In the beginning it was the joint Mechanism. Next came the Post – Tsunami Operational Management Structure. Now it is portrayed as the Tsunami relief Board. The naming, name-calling and name – changing goes on merrily even before the entity is to see the light of day. There is serious doubt whether it will ever come to life since ” saffron terror ” threatens protracted suicide and the big four of the tri – Nikayas are voicing protest.
The shrill cacophony of right – wing reaction and national socialist pinkos want the baby aborted while in the womb. The international midwives are all ready to facilitate a safe delivery. Yet this is one task the mother must do herself. The questions rising to the fore are whether Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga will go through with it in the face of this relentless opposition? . Secondly even if the signing takes place will it work satisfactorily? Thirdly what will the LTTE do in this situation?.
The sad thing about all this is that no credible or rational argument has been made by the vocal warriors opposing the move about the perceived structural or functional flaws of the proposed structure. Much of the protests generate more heat than light on the contemplated action. Despite the double – speak about “terrorism” one senses the unarticulated “racism” in the opposition. The comments made by a leading Buddhist dignitary to the BBC were most revealing. He used Tamils and tigers inter – changeably in voicing his reasons.
The JM or P-TOMS or TRB (lets call it JM for brevity and clarity) is an intricate and somewhat intrepid structure. Like all man made structures it is not perfect or 100% foolproof. It has many defects. At the same time it does not seem utterly bad and devious as its critics make out it to be. It does have some checks and balances to prevent “monopoisation” by any single entity. It appears that some criticism at least may vanish or decrease if and when the full details of the proposed JM is known. Much of the current fear could become liars. Likewise hopes could be dupes.
The JM is a three – tiered structure with a solid grass – roots base. At the primary level is the district committee. A regional committee comes at the secondary level. The Tertiary has the high – level. There is both a separation as well as overlapping of powers at various levels and stages.
The district committees will be set up in six tsunami affected districts of the North – East. Mannar and Vavuniya districts are excluded. The six districts included in this JM are in alphabetical order – Amparai, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitheevu and Trincomalee.
The areas coming under the authority of the JM extend only up to 2 km inland from the sea shore. There are arrangements for it to be extended a further distance in special cases like clear proof of tsunami damage or in instances where further construction is necessary. The important thing however is that the authority of the JM does not cover the entire hinterland of the six districts in any way but is restricted to specifically defined limits of the littoral only.
Secondly the specific time – frame for the new authority from the time of commencement will be for a year only. It is possible that its timeframe may be extended for another year or two years if the necessity arises. This depends on the progress made in reconstruction and rehabilitation. In any event this extra time can be made possible only through periodical extensions.
The JM though independent will be linked functionally to line ministries. For example a housing project or new school for example will be linked to the Housing ministry or Education ministry. These line ministries will not directly control or manage the particular projects. In fact te JM will do away with much red tape to speed up projects. Yet the line ministries will be made aware of progress in particular spheres. The ministers in turn will be answer.
The mechanism is a three tiered structure. At the primary level is the district committee that will both formulate projects and implement them. At the secondary level is the regional committee which will approve, allocate ,monitor or reject projects. At the tertiary level is the high level committee that will allocate funding and monitor such disbursements.
The district committee will be headed (depending on districts) by the GA or a minister from the district. The district committee will have government officials, elected representatives, NGO and INGO representatives , LTTE and even security force representatives. The committees will formulate projects in a way that would reflect the population ratios of each area.
The regional committee will have ten members. The LTTE will nominate five, Muslim parties three and the Government two. There will be some NGO and INGO observers too. The committee will be chaired by a LTTE nominee. As a minority safeguard provision has been made for two representatives being able to block a project approval or rejection decision. If the issue is brought up again a seven member vote is required to get it passed.
Likewise the high level committee will have three members representing the Tamil. Sinhala and Muslim communities. This will be responsible for funds. Here too a decision can be blocked by a single person. Since consensus is a requirement a Cooling off period called “suspension of cooperation” will come in if a decision is split. If consensus is not reached even after that the funds involved will revert back to the treasury. The Suspension period of the high level committee will not affect the working of the other two committees. Two representatives from a multi – lateral donor and bilateral donor will sit in as observers on the high level committee. This committee will authorise the necessary funding for each approved project. All money coming in will go to the treasury and not the joint mechanism. The treasury will transfer funds as when necessary according to the high level committee recommendation.
What Kumaratunga proposes to do remains a mystery still. From the international community to the UNP and TNA she is being urged to get the agreement signed as soon as possible. Neither the President nor a cabinet minister will be signing it on behalf of the Government. Only a senior official will. By all accounts Presidential adviser and Director – General of the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction authority Harim Peiris is tipped to play the historic role. The LTTE, s Peace secretariat director Pulithevan or administrative head S. Thangan may sign on the tiger side. If however the LTTE too wants to downplay the exercise its peace secretariat administrator – a seconded Government official – Iranius Selvin may sign.
Both sides are keen to project an impression that the tsunami set – up is a simple administrative arrangement and nothing more. While this is true to some extent the political aspect is important too. But both sides for reasons of their own will like to underemphasise that. The Government trying to pacify those opposing the deal is forced to assert that this is nothing but an administrative body to regulate tsunami relief and rehabilitation. This is neither devolution nor federalism and in any case does not threaten the unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity of the Country. This of course is true.
The tigers too cannot boast about this in any way. The LTTE has condemned the District Development Councils, Provincial Councils, the Indo – Lanka accord, the GL Peiris – Neelan Tiruchelvam package, etc. They have called those supporting such efforts traitors and killed a good number of them. The LTTE claims credit for never compromising on Eelam and praise their leader for his uncompromising intransigience on the matter. In recent times the LTTE came up with its Interin – Self Governing Authority for the North – Eastern province.
