Northern Provincial Council – A Boiling Pot

June 30, 2017 Asia , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS

Reuters photo

 

By

Thambu Kanagasabai

 

Northern Provincial Council [NPC] is a creation under the Indo-Ceylon Accord of 1987 and 13th Amendment to the constitution, all of which are of Indian and Sri Lankan Governments making without the backing and endorsement of the large majority of Tamils and the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE].

NPC has legislative powers over various matters including agriculture, education, health, housing, local government, planning, road transport and social services. Police and land powers assigned to the NPC are not devolved by the successive Sri Lankan Governments who have simply refused to do so, fearing that it will lead to separation which is just only paranoia. With Central Government enjoying powers through a Governor and Parliament to dismiss or dissolve a rebelling Provincial Council, there is no justification to deny this devolution which only amounts to make it a limping Provincial Council tied up with the Centre. The earlier merged Northern and Eastern Provincial [Northeastern Province] Council, due to the proclamation of President J.R. Jayawardene in September 1988, was nullified in October 2006 by the Supreme court headed by Sarath de Silva, appointed by former President Chandrika Kumarathuge favouring the Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna [JVP] party’s demand for demerger of these provinces.

The Northeastern Province was de-merged on technical grounds. From 1st January 2007, Northern Provincial Council was ruled directly from Colombo until 21st September 2013 when elections were held. A total of thirty eight members were elected using the open list proportional representation system, of these 38 members 30 were elected in the TNA ticket, with seven from the United People Liberation Front and one from Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. Out of the 30 TNA members, fifteen belonged to the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi [ITAK] Justice C. V. Wigneswaran who received more than one hundred thousand votes and topped the list, became the Chief Minister of  NPC on October 07, 2013, with C.V.K. Sivagnanam as the Chairman of the NPC from October 25, 2013. A Governor is appointed by the centre as an arm of executive.

NPC has a Provincial Council List which allows legislation after consulting the national Government. This includes archaeological sites, employment, environmental protection, fisheries, higher education, price control and tourism. The board of ministers consists of the Chief Minister and up to four other ministers. The four ministers appointed were P. Ayngaranesan [Agriculture] B. Dineswaran [Transport], T. Kurukularajah [Education] and P. Sathiyalingam  [Health].

Politician turned Justice Wigneswaran entered politics as the Chief Minister to rule the Northern Provincial Council with a comfortable majority and his entry was warmly welcomed to usher in an outspoken and unbending Tamil leadership, who could also agitate for the causes of Tamils. Politics, as said, is an art of the impossible and it is like a football game where one can expect, fouls, injuries, pretences, even deliberate blows, penalties, expulsion, etc.

Justice Wigneswaran served as a Judge for more than forty years from magistrate to Supreme Court Judge the position of which demanded impartiality, and with occasional mingling with the public, interacting in the courts. Sampanthan paved the way for his entry, much to the chagrin of most of the TNA members who resented a fresh and untested person to lead the provincial council, besides harboring a lurking fear and suspicion as to his possible rise and dominance in the politics of Tamils. Besides, hopes of Mavai Senathirajah to become the Chief Minister were also dashed breeding discontentment with a willy-nilly and grudging inter-relationship.

The track record of NPC is its passing of more than 300 resolutions during this three and a half years period. The most notable being the GENOCIDE RESOLUTION passed unanimously in February 2015, much to the satisfaction of the Tamils worldwide which on the other hand drew criticisms from the South. This Resolution only reflected and put on record the ‘GENOCIDE OF THIS CENTURY’ to the eyes of the world and in the Council.

