(Text of Press Release Issued on July 3rd 2013 by the Tamil National Alliance Media Office)
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) took a decision on the 29th of June 2013, not to participate in the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). At that time we said we would issue a full statement explaining this decision:
When the Government originally announced that it wanted to set up a PSC, it was engaged in bilateral negotiations with the TNA. It was at a time when the Government had defaulted in its commitment to respond to the comprehensive proposals put forward by the TNA. Even so the TNA fully cooperated in the process of setting up of the PSC by seeking amendments to the Terms of Reference, upon an undertaking by the Government that the PSC process will commence only after a measure of consensus was reached between the two parties at the bilateral talks.
It is the conduct of the Government that made it impossible to commence the PSC deliberations, despite the TNA making compromises at least three times, in order to break the deadlock and move forward. The following historic narrative will make this clear:
The TNA made a public request in April 2010, asking the Government engage the TNA with regard to the evolution of a political settlement and the immediate concerns of the Tamil people in the aftermath of the war. Furthermore, despite the President agreeing with the Leader of the TNA that two committees would be set up for these two matters in November 2010, only one committee was appointed in January 2011 consisting of representatives of the government and representatives of the TNA for ‘long-term reconciliation’. It was clearly stated in the letter of invitation to the representatives of the TNA that the other members were ‘representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka’.
From 10th January 2011 onwards, 18 rounds of talks were held throughout that year on the evolution of an acceptable political solution. The TNA placed before the Government delegation in writing at the very first meeting itself, the speech made by President Rajapaksa at the inaugural meeting of the APRC and the Committee of Experts in July 2006. On the invitation of the Government delegation a further outline was given at the second meeting on the 3rd of February 2011. Again at the invitation of the Government delegation, the TNA tabled a comprehensive set of proposals at the third meeting held on the 18th of March 2011. This included proposals in regard to the structure of governance, the division of subjects and functions between the centre and the devolved units, fiscal and financial powers and other matters relevant to the achievement of an acceptable and durable political solution.
The TNA invited the Government’s response to these proposals and despite the Government’s commitment to so respond, no response was forthcoming for several months. Consequently no meaningful or purposeful discussion could be held on the discussion papers tendered by the TNA. This was clearly demonstrative of the lack of a genuine commitment on the part of the Government to the evolution of an acceptable political solution. While attempting to show the world that the Government was engaged in a political process as an integral part of reconciliation, what the Government was really engaged in was no more than a deceitful exercise.
It was in these circumstances that the TNA questioned the continuance of such a deceitful process. The TNA therefore called upon the government to meaningfully define and state the Government’s response to three issues:
1. The structure of governance,
2. The division of subjects and functions between the centre and the devolved units and
3. Fiscal and financial powers, within a period of two weeks, to carry forward any future dialogue.
With the breakdown of the talks, the TNA leader met the President at the latter’s invitation. Two agreements were made at that meeting. First, it was agreed to bring to the negotiating table, five previous proposals of the Government in lieu of a response by the Government. This agreement was recorded in the Minutes of the meeting held on 16th of September 2011 as a statement of the Leader of the TNA: “This meeting happens consequent to a meeting I had with HE. He explained the difficulty in presenting a proposal of the government in that it maybe leaked and then it will become difficult to make adjustments. I said that I appreciated this but that there are other earlier documents on the basis of which we could talk.
Those are Mangala Moonesinghe’s PSC proposals, Government’s proposal for constitutional reforms in 1995, 1997 and August 2000, HE’s speech to APRC and Committee of Experts inaugural meeting, and Report A of the committee of experts. HE agreed to proceed on that basis and so there would be no necessity for the government to give their response to our paper.” The second agreement was also recorded in the same Minutes to say that once consensus was reached at the bilateral talks, which can be taken to the PSC as either the Government proposal or the joint Government -TNA proposal, the TNA would join the PSC process. On the basis of these two agreements, the TNA made its comments on the draft Terms of Reference for the PSC and the Government incorporated them and placed it on the Order Paper of Parliament on 10th October 2011. This was the first concession made by the TNA, after the Government went back on its promise to respond at the bilateral talks.
Subsequent to this adjustment, the bilateral talks recommenced and three meetings were held in the month of December 2011 at which devolution of land powers was discussed. Three further meetings were fixed for the 17th, 18th and 19th of January 2012. But on all those three days although the TNA attended, the Government delegation failed to turn up. Instead the Government started to insist that the TNA must join the PSC, if the bilateral talks were to continue – contrary to the agreements reached and recorded in the Minutes. In order to break the deadlock, the Leader of the TNA met with three members of the Government delegation on the 27th of January 2012 and made further concessions. By this, it was agreed that the TNA would nominate names to the PSC simultaneously with the recommencement of the bilateral talks and that the PSC would be convened only after substantial agreement was reached at the bilateral talks. This was reduced to writing and given to the Government delegation on the 31st of January 2012 to obtain the concurrence of the President. But sadly, there was no come-back.
The third attempt was an initiative made by the Leader of the Opposition in May 2012. The Leader of the Opposition and other UNP leaders met with the President and several Ministers at which they were told that there had never been any TNA- Government talks and that it was TNA-SLFP talks. Apart from the original letter from the Presidential Secretariat, the joint statement issued after every round of talks clearly identified the delegation as the Government delegation. Once this was resolved, a particular agenda was agreed to according to which the Leader of the Opposition would nominate names to the PSC after further discussion with the TNA and the JVP. The text of that agenda was agreed upon after several drafts were exchanged. Once this was agreed, the Leader of the Opposition prepared a statement, gave copies of it to the Government and the TNA and made that statement in Parliament on 23rd May 2012. It had been agreed that the Government would endorse the agenda suggested by the Leader of the Opposition. But sadly again, no such endorsement was made on the floor of the House.
Now more than a year later when the date for the promised Northern Provincial Council is nearing, the Government has started a project to destroy the Provincial Council system or at least to significantly weaken it. This attempt of the Government, in the teeth of its continued commitment to “implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in full, and go beyond and build upon it so as to achieve meaningful devolution” was a regressive step and going back on several assurances given to India, the international community and to the UN. The Government has reportedly decided to bring some of these amendments as urgent Bills and refer the others to the PSC.
The TNA resisted pressure to join the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to bring about constitutional reforms until a clear agenda for the Committee was set. The agenda of the government is now clear to us. It moves to incrementally water down the already-limited provisions of the 13th Amendment: first, by rendering the PC List superfluous; second, by restricting the freedom of peoples to determine administrative boundaries through Parliament; and finally, by removing all constitutional provisions on the devolution of land and police powers. There is no doubt that the proposed PSC will be the vehicle to achieve the above objectives.
We also note that Professor Tissa Vitharana, who headed the APRC and who kept inviting us to the PSC from 2011, has been left out of the PSC. Minister Rauf Hakeem, who told the Indian Parliamentary delegation last year that he will act as a bridge between the Government and the TNA at the PSC deliberations has been left out; and Minister Rajitha Senaratne, who only last week invited the TNA to confidently come into the PSC on the basis that he would support us, has been left out of the PSC. Finally we wish to state that in the absence of any Opposition member of Parliament, this PSC will be nothing but a sub-committee of the Government Parliamentary Group and not a Parliamentary Select Committee and will have no credibility whatsoever.
Parliamentary Group Leader
Tamil National Alliance
2nd July 2013