Daily Archives: October 29, 2006
Affno, Sri Lanka’s leading software engineering company for web based software products won 2 Gold Awards and the Silver for the Best Overall Product, vindicating the Company’s excellent growth over the year. The blue riband National Awards for Best Quality Software in Sri Lanka was held on the 20th October, against a glittering backdrop of entertainment and a stellar turnout of Sri Lanka’s elite ICT fraternity.
Affno won Gold Awards in the Financial Application Category, for their Retail Stock Market Booster product and in the E-Government & Services Category, for their City Planning Services Management product. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka also gave a special award to Affno at this occasion for the best Financial Application. When the night drew to its exciting conclusion with the presentation of awards for the overall winners, Affno stood tall, garnering the prestigious Silver.
The National Best Quality Software Awards recognizes and honours significant technological developments and innovation within Sri Lanka’s software industry. The event was organized by the British Computer Society (BCS), with the support of the Sri Lanka Association for Software Industry (SLASI), the Software Exporters Association (SEA) and the Infotel Society, Universities of Colombo and Moratuwa.
This year 36 products developed by 28 companies competed in 11 categories. The panel of judges representing the user community and academia has been very stringent in their judging this year. Golds were awarded only in 6 categories and the number of Silvers and Bronzes were also limited. Commenting on Affno’s performance, Dr. Dileepa de Silva – Chairman, BCS said, “As usual Affno has performed well. Affno is a very innovative company and does what it does well. Affno has the quality and has maintained it”.
Affno’s phenomenal growth can be attributed to a marriage of visionary thinking with a passion for utilizing the full resources of technology, whilst tempering the whole with a very comprehensive grasp of where the future lies in the field of ICT. Professor V.K. Samaranayake, the Chairman of ICTA, commenting on Affno’s achievements said, “I have seen them progressing right from the beginning. They started small, but hard work with a quest for perfection and striving for the best performance has helped them to become what they are today”.
For a six year old company, Affno’s growth has not only held pride and a sense of achievement for the company itself, but has embellished the ICT sector and brought pride to the country too. Dr. Gihan Dias, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Moratuwa said, “I have known Affno for more than 5 years now, and I can see that they have progressed steadily and consistently and in a planned manner”.
He further opined, “Sri Lanka is actually quite a tough market because we are open to competition from all other countries. So for a product to do well in the Sri Lankan market, it has to be of international standard. This means that such products can be marketed internationally without too much difficulty. I therefore feel that Affno and its products have very good potential in other countries as well”. Udaya De Silva – President, SLASI reinforcing the same sentiment added, “Affno has also been performing very well right throughout and Affno’s products seem to also have a good overseas potential”.
Mano Sekaram, Chairman, Software Exporters Association (SEA) said, “I am so proud of Affno. It is a leading software products company and has developed a lot of professional products. They have got the right strategy. The applications they have developed are cutting edge and the next step would be to make these products commercially successful internationally”. -Financial Times
By Walter Jayawardhana
Los Angeles: If there is anything that has been proved by the peace talks in Geneva it is the utter failure of Norway as a peace maker, and it’s hurriedly drawn controversial Ceasefire Agreement that has provided no peace but war and naked terrorism, many observers felt.
The talks in Geneva, that has cost a fortune for a developing country like Sri Lanka failed to provide not even an agenda for peace talks and the most it achieved was a mere hand-shake between LTTE political head S. P. Thamilchelvan and Sri Lankan delegateS head Nimal Siripala de Silva. It also provided a lunching opportunity between the Peace Secretariat heads S. Pulidevan of the Tamil Tigers and Dr. Palitha Kohona of the Sri Lankan government with Jon Hanssen Bauer of Norway.
Fortunately, the Sri Lankan government spoke of its intention of a political solution that was expressed in Nimal Siripala de Silva’s opening statement, that said, President “Mahinda Rajapaksa has said clearly that he will go the extra mile in search of peace – a dignified and honorable peace. Where a Sri Lankan model of devolution will be devised for an undivided country to address the root causes of this conflict. It will also be a model, which will be consistent with regional geo-political realities.”