It is to be mentioned that the Governor Chandrasisi, a military commander was appointed by Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2009 to check and stall any legislations or moves unpalatable to the Government if initiated by the NPC. The Governor also obliged the Government by obstructing the functioning of NPC with delaying and reviewing tactics, initiating actions without consultation with the CM and Council, etc. The relationship was nothing but souring and acrimonious, with demands from various parties in the North to replace him with a civilian as Governor. This demand succeeded when Reginald Cooray, who served as Chief Minister of the Western Provincial Council, became the Governor of NPC in February 2016. Though it was welcomed with relief and satisfaction, Governor Reginald Cooray also failed to develop a smooth and cordial working relationship with the CM and Council. He also has been exercising much of his powers and authority at his discretion without consultations or notice to the CM and Council, like entertaining hosts and arranging functions where CM’s presence is also important, like the Governor’s recent invitation of President Maithri to his office to meet the delegated women who represented the thousands of disappeared with CM Wigneswaran being kept in the dark.

It is to be noted that the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province Z.A. Nazeer Ahamed has been also making complaints against the governor Austin Fernando for interfering in the day to day functions of the council. Similarly the same behaviour of the Governor of Pondichcheri Territory in India Ms. Kiran Bedi is facing the same criticisms for her dominating behaviour and interference with the functions of the Chief Minister Narayanasamy. This pattern of dominating behaviour on the part of Governors appears to be nothing but attempts to project and promote the superiority of their position to that of the Chief Minister.
Instead of maintaining smooth and working relations with the Chief Ministers to ensure an efficient administration in the interests of the people who elected the Chief Ministers, indulging in egoistic attitude to promote self-image must have to be restrained by the centre with proper limits on the powers of the Governor. The Governor though appointed by the Government, should refrain from acting as a paid agent to please and favour the centre.

The Northern Provincial Council and its CM Justice Wigneswaran has been the hot topics and in the limelight during the last few weeks over the reports of a Commission which inquired into allegations of corruption, malpractices, abuse of power, etc, against the four Ministers of NPC. The Commission comprised of Attorney-at-law S. Paramarajah, legal advisor of the NPC C. Varatharajah, and S. Pathmanathan – retired government Agent with Thiagandran a Retired Judge as the Chairman.

C. Varatharajah earlier appeared for NPC in the case in Mallakam courts over the water pollution allegations in the Chunnakam area. S. Pathmanathan the other member in the Commission, earlier worked as secretary in the NPC’s agriculture ministry as well as planning director. The Commission investigations for four months and submitted its findings in a report to the CM on May 192017.

The report found two ministers, Ayngaranesan and Kurukularajah guilty based on evidences presented and submitted, and exonerated the other two ministers for lack of evidence to prove the allegations against them, due to the absence of some complainants and witnesses. It also recommended the resignation of the two ministers from their ministerial position [Iyngaranesan and Kuruguklarajah] Iyngaranesan faced 10 accusations and Kurugularajah faced 9, Deniswaran faced 4 and Sathiyalingam faced 5. The report was submitted to the Council on 14th June and in compliance with the recommendations of the Report, CM in his speech requested the two ministers to submit their resignations within 48 hours and the other two ministers to go on compulsory leave for one month until investigations are completed against them. It is to be noted that various allegations and complaints against ministers were floating for more than one year.

However, the belated urgent and immediate actions of Chief Minister caused resentment from the TNA leadership, while generating public support, backing the moves of the CM in carrying out the recommendation. However, the sweeping action against the other two ministers P. Sathiyalingam and B. Deneswaran who are yet to be found guilty of the allegations prompted TNA leader Sampanthan to interfere in the matter. Sampanthan requested CM Justice Wigneswaran to refrain from taking any steps against those two on the principles of ‘natural justice’ which demands that both parties of the dispute must be heard before passing a determination. Incensed by the move of CM Justice Wigneswaran, TNA’s one of the alliance party ITAK MPs Sumanthiran and Mavai Senathirajah engineered a no-confidence motion against Justice Wigneswaran for failing to act justly and properly in relation to the two ministers [both from ITAK]

A no-confidence motion with the signatures of 21 members was personally handed over to the Governor at his residence, with Chairman of the NPC C.V.K Sivaganam leading the group. In order to counter this move, another 15 members led by vociferous M. K. Shivajilingam met the Governor at his residence and submitted a memo confirming their support to CM.

