Daily News, 11 November 2016, where the title is “‘Solving the problems of Tamils is my obligation” ….. Emphasis via highlighting is the work of The Editor,Thuppahi
Emphasising his commitment to resolving Sri Lanka’s Tamil question, President Maithripala Sirisena has said he has an obligation to address the concerns of the island’s Tamils, most of whom had voted for him. About 90 percent of the people in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated north voted for him in the January 2015 elections, he said: “They have confidence in me that I will solve their problems. So it is not only my responsibility, but also my obligation to solve their problems,” he told The Hindu in an exclusive interview on Wednesday at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo.
Amid growing concern over the apparently slow-paced reconciliation efforts, President Sirisena said: “Reconciliation is not something that can be done in a few days.” The government’s endeavour must be acceptable to the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and other communities. “That is not an easy task,” he observed.
Asked about accountability for alleged war crimes, which many Tamils believe is integral to reconciliation, President Sirisena ruled out participation of international judges in any probe, as suggested in the UNHRC resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka. However, he added: “We can obtain advice from foreign judicial experts.”
He dismissed the view that as leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, running a consensus government with the United National Party, he was facing pressure from the faction led by Mahinda Rajapaksa. “There is no pressure or influence within the party that I cannot withstand.”
In January 2015, nearly six years after Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war ended, President Maithripala Sirisena came to power deposing Mahinda Rajapaksa, on the promise of good governance, the abolition of the executive presidency and reconciliation with the Tamil minority. His election, to many at home and abroad, heralded hope of a new beginning for the country. Almost two years later, he is grappling with old and new challenges — ranging from an open split within the Sri Lanka Freedom Party he leads, to the frictions of coalition politics in the country’s first national unity government, to growing impatience of the Northern polity — even as he tries to move ahead with his reformist agenda.
Speaking to The Hindu in Colombo, President Sirisena discusses the progress made so far, the problems that linger, and his political vision for Sri Lanka. Excerpts from the interview:
Q. In November 2014, you left the ruling party to join the common opposition. At that time, you spoke of grave personal risks associated with the defection that proved historic, leading to a regime change in Sri Lanka. When you look back now, how does it feel? What do you consider your biggest success as President?
A. Now 22 months have passed since I became the President. I am satisfied with my performance during this time. There are reasons for that. Firstly, I succeeded in getting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution (that clips powers of the executive President and strengthens the independence of oversight bodies) passed in parliament. We actually proposed that the executive powers of the President be reduced immediately. The Supreme Court said major clauses cannot be deleted without a referendum. Furthermore, the Supreme Court told us what could be done with two-thirds majority in parliament. So we have changed clauses to the maximum extent possible with two-thirds majority in parliament.
Establishment of independent commissions is another reason. It was essential for the country to ensure [protection of] human rights, democratic rights, fundamental rights and the freedom of the people. I have ensured that people get these rights, I have succeeded in doing that as President. I have given the maximum possible media freedom. The international community is so satisfied with my performance that they have completely changed their impression of the country. I have told the international community that I cannot accept any proposal that allows foreign judges to probe our domestic matters. This is another great victory I was able to achieve in this time.
The former President Mahinda Rajapaksa called snap polls even though he had two more years in power left. There are two reasons for that. There were two problems he could not solve as President. One was the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) proposals against our country. The second was that the country was heavily indebted at that time. We had a national debt of 9,000 billion [Sri Lankan] rupees. That was a major economic crisis for our country.
I am now dealing with the UNHRC proposals while protecting the respect and dignity of my country. In order to solve this major economic crisis, we have been formulating a new economic plan. I believe in a mixed economy. One is the increase of foreign and local investments. My second step is to strengthen the export production market and increase our exports. The new programme for national reconciliation is being implemented. It is a major initiative for reconciliation among Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher and other communities to ensure coexistence and harmony.
With all these successful efforts I am quite satisfied with my performance. Those who have been in power and have lost power are trying to sabotage all these activities. I am confident that I can face all these challenges and make our country better. The experience I have from my 50 years in politics gives me enough strength to meet all these challenges successfully.
Q. You spoke about the economy. As someone with a leftist background now in coalition with the United National Party known for its right-wing economic policies, how do you think your government can promote economic growth while safeguarding living standards and social welfare of farmers and workers?