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) spoke of maintaining the Ceasefire Agreement which has been easily violated by them without any pressure from Norway for thousands of times. It was also interested in only in the A9 highway which the government maintains is open. Unlike at the beginning of these peace talks their propaganda failed the catch the attention of much of the world except as fillers in the few dozen websites maintained by the LTTE.
The LTTE has failed to realize the “geopolitical realities” and state they were ready to give up the separatism and Norway with all the exhibited favoritism they have practiced including granting a powerful radio broadcasting station to help LTTE propaganda and military communications, of course with the consent of the former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, have failed to convince their friends that with India as the giant Northern neighbor , the talk of Eelam is a non-starter.
Except reading opening statements on the first day, shaking hands of each other, although the real intention was to cut them, observers said nothing substantial has been done.
Eric Solheim, the Norwegian minister leading the peace process said the international community was growing impatient with a conflict he described as something that cannot be won, at the beginning of the talks.
The Norwegian, who has been charged for strengthening the LTTE, has become one of the most controversial figures in Sri Lanka but a darling of the terrorist organization. He has become one reason why the majority of the people in Sri Lanka cannot trust any plan proposed by the Norwegians, many have publicly stated.
The Ceasefire agreement for which Norway is directly responsible has become a worthless document, with the darling of the Norwegians, the LTTE has shown no respect by breaking it thousands of times according to the Monitoring mission mainly drawn from Norway. Except hoping that the parties would agree to meet again even if there was no breakthrough at the talks ending Sunday afternoon, there was no other hope coming out of these talks, many diplomats have said. The most possible times they could meet next have been discussed and it could be in December or January, they have predicted.
The MOU between the UNP and SLFP and the meeting between delegations of the government and the LTTE opening in Geneva yesterday raised hopes among many that the first steps were being taken towards resolving the long-festering National Question. Most observers expected no spectacular breakthrough in Switzerland, such as a previous agreement by the LTTE to explore a federal solution. This was incorporated in a communiqué by the Norwegian facilitator at the conclusion of an earlier meeting between the two sides but the Tigers later backtracked.
This was after the Cease Fire Agreement, on which many hopes were pinned, was signed in February 2002. Prabhakaran was not happy about the use of the term federal and there were reports that Anton Balasingham had to take considerable flak on that account. This time round there was no Balasingham to lead the LTTE team, with the onetime translator at the British High Commission not in good health. In any case, the mantle of chief negotiator for the LTTE had been passed on to Thamilselvan, the head of the Tiger’s political wing and the public face of the LTTE for the past several months. Balasingham, it now seems, is old hat.
The two sides went to Geneva with Colombo intent on grappling with what has been described as the “core issues’’ and pushing for a timeframe for the conclusion of these negotiations. The LTTE wanted to talk about the “proper’’ implementation of the CFA which is now in tatters. The Tigers also announced their intention on focusing on humanitarian issues including the re-opening of the A-9 road which has been closed since the LTTE embarked on its Mavil Aru adventure. The closure of the road had not only caused acute shortages of essentials in Jaffna, sending prices skyrocketing but, more importantly from the LTTE perspective, deprived them of a tax cash cow. Those picking have been rich when the road was open. The A-9 would of course be eventually opened but whether the government will be strong enough to stop the Tigers imposing taxes on goods which must eventually be borne by people whose sole representative they claim to be remains to be seen.
Diplomats and analysts were agreed that the best that could be expected this time round in Geneva is the setting of dates for a further meeting. Whether the killings would stop and the conditions for the beleaguered people living in the war zone be improved in the interim is, of course, a question that is wide open. There is little doubt that both sides have been feeling the heat of international opinion – the LTTE more so than the government. While government forces had the military upper hand following the LTTE attempt to strengthen itself in the Trincomalee district through the strategy employed at Mavil Aru, this was blunted by what happened at Muhamalai and near Habarana earlier this month.
But the Tigers clearly were still feeling the military heat and needed breathing time. Hence the willingness to return to the negotiating table despite the military confrontation including aerial bombing. This, of course, was a counter to offensive tactics by the Tigers. Also, international pressure was mounting beginning with the Canadian and EU bans followed by `stings’ on arms procurers in the U.S. Colombo too came in for flak on the human rights front and hopes that at least a part of this winter’s tourist season could be salvaged appeared forlorn. On the economic front too, there were uncomfortable signals to the government from the donor community.
