investments. The proposals have at the outset expressed the, “need for a political agreement prior to a constitutional enactment,” which illustrate how much the Tamil people want their demands heard before Sri Lanka’s 4th constitution is enacted:

“THE NEED FOR A POLITICAL AGREEMENT PRIOR TO A CONSTITUTIONAL ENACTMENT:

The finding of a political solution cannot be a mere constitution writing exercise. The root cause of the national conflict is Sri Lanka being a Sinhala-Buddhist Nation State – a State that is identified with a single nation and demos and has a hierarchical structure with the Sinhala Buddhist Nation that sits on the top of the hierarchy. This hierarchy is represented in the unitary character of the State. Both major parties in the South (SLFP and UNP) stand by a Sinhala Buddhist unitary State, which is unacceptable to all shades of Tamil public opinion. It would not be possible to engage in a constitution making exercise without agreeing to the basic vision of the State. For Sri Lanka to become a secular non-hierarchical State, the Sinhala Buddhist polity will have to recognize that there needs to be a new social contract drawn between the Tamil Nation and the Sinhala Nation in Sri Lanka through which would emerge a new State – a new plurinational Sri Lanka. This would mean recognizing the Tamil People’s uniqueness and their right to self-determination and recognition of the political aspirations of the Muslims and Up Country Tamils. The 13th amendment to the present Constitution failed not just by the fact that it was set within a unitary framework and because of its flawed institutional design but also because of a conception of a hierarchical state with Sinhala Buddhist Nation at its helm. Even a federal Constitution would not be workable unless the hierarchical conception of the State is altered. Hence we insist on the pre-constitutional recognition of the Tamil Nationhood and self-determination in a new constitutional scheme. It is from such a political vision that a new Constitution can be enacted. In the absence of such an understanding a constitutional process will, like in all previous instances be majoritarian and unilateral and bound to fail. We think that a pre-constitutional agreement in the form of a treaty (like the Dayton Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement) is necessary prior to the constitution making process. The treaty should inter alia recognize the Tamil nation’s right to self-determination, its sovereignty and constituent power and its traditional homeland in the areas of historical habitation of the Tamil people. The treaty should provide that in the event of the arrangements being unilaterally abrogated by the numerically larger Sinhala Buddhist majority and its political representatives and in the absence of any other alternatives, the Tamil people may decide to hold a referendum to further determine their political status. This treaty which we think should be underwritten by a third party (foreign governments such as the US/India or the UN) will help to bring international/external guarantee to the durability of the solution arrived at, beyond the contours of a constitution that otherwise rests within the domain of domestic law. This agreement should also spell out inter alia measures to be taken for accountability and justice, address issues relating to disappearances, release of political prisoners, release of land occupied by the Armed forces in the North-East, demilitarization, state-sponsored colonization, security sector reforms and contain guarantees of non-recurrence. It would be impossible to create a safe and open environment for the discussion of these political/constitutional issues without creating the above enabling conditions in the North-East. “

Again the declaration at the ‘EzhukaTamil’ rally, listing the demands of the Tamil people, states: “It’s disconcerting to the Tamil people that the new constitution is being drafted in utmost secrecy. The report which followed the consultations for the new constitution also completely failed to include the genuine political aspirations of the Tamil people. An open, public and democratic consultation process should be allowed before the drafting of the proposed constitution. Discussion for a new constitution cannot be held under the present oppressive structures. We stress that the Prevention of Terrorism Act should be repealed and demilitarization carried out immediately for an open dialogue on the constitution to be held in the North and East. ”

Meanwhile I can now easily and constructively respond to Mahendran Thiruvarangan’s contention in the Colombo Telegraph that the ‘EzhukaTamil’ movement in their pursuit to achieving self-determination have a skewed vision by alienating the Muslim community. At the outset, “EzhukaTamil’ is a movement to mobilise peacefully to fight for equal rights for all Tamil speaking people, rejecting any kind of religious divide between Hindu Christian, Buddhist or Muslim. TPC have in their proposals provisions for the Muslim Community, the Sinhalese living in the North-East State, as well as for the up-country Tamils. Under Section 5, which sets out the ‘system of governance’, section 5.1. provides that, “Sri Lanka shall be a Federal Republic,” and 5.2. provides that, “there shall be two tiers of government; the Federation and the State,” TPC’s ‘final proposals‘ also provides a ‘note’ which explains an intention for discussions with the Muslim Community, “with regard to accommodating their interests and aspirations in an institutional form within the merged NorthEast:

