(Text of speech made in Parliament TN Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran on 04th December 2021 on the votes of the ministry of Highway, Transport and Labour.)
Thank you, Honorable speaker for this opportunity to say a few words at the committee stage discussion on the votes of the ministry of High ways, Transport and of labor. The disparity that our population faces was well exposed when on the day the Kelani Bridge new entrance was opened, the Kinniya ferry tragedy also took place. Then we have two or three bridges entering Colombo from the North and we celebrated the third bridge. There were three children dying by capsizing of a ferry without a bridge to cross that lagoon.
But before I say anything more on the matters under discussion today, with your permission I want to place on record certain other matters relating to the visit by the Tamil National Alliance delegation to the United States of America, Canada and Britain, because while I was away there were speculation in the media and other places as to what this constituted. So let me first make a brief comment about those matters before I speak on these ministries.
There is concern that some people express saying what is essentially an internal matter, matters of internal affairs, are being internationalized and that the Tamil National Alliance Is inviting, foreign interference into internal affairs. But one must look at the history of how these things came to be, the Indo – Lanka accord was signed in 1987, consequent to years of involvement by the government of India, after July 1983, the Government of India extended or offered its good offices to resolve the Tamil National question of this country.
The offer of good offices of India was accepted by President Jayawardene. It is thereafter that the special envoy was appointed, and negotiations took place and eventually on the 29th of July 1987 Indo –Lanka accord was signed, Mr. speaker should remember these events very clearly because you even lost your seat in Parliament when you protested at those events.
Sri Lanka continuously made promises then to India and thereafter to the whole International community about how a new form of governance arrangement would be made. The 13th amendment to the constitution was passed consequent to the signing of Indo – Lanka accord, but even at that point in time it was deemed insufficient, in fact in November 1987 President Jayawardene visited New Delhi and gave in writing that those defects that were identified would be rectified. So this issue was not confined within the country, with the consent of the government of that day India was invited and an International bilateral treaty was signed. That subsists even today.
In international Law there is a concept called, “Pactum Sunt Servanda” that these agreements cannot be breached, you cannot even sight domestic law to get away from the obligations under International treaties.
Following on this, there were several attempts made, following on the assurance of the Sri Lankan government, that 13th amendment to the constitution would be improved upon, several attempts were made, under different presidents, and under different governments.
There was a Mangala Munasinghe select committee under President Premadasa that made recommendations. There was Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga government’s proposals in 1995, 1997 and then the constitution bill that was brought to this house in August 2000. There was Oslo communique, in December 2002 by Prof. G.L. Peiris who said at a press conference in Oslo and I quote “Responding to a proposal by the leaders of the L.T.T.E. the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of Internal Self-determination in areas of the historical habitation of the Tamil speaking people, based on a federal structure in a united Sri Lanka. The Parties acknowledged that the solution had to be acceptable to all communities, and the parties agreed to on that basis, discuss matters further”.
So the current minister for external affairs Prof. Peiris, in 2002 December said this. Not only that, I have written pieces by Prof Peiris, detailing why he says that the 13th amendment to the constitution was fundamentally flawed. So this is not only something that we say, this is what prof. Peiris has said time and again, I am quoting from P. Navaratnaraja Memorial oration titled “From the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayagam pack, to the draft constitutional proposals, made on 28th July 1997 at the BMICH where detailing his views on the 13th amendment, this is what Hon. Minister of foreign affairs said, and I quote “ what is more, in my view the 13th amendment has inflicted irreparable damage on the procedures and techniques of negotiating with regard to constitutional and ethnic amity. This is because the 13th amendment has bred a great deal of cynicism. This is so because there is wide gulf between the appearance and the reality. At first blush if you look at the 13th amendment you get the impression that there has been a generous and substantial devolution of power. It is a mirage, it’s an illusion, it is a mere sleight of hand because it does not bear scrutiny for one moment. What is given with one hand can be taken back with impunity with the other. The Ipse-Dixit of the Central government that the formulation of a national policy is required in respect to the manner in which has been purportedly devolved to the periphery is sufficient ground for responsibility in respect of the matter to be taken back to the hands of the centre. That is not something hypothetical or fanciful, it happened on at least two occasions. It happened with regard to the agrarian Services bill, and it happened with regard to the transport commission bill.” And we are discussing transport ministry vote today and I find the state ministry of transport and all of that is being handled from the centre, whilst in the 13th amendment to the constitution it is an entirely devolved subject matter.
So what Prof. Peiris said in 1997, that this is not just fanciful, it actually happens, did happened, and we are debating it here in the centre, what is clearly a matter that is devolved to the provinces. I quote Prof. Peiris further, “No authority, no human being can repose the slightest degree of confidence in such mechanisms and structures which can be dismantled, distorted and abused at the whim and capris of those who exercises the levers of power. It is that exercise that has left in the minds of the minorities of this country a lingering sense of cynicism which makes them reluctant to believe that somebody else can be more- sincere and more- genuine than those who were responsible for that regrettable exercise. That is the sum total of the damage which that particular development inflicted on the whole process enacted towards the achievement of communal and ethnic amity of our land. We will not be a party to it. We will not revive or resuscitate under any circumstance what so ever, we shall no take part in what is undoubtedly an insincere exercise.” Now he has continuously maintained that position and that is why in August 2000 when a constitution bill was presented, it had clearly delimited powers between the province and the Centre, there was no concurrent list in that proposal.