Whether by design or accident, the LTTE continued targeting security forces personnel even hours before the two sides sat down to negotiations in Geneva, a point that was made in the government’s opening statement. Decisions to desist from such attacks may arguably have not reached all Tiger units. But that, as one analyst remarked, would be the charitable explanation. However that be, the LTTE continued the attacks it began shortly after President Mahinda Rajapaksa took office. Hopefully, proceedings in Geneva would bring some respite. But there will be hard bargaining over reciprocal concessions beginning most probably with a demand for re-opening the A-9 highway. Nothing for nothing, as the old saying goes, and very little for six pence.
What the LTTE’s thoughts are on the Supreme Court determination on the “temporary’’ northeast merger have not yet emerged directly. However the TNA “ultimatum’’ for the government to state its position by November 9 is obviously a clear signal under Tiger direction. News reports in this issue indicate that many of Sri Lanka’s friends abroad, including India, are not happy with the judgment. That two members of the government delegation to Geneva, Messrs. H.L. de Silva and Gomin Dayasri (together with Mr. S.L. Gunasekera) led the legal team which argued the case for the JVP will not score brownie points abroad for the Rajapaksa administration. The president could not have been unmindful of this. Yet he decided to field the same team he did for previous rounds of talks to signal that he did not intend playing the game exactly the way the international community wished.
The LTTE has fought for decades for a separate state in a claimed northeastern homeland with a clear understanding that the north alone will not be a viable proposition. That is why the gears were changed decades ago to espouse the cause of “Tamil speaking people’’ rather than the Tamils alone. As the Muslims of the East and many other parts of the country speak Tamil, the idea was to broaden the Tiger constituency. This was despite the ethnic cleansing of the north by getting rid of the Muslims who had lived for generations in Jaffna. While the LTTE had brutally attacked Muslims many times, including murdering them while they were at prayer in a mosque in the Batticaloa district, there have also been times when distinct overtures have been made to the community. Despite the bloody events in Muttur weeks ago, the time may have come to wave an olive branch once more.
The JVP factor
As we have pointed out in a news report elsewhere in this issue, the SLFP and UNP together do not make up a two thirds majority in parliament able to amend the constitution if the northeast is going to be legally merged. The JVP will, of course, fight hard to prevent that by waving a nationalist flag. The Marxist party has already seen for itself the major opposition space in the country in a post-MOU scene. The president knows the value of getting all parties on board if a durable settlement of the National Question is to be achieved. That is why he had continued urging is presidential election allies, the JVP and JHU to join the government. Although elements in the JVP favour such an arrangement, they are a minority.
The JVP Last week signaled its disapproval of the SLFP-UNP MoU alleging that Rajapakse has been trapped by Ranil Wickremesinghe and foreign forces. Speaking at a meeting of the Patriotic National Movement of which he is co-leader, JVP parliamentary group leader Wimal Weerawansa predicted that the day will come when Wickremesinghe would turn his back on Rajapakse and the president will be isolated.
Weerawansa told the Maharagama meeting that the president has been snared on two fronts – through Ranil Wickremesinghe on one side and by the international community on the other – by forcing him to participate in the newest round of Geneva talks. He predicted that these talks will continue interminably until the government reopens the A-9 road. He also accused Wickremesinghe of seeking to create a conflict among nationalist forces supporting the government by signing this MoU.
"This rift cannot be avoided in the future as all those unhealthy attempts to `reform’ the CEB, CPC and privatize education will soon emerge. The president will not have any excuse to offer the ADB for not proceeding with these `reforms,’ Weerawansa said.
Analysts however noted that the JVP has been much less punchy on this score than they might otherwise have been. This left room for future accommodation down the road, they said. “The signal is there,’’ one analyst said. “But it’s not as strong a signal as it might have been.’’