From that perspective this tsunami structure would seem to be a caricature of what the tigers wanted, fought and killed for. Has Tamil Eelam shrunk to an area comprising 2 kilometres distance from the beachfront in only six of the eight districts in the N- E? Quite difficult to answer. So the LTTE is emphasising the fact that this is nothing political but an administrative scheme set up for humanitarian purposes. There is much merit in this argument too. However it cannot be denied that by agreeing to work with the Government on a structure like this the LTTE has implicitly accepted the sovereignty and authority of the Sri Lankan state. This is something the tigers would not like to advertise. On the other hand the moronic opposition to the tsunami deal does not comprehend it too.
Despite pressure to sign and not sign the deal Kumaratunga continues to hold out. Many say astrological compulsions are the reason. At the same time she has commenced a campaign to convince the Buddhist clergy and the laity that the JM is nothing to worry or fear about. If she can get the four Mahanayakes particularly those of the Asgiriya and Malwatte chapters that would help her greatly in thwarting opposition of the Jathika Hela Urumaya and JVP. She is also planning to present a related bill in Parliament. If the SLFP, Left parties, UNP, TNA, NUA, CWC, UCPF, SLMC, EPDP and JHU dissidents vote for it the JM will be passed by a two – thirds majority. The JVP and JHU will be defeated and isolated.This will be a powerful morale booster for the JM.But then will she garner this support is the question?
What is troubling however is the future if the Mahanayakes and an overwhelming number of the Buddhist clergy oppose it? This could create much unrest and division within Government and UNP ranks. The opposing forces would receive a fresh impetus and on the strength of that the JVP could launch a massive agitation. The Police and Armed forces too could be split. The UNP in that situation would backtrack. The position of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse too will be shaky. This is why the international community is urging Kumaratunga to sign it and present a fait accompli.
She is bound by her public assurance to the Mahanayakes and cannot go ahead without their consent. As far as Parliament is concerned she may hold the threat of dissolution as a stick to beat MP’s into voting for the bill. Most Parliamentarians whether in Govt ranks or opposition ranks do not want an election. The JVP being an exception. But if there is a gigantic momentum against the JM in the Sinhala areas then these MP’s too will have no choice but to vote against. A fresh election would seem a better option when faced with political oblivion.Whatever the outcome of this struggle it is clear however that President Kumaratunga is reaching the end of the road as President. Her plans of extending her term or amending the Constitution to create an executive Premier have little chance of succeeding. It appears that she will for the rest of her term (2005 Dec or Dec 2006) remain a lame duck president. The Parliament too would be a lame duck regardless of a new election or not. The political climate can only be galvanised after a new President takes over and consequently has fresh Parliamentary polls. Will it be Wickremasinghe or Rajapakse?
The future of the present Parliament too remains a question mark. The Government has lost its majority. It can function as a minority government till November when the next budget is due. In the meantime it can theoretically obtain support from the JVP and UNP and TNA at different times to push some bills through. Even if these parties do not want to support a bill they can refrain from voting against. Kumaratunga may be counting on the JVP preferring the SLFP to the UNP in a crunch. Watever this delicate tightwalking may entail one cannot expect this government to go on for a long time in this fashion. The UNP is likely to launch an agitation pressing for an early Presidential election.
Against this backdrop the fate of the JM becomes troubling. Merely signing and setting it in motion is not enough. It must be implemented properly. Many pieces of legislation aiming to redress some grievances of the Tamil people have not been implemented. The glaring example being the Tamil as official language provision. In a climate where the JVP and JHU are going to continue agitating a strong government is necessary to see that effective and speedy implementation takes place. Moreover the “Sinhalaised” bureaucracy with its racism and corruption needs a strong and firm political executive. Look at the customs for example who have delayed and imposed stiff duties for OXFAM vehicles to work in tsunami relief. After delaying through paperwork massive amounts are charged for storage too.
In such a situation how well will the JM work? Without a strong government and executive to back it can the JM will deliver the goods? The approach of the LTTE becomes important in this. The tigers have made many compromises in forging and accepting this JM. It is far from satisfactory as far as they are concerned. The system of checks and balances built into the scheme to restrict LTTE dominance can be damaging too. Hypothetically Sinhala and Muslim representatives could gang up and restrain the LTTE nominees too. The bureaucracy could sabotage matters. The armed forces can put spokes in the wheel. One possibility is utilising the Karuna cadres to unleash violence in the East. If the going gets messy the LTTE may even pull out of the JM.
Though the tigers are not very happy about some provisions of the JM the LTTE is going along with it for now. The recognition and legitimacy it gains through such participation is a powerful incentive. It also hopes to gain politically and economically through envisaged projects. The LTTE definitely has an agenda of its own. As long as that can be implemented through the JM the LTTE will play ball. But if that becomes difficult the LTTE may change its stance. Speculating on this is premature as the JM is still not established. The LTTE has played its cards well in the present crisis. By remaining committed to the JM it has gained prestige in the eyes of the international community and Tamil people. The racism prevailing in Sinhala Buddhist elements too has been exposed.
Ultimately it all boils down to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Will she act firmly or backtrack is the question. If she does act decisively and gets the JM working that accomplishment would be the solitary feather in her cap of dealing with the ethnic crisis. If she chickens out then this pathetic display will be her political swansong. She is the epicenter of a gathering political storm and certainly remains as the cynosure of all eyes. Her physical safety becomes crucially important . A man in yellow robes could do the daughter what was done to the father on September 26th 1959
June 17th 2005
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