A. We have a consensual government of the two major parties. There are similarities as well as differences in the vision and policies of these two parties. My vision is social democracy. Your question is how compatible is liberal democracy with social democracy. The two major parties have agreed on a consensual formula. We need large-scale investments. We cannot come out of the economic crisis without such investments. At the same time, enhancing social welfare and subsidies are also essential. The poor man is the one badly affected by a market economy. We have to protect the welfare and economy of the ordinary man.
Q. You have been a frequent visitor to the Tamil-majority Northern Province. How do you respond to the Tamil political leadership’s concern over the pace of reconciliation, with unresolved issues like militarisation, political prisoners and the call to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)?
A. Reconciliation is not something that can be done in a few days. In the last 22 months I have been to Jaffna as President 11 times. Prior to that no leader went to the north [as often]. I feel very happy to interact — not just with the Tamil politicians in the north, but also with the people and obtain their ideas directly. A vast majority — about 90 per cent of the people — in the north voted for me. They have confidence in me that I will solve their problems. So it is not only my responsibility, but also my obligation to solve their problems.
In drafting the new Constitution, we are looking at a Constitution that will strengthen the reconciliation between the communities. These things will have to be done keeping the southern Sinhala-Buddhist masses also satisfied. If the southern people are opposed to certain things, we cannot have a successful reconciliation process. Hence our endeavour towards reconciliation must also be acceptable to the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and other communities. That is not an easy task. But we have to do this challenging job.
Q. Can reconciliation proceed without accountability? How will you convince the Tamils, who have little confidence in domestic judicial mechanisms, that an internal probe will be fair?
A. When we came to power, our judiciary was very weak. One of the reasons we appointed a Chief Justice from the minority community was to enhance confidence in the judicial system among the minorities.
We have improved the quality of the judiciary and its independence and impartial nature. We can obtain advice from foreign judicial experts. As per our constitutional provisions, there is no possibility of foreign judges participating in our judicial process or conducting cases. I don’t have any mandate to act against constitutional provisions. We have to create a judicial mechanism that has the fullest confidence of the people in the north.
Q. In the context of the ongoing constitutional reform, there is a call from the Tamils for federalism. Do you think the new Constitution can meet that aspiration? Some political actors in the south want a unitary Constitution, while constitutional experts seem to suggest that a compromise might be not terming the Constitution either unitary or federal.
A. People of the south are scared of the word ‘federal’. People of the north are scared of the word ‘unitary’. What we should do is not fight over these two words. We should come up with a formula that is acceptable to all. It takes maturity to understand devolution. We cannot satisfy the extremist elements either in the north or in the south. We have to do what is good for, and acceptable to, the majority of the people. We should not waste time over these arguments. We have to do whatever is possible as early as possible.
Q. As the leader of the SLFP, how will you hold the party together given the political pressure from the pro-Rajapaksa faction, even as you work with the UNP in Sri Lanka’s first national unity government?
A. This is the first time in history that the two parties have come together in a consensual government. We were always used to governing separately, within the political party lines. The confidence in the SLFP as a party among the people is something lasting ages. People have recognised and accepted these two major parties — SLFP and the UNP. Therefore, in these circumstances, there is no possibility of new political forces coming up. As a political party we have the ability to solve any problem.
Q. What about pressure within the SLFP?
A. There is no such pressure or influence within the party that I cannot withstand.
Q. Given the enhanced ties between India and Sri Lanka, do you think there is reason to expedite signing of the ETCA (Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement), which has drawn considerable local resistance?
A. Since ancient times we have very close relations with India. This relationship has been built on Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. We expect to sign trade agreements with quite a number of countries. These agreements are aimed at benefiting both the signatory countries, and we don’t intend signing any agreement that could be detrimental to any one country. The proposal for India and Sri Lanka to sign a fresh [trade] agreement has been there for the last 10-15 years. Deliberations and discussions continued under different names. We will enter into an agreement which is not harmful to either party. There should not be any unnecessary apprehension or fear over this. We cannot do anything in secrecy, we are transparent and accountable to the people. We’ll discuss it in the Cabinet, and after that it will also be produced in parliament. If there are any unsuitable clauses, we will have further discussions and finalise the agreement.