Working committee sounding board
S.B. Dissanayake, still without his civic rights, is determined to make his presence felt in the UNP which appointed him its national organizer. SB is clearly looking at the UNP leadership down the road but whether the green party wants this pint sized Johnny come lately to follow the footsteps of giants like D.S. and Dudley Senanayake, Sir. John Kotelawela, J.R. Jayewardene and R. Premadasa is another question. Nevertheless, the anti-Ranil faction is latching on to some resolutions that SB hopes to bring to the UNP’s annual convention on November 19.
These resolutions are aimed at clipping the party leader’s wings. But before they can be taken up at the conference, the UNP constitution requires them to be cleared at the working committee. Wickremesinghe is strong there with the majority of its members being his nominees. While the anti-Ranil faction calculates (wishfully?) that they have a small majority, Wickremesinghe intimates are confident that they can defeat these moves.
“The MOU is nothing more than a piece of paper,’’ a party senior who had hoped that the “power sharing’’ (read ministries) will be part of the deal. Proponents of this school of thinking argue that without sharing the executive cake of the government, the provisions of the MOU cannot be implemented. They say their supporters want jobs, compensation for political victimization and much more and with the MOU as it stands none of this will be possible. At both the last meeting of the working committee and the parliamentary group, those wanting to join the government were the vocal majority. Wickremesinghe let them have their say and had his own way.
A Ranil intimate told this column that it was not correct to say that Wickremesinghe, without the office of leader of the opposition, would be deprived of many privileges he currently enjoys like government paid vehicles, office, staff, security, residence (Ranil lives in his own home and does not use an official residence) etc. as stated here last week. He made the point that as a former prime minister, Wickremesinghe would in any case be entitled to these perks. This was in terms of a cabinet decision taken during Wickremesinghe’s last tenure as prime minister – he had two stints in that office – when former prime ministers were granted certain out-of-office privileges. This was initiated to benefit Mr. Ratnasiri Wickramanayake who served as CBK’s prime minister following Mrs. Bandaranaike’s retirement.
It was not possible to check whether the former prime ministers benefits match those of the leader of the opposition who undoubtedly has a much higher ranking in the scheme of things. “He’s not somebody of the past, but a man for the future – a possible future leader of the country,’’ a senior politician noted. “A former prime minister visiting India will not be assured a meeting Manmohan Singh but a leader of the opposition would.’’
The likable filmstar Ravindra Randeniya was conscripted to compere the signing of the SLFP-UNP MoU by President Mahinda Rajapakse at Temple Trees last week. Spotting Randeniya who was among the UNPers who turned up for the occasion Rajapakse asking who would MC the ceremony on television was told that Rupavahini already had a compere for the job. Rajapakse directed that Randeniya be given the role.
Ranil Wickremesinghe was a late arrival at the ceremony having left his home according to some sources after the rahu kalaya ended at 11.33 am. Spotting Randeniya preparing for his MC role, Wickremesinghe jokingly asked him "Ravindra, so you are also living here?"
The document that was signed was not the one that had been finalized by the two negotiating teams with Rajapaksa getting rid of clauses on a two-year moratorium on elections and not accommodating defectors. A UNP MP ruefully said that they had even agreed to support the budget about which they knew nothing.
Political circles also said that the UNP’s Kurunegala strongman, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, had indicated to Wickremesinghe that some party stalwarts wanted him top become the UNP Secretary. Perera is reported to have said that his supporters included S.B. Dissanayake, Mahinda Wijesekera and Rajitha Senaratne. Wickremesinghe has already announced that Tissa Attanayake, who has been UNP spokesman and a staunch Ranil loyalist, will succeed N.V.K.K. Weragoda as party secretary. Weragoda, a former senior public servant, held a paid office in the green party.
After the MoU was signed and the president had hosted all those present to lunch, Rajapaksa was about to go upstairs for a well earned nap. He was at the foot of the stairs when a SLFPer asked him "are there any more parties left for you to sign MoUs with them?"
"Why, the TNA," chuckled Rajapaksa. "Don’t worry, before the end of next year they too will come to me for a MoU."
Anura on reverse gear
The president was surprised when he saw the published report in an English weekend paper quoting Anura Bandaranaike telling some tourism professionals that he could not ask tourists to come here while a war was being fought. Surprised that his tourism minister made such a statement, the president telephoned Bandaranaike who accused the newspaper of misquoting him.