We recognize the distinctive political character of the Muslim Community in the North-East. We are committed to discussing with the Muslim Community any proposal they put forward with regard to accommodating their interests and aspirations in an institutional form within the merged NorthEast. b) Sinhalese living in the North-East State shall enjoy all rights enshrined in the Constitution and the laws additionally to be enacted by the North-East State Assembly through its own enactments on human rights. c) We similarly express our commitment to the rights of the Up-Country Tamils to a measure of institutional rights that safeguard their collective interest in their areas of habitation. We are absolutely committed to working with Up-Country political parties and civil societies in this regard.

Come on board I say to the Muslim community.

So listen understand and hold your peace who mistakenly fear “EzhukaTamil’ is some form of separatist rancour, a terrorist threat, a breach of peace – be informed this is but an advocacy movement, for securing among other, the inalienable fundamental right to self determination for the Tamil speaking people, enshrined in the United Nations Treaties and Declarations.

Under the ‘final proposals’ of the TPC, section 1.3 provides, “the Tamil Nation’s territorial unit shall be the Northern and Eastern Provinces as demarcated by the 1978 Constitution, being the areas of historical habitation of the Tamils,” and 1.4. provides, “Tamil people are a distinct Nation with the inalienable right to self-determination.”

It must be noted that the TPC has included a pledge, making a commitment to, “a united and undivided Sri Lanka,” provided further under section 1.4 that, “the Tamil Nation pledges its commitment to a united and undivided Sri Lanka which respects and affirms the right to self- determination of the Tamils.”

So to be honest I would appeal to the Tamil people, those hesitating to rally behind ‘EzhukaTamil’ to believe in it and espouse it both back home and in the Diaspora. While Sri Lanka is involved in constitutional reform, and busy drafting a new constitution, all Tamils must concern themselves, treating it as their sacred duty, to be diligent and more importantly engaged in the ensuing discussion pertaining to the making of the constitution, the outcome of which is of paramount and critical importance to the Tamil people – in which their destiny would be decided. By that I mean, where their rights and powers will be entrenched in Sri Lanka’s constitution!

While Tamil politicians stand perplexed and helpless, just consider what is at stake when a Sinhala Buddhist constitution would be imposed on the Tamil people like the last three (more so the last two) constitutions before it. The old but dressed up 13th Amendment governing the powers and functions of the existing provinces in the island, that’s been found to be toothless and woefully lacking in real autonomy based not on self- determination, will not do at all for Tamils. But that’s what the Sinhala Buddhist establishment would do – stuff it down our throats whether we like it or not, through a choking Sinhala majoritarian stranglehold facilitated by an island wide referendum.

In the event of an island wide referendum on a Sinhala Buddhist constitution, the question we should be asking is, who do you think will win, and we must know the answer to that? Even if the SLFP and UNP are split, and a two thirds majority would be difficult to achieve, the question put forward in the referendum would unlikely be something the Tamil people could vote for, again giving their vote away like they do in every general election only to be further oppressed and enslaved.

I appeal to the Tamil people to mobilise and rally behind the people power movement, ‘EzhukaTamil’ and join the clarion call for self-governance founded on four basic tenets: Tamils as a distinct Nation, Tamil Sovereignty, Right to Self-determination and Federalism.

Please do not let Tamil rights be determined by someone else. Please do not let Tamil rights be compromised. I said it here and I am saying it again, building solidarity among Tamils is key, as the narrative that matters to us – the fight for the right to self-determination is moved along to fruition with people power.

There’s also a huge problem for the Sinhalese politicians too, it’s to do with their conscience. Something they have to grapple with and can’t postpone. i.e. relating to establishing a truly independent domestic inquiry with the inclusion of foreign judges and prosecutors, one they signed up to plus ensuring Tamils enjoy the right to self-determination just as much as the Sinhalese – under a federation.

