Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

 by Wakeley Paul, Esq.


A modest set of demands

by Wakeley Paul

The unimplemented B-C PACT was the closest we came to achieving a Federal Constitution. Under Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution, Parliament was the sole legislative organ of the nation. However, unlike the 1972 & 1978 Unitary Constitutions, Parliament was not barred from delegating certain of those powers irrevocably and finally to regional bodies. Under the Unitary Constitutions, Parliament has to retain a continuing control over the powers it delegates. It can, therefore, withdraw or modify those powers at any time. There lies the difference. Under an Unitary Constitution, Parliament can only dissolve power, which it can regain, while under the Soulbury Constitution, it could relinquish legislative powers for good. Under Soulbury, a Federal State was possible. Here lies a major difference between the ISGA proposals and the District Councils under the BC Pact. The Regional [or District] Councils were to have had legislative powers over Agriculture, Cooperatives, Land and Land Development, colonization, education, health and health services, industries and fisheries, housing, social services, water schemes, electricity and roads. The ISGA, by contrast, is principally an administrative organ as opposed to being a legislative body.

Having said that as a broad principle, the ISGA does mention legislative powers in Article 14 of the Proposal, though Article 9 says "The ISGA shall have plenary powers for the governance of the NorthEast, including, RESETTLEMENT, REHABILITATION, RECONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT [RRRD}." Where then does the ISGA have Legislative as opposed to Administrative authority?

The first instance of legislative authority is contained in Article 14, which permits the ISGA to create District Committees and delegate powers to them. The powers they can delegate are principally Administrative in nature, so that is hardly a potent legislative power for it to possess. Under Article 15, the ISGA may create expert advisory Committees to advise on economic,financial, judicial, resettlement and rehabilitation affairs. These are mere advisory bodies to help in the Administration of these and other subjects. This again is a very minor legislative power. The only other area where there is implied legislative power is in the creation of institutions for the administration of justice, and the vesting of judicial powers to such institutions, under under Article 10.

Another very salient difference is that under the BC PACT, two or more regional units could AMALGAMATE EVEN BEYOND PROVINCIAL LIMITS, DIVIDE OR COLLABORATE IN THEIR SELF INTEREST, subject to ratification by Parliament. The ISGA has no such authority.

Some critics of the LTTE proposals suggest that their demands are a stepping stone to separation, when in fact, they are no more than a stepping stone toward a United Federal State. Is not that the primary object of the current peace talks? The LTTE has openly abandoned its demand for separation in favor of the creation of a autonomous State, just as the Federal Party abandoned its demand to object to the Sinhala Only Act as part of the give and take of those negotiations with the Prime Minister of that period.

In addition, one has to look at the considerable controls the LTTE has placed upon the administration of the areas under its authority. Under Article 4, they shall not violate internationally recognized standards of human rights, with an independent commission to oversee and ensure compliance with such basic rights. Under Article 5, "No religion shall be preeminent," Articles 6 & 8 bar discrimination and Article 7 bars Bribery. There were no such restrictions placed on the District Councils, which could have indulged in all the discrimination each saw fit to impose on non-Tamils living in these regions. I have just one minor suggestion to make, however. In article 8, where it says "no law, regulation, etc ......shall be made concerning the culture and religion," I would use the words 'background, customs, lifestyles, culture or history or organizations of any community or religion or religious body.'

On the financial side, the ISGA will have no more power than that which was offered under the B-C PACT. There are funds to be supplied from the Consolidated Fund, plus powers to tax and borrow. This proposal rightly adds grants and loans intended for use in the NorthEast and adds the right to Trade, just as any American State of the American Union has [Articles 11-21].

The other additional feature under this proposal is that all disputes between individuals shall be decided upon by an independent judiciary. The exceptions are Human Rights violations, previously mentioned, and disputes between the ISGA & the GOSL, which shall be settled under the terms of Article 22, which ensures absolute impartiality

The areas in which the ISGA will exercise administrative powers are over the Administration of Land, and land development, of lands which are not privately owned, [a non-leftist proposition], Resettlement of Occupied lands, Marine and off shore recourses, riparian rights over rivers and overseeing the natural resources of the region. These are but self evident expectations of a people seeking some degree of regional control over the region they dominate.

Overall, these are very modest proposals in accordance with the ultimate goal of attaining an autonomous governing authority. Furthermore, these are the first proposals, which are obviously subject to counter proposals. The fears expressed by the Indian government, which have alienated themselves from the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka ever since they intervened in our affairs in the 1980's, are not worth an iota of consideration. These are the paranoid ravings of a paranoid government constantly facing separatist demands in their own country. The LTTE proposals are designed to avert such a demand for separation. The Indian government's paranoia can hardly be allowed to raise any shock waves in Sri Lankan solutions to Sri Lankan problems. They should never again be permitted to interfere in our affairs. Both they and we should have learned that lesson by now. Let them manage their destiny; and let us control ours.


Posted November 18, 2003