Rajapakse directed Bandaranaike to send a denial to the newspaper which had published the report. That does not appear to have happened but the state owned Daily News ran a contradiction.
Spat with Fowzy
A report that Jaffna was low on petroleum products saw the president ringing Minister A.H.M. Fowzy to check out on the situation. Fowzy’s son, Naufer, picked up the phone and Rajapaksa asked him where the chairman of the Petroleum Corporation was and was told that he was on a visit to Britain.
"These fellows are on jaunts when the people in Jaffna are suffering without fuel," a clearly annoyed president had said.
Fowzy junior had said that 300 gallons of fuel sent to Trincomalee for ferrying to Jaffna was lying there because Navy had refused to move it. Astounded by this stupid response about getting a ship to transport so little fuel, the president warned Naufer not to play the fool but to see that Jaffna was adequately supplied.
An attempt by Minister Fowzy to appoint Ramal Siriwardena as CEO of the SLTB while Tudor Dayaratne remained chairman was shot down by the president last Wednesday. Fowzy attempted to justify the appointment he sought and raised his voice, in the process threatening to resign the next day if he could not do what he wanted as the responsible minister.
Rajapakse told Fowzy that he could certainly resign if he wished to do so but Mangala Samaraweera and Anura Bandaranaiake intervened and placated Fowzy.
As the ministers were leaving the meeting Rajapakse jokingly asked Fowzy, "Can you send that resignation letter of yours to me?" leaving a shamed-faced minister to back down. -The Sunday Island
By Eric J. de Silva
We constantly hear members of the majority community asking whether Tamils have legitimate grievances. The inference is that they do not, the stress being on the word ‘legitimate’. Neville Ladduwahetty (NL) took up such a position, writing to the daily Island of October 4, 2006. It was amusing to see him faulting the international community for not specifying what the legitimate grievances of Tamils are when President Rajapakse himself has admitted that all elected governments in Sri Lanka, including his, have recognized that such grievances exist! NL appeared to have been particularly peeved at the European Union resolution which called upon the Government of Sri Lanka to address legitimate Tamil grievances.
The ostrich is said to hide its head in the sand, and assume that others do not see it. It is this ostrich like attitude on the part of some vocal segments of the majority community that has resulted in issues between different communities that inhabit this country from assuming proportions that have been bleeding it to death! The purpose of this article is to highlight one legitimate grievance of the Tamils that Prof. K.M. de Silva described as “the very core of the ethnic conflicts that erupted” (Reaping the Whirlwind, 1998)
It was in the early part of the 20th century that pressure began to mount for English as the official language to be replaced by Sinhala and Tamil. At the forefront of this movement were, in fact, the Tamils. Nira Wickremesinghe describes how the language issue in education was closely linked to the swabhasha movement which demanded the use of the vernaculars (the word used at the time for local languages) in the administration, and how the movement that began in the 1920s was spearheaded by the Jaffna Youth Congress (Ethnic Politics in Sri Lanka, 1995). The coming of universal franchise and the Donoughmore Constitution in 1931 gave further impetus to this movement, leading to a resolution in the State Council in 1944 that Sinhala and Tamil be made the official languages of the country, in place of English. According to Prof. Wishwa Warnapala,”(T)his resolution to give equal status to both languages was seen as an expression of healthy Sri Lankan nationalism”(Ethnic Strife and Politics in Sri Lanka, 1994).
The 1944 resolution wanted the medium of instruction in all schools to be Sinhala or Tamil “with the object of making Sinhalese and Tamil the official languages of Ceylon within a reasonable number of years”. Thus, the logical follow-up from the medium change was to be a change in the official language from English to Sinhala and Tamil. While the medium of instruction was changed progressively on a grade by grade basis commencing in 1945, it was expected that the change in the official language will follow in due course. All political parties that contested the 1952 Elections including, significantly, the newly formed SLFP led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike subscribed to the policy enunciated in the 1944 resolution, which K.M. de Silva aptly described as the “the language settlement reached in 1943-44″.
