In an hour-long interview with The Hindu at his residence in Colombo, Mr. Wigneswaran said the Central government did not discuss the details of its housing project for the Northern and Eastern Provinces with the provincial administration and people’s representatives in the North.
The project envisages to build 65,000 houses in the Northern and Eastern provinces. “We’re completely kept in the lurch. The dominating, domineering and hegemonic attitude on the part of the government is irking us. It [the project] is not to our benefit,” he said.
Asked why he did not invite industrialists to set up housing units in the province and offer incentives, the Chief Minister narrated another incident. He said a proposal to have a twinning programme involving Jaffna town and Kingston and Surbiton borough of the U.K. did not even get a response from Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Eventually, the issue was resolved by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to whom he had represented recently. Mr. Wigneswaran felt that “there is still certain amount of suspicion with regard to anything that we take from outside”.
He, however, added that statements of leaders of the present government in general had been “very, very positive”.
Asked about the plan for economic development of the province, Mr. Wigneswaran said a multilateral needs-based assessment study was being carried out and a 10-year-action plan would be prepared. The UN, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank were among those which would be involved. On the issue of constitutional reforms, Mr. Wigneswaran reiterated the need for a federal Constitution. He cited the example of India and other countries where the idea of federalism was being followed without actually using the term ‘federal’.
Asked whether he came to an understanding with Tamil National Alliance (TNA) chief R. Sampanthan, the Chief Minister said the “misunderstanding” arose over the formation of the Tamil People’s Council (TPC). Once he explained to the TNA leader that the TPC would be complementary to the TNA and would not convert itself into a political party, Mr. Sampanthan was “quite satisfied”.
Full text of the interview:
When you became Chief Minister of the Northern Province in October 2013, there were enormous expectations among people. Have you been able to fulfill them ? You are now half way through. Pl tell us significant initiatives that you have taken.
We came into office in 2013 on a mandate, on the manifesto given by the TNA [Tamil National Alliance]. At that stage, expectations were almost very important and almost decided upon. It was with regard to the Army which was in full control of the area. We wanted demilitarisation, which was one of the most important aspects of our manifesto. Then, there was the question of power sharing, which we wanted. [Issues concerning] disappeared persons. A lot of people have disappeared. War crimes. These are some of the salient matters which were at the forefront when we came in. You must not forget [that] when we came, it was almost 25 years of the Army rule that had been there earlier. The expectation, at that stage, was mostly in order to remove the yoke of the Army which we have not been able to fully do even now. Only in those circumstances, only whatever that we had to do had to be taken into consideration…
You must also understand that [the period of] two and a half years is a very small period of time. All other provincial councils have had 25 years and even seven or eight years, as far as Eastern Province is concerned. But, we only have two and a half years. I was new to the whole job. Our people were new to the job. Our administrators were completely in a different mould. So, in that standpoint, in that backdrop and in that environment, you have to gauge what I have been doing. So, if you go into it from that point of view, the two and a half years have seen the benefit of bringing people together, bringing officers to understand what they are expected to do and making sure that whatever resources that we got into our hands went to people, without being dissipated and diverted to anything else. These are some of the positives.
Have you been able to make a beginning with regard to [providing] livelihood for youth ?
One of the important things that we had been asking as soon as we came into office was the needs-based assessment by the UN. A multi lateral need based assessment is very essential. The UN was prepared to do so but, for some reason or other, they restricted it to humanitarian aspect. We want to know that after a period of war, what our real needs are; what is the state in which we are; what are the areas we have to take the society forward by looking at those aspects and trying to solve those problems. Unfortunately, we could not do that.
Recently, we have been having discussions with the present Prime Minister [Ranil Wickremesinghe], who is very appreciative of that. He is prepared to do so… Now, that a needs-based assessment is going to come, we will be in a position to plan for 10 years and then, we could do it in a much more scientific, proper way to see that economic regeneration and sustainable development would be forthcoming.
How soon the study will be over?
He [Prime Minister] is having development forum meeting somewhere at the end of April or May. Soon after that, he will tell us. May be during the course of the year, it should be done.
Under the given framework of provincial councils, can’t you invite industrialists to have their units in the North by giving them incentives?
You see, it is not possible. It was not possible at all earlier. We expected it to be possible under this government. The statements made by leaders of the present government have been very, very positive. Still, I would like to give an easy example.
When I went to England in July last year, I was able to discuss with leaders of Kingston and Surbiton Borough to help us on a twinning programme, the twinning programme would be that they take over Jaffna town and give us some benefits. We give cultural programmes. [It is like] Economic and cultural exchange of various things. Everything was finalised. I had prepared a MOU.
There was no need for me to get permission from the government because these are devolved subjects. Still, I wanted to be sure that nothing was to be seen as if the Northern Province Chief Minister is trying to do things on his own. On November 4 last year, I wrote to Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and asked him to approve this. Till today, he has not approved it. I sent it on November 4 last year. I called attention. No reply. ..
On 15th of last month, when I met the Prime Minister with our Ministers, I mentioned this and he said that should not be a problem and you should be able to carry on with it. Now, I have written a letter to Hon’ble Mangala Samaraweera that since the Prime Minister has given ok, I am proceeding with it and I have sent the papers across through the British High Commission to England. We are hoping to have the twining programme coming through.
Now, why, I have said this. Your question was “can’t you do this with the benefit of outsiders, international community, disapora, India, and so many people are prepared to help. Why can’t you do this?”
There is still certain amount of suspicion with regard to anything that we take from outside….We are always still being looked upon with suspicion. The hegemonic attitude of the government still persists. They want to dominate us. They want to do things the way they want.
What is the rationale behind your opposition to the programme of 65,000 houses in the Northern and Eastern provinces ?
They [the Central government] should have discussed with us, people’s representatives of the Northern Province. No discussions were held…Even at the time when this was being told to us on 15th of last month, I opposed it. I said it does not seem to be ideal.
Because you are going to spend Rs. 2.1 million [for every house], we can make three houses, if not two. Instead of 65,000, we can make 130,000 houses. It is almost we are bringing to an end the problem that we have with regard to housing. They said “it is only a pilot project. It has not been finalised.” Recently, advertisements have been put in newspapers. They [people] are called upon to apply for it.
We are completely kept in the lurch. The dominating, domineering and hegemonic attitude on the part of the government is irking us. It is not to our benefit… It may have some benefits for the government because the government may be making use of our trials and tribulations, all the problems that we have undergone; all the suffering that we have undergone, the poverty that we are undergoing, they may be making use of us to get benefits from abroad. To what extent it is our beneficial to us in the long run is to be seen.
What is your assessment of the eventual outcome of the ongoing process of Constitutional reforms? What should be the realistic expectations of the minorities, especially Tamils, regarding the process?
The problems are not that which came up yesterday or day before. They are there for the last 67 years or even prior to it. We have got to take steps which will be long lasting. One of the primary things that we are mentioning to the government is that the structure of the constitution is faulty. If you have a unitary constitution, the power will be in the hands of one community.
I must tell you one important thing, Northern and Eastern Tamils are not minority. They are the majority in their areas for over 2,000 years. ..
The unitary constitution is structurally faulted. We would like to have a federal constitution. Now, you can call it federal or you call it in any other way.
Indian constitutional experts, without using the word ‘federal,’ have been made it into quasi federal. Various countries do not use the word ‘federal.’ The federal idea means that those who form a group of people in a particular area, because of their special characteristics, which is accepted by international covenants, are given the right to look after themselves; to govern themselves; to have self rule as far as their areas is concerned within the scope of