APRC does not represent all parties -Warnasingha

Spokesperson for the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), Nishantha Sri Warnasingha refutes the notion of ‘all party representative committee’ and reiterates his party’s position that the unit of power devolution should ideally be at the local government level.

Q: What is the view of the Jathika Hela Urumaya as a constituent party of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) on the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC)?
All though it’s called All Party Representatives Committee or APRC it does not represent all parties. It does not have main coalition parties of the government- the JHU, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) or National Freedom Front (NFF) nor the main opposition the United National Party (UNP) or the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).

So the main stakeholders who contributed to the victory of 2005 and mandate given to President Mahinda Rajapaksa are not represented in the APRC. Only four or five small parties are represented. We don’t see any justification to call this ‘all party’. So it’s unethical to continue to refer to this committee as ‘all party.’

Q: So what does your party propose?
We see no validity in the APRC so what we ask is to dissolve the APRC. There’s no validity in APRXC after elimination of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 18. APRC was set up back in 2006 to bring about a political settlement when the LTTE had significant military power. When peace talks were held in Geneva the Government said that it cannot take decision on its own and so APRC came into being.

The mandate of APRC was to seek consensus among all parties and to report it to the Public where there was consensus among all parties within the APRC. However this did not happen at all times.

Prof. Tissa Vitarana believes that Tamils have political grievances and the solution for this should be based on Federalism. We see that as his personal opinion and respect that. However none should promote his or her own personal opinion in the guise of APRC.

At times the accepted practice of declaring views were not adhered to and at times was over proportionate. Once he had stated that JHU had agreed to some APRC ‘decisions’. Although this was done with a view to accelerating the process, we see this as undue pressure.

Q: Why do you say that there was ‘undue pressure’ on the APRC?
We have evidence of some Western ambassadors and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) of trying to pressurise the APRC. For instance the Expert Committee draft of the APRC had gone to the American, German and British diplomatic missions and to an NGO before it was given to other parties.
Also this draft was an exact replication of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s infamous package presented back in 2000. The mandate of the Expert Committee was to facilitate the APRC by way of advising. They had no power to come out with a draft on their own. That is usurping of power of the APRC and was never their mandate.

Q: You said some actions of APRC as ‘unethical’. Can you elaborate?
Once when the Eastern Provincial Council Election was concluded there TMVP members who were elected into power. We made a request that the TMVP be taken into the APRC and until such time, APRC process be postponed. But the Chair did not agree to allow them to be represented. When TMVP, a Tamil part which had laid down arms and had entered mainstream democracy was not taken in we asked that APRC be temporaraly suspended.
When the APRC came out with an Interim Report in January 23, 2007, President Mahinda Rajapksa was handed over until the final report was decided upon. However JHU was also included in this. It appealed President to make an effort to see the possibility of how the 13th Amendment can be fully implemented and to empower the Provinces with necessary executive, legislative and judiciary powers. President had discretion to see what subjects can be retained and what can be devolved.
But why give more powers to the North than what are given to other provinces. No other province was given Police powers and even Land powers to some extent. Why accord them with special treatment? All what we appeal for is that all provinces be ‘served with the same spoon’.

Q: Why do you say that there’s no need for further devolution of power?
Is giving Police powers to the Provinces the need of the hour? There are thousands of IDPs are languishing in camps in the North. So the need is to resettle them immediately and to see their basic needs are met. That roads, bridges be built, electricity and health facilities be given, ensure de-mining takes place and to create a conducive environment to restart their livelihoods.
There’s a National Revival taking place especially in the war-ravaged North and East. What we now need is an ‘All Party Council for Economic Growth and Posperity’. Talk of APRC will create suspense and mistrust in the hearts and minds of the public at a time of celebration like this.

Q: Does your party agree that Tamils have legitimate grievances?
Tamil grievances were caused by none other than the so-called ‘sole representative’ of Tamils- the LTTE. So this was their political grievances. At this time their basic needs like food, water and clothing should be met while restoring democracy, and creating a new community-based leadership among the Tamils is imperative and vital. Government must facilitate this paradigm shift in the hearts of the Tamil people who suffered much hardship due to Terrorism.

Q: India maintains that the Thirteenth Amendment be fully implemented immediately. Do you see such a need?
13th Amendment was a created by India and does not represent the aspirations of our people. It was forcefully placed upon our country, after India made the JR government to kneel before it. Now they want to forcefully make us implement it. Government should never give in to such bullying or influence. India itself said Sri Lanka was a sovereign and independent state. As such we ask India to keep out of our internal matters which is unethical.

Q: So as the JHU sees, what options are available to the government?
First step is to set up a Provincial Council in the North as it is in the other provinces. Second is to see whether any other powers should be given to Provincial council, but a referendum should be kept to obtain the approval of the public. Third is to go for Thirteenth Plus by having a two thirds majority of Parliament and approval of people at a referendum.

Q: Other matters which are directly not linked to devolution of power, are to be included in APRC proposals? Do you see such need?
You see the issues of a Bicameral Legislature nor Vice Presidency for minorities were never discussed in APRC. At least there is no consensus on the unit of devolution. UPFA says it’s the District. UNP along with 11 other parties say it is the Province. We say it should be at the local government level. Then there’s no agreement on the nature of state, whether unitary or federal. Land be included no census.

Q: Don’t you think that 13th Amendment would be a stepping stone to win the hearts of the Tamils and the international community?
Firstly law and order should be restored and elections have to be held to resolve grievances of Tamils and to win their hearts. We don’t have to win the hearts of diaspora or other countries if they still support Eelam or separatism. The test would be to win the hearts of Tamils living here and alleviate their suffering.
There is no need find solutions based on ethnicity. Even we have problems with bureaucracy, bribery and corruption, law and order. Then the answer would be to draft a new constitution and not limit reforms to Tamils or any other community.

Q: If there were no grievances why did they support Prabhakaran and his Eelam, in the first place?
There’s no evidence to show that all Tamils supported the LTTE. That too they were forced to do as LTTE wielded military power and as they were made hostages. Tamils did not willfully flee Mannar to Killinochchi to Nanthikadal but they were forced to. But there would have been some support. If that was so, why did Tamils in Jaffna and Colombo did not hold even one protest or picket? That happened in London to Sydney to New York to Chennai but not here?

Q: If we don’t support devolution of power, don’t you think that Tamils may take up arms again and there will be another Prabhakaran?
We fought a ruthless terror outfit for over 30 years and we saw the results. Anyone who saw the air power, the sea power and suicide capabilities of the LTTE and how all that was eliminated in Vellimullivaikkal, would not even dream of another arms struggle. It was the Tamil themselves who had to pay the heavy price. Nothing was ever be won by it. No sensible person would ever dream of taking up arms again. That was seen not only now but throughout history.

What we say is that the Tamils have the freedom to decide their destiny. So all we ask is that we should live together as one nation to lead this country from strength to strength. But for any person who seeks to bring separatism to this country we say the only answer was the one seen in Puthumathalan.