It was therefore not surprising to see Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala, while on an official visit to Jaffna in 1954, making a statement that his government will bring about the necessary legal changes to make Sinhala and Tamil the official languages of this country. It was, after all, ten years since the decision was made. In the meantime, Sir John’s assumption of office as Prime Minister in 1953 had already aggravated the cultural divide that existed between the ruling elite and the (largely rural) Sinhala intelligentsia who were yet to reap the benefits that they expected would accrue to them from Independence. By comparison, the Tamils were better off thanks to the favoured treatment they received during colonial rule as was evident, for instance, from the far better educational facilities they enjoyed in the North and the far greater share of public service jobs they had in comparison to their numbers. Sir John’s announcement in Jaffna was perceived by large segments of the Sinhala population as a measure which, in the name of granting equality of status for the Sinhala and Tamil languages, would widen the social and economic disparities that existed between the Sinhala and Tamil communities to the disadvantage of the former.
Thus, Sir John’s announcement in Jaffna, although it did not mean a departure from accepted policy, raised a storm of protests in the South and gave birth to a movement for Sinhala Only. Sensing the danger in abandoning the two language policy, Dr. N.M. Perera placed a resolution before Parliament (October 1955) that Sinhala and Tamil replace English as the official language. The Sinhala electorate which had by now become increasingly disillusioned with the elitism of the UNP on the one hand and the doctrinaire Marxism of the Left on the other, were on the look-out for a new Messiah, and he arrived in the person of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike! He moved away from Sinhala and Tamil which he had been advocating until then, and not only opposed the motion but proposed an amendment to make Sinhala only the official language. Although the motion did not end up in a vote being taken, the die was cast. The UNP who saw the way the wind was blowing followed suit by ignominiously accepting ‘Sinhala Only’ and going for a General Election one year ahead of the due date only to get completely routed by a coalition that SWRD was able to hurriedly put together under the banner of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna.
SWRD promised not only to make Sinhala only the official language of this country, but to do so in 24 hours! Although he tried to back track and soften the blow by providing for the use of Tamil too in the legislation that he proposed, the forces that catapulted him to power were too strong for him to contain. The result was Act No.33 of 1956 better known as the Sinhala Only Act which more than anything else laid the foundation for the two major communities in this country to drift apart. Wishwa Warnapala, SLFP stalwart and currently Cabinet Minister, admitted that “(T)he passage of the Sinhala Only Act and the subsequent political developments were marked with intermittent communal violence, culminating in riots, and continuous deterioration of the relations between the two communities till the issue developed into a monstrous political phenomenon challenging the basis of the unitary character of the Lankan state.” (Ethnic Strife and Politics in Sri Lanka, 1994). I would add that this was a breach of trust and a historic blunder, and attempts made in later years to right the wrong were no more than attempts to lock the door after the horse had bolted! Even worse, it provided the opportunity for the Tamil community in this country to accumulate a litany of grievances – some genuine, some grossly exaggerated and others purely imaginary.
There will be those who argue that the challenge to the unitary character of the Sri Lankan state pre-dates the Sinhala Only legislation by pointing out that the Federal (Tamil Arasu) Party was established in 1949. The Federal Party was established by a breakaway group of the Tamil Congress led by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam when the Congress under the leadership of G.G.Ponnambalam decided to join the D.S. Senanayake government. However, the Federal Party fared very badly at the General Elections of 1952 losing 6 out of the 8 seats it contested. What is more, Chelvanayakam himself got badly beaten by S. Natesan, the UNP candidate, whom he had handsomely beaten at the 1947 Elections to enter Parliament as the Tamil Congress candidate.
A. Jeyaratnam Wilson, the well-known academic and Chelvanayakam’s son-in-law who later became one of the leading advocates of Tamil ‘nationalism’ admitted that “(T)he Federal Party failed to make an impact at the general election of 1952, because the majority of Tamils at the time believed their future to lie in a unitary state” (Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, 2000) He added: “Between 1952 and 1956, however, there occurred a profound change in the Tamil stance. The forces of the ‘Sinhala Only’ movement took centre stage, with two major Sinhalese parties changing their platform from Sinhala and Tamil as joint official languages to Sinhala as the only one.” Thus it is the unilateral abandonment of the language settlement of 1944 by the majority community that fueled ethnic tension and gave a much needed blood transfusion to the Federal Party. The result: it won 10 out of the 14 seats it contested at the 1956 Elections, enabling it to marginalize, if not totally eliminate, other contenders for the Tamil votes who, by and large, stood for a unitary state.