Get ready for a tumultuous ride Tamil people as we confront the challenge of constitution making by the Sinhalese, but fortunately there’s ‘EzhukaTamil’, a manifestation of mammoth Tamil people power rising up for fundamental rights, the new reality, the only vehicle open to Tamils, clothed in peace, the ‘weapon’ of the future, right in our palm.

Colombo Telegraph

Eluga Thamil: Tigerization Of Wigneswaran?

By S. I. Keethaponcalan –

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan
Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

A few weeks ago, the Tamil People’s Council (TPC) staged a protest campaign called the Eluga Thamil. The slogan Eluga Tamil roughly means Rise Up Tamil. In addition to Vigneswaran, Suresh Premachandran of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and Gagendrakumar Ponnampalam of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) played a major role. The march and the meeting drew a considerable crowd. Hence, the organizers view it as a success. After viewing the videos of the speeches of major players, I believe that the campaign had dual objectives of raising the socio-political issues the Tamil people face in the Northern Province and kindling Tamil nationalism.

Right to Protest

In his speech, Wigneswaran emphasized the fact that the rally was not organized to oppose anybody, including the central government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). He highlighted the issues of, for example, the erecting of Buddha status in non-Buddhist areas by the military, continued incarceration of LTTE suspects, alleged colonization of Tamil area by outsiders, and many other issues.C.V. Wigneswaran

In response to the Eluga Thamil rally, the South exploded with condemnation. Some called for Vigneswaran’s arrest and others argued that he should be removed from the Chief Minister’s office. Obviously, the South overreacted. The people in Sri Lanka, regardless of ethnicity and religion, have the right to protest peacefully. This applies to the Tamil people, as well as Vigneswaran. As long as these programs remain peaceful, they should be tolerated even if they do not conform to the predominant beliefs and ideologies. The inability to protest, peacefully and express their disappointments and frustration, would force the Tamils to believe that they are being subjugated by the government in Colombo.

Politics of Eluga Thamil

As indicated, the campaign was organized not only to protest the ongoing socio-political problems of the Tamil people, but also to kindle Tamil nationalism. This is exactly what the slogan of Eluga Thamil means. It asks the Tamil people to rise up. Speakers of the rally called for Tamil people to get on the streets and protest, because, according to them, sending representatives to legislative bodies has no meaning and it will not win Tamil rights. Wigneswaran also to a certain extent, reflected this sentiment.

Moreover, in regard to the meaning and outlook, Eluga Thamil is not that much different from Pongu Thamil, a nationalist event conducted and celebrated by the now defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Therefore, the direction of the Tamil politics under Wigneswaran is clear. It is taking a solid turn towards radical politics, which could, in the long run, turn to violent politics of the past. In the rally, Wigneswaran has been praised and hailed as the champion of Tamil nationalism. I believe that he was called by at least one speaker as the Tamil national leader.
Wigneswaran’s transformation as champion of Tamil rights is sudden and startling. First, during the war, when the Tamil youth were sacrificing their lives, Wigneswaran was nowhere to be seen near the Tamil nationalist politics. As far as I know, he does not have a history of doing anything to promote Tamil interests during the war. He probably did not even visit the war affected areas until the war was over in 2009. Second, in the first year of his tenure in office or to be precise, when Rajapaksa was in power, Vigneswaran was bending backwards to please and work with the government in Colombo. He did not protest until January 2015. Does this mean that the Rajapaksa government was more accommodative than the present government? Obviously not. Therefore, it is clear that the Eluga Thamil event, at least partially, was motivated by politics.

Divided Tamil Polity

The politics of the Eluga Thamil lies in the current power struggle within the TNA. The SS (Sambandan- Sumanthiran) faction and the Wigneswaran faction are at loggerheads. Supported by Sambandan and his loyalists, Sumanthiran has been vying for the leadership of the TNA in the post-Sambandan period. Meanwhile, it seems that Vigneswaran is currently aspiring to lead the Tamil people. Wigneswaran’s aspiration emanates from the fact that he is senior to Sumanthiran and he “seems” to have adequate support among the people in the North.

