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In the reconciliation government, there is satisfaction on the one hand ..

 

whereas there is a lack of satisfaction on the other hand - Gamini Viyangoda stated in the GTBC Radio program named “Vizhuthukal”-

 

Gamini Viyangoda is a key activist of “Purawesi Balaya”. He is an artist, a columnist; one of the representatives of Southern Civil Society, a social activist and one of those who think that fair solution should be given to the ethnic conflict. He was interviewed by Nadarajah Kuruparan at his home located at Aththul Kotte.

Following are the excerpts of the interview;

Good morning Mr. Gamini Vayangoda!

Q:  “Purawesi Balaya” played an important role in the attempts of changing the regime. Have your aspirations been accomplished following the regime change?

A: We had so many aspirations. Some of them have been accomplished. However, so many others are yet to be accomplished. Therefore, we are now in an attempt to accomplish the remaining aspirations which are not yet accomplished. In the present circumstance, there is satisfaction on the one hand whereas there is a lack of satisfaction on the other hand. Few things with regard to the democratic reformations have been implemented. Constitutional Council and Independent Commissions have been established. Presidents’ power has been somewhat reduced. However, these are not enough by any means. There are defects and bugs even in the things thus established. The appointments to the Independent Commissions do not seem to be appointed in an independent manner. Appointments have been made irrelevant. It could not be realized yet that the differences between the manners the Independent Commissions function during the Mahinda’s regime and the present regime. For example, seeing the actions recently taken by the Public Service Commission, it is obvious that the things are still carried out in the manner which was carried out in the previous regime. Despite there are Independent Commissions, the expected sevices from it are yet to be rendered. Similarly, some of our aspirations are not yet accomplished. “Purawesi Balaya” will continuously make all efforts to get those things accomplished.

 

Q: There is an impression raised among the people that the present government spends copious amounts of time to prevent and respond to the accusations and impediments made by the joint opposition party following the regime change. Do you agree?

A: I do not agree in the sense that joint opposition party. However, there is a fact behind the accusations made with regard to this. The present government spent copious amounts of time to investigate the accusations made. Strengthening of the joint opposition party is a good example and good evidence for the accusation made in this regard. No joint opposition party would have continued if the present government had not wasted the time. It is obvious that time was unnecessarily squandered following the strengthening of the joint opposition party. If the trails had been speedily conducted against the thievs and criminals and the punishments had been timely given, the joint opposition party would not have continued. I agree the problems due to the joint opposition party. The present government delayed the actions.

Q: The present government is taking steps to bring the reconciliation. However, when I speak to the several drivers of Auto- rickshaw during my travel, they praised the former president Mahinda Rajapakse and the former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as heroes. What do you think about it?

A: The present government has taken some measures for the reconciliation. For example, in 2015, a joint resolution was passed in Geneva. Four mechanisms were mentioned in this resolution. A task force was formed by the Prime Minister to perceive the public opinions. This Task Force is to obtain the views of people across the country. Establishing Fact Finding Commission to find facts is one of the mechanisms as per the resolution passed in Geneva.

The second mechanism is to take court actions by producing those who are accountable for the crimes allegedly committed during the war before the court. The third one is to establish the office of Missing Persons. The fourth one is to take measures to prevent the similar issues from being repeated in the future. Cabinet approved the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons. This is going to be implemented soon. The task force to perceive the public opinions and suggestions was formed. 11 members are engaged in this task force. They have now commenced their task to perceive the public opinions across the country. In addition, lands have been hugely released to the Tamils in north and east. Similarly, some political prisoners and those who were not prosecuted have been released. Some actions were taken to resettle the people who are detained at welfare Centers. Some measures like these were taken. But, it is inadequate. We need to take actions to meet the remaining needs. 

As you said, reconciliation is not clearly seen between the races and between the people. It cannot be denied. Some incidents which took place here and there are described on the ground of racisms. For example, the recent incident with regard to the Chief Minister of Eastern Province was described on the basis of racism among the Sinhalese in South. It was described in racist terms as he is a Muslim. The issue would not have blown up this much if the Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council had been a Sinhalese person.  

Kuruparan: Yes. The President has also stated this.

We observed this in the past. We know that how the government officials were treated by the Sinhala ministers of the previous regime.  At Bauddhaloka Mawatha, former Minister Wimal Weerawansa took off the cap of the Deputy Inspector General of police. Wimal mocked the the Deputy Inspector General of police by doing like this. During that time, people were not so much rebel against that. The issue was blown up massively just because the Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council is a Muslim. I do not appreciate or agree with the way the Muslim Chief Minister behaved. The way he behaved is very bad.  This is an incorrect example. But, inducing the racism is not the solution to such issues. Reconciliation is therefore not something that can be established in this country over a night as it is a process. It is not the matter which can be accomplished by rectifying an article in the legislation. It should be continuously carried out for a certain period of time through a social process. All including the government and the civil societies should be mindful during that time. There are obligations to the government during this certain period of time. The government should immediately step forward to manage the emergence of the racist organizations and the disturbances to the communal harmony. The current journey is like this. As you said, the particular three-wheeler driver may have said certaining things like that. We want to win over these. This process takes time. According to me, all sections including the government, civil societies, opposition party and other political parties should take part in the process of reconciliation.