This was not all. The historic blunder committed by the Sinhala polity in jettisoning the commitment made in 1944 to make both Sinhala and Tamil the official languages of this country enabled the FP to make a huge inroad into the Eastern Province by appearing as the champion of not merely the Tamil people but of all Tamil speaking people (which included the Tamil speaking Muslims), and gain a foothold in the Eastern Province. This is seen by the fact that the FP was able to win 4 of the 6 seats it contested in the East, losing Padiruppu by a mere 106 votes. What is more, 2 out of these 4 seats were won by Muslim candidates who contested on the FP ticket! Clearly, a large segment of the Tamil speaking Muslims of the Eastern Province had accepted the FPcredentials to fight for their language rights as the Sinhala Only Act imposed on them the same disabilities that it imposed on the Tamils.
Thus it was language which was the bedrock on which the other grievances of the Tamils were built. One has to be extremely na`EFve or ill-informed to say that the Sinhala only policy did not impose serious disabilities on the Tamils. Although many legal and constitutional changes have been made since 1956 to make amends, the grievance of the Tamils that they have been unequally and therefore unfairly treated, yet remains. A study I did for the government a few years back confirmed that they do have a grievance, and a legitimate one too. It confirmed what I already knew as a citizen of this country and as a public servant who served in numerous Departments and Ministries of government, not to speak of the two year spell I served as Government Agent, Trincomalee district where Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalas live in almost equal proportion. What needs to be emphasized is that rectification of this grievance has very little to do, if at all, with devolution and long-drawn out negotiations with the LTTE interspersed with military confrontations No visits to Geneva, Oslo, Tokyo and even Bangkok are necessary for the purpose!
-The Sunday Island-
By Neville de Silva
Whatever the protagonists oneither side of the barricades in Sri Lanka’sseemingly intractable problem might say, the carrot and stick approach of theso-called international community (actually a fistful of countries) brought thewarring parties to Genevaonce more.
At times it was the carrot ofmore money in the kitty for development and who would shy away from that,especially when the booty is big enough to skim off the top with few questionsasked and even few answers expected.
That happens on both sides iswell known to those who follow the deeds and misdeeds of politicians andself-styled liberators of various hues.
But do not imagine for a momentthat the LTTE’s Wanni leaders and their diaspora experts gathered in Geneva are going to give anything away because suddenlythere is some kind of a southern consensus-at least between the two majorpolitical parties that have ruled but rarely governed, Sri Lanka sinceindependence.
To be charitable to the Tigers,if such an act is possible without trampling on some moral principles, let ussay they bit the carrot held out by interested foreign parties that havedabbled in Sri Lanka’s long standing problem, invited or uninvited. A free tripto Geneva and back after some acrimonious verbaland physical clashes in recent months, an opportunity to interact with theTamil diaspora and leading LTTE figures from different parts of Europe who could make the journey and another chance tobypass customs’ checks on their return, escorted possibly by their Norwegianminders.
If one was confined to the Wannifor months with bombs raining from above who would not long for a long trip toanywhere such as cuckoo-clock land even if only for a few days.
But those who bite the carrot donot necessary chew it. So the current round of Geneva talks is hardly like to produceanything in the way of substantial movement towards a settlement. There will beplenty of sparring and some skirmishes but, I hope, few verbal punch ups thatwould turn even the staid Swiss and equally staid Norwegians a distinctlycarmine red- or should one say salmon pink.
One reason for this is theeleventh hour Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the President MahindaRajapaksa and opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe that has eluded others forquite some years.
Many years ago when JuniusRichard Jayewardene was president and there was the prospect of SirimaBandaranaike winning the election and becoming prime minister I asked MrJayawardene what would happen if she did indeed win.
“Then I would have to cohabitwith Mrs Bandaranaike,” he said with that smile he would sometimes break intowhen in a particularly mischievous mood.
President Jayewardene was drawinga parallel with the political situation in France at the time.
