Cost of failed remedy

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Friday 18th August, 2023

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is going full tilt to grant more powers to the Provincial Councils (PCs) though the SLPP, which is propping him up, having elevated him to the presidency, has resisted his efforts to implement the 13th Amendment (13A) fully. Amidst the ongoing argy-bargy over 13A, the Finance Commission of Sri Lanka has revealed that the expenditure related to the PCs has increased, according to media reports. The PCs are currently without elected members, and have done nothing to improve the people’s lot, in any manner, all these years, but their expenditure is soaring while the government is going hell for leather to dispose of vital state-owned enterprises, including some profitable ones, at fire-sale prices.

No sooner had the PC system been established than it became a failure. It failed to serve the intended purpose—resolving the armed conflict. The LTTE rejected it out of hand, at the outset, and the present-day Tamil political parties recognised the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil people; in doing so, they endorsed the LTTE’s position on the PC system.

It may be recalled that in 1994,LTTE leader Prabhakaran contemptuously spurned the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s offer to allow him to rule the entire Northern Province for a period of 10 years without elections if he agreed to eschew violence. Now, Sri Lankans, who are undergoing untold suffering due to the current economic crisis, have to pay through the nose to maintain the PCs, whose recurrent expenditure accounts for most of the funds allocated to them.

Sri Lanka’s ethnic issues have a long history, but the problem of terrorism, which lasted for about two and a half decades and caused inestimable losses in terms of lives and physical assets, was made in India, which created, trained, armed and funded the Sri Lankan terrorist groups; 13A, which was flaunted as a solution to that problem, was also made in India and imposed on this country. India failed to fulfil its obligation under the Indo-Lanka Accord (ILA) to disarm the LTTE, which scuttled the North-East PC run by a pro-Indian group.

The legality of ILA, which paved the way for 13A, has been questioned in some quarters. Political analysts such as Daya Gamage, who is a former Political Specialist of the US Department of State, have argued that ILA violated the Vienna Convention because India resorted to coercion to make Sri Lanka accept it. In support of their argument, they have referred to Article 51 and 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Regrettably, their argument has not received much attention, both here and overseas.

Not for nothing has the PC system come to be called a white elephant, and the Sri Lankan public has had to maintain it under duress.

A campaign launched by patriotic Indians to pressure Britain to pay reparation for its imperial rule, which cost India dear, is gaining momentum. In July 2015, no less a person than Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi endorsed their demand; he made a public statement praising an Opposition MP, Shashi Tharoor, for having demanded during an Oxford Union debate that Britain pay reparation to India and other British colonies for the plunder of their resources. (It will be interesting to see the response of incumbent British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Indian descent, to the Indians’ demand for reparation!)

One cannot but agree with the Indians who are demanding reparation from Britain, which enriched itself at the expense of its colonies. Besides grave economic crimes against the people of this country, the British committed genocide and gendercide. In 1817-18, they resorted to the scorched-earth policy, and massacred males, including children, to crush the Wellassa rebellion. The fact that some unintended benefits accrued to Sri Lanka and other colonies from the British colonial rule cannot be cited in extenuation of the savage crimes the invaders committed, and the heavy losses the victims of colonialism suffered.

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. All nations that have abused their military might to perpetrate crimes against weaker ones must be made to pay for their sins. It is not fair to make Sri Lankans who are struggling to dull the pangs of hunger to maintain the PCs, which the vast majority of them did not ask for. Shouldn’t the foreign powers that want the PCs retained despite the fact that they are of little use to the Sri Lankan public be made to bear the cost of maintaining them, or at least part of it?

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