by Shamindra Ferdinando
Wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on Thursday (July 26) told Colombo-based senior Tamil print and electronic journalists that countrywide economic empowerment was the key to post-war stability.
Rajapaksa stressed the pivotal importance of economic empowerment of all communities, particularly those who had been denied of opportunities due to the conflict.
Chairman of the civil society organization Viyathmaga, Rajapaksa said so when the Tamil media sought his views on a gamut of issues, ranging from the status of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution enacted consequent to the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord to the government responsibility in respect of squatters.
The previous government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.
V. Thanabalasingam, former chief editor of Thinakkural and currently consultant at Virakesari, tweeted Thursday evening that Gotabhaya said that economic empowerment of all the communities was his vision for a political solution.
After the end of the war MR regime started working towards that goal, Rajapaksa said.
The unprecedented meeting took place at Viyathmaga office at Pita Kotte.
During the two hour meeting, the media had sought Rajapaksa’s vision for the Northern and Eastern regions as a prospective 2019 presidential election candidate.
Rajapaksa has explained how the previous government undertook rapid infrastructure development soon after the conclusion of the war to improve the living standards of those directly affected by the fighting. The Northern and Eastern districts had been deprived of the opportunity to develop for want of stability, Rajapaksa said, reiterating his commitment to provide basic housing, employment, education, health services et al.
Rajapaksa told The Island yesterday that he really appreciated the opportunity to discuss contentious issues with the Tamil media and Tamil political parties. The war veteran said that he briefly met Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sampanthan at a reception to commemorate 91st anniversary of the formation of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Colombo recently.
Asked whether he had raised any particular issue with Sampanthan, Rajapaksa said that he sought the Opposition Leader’s opinion on the ongoing Constitutional making process. Rajapaksa quoted the veteran politician as having said that as the parliament had unanimously agreed on constitutional making process it would be the responsibility of the parliament to do so. Sampanthan had asserted that the draft Constitution was likely to be presented to parliament soon.
The former Defence Secretary said that the Tamil media was told how the then government proceeded, simultaneously with accelerated development projects and resettlement of the war displaced in the Northern and Eastern regions and rehabilitation of those who had fought for the LTTE.
In response to Tamil media queries, Rajapaksa explained the gradual releasing of land that coincided with the re-deployment of the Army. The former Defence Secretary pointed out the releasing of land in the Jaffna peninsula resulting in the shrinking of Palaly high security area.
Rajapaksa reminded the Tamil media the daunting task of resettling 300,000 civilians accommodated at welfare facilities in the North at the conclusion of the war. Rajapaksa explained the requirement to deploy the military for large scale mine clearing operation undertaken in support of the resettlement project. Those Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) asserted that they needed 12 years to clear the mines hence the swift decision to fully utilize the Army, Rajapaksa said. The unprecedented success of the resettlement of 300,000 people was largely due to the de-mining process carried out by the military and the NGOs. Rajapaksa estimated the contribution made by the military at over 70 per cent of the whole de-mining project so far.
Commenting on the current Northern Provincial administration headed by retired Supreme Court Judge C.V. Wigneswaran of the TNA, Rajapaksa said that the then government tried to reach an understanding with the Chief Minister. Rajapaksa asserted that the provincial administration should have concentrated on development and conducted its affairs in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. In spite the majority of people strongly opposed to that piece of legislation, the then government went ahead with the process. Now it would be the responsibility of the Northern administration to address development needs, Rajapaksa said, underscoring the higher leadership should pursue political matters.
Rajapaksa said that the political strategy should be left to the top leadership.
The former Defence Secretary alleged that the TNA administration in the North wasn’t even interested in at least fully utilizing allocations made by the government.
The Rajapaksa administration held first Northern Provincial Council polls in Sept 2013, although the 13th Amendment provided for an exclusive administrative unit encompassing Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mannar administrative districts.
Responding to another query by the Tamil media, Rajapaksa recalled the circumstances under which the then government disarmed Tamil groups, such as the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) to facilitate the return to normalcy.
Among the other issues raised at the Pita Kotte meeting were land powers under the 13th Amendment and state patronage provided to Sinhala squatters, especially those living in Weli Oya region.
Rajapaksa explained in no uncertain terms that all state land couldn’t be vested with what he called lesser authorities for obvious reasons. Development projects could be seriously affected in case the government lost control of land, he said.
One-time outspoken official explained how those Tamil speaking people, including Muslims benefited from housing projects launched by the then government in Colombo. Those 20,000 housing units that had been constructed in Colombo were allocated to those living in state lands. The government never deprived them of housing units on the basis they were from far away districts and were refugees in Colombo due to the war, Rajapaksa said adding that the previous government was able to complete 20,000 of the promised 50,000 housing units.
Rajapaksa insisted that similarly the government right to provide facilities to those living in Weli Oya shouldn’t be challenged on racial grounds. The former urban development Secretary stressed the right of the Sri Lankans to live in any place of their choice shouldn’t be disputed.