 

Q: There is a perception among the ordinary Sinhalese people that the President Maithripala Srisena, the Prime Minister Ranil Wickrameshinghe and the former president Chandrika Bandaranayake mortgage the country to the whites whereas the former President Mahinda Rajapakse is not submissive to the whites. Do you agree?

A: No. I completely disagree with it. Selling the country to the whites is not being taken place. Listening to the comments of the civilized world community does not mean that selling of this country to the whites. Sati which is described as a custom in India in which the widow was burnt to ashes on her dead husband's pyre was banned by the whites. Is the ban on Sati wrong just because it was banned by the whites? The whites ruled India. Therefore, the rulers can be referred as the whites.

But, Sri Lanka is not ruled by the whites now.  

However, Sri Lanka's new government listens to the theories of global policies. The world’s global policy means that the policies of democratic world. We do not listen to the stances of Zimbabwe or Uganda. Despite, these dictators are elected through the elections; we do not listen to the stances of such totalitarian world. Zimbabwe president earns 90 percentages of votes. He won the election five or six times. We listen to the comments of the democratic countries.  We listen to the comments of those countries just because those comments are civilized not because the comments delivered by the whites.

For example, the whites demanded not to abduct people in white vans. Do we want to disregard that? Do we say that we should be abducted in white vans? We cannot say like this. They demanded not to violate the human rights. Do these sections ask us to violate the human rights since the whites demanded us not to violate human rights? The whites asked us to produce the suspect before the magistrate within a certain hours of time from the arrest of him. Can we say that we cannot do this as it was asked to do by the whites? They said us not to torture the suspects in the police station. Sating that the country is sold to the whites is nonsense. Sri Lanka cannot travel alone in the world order. No countries in the world can travel alone. We have to listen to the stance of the world. There are adopted systems in the civilized world. There are internationally accepted laws. We must act according to the international laws. The white vans are banned on the basis of the international law. Tortures in the prisons are not accepted. Incarcerating the political prisoners for several years without being prosecuted is prohibited as per the international laws. These are prohibited acts. We do not do these as it was said by the whites. As the human beings, these things should be done. As we are the civilized human beings, these things should be done. It is true that Mahinda Rajapakse did not do these. That is why; we sent him home. Now, we are doing these things. Now, we are implementing the restructuring measures. So it will not be selling out the country to the Whites.

We (Sri Lanka), who were indescents, have now becme civilized. The opportunists’ statement stating that the country is sold out to the whites is nonsense.

 

Q: It has long been seen that according to the mindsets of ethnic majorities, the harmony at all times should be initiated from the Tamil people. Do you think that the defeted ethnicity at all times should compromise its political aspirations?

A: All countries in the world including India accept that a settlement plan to resolve the ethnic conflict should be proposed. There is a stance also in South in this regard. It had been a long-standing position. In certain circumstances, this stance got risen up while this stance got fallen down in some other circumstances. During the Mahinda’s regime, this stance got fallen down. Now, the stance begins to rise to the top. Today, the Tamil National Alliance is the opposition party. In certain areas, there are some healthier changes occurred. We must continuously strive to make this stance always success. It is obvious that the government of good governance provides massive support to achieve this. It can be understood if some of the statements delivered by the President are noted.  In many instances, the President emphasizes the communal harmony. The Prime Minister insists the reconciliation among the races. Some measures have to be further taken.

 

Q: The President and the Prime Minister talk about this frequently. They added that the political solution should be proposed. In the speech delivered by the president yesterday also, he insisted the reconciliation among races. This subject is spoken only by both the President and the Prime Minister. Do you think that the ethnic conflict can be solved by these kinds of statements delivered by both the President and the Prime Minister alone?

A: The issues cannot be solved by both the President and the Prime Minister. The whole society must be integrated in this effot. Reconciliation requires the cooperation of all sections. Then only, the reconciliation can be successful. In order to do this task, we are currently working as the civil societies. We go to various places to talk about this. We talk about this through various Medias. Simultaneously, we exert pressure on the government with regard to this. In this respect, participation and collaboration of all sections is needed for reconciliation, but rather only by the President, it cannot be accomplished.

