In an interview with the Sunday Morning, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran spoke on a range of issues affecting the Tamil homeland of the North-East including the implementation of the 13th amendment; repeal of Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA); development issues; and continued police brutality.
Devolution under the 13th amendment
“There can be no middle ground”, Sumanthiran maintained whilst speaking about the 13th amendment. He highlighted that the Rajapaksa regime had previously provided repeated assurances on the “implementation 13th Amendment in full and also going beyond it so as to achieve meaningful devolution”. However, since the end of the war, they have reneged on these commitments.
“It is not ‘middle ground’ that must be found; it should be going beyond” Sumanthiran stated.
In October, leader of the Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kootan (TMTK) CV Wigneswaran detailed how the 13th amendment, which was brought about by the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord of 1987, was fatally flawed. In his analysis, he noted not only the failure to adequately implement the amendment but also the structural flaws behind it.
“All powers devolved to the Tamil provinces through the 13th amendment are enjoyed by the governor who is appointed by the President […] It is the governor who has powers of administration […] The Chief Minister and other ministers can ‘help or give advice to’ the governor but he is not required to act by it” Wigneswaran noted.
Read more here: ‘13th amendment is fundamentally flawed’ – C V Wigneswaran
Sumanthiran further spoke on the need for proportional representation with regard to the upcoming provincial council elections. He notes that whilst this has been done for local and parliamentary elections this has not been carried out for the provincial councils as these councils were introduced after conversion to a fully proportional representation system.
Commenting on the Sri Lankan government’s plan to introduce a new constitution and electoral system in advance of the upcoming elections, Sumanthiran stated that the TNA was consulted.
He further adds that they had made “extensive submissions before the Expert Committee”
Discussing foreign policy, Sumanthiran slammed the government’s approach stating that they are “being pulled in different directions” and need a “definite policy position”.
Responding to the claim by Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, GL Peiris, that the government would be willing to talk with the Tamil diaspora but not banned organisations, Sumanthiran stated:
“We welcome the initiative to talk to diaspora organisations. But you can’t just ban important organisations and try to talk to insignificant ones. Also, a solution to the national question must be found by talking to the Tamil people’s representatives here first”.
The TNA on China
Responding to questions on Chinese investments, Sumanthiran clarified the position of the TNA stating that whilst development was welcome there were “certain apprehensions”. He emphasised the potential security concerns developments had for India and noted:
“In the context of India-China relations not being good, to the point of the countries being described as being hostile to each other, permitting Chinese footholds in the North with such proximity to India will unnecessarily upset the security balance of the region. We do not want to be in such a situation. Therefore, the TNA would prefer to avoid Chinese investments in the North”.
Police brutality and the PTA
Commenting on Sri Lanka’s continued use of the draconian PTA, Sumanthiran highlighted the government’s 2017 pledge to not just amend the act but repeal it.
“That promise must be kept” he stressed but noted that Sri Lanka is “is trying to get out of that commitment in a rather clumsy way”.
Later in the interview, he responded to concerns over “police brutality towards journalists and civil society activists” in the North-East.
“The attitude of the Government towards those who live in the North and East must change first. There must be a recognition that they too are equal stakeholders in the country. Until that happens, the Police and other authorities will just mirror the discriminatory view of the Government” he responded.
Addressing the ongoing plight of farmers, Sumanthiran highlighted that the government’s ban on imported chemical fertilisers was having a devastating impact on farmers
“The Government’s short-sighted action in trying to make this change overnight has a devastating impact, not only on the North and East but on the entire country” he noted.
Earlier this week the government reversed its blanket ban on the import of chemical fertilisers following widespread and intense protests.
Sumanthiran also spoke on the inadequate allocation of urgent medical resources and testing centres across the North-East in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even in the vaccination programme, the North and East are receiving step-motherly treatment” he stated.
Read more here.