The problem is that many of Wigneswaran’s recent actions have contributed to serious dissatisfaction about his role within the traditional leadership of the TNA. Some of these actions include Wigneswaran’s disloyalty towards the party in the 2015 general election and the formation of the TPC. Hence, it is possible that the party will not nominate him as the chief ministerial candidate in the next provincial council election. My assumption is that the Eluga Thamil is a preemptive move, which aims to force the TNA to nominate him again. If the TNA decides not to nominate, Wigneswaran can mobilize the Tamil people under the umbrella of TPC and contest the provincial election. My assessment is that Eluga Thamil has effectively transferred the Tamil political leadership to Wigneswaran and it has dealt a blow to the ambitions of Sumanthiran.

Hence, from a strategic point of view, Eluga Thamil was not a bad idea. It would have sent sufficient messages and signals to TNA leadership. One has to wait and see if the TNA has the capacity to understand these signals and/or if it would succumb to the pressure created by Wigneswaran. Either way, it is possible that Wigneswaran will emerge as the winner.

Consequences?

Like in the South, Northern political leaders have also used ethnic politics for electoral purposes in the past. Racism was a sure fire vote catcher in the North as well as in the South. When the TULF leaders provoked the Tamil youth, they did not anticipate the possibility that they would lose control of the radical politics. The Tamil leaders were convinced that they could keep the “boys” under control and manipulate indefinitely. But, that was not to be the case. Eventually they became the early victims of the violent Tamil politics.

The recent turn towards radical politics also has the capacity to become violent and force history to repeat itself. Eluga Thamil type events, which are marked by nationalist fervor, could turn violent easily. They need only a minor incident, an ignition, executed by a Tamil nationalist sympathizer or a motivated opponent. If and when these events turn violent, Vigneswaran and his lieutenants can no longer control them. Eluga Thamil leaders urged the Tamil people to get on to the street and protest. The question is, whether the ones who could not stay in the sun for 20 minutes will join the people when they get on to the street.

The possibility of Eluga Thamil type events turning to violence is a long term problem. Two immediate concerns have been created by the rally. One, it could delay the devolution of power through constitutional reform. Two, it could influence the government to tighten restrictions on the North on the claims of threat to national security.

In relation to constitutional reform, I have already pointed out that the progress is painfully slow. Many political groups in the South resist further devolution of power. Ideally, what Tamils should be doing is strengthening the reasons for further devolution, and not undermine them. Now, with the Eluga Thamil protest, anti-devolution groups, especially the Joint Opposition have more excuses to protest concessions. Hence, I expect stronger resistance to a constitutional reform project that confers more powers to the North-Eastern Provinces. This, in turn, would provide the government a reason to delay constitutional reform and drastically water down any proposal to share power.

Moreover, this type of event would provide the armed forces in the North reasons to tighten the security restriction and the control on the people. Potentially, the shrinking of military presence and the releasing land owned by the people could be delayed. A significant danger in this regard could emerge if and when a new government comes to power in Colombo. An unsympathetic government could use the emerging trends in the North to implement repressive policies.

Incapacity

Finally, Eluga Thamil and similar actions by Wigneswaran symbolizes the simplicity of Tamil political thinking. Tamils know how to protest when there is a problem. What they don’t know is how to use their political capital to win aspirations of the Tamil people. Many contemporary Tamil leaders are either incapable or subservient. The Tamil people gave the TNA an overwhelming mandate and parliamentary seats to deal with their problems through political means. The TNA won overwhelming votes in the last two general elections. To date, the TNA could not demonstrate anything as an achievement. It could not have any impacts on even minor issues, like the release of the suspected LTTE cadres or relocating the disappeared.

To a certain extent, the ruling party was dependent on the Tamil support in Parliament and outside, to win both national elections in 2015. The TNA, instead of using their political capital to win concessions, extended unconditional support. As the main opposition party, it does not raise any Tamil issues, let alone national issues, in the national legislature. This ineffectiveness frustrates the Tamil people. The frustration could easily turn aggressive. Hence, more than anybody else, the TNA is responsible for the current trends in the North.

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan is Chair of the Conflict Resolution Department, Salisbury University, Maryland.

Colombo Telegraph