Now the SLFP and the UNP havedecided to cohabit, temporarily at least. But such habitation should not becosmetic, a public attempt to fool the people. If it is to be meaningful suchcohabitation must be productive.
With the military reversalsuffered by the Tigers in the last couple of months mitigated somewhat by twosuicide attacks that might have been averted or minimised had the securityservices been more alert, the LTTE prepared to go to Geneva with their military image partlyrestored with a bit of spit and polish.
But the MoU has given the south anew political complexion. In recent years the LTTE had held out the argument,and it did have some validity, that the constant bickering between the southernpolitical parties, meaning of course the majority Sinhala parties though theydo have Tamil and Muslim adherents, and the lack of a coherent policy forsolving the North-East problem, made a negotiated settlement virtuallyimpossible.While naturally there were other issues that stood in the way of alasting solution, in the eyes of the LTTE this lack of a bipartisan policy wasthe real stumbling block to negotiations. True enough the LTTE used thisargument widely to try and convince the wider world why they had no alternativeto an independent state.
Certainly there were those whowere convinced by this and the more quarrelsome and irritatingly trenchant thesouthern parties jockeying for political power became, the more the world cameto accept that the LTTE had an argument, though most hated the violence andterror the Tigers unleashed on others including their own people.
The MoU therefore has come at acritical time because, for the moment at least, it undermines the LTTE argumentabout the lack of a southern consensus without which there cannot be fruitfultalks.
Now that sense has prevailed andproduced consensus and undermined to some extent the traditional LTTE argumentof southern division, the Tigers would want to watch how this unfolds in thecoming months and perhaps over the two year period during which this détente isvalid.
So it is for the SLFP and UNP tomake it work. It is easy to reach agreements when political and economicpressures, both internal and external, make them timely and immediatelynecessary.
But the legitimacy and theultimate validity of such agreements would not be judged by the signatures onthem but by the genuineness of those who affixed their signatures and thepolitical forces they represent, in implementing the terms and conditionsagreed on.
The MoU states that the two sides“after careful and sustained deliberation have agreed to collaborate inaddressing the national issues in regards to peace, good governance anddevelopment.”
While peace, of course, iscentral to the agreement and what the vast majority of Sri Lankans whereverthey live would dearly wish, it would be difficult to achieve without goodgovernance.
By peace I do not mean merely thecurrent imbroglio but peace everywhere in the country which would allowsustained development.
This larger peace cannot beachieved without good governance which requires genuine empowerment of thepeople, the respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions, theelimination of corruption, transparency and accountability.
Sadly successive governments havebeen lax in observing one or more of these vital ingredients of good governancealthough our leaders have faithfully put their signatures to the declarationsof Commonwealth heads of state and government that have advocated thisrepeatedly as an article of faith.
Corruption, for instance, hasspread like a cancer in the body politic and now it is so rampant that it hasbecome a distinct odour in the civic nostril.
If the two main parties wish torestore faith in the political system then they must act in unison to fulfilthe undertaking they have given in the agreement they signed.
Both parties need to rememberthat they represent majority thinking in most of the country. If they now failthe people, the people will fail them the next time round when they seek publicsupport at the ballot box.
The same goes for the rule oflaw. All the recent criticism by foreign governments and civil society havecentred mainly round the issue of the breakdown of the rule of law, theimpunity with which people are killed or disappear or made to disappear andlack of will to punish the guilty.
The two leaders in particular, ifthey really believe in what they have agreed to and this is not a mere charadeto while away the next two years as their cronies and those near and dear makemerry at the expense of the people, have to act to fulfil their promises.
Sri Lanka already enjoys thedubious distinction of having perhaps the largest number of ministers, deputyministers and other sundry office bearers in any government.
If this political co-operation isto lead to a further increase in such positions which bring unjustifiablepower, privileges and perks it would only lead to a further erosion of publicconfidence in our ability to govern ourselves without stealing from the publicpurse.
There are already many skeletonsrattling in the cupboards. If the two leaders now do not act decisively tocontrol their own ranks and put an end to what the whole world can see, theywill reap more than public derision.
They will jointly hand over tothe Tigers the ultimate propaganda weapon. -The Sunday Times