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New administration hasn’t solved key issues of the Tamil people

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U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal (Right) had said that there is a lot more to be done for Sri Lanka to pursue a future that is peaceful (AFP) U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal (Right) had said that there is a lot more to be done for Sri Lanka to pursue a future that is peaceful (AFP)

Sri Lanka’s minorities especially, TNA and SLMC, have voted for a change in a bid to solve their problems. Has the new government done enough to solve these issues? At present the focus is on how far the government has progressed in the 100 day program. We see and hear news relating to many corruption charges, highlighted by the media. We rarely get to hear news relating to the progress of the 100 day program. It is important that if there are serious corruption charges those culprits should be brought to book. But merely attacking individuals through unauthenticated allegations will not serve the purpose. If there is prudent and sufficient evidence, then why hesitate? These types of allegations will only slowdown the implementing of the 100 day program. The 100 day program is expected to bring relief to different sections of the community.

Already the TNA has encountered internal problems.  Many of its members have protested against their Parliamentary leader R. Sampanthan and M. Sumanthiran who attended the 67th Independence Day celebrations. The actions of these two give the message that the TNA has accepted the present constitution of the country. The TNA or Tamil National Alliance, as a matter of policy, kept away from attending the Independence Day celebrations for a long time. This is because they felt if they did, it would have given the impression that they accepted the present constitution of Sri Lanka and also the ruling government, which the Tamils claim has not addressed the real grievances of this minority community.
The TNA is in loggerheads with the SLMC regarding the issue relating to the eastern province chief minister. Finally the SLMC won the battle, but it has created an issue to the TNA. The alliance has not shown its displeasure to the Government still. Why? No one knows the answer. A moderate Tamil may suspect the moves of the TNA as a double game.

The State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardena recently reiterated that the National Security cannot be compromised. The government will not remove any army camps in any part of the country including the north and east. Also the new government will never ever reduce the military strength from north as well. The TNA has not responded to these statements. But Pon Selvarasa from TNA condemned these statements in Parliament.

Some members of the de facto UNP government are still concentrating on highlighting the corruption allegations of the previous regime. They are not focusing on the 100 day program. These members think that through corruption charges they can provoke some senior members of the SLFP and thereby create a rift between SLFP members and President Maithripala Sirisena, the present SLFP Chairman. But that has not happen as of this date. Therefore, in one way SLFP members are trying to be patient, mainly to show respect to President Sirisena. The UNP should not take the stance taken by the Opposition as weakness because the political environment can change.

The rift between the Opposition and the UNP de facto Government has surged during the last few days. This has gone to a level, where the Opposition has placed a no-confidence motion against Minister of Public Order, Disaster Management and Christian Affairs John Amaratunge. As many as 114 members have signed the motion paper. If 100 day program is to proceed without facing obstacles, these rifts should be avoided. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should carefully handle this situation and iron out the differences between these two main parties before it is too late.

Appropriation Bill
The House, on January 29, made amendments before passing the second reading of the Appropriation (Amendment) Bill. The bill attracted164 votes in favor and one against. But this was again an extension of the budget of the previous regime.
The Opposition should be commended for helping the government to pass this Interim Budget. We should recall that even when the previous regime (Mahinda Rajapaksa Government) presented the annual Budget in October 2014, the opposition UNP had opposed the entire proposal. The then Opposition, UNP (now considered as ruling party), had less than 50 UNP members in parliament. The present opposition, which has the clear majority in Parliament, has unanimously supported the interim budget and set an example by making history. The ruling minority should take a positive note from this and they should learn a lesson from the opposition. Even the TNA, despite being displeased over current happenings, voted in favor.
Only parliamentarian Ajith Kumara voted against the Interim Budget.

Few Parliamentarians including D.E.W Gunasekera, Tissa Vitharana, Dinesh Gunawardena, Geethanjana Gunawardena, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa, Chandrasiri Gajadeera, Y G Padmasiri, Weerakumara Dissanayaka and Sriyani Wijewickrama refrained from voting.

Making the reply speech regarding the debate, Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayaka said this interim budget has been prepared for the entire year. He said the budget was not targeting the 100 days of government, which will be followed by the general election. Every government has these types of typical statements, but we need to wait and see what happens after parliamentary elections.

Two deadlock issues
There are two important issues to be addressed immediately by the present government. President Maithripala Sirisena will have an uphill task in resolving these. Regarding the issue revolving around the eastern province chief minister, the TNA might put pressure on the government.

As for the issue of ‘territory’, with the State Defense minister’s statement on the military presence in the north, we cannot expect any immediate progress in releasing lands in HSZ to civilians. Similarly we can also expect that there won’t be any compromise when it comes to the issue of providing police powers to the provincial council.

Whatever said and done, some western countries including US, Britain, India and China have praised the new government’s approach but , look forward to many changes and targets in near future.

US and Geneva moves
The United States recently commended the steps taken by the new government in Sri Lanka to address post-war reconciliation and long-standing crucial issues such as accountability. The USA pledged to assist the new government in creating a more open and democratic society.

State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a media briefing recently that the United States “commended steps taken by the new Sri Lankan Government to address things like reconciliation - long-standing issues, right - democratic governance, accountability.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. National Security Adviser, Susan Rice in a speech presenting President Barack Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy said the United States will help “countries in transition” including Sri Lanka.

Earlier, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal, the first high ranking U.S. official to visit Sri Lanka after the election of new President Maithripala Sirisena, said there is a lot more work to be done for Sri Lanka to pursue a future that is peaceful, inclusive, and prosperous. Concluding a two-day visit to the country recently, Biswal expressed the United States’ willingness to work with the Sri Lankan government.

It is learnt that the Sri Lankan government seeks the support of US – UN for an internal probe mechanism on the latter stages of war. Unofficial reports quote that UN might postpone the Human Rights probe where a report in this regard is scheduled in March in Geneva.

Good signs
Anyway, as far as the new interim government is concerned, it has got some time to act and implement important reconciliation programs. President Sirisena should take this interim period seriously and put the maximum effort to reconcile the lives of Tamils. This minority should be encouraged to be a part of the national policy generated programs.
(The author is a senior journalist)

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