Q. Work on China’s port city project has resumed under your government amid local opposition. How is your government’s policy towards China different from former President Rajapaksa’s?
A. The port city agreement, when it was signed during President Rajapaksa’s time, was contradictory to the constitutional provisions. No government in the past had signed such an agreement. We amended certain clauses of that agreement as the new government. In such an agreement, the importance of national security as well as regional security should be taken into consideration. Both China and India are our good friends.
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The First Group of 100 IDP Families Given Houses In Keerimalai” –– Asian Tribune , 01 Nivember, (Asiantribune.com):
One hundred newly constructed houses, each house constructed in two larchams of land (20 perches), were handed over yesterday evening to deserving first group of war affected, internally displaced. Out of those recipients, more than 70 of them were from the Konapulam IDP camp located in Tellipalai.families in the Valikamam by President Maithripala Srisena.
Earlier, it was for the first time, after assuming office as President in January 2015 President Maithripala Srisena visited the Konapulam IDP Centre located in Tellipalai where he learnt of the harrowing tales from the war affected inmates of the welfare centre.
Inmates narrated their tale of woes and of their harrowing live at the makeshift camps, for well over twenty-five long and torturous years. President who was moved by their tale of woes, gave immediate instructions to the Defence Ministry to construct houses for the landless people and close down the camp as early as possible. Subsequently, 42 acres of unutilized land of the KKS Cement Corporation was released for the housing program and the Sri Lanka Army constructed the first one hundred houses.
Yesterday recipients were given keys and deeds to the houses at a ceremony held in Keerimale, Kankesanthurai, amidst the participation of the Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray, State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene, State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran, TNA MPs Mavai Senathirajah and MA Sumantiran, and the party list MP Angajan Ramanathan.
Except for the Chief Secretary of the Northern Provincial Council, the Chief Minister Vigneswaran who is away in a foreign country, Provincial Ministers as well as Provincial councilors were not present to the functions, though seats were allocated to them in the VIP section of the meeting venue. The participants to the ceremony were welcomed by the Jaffna Security Forces Commander Major General Mahes.Senanayake who was responsible for the construction of those houses.
He was followed by a speech by Mavai S. Senathirajah MP and the leader of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchchi. He spoke of the unconditional support rendered to President Maithripala Srisena by his Tamil National Alliance during the Presidential election and of their expectation in solving the issues confronted by the Tamils in the region. It was noticeable very clearly of the way he mentioned the Sri Lanka Army in his speech. For the first time a Tamil leader was heard addressing the Army as, “Our Army,” – a remarkable change in tone and tenor and it was applauded.
President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday ordered the release of 454 acres of land in the Palaly Army Cantonment. 454 acres includes KKs West, KKS South, KKS Centre, Thaiyidy, Thaiyidy South and Thaiyidy East . President Srisena released the said parcel of land to the Jaffna District Secretary Vethanayakan and the released land is expected to be handed over to the previous owners of those lands in the area.
Yesterday, a total of 100 most deserving families out of 971 displaced families, still languishing in 31 relief welfare centers across the peninsula, were selected and given ownership certificates and keys to the houses. President Srisena applauded the selection of the name for the housing scheme and for the new village – Nallinakkapuram in Tamil it depicts reconciliation in an apt sense.
Addressing the gathering the President further said that all the people should be committed to strengthen the national reconciliation in the country and all the time that effort for the national reconciliation must not be, in any way underestimated or undervalued.President Sirisena recalled the history of our country which led to a brutal war as a result of conflict between the different communities and stated that all of us should act with great responsibility to prevent the recurrence of such brutal war.
Expressing his views regarding the recent incident of death of two Jaffna University students said that all should fulfill their duties to prevent recurrence of such tragic incidents in the North as well as in the South. It is the responsibility of the media to act in a manner to pave the way to establish the peace within the country, he said.
Marking the opening of the model village, the President symbolically handed over one house to the one of the recipients. Recipients of the houses presented a special memento to the President expressing their gratitude towards the President for fulfilling their aspirations by fulfilling the pledge given to them by the President.
– Asian Tribune –