With heat generated inside and outside NPC in the North, hectic efforts to diffuse the otherwise easily soluble dispute continued with mediation efforts initiated by MP Siddharthan of PLOTE and Religious leaders from Hindu and Christian faiths. Finally the issue was resolved, but not before the public and students were drawn in thousands into this matter, resulting in clash between leaders trying to test their strength, position, prestige and pride. Even a hartal was launched resulting of loss of income, earnings, disruption of public services and causing inconveniences to the public as a whole.

The dust is now settled, with the resignation of the two ministers and the other two ministers retaining their positions and to continue to serve as ministers, while undertaking to co-operate and not to obstruct the pending investigations.

The conduct of Chairman of NPC C.V.K. Sivaganam leaves much to be desired. By becoming a party to the no-confidence motion, he has exposed his partiality to the CM and Council by taking a side and supporting the no-confidence motion. As a Chairman, he is expected to stand and behave neutrally in the conduct and proceedings of the House, while having a right to vote for one aside in the event the Council is equally divided during a voting. By his conduct, Chairman has only initiated a “no-confidence” against him. Unless proper amends are made to rectify this stand, the council could be heading for continuing disruption, disorder and personal vendetta.

While CM Justice Wigneswaran deserves praise for the bold steps to vindicate justice in relation to the two ministers found guilty, his steps against the other two should have been delayed, which lapse was seized by Mavai Senathirajan and others to initiate the no-confidence motion which should have been avoided as an unnecessary move at this crucial period for Tamils. The whole episode was also gleefully watched by the South while the foreign diplomats out of sympathy for the NPC called for unity and compromise.

It is the wish of all that this sad chapter is buried and gone and never to be repeated. NPC was created to focus on the development of North, to take steps to soothe and redress the day to day difficulties of those sufferings since the war ended in 2009. CM and others should concentrate on forging a close knit Council not allowing it to be used as a forum to settle personal scores or giving room to division and disunity leading to rival factions and even street clashes.

It will be in the best interest of all if CM Justice Wigneswaran displays his qualities as a Justice to right the wrongs and as a politician to harness the backing of all members and focus on the needs of the suffering Tamils in the North. The Council should not be exploited as a forum to bolster and boost self-image or to develop personality cult with an axe to grind at the expense of the public and party unity.

It should not be “we stand united to fall apart”. Instead it has to be “we are always united to stand together’.

A divided NPC and a loosely bonded TNA is not the need of the hour and surely not what the Tamils want and wanted. CM Justice Wigneswaran who has almost achieved his goal to lead the Tamils after Sampanthan by earning the trust of the people is beholden to ensure that justice is upheld without fear or favour and with transparency leaving no room for doubts, cover ups, settling personal scores or shielding the soft corners.

It is to be noted that allegations of bias and impartiality with a stained record are now made against the Commissioners who conducted the investigations, even attributing ignorance of CM Justice Wigneswaran about their past by a former minister. CM Justice Wigneswaran as a human can err in his decisions, but he is duty bound to avoid any room for criticism.

It is vital for TNA leadership to shoulder the heavy responsibility and focus on the general welfare, political and regional needs of Tamils, rather than frittering their energy and time on matters which should be best left for the NPC to handle.

The spirit of “We will work together as a united front” must be the aim and priority and not “others and I”

It is also not too late for TNA to register as a political party to present a united front and one voice for the cause of the Tamils.

It is better that instead of washing the dirty linen in public, the best option available for aggrieved party is to seek the ruling of the Supreme Court as to the legality and validity of the Commission and its findings.

 

 

 

 

 

Thambu Kanagasabai

Thambu Kanagasabai LL.M (London) – Former Lecturer in Law, University Of Colombo, Sri Lanka

0 Comments

No Comments Yet!

You can be first to comment this post!

Leave a Reply