 

Q: According to my observations, the talks with regard to the solution to the ethnic minorities are prevalent only among the wealthiest people and the people belonging to the upper middle class. That matter did not reach to the ordinary rural population. The initiatives of reconciliation go very slowly to the rural areas. Almost two years of the present presidential term have been already completed. The President still have only 3 to 4 years as the maximum period. Do you think that the solution to the ethnic minorities would be given during his presidential term?

A: The President’s term of office is not fulfilled its 2 years. Only one and a half years were fulfilled. This discussion takes place only among the people belonging to middle class. That’s why I said, we go to different areas. We need to carry the matters to the ordinary grassroots. We have to make them aware with regard to these things. In fact, the people in the Sinhalese villages do not know much about reconciliation. Consequently, it was able to bend them towards the side of racism in the past by showing a few incidents. If we make them aware in this regard clearly, immediately bending them towards the side of racism by the politicians would be impossible. However, this matter has not been done properly. As you said, these things are only limited to the city. Expressions of opinions and national dialogue are only prevalent among the people belonging to urban middle class. We want to take these subjects to the villages. Some measures have only been taken so far. However, these kinds of activities have need of time.

 

Q: The expectations were high among the ethnic minorities when Chandrika took the office in year 2000. We remember that those expectations had lost after some time. Similarly, the wave of high expectations was high among the ethnic minorities when Maithri took the office, but those expections began to be diminished. What are the reasons for that?

A: The said situation is prevailing not only among the ethnic minorities but also among the ethnic majorities. Delay of the government of good governance is the prime reason. The present government takes time to do certain things whereas the government does something which is not supposed to be done. The people may get frustrated cause of this. There are several reasons for this. The first reason that I see is party politics. The agendas are confined with the party politics. I accept the party politics. Some say that party politics should be abandoned. But, it cannot be done like that. Abandoning the party politics, no politics are conducted anywhere in the modern world. Party politics should be here. But it should not be confined itself with the narrow agenda of its political party. How could they joint together during a national disaster? Party differences were not shown when the tsunami struck. Racism was also not shown when the tsunami struck. The LTTE and the government did helps during the tsunami disaster. The then opposition party also did its helps. We all worked together during that time. We did not confine ourselves with the limits of party politics. Similarly, the national issue should be considered. The national issue may be the tsunami.

Therefore, we must come forward to find the solution to the national question without being limited with the party agendas. The second reason that I view is, the way of implementing the government’s future plans are yet to be made clear. The situation remains vague. These things should be rectified. Only one and a half years have passed after the regime change. The government is being as infancy right now. This is a new initiative. Main political parties in South did not jointly rule the country ever before. So it's a new tentative attempt. These factors may perhaps result in a gradual state of frustration among the Tamil people. The similar situation is gradually brewing among the Sinhala people. We clarified these things to the President and the Prime Minister. Let's see what's happening in the future.

 

Q: There is a perception among the people that the present government also behaves like the preceding governments. Do you agree?

A: Yes. In some instances, it seems that this government also behaves like the preceding governments. For example, the ministers intervened in the enforcement of law in some instances. Two of the ministers in this government intervened in the matter of Avant Gard. They had intervened directly on behalf of the company. One of them resigned his ministerial post whereas another one is still being as a minister in this government. The lawers of this company which is prosecuted before court are being as the ministers in this government. The previous government had behaved like this. There is no change in it following the regime change. Such cases are found within the government. We need to criticize these issues. People need to be clarified. We can lead these to the right path through only this way.

 

Q: There are talks about the major issues such as devolution of power and the political solution to the ethnic minorities. Howeber, the Northern Provincial Council expressed regret that the interference from central is still prevalent in the affairs of the NPC to which no considerable powers are shared. What is your stance with regard to the continuiation of this situation even in this present government?

 A: When I met with the President last night, I asked him why the governors of north and east are only known to all whereas nine provincial councils are running in the country. The whole country knows the names of these two governors only. We actually do not know the names of the governors of the Southern Provinces. The governors of the western province, north-western province and central province are not known to the ordinary people of this country. Ostin Frnando and Reginold Cooray are only well known among the governors of the provincial councils. How has this situation emerged? Devolution of power means sharing the powers to the people as much as possible. Ministers including the Chief Minister would play the leading role if the power is shared to the people.

However, the name of the Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council was not known to us till the last week. The name of the Chief Minister was really not known to me till the Sampoor incident took place. This was possible as the powers are not shared. In fact, the power is at the Governor’s hand.

This indicates that the Chief Ministers did not have an opportunity to exercise their powers. I took this matter to the attention of the President. He accepted it. I consider this as a symbolic incident. Even the powers given to the provincial councils in South were not given to the NPC. On the one hand, enormous administrative activities are carried out by the governors in north and east. On the other hand, military interferences are in the administrations in north and east. These limited powers are further limited due to military interferences. There are no military camps in south to interfere in the affairs of the provincial councils in South.


Q: The military soldiers go to all the meetings held in north…….

A: That is what I mean. Due to these reasons, the situation with regard to the devolution of power is critical throughout the country. The situation is worst particularly in north and east. They must be dealt with immediately. If it is not done, the conficts may probably arise once again. We shold not go into that.

 

Q: There are various criticisms with regard to the activities and administration of the Northern Provincial Council. However, based on those criticisms, the central government keeps the powers under its control without sharing the powers which are supposed to be granted to the NPC. Is it justified at any level?

A: There are issues in the Northern Provincial Council. There are some controversies in the comments and the activities of the Chief Minister of the NPC. It cannot be accepted that powers were not granted to the NPC based on those issues. Powers were not granted to the Eastern Provincial Council also. If we look at sharply, the powers were not granted to the provincial councils in South also. However, it is true that the levels of powers shared to these two cases are dissimilar. The levels of powers shared to these two cases are dissimilar due to the reaons such as military interferences. In anyway, we should attempt to make all the nine provincial councils to run as the civil authority centers in the similar manner.

 According to me, the police and land powers should be provided not only to north and east but also to south.  All the provincial councils should be provided these powers. We did not properly implement the 13th Amendment yet. If the 13th Amendment had been implemented properly, these issues would not have emerged.

Those who ruled the South had been submissive to the Sinhala-Buddhist policies. Therefore, keeping the north and east in their minds, they viewed all the provincial councils in the country. If the police and land powers are granted to South, then it should be granted to the north and east also. As they were not ready to give these powers to the north and east, these powers were not given to the provincial councils in South also. This is a very bad situation. We should establish a broad social dialogue on these issues. We need to correct them in the future.

 

Q: Following the regime change, there were high expectations among the Tamil people with regard to the political prisoners, resettlement and release of lands. Though almost two years passed, only a few things have been done here and there, expected benefits are yet to be reached. Do you agree this?

A: No. The situation is like this not only in the north and east but also in the south. I have said these while responding to a previous question. A few things have been done. However, the aspirations are yet to be accomplished hundred percently. I have told you that this is a continuous process. We have to win over this process through our journey.

 

Q: It is said that the paragraph mentioning the solution to the national ethnic issue was removed in the preamble of the new constitutuent draft. Without being able to bear the pressure exerted by the joint opposition parties, even a paragraph in the preamble of the new constitution was removed. While addressing at the constituent assembly, the speaker of the parliament did not state that the intention of drafting this new constitution is to bring the solution to the ethnic issue, instead of that he stated that the intention of the new constitution is to abolish the executive presidency and to change the electoral system. In this circumstance, do you believe that the government would give solution to the ethnic minorities?

A: I do not seriously care about these verses. It is not important whether the matter with regard to the national ethnic issue is mentioned in the preample. It is utmost important to note whether the solution to the national ethnic issue is proposed. Therefore, hanging on the words is of no use. We need a real solution regardless of the importance of words such as united, unitary, federal, etc. We still have hope on reaching a solution to the ethnic conflict. However, we cannot gurantee that the solution would be as what we expect. We know through experience that it is a herculean task in the regime led by the ethnic majorities. This is what we must try to win. I cannot say you certainly that a solution to the national question would be reached. Similarly, I cannot reject it certainly. I believe that some kind of settlement plan would be reached.

 

Q: Tamils were engaged in non-violent means of struggle during the period of Father Chelvanayaham. Then, it tuned to an armed struggle during the Prabaharan’s period. Now, once again the non-violent means of struggles are staged in the period of Sampanthan. If the solution to the national question is not reached during the present period of the President Maithripala Srisena, the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and the opposition party leader Sampanthan, then do you believe that the solution to the national qestion would be reached?

Do you think that an armed struggle would be possible in the future if the solution to the national question is not reached?

A: Yes (Said this confidently). As far I understand, this is the final opportunity to find a solution to the national question. Because, two major political parties in South in a co-alliance government. The prime Tamil political force is being as an opposition party. So, this is good opportunity to find a solution to the national question. If we miss this golden opportunity, we will go to the past.  Now, Sampanthan provides fullest support to reach a political solution. Today, he even rejects the Vaddukoddai resolution. He forsakes the Eelam demand. Sinhalese in South should take these things into their consideration. While the Tamils do such sacrifices, we also should do sacrifices from our side as Sinhalese to find a solution to the national issue. If we hang at all times that this is the Sinhala Buddhist country, a solution to the national question should not be met in any way. So, this is a golden opportunity to find a solution to the national question. This is the highest time to construct peace among Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burgers.

If we disregard this opportunity, there is no doubt that massive bloody ruins will definitely occur.

Thanks Mr. Gamini Viyangoda.

 

 

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