Not only in that proposal but even under President Mahinda Rajapakse when APRC was constituted under Prof. Thissa Witharana now a member of Parliament, the proposals by Prof. Thissa Witharana, in the APRC also did not have a concurrent list it suggested clear delineation of powers between the province and the centre so that what was given to the province was given entirely to the province, not to be interfered with or taken back by the centre. So those were the developments, those that was the progress that was made, nevertheless, to date, we are to see, any of these actually realized.
President Mahinda Rajapakse made a joint statement on the 26th of May 2009 with visiting Secretary general the UN Ban – Ki – Moon, now if this wasn’t an entirely an internal matter, why did President Rajapakse made that joint communique with the Visiting Secretary General of the United Nations? I quote form that joint communique “President Rajapakse expresses his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th amendment as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka”.
So not only president J.R.Jayawardene, but president Mahinda Rajapakse also thought it fit. That a political solution to the Tamil National question was not merely an internal matter. For him to make a joint statement, with the secretary general of the United Nations, on the 26th of May 2009 in Kandy. And thereafter, at least three joint statements were made. One President Mahinda Rakapakse with Dr. Man Mohan Sighe – Prime Minister of India, and two, with S.M.Krishna, then external affairs minister of India With Prof. G.L.Peiris external minister of Sri Lanka. In all of those three joint statements, it was stated, that Sri Lanka would implement the 13th amendment in full and build upon it so as to achieve meaningful devolution.
S.M.Krishna made statement to this effect, in Lokh sabha and Rajya Sabha, on the 4th of August 2011, on the 17th of May 2011, a joint statement was made in Sri Lanka. And it said, I quote” a devolution package building upon the 13th amendment would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation”.
So Mr. Speaker, you would see, that continuously that promises have been made and I am saying this because today that there seems to be some confusion, even amongst some Tamil Parties. That implementation of the 13th amendment in full would settle the question. No! the promise time and again given, by successive Sri Lankan governments to India and to the world specifically stated that “going beyond the 13th amendment”, “building upon the 13th amendment”, so as to achieve meaningful devolution would only create necessary conditions for reconciliation.
Now this did not end here, the matter is before the UN Human rights council, on resolutions that were moved, by the United States of America from 2012 March onwards, with Resolutions titled “Promoting accountability, and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The last of which was passed in March this year, on the 23rd of March 2021, and the title to that resolution is “Promoting reconciliation and accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka, this was passed with a majority vote, and this is what it says with regard to political solution and I quote “Calling upon the government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of the Human Rights by all members of its population.”
What does it say? It calls upon the government to fulfill its own commitments, so the government has made its own commitments not just once, twice, three times, No! form 1983 onwards, to this day continuously made these commitments that this matter will be resolved.
When the Prime Minister of India, visited Sri Lanka in March 2015, on the 13th of March 2015, he spoke in this Parliament. The visiting Indian Prime minister while speaking in this Parliament said this, and I quote “I am a firm believer in cooperative federalism – we are devolving more power and more resources to the States. And we are making them formal partners in National Decision making processes” He said it in this House. That he is a believer in Cooperative federalism, he was speaking in relation to the solution of the Tamil National question in this House. And his speech was applauded by all members of this House.
So this is a matter on which everyone including both parties, both Main parties in this house has given commitment and assurances of those are yet to be realized. So it is in this background that the Tamil National Alliance’s delegation went to the United States of America recently and now we are calling upon the Community of Civilized Nations to help us achieve these objectives which successive governments of Sri Lanka have assured the International Community that they would deliver, and they are yet to deliver.
The timing is also important that we did this now because there is a different kind of promise that is being made to the country here domestically, while to the world you say enhance devolution, we will settle this matter once and for all by enhancing the powers of devolution to the periphery locally, something else is being said now, a slogan Titled” One country- One Law” is being projected, now what does that mean? If One country – One Law is to become reality, then there cannot be any legislative power to the provinces.
How can provinces exercise legislative powers if there is going to be One country – One Law? if there is going to be one Law for the entire country. That is not what is contemplated by devolution of legislative powers. As it is in our constitution, there is legislative power devolved to the provinces; on some matters exclusively to the provinces, and therefore there cannot be one Law for the entire country. And the promise to India and to the world has been that you will enhance that power of devolution. That there will be more devolution. That 13th amendment would be implemented in full, but it doesn’t stop there. It says “and building upon it, so as to achieve meaningful devolutions, conceding thereby that even the 13th amendment to the constitution does not give confer a meaningful scheme of devolution, that it must go beyond that.
Now this has been decades long promise given to the world, but now locally, domestically, you are trying to travel in the opposite direction. And that is why as representatives of the Tamil people of this country, as those who represent the North and the East provinces of this country, we have appealed to the world, to the community of Civilized Nations to help us resolve this issue although solutions must be found within Sri Lanka, we recognize that, the community of the civilized nations has a very definite and a legitimate role to play in this exercise.
Therefore, we appealed to the United States of America who led the resolutions on Sri Lanka from March 2012 onwards on promoting accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lankan at the United Nations Human Rights council, to Great Britain and the members of the core group of the entire civilized nations to assist us in this process.
They are entitled to do that, we are a people in this country, we have certain rights as a people in this country, we have lived in this country as long as anybody else has, or even longer, as people in International Law, we are entitled to the right of self-determination.
Of course we are prepared to exercise that right of self – determination internally, we have said that very very clearly. Within a united, undivided, and even indivisible Sri Lanka, we are prepared to exercise that right of self-determination. But I must say this very clearly in this House, we have already said it in our proposals that we have sent to the expert’s committee that was appointed by the President. That the International Law is, that if a people, who are entitled to the right of self – determination is consistently and persistently denied that exercise of self- determination internally, through an internal arrangement if they are denied that right, then they would then become entitled to exercise it externally.
So this is a time when we have expressed as representatives of our people that consent of out people, the readiness of our people, to exercise our right to self- determination internally, within a united country, we are still willing to do that. But if that is consistently and persistently denied, as you are proving more and more then we will become entitled to have it exercised externally. And I am appealing to the government that if you are serious about a new constitution to the country, a 3rd republican constitution, don’t make the mistakes that were made, when the first republican constitution was formulated, when the 2nd republican constitution was formulated. We tried and exercised in the last parliament when all the parties sat together in the constitution assembly, and we arrived at the great consensus in many matters, we reached consensus, unfortunately before that draft could get into a reality that government failed due to internal dissentions and various other reasons. But we were able to arrive at consensus as recent as January 2019. When a draft was presented by the then Prime Minister of this House.
It is possible. We can arrive at that consensus. We can build upon that consensus. As representatives of the Tamil people we are even today, able to say that we are willing to live within one country, but that must say with the full acknowledgement of our rights as a people entitled to the right to self- determination.
And on this occasion when I have placed on record, and explained the recent delegation of the Tamil National Alliance to various countries and called on to their help to resolve this issue. I want to make that also very clear to the government that as we have said and acted in good faith we expect a reciprocal gesture form the government to discuss with us.
Unfortunately, the president invited the Tamil National Alliance for talks on this matter in July this year, and then postponed it saying that very soon another date would be given and since five months have passed and that hasn’t happened. That must happen. If this issue is to be resolved once and for all by all the people of this country agreeing, and that is not very difficult.
Then the principal representatives of the Tamil people the Tamil National Alliance and the government which has the mandate of the rest of the country, must sit down and resolve this issue. Resolve it on the basis of consensus that have already been reached several times over, I am not saying that we must re- invent the wheel, or we must start from scratch, that consensus is available, it has been arrived upon time and again, it’s only a matter of “will” and if this government claims that they have the mandate of the majority , then you must act as a government and behave in that way, and move forward, and we are willing to come with you as the party that has the majority support, of the Tamil people of this country we are willing to come forward with you to resolve this issue.
We have called on to the world to support us because the world must know, this is no longer an internal issue. Finding a solution may be yes, we must, agreed. But the concern of the world is upon us we have asked their support and we have their support, that our position is a reasonable position, our position is a justifiable position, and we must resolve it in that way, you have agreed to discuss it with India, you have agreed time and again and given assurances to India very clearly stating what that assurance is.
You have given that assurance to the UN secretary General in no less, to the entire community of civilized Nations, so we have their support, we have that entire support with us that this matter must be resolved. You can’t now start reversing; you can’t now travel in the opposite direction. You can’t say one country – one Law. After having agreed that there must be a meaningful devolution of powers, you had agreed even, that it must be done in a federal structure, now you can’t go back on these promises. If you keep going back like that, it’ll spell disaster to the whole country.
So I am thankful to the chief opposition whip, for having given me this, extended time today, to make a proper statement and put a stop to various speculations that has been on media as to why we went to the different countries. We went to gain support, for our quest which is justifiable, which is reasonable, which is legitimate and support of the international community in a matter which is no longer an internal affair and that is why we went and I want to make it plain, very clear to this House and to the Country, and that we will pursue that objective.
We will not take a step back because the quest for a political freedom for our people is a justifiable objective, for which we have had the mandate since 1956. Our people have voted for this, since 1956, in between for a while they even voted, to have a separate state created, but nevertheless, it has been consistent expression of a democratic mandate of our people to have powers devolved meaningfully, we have called it federal, call it what you may like, but it is meaningful devolution of powers, that we seek as a people, as people entitled to right to self-determination. So I am thankful that the time was given to me to express this, with regard to this votes on the ministries I do not want to say anything further than what I said as I commenced my speech, and I would like to conclude with these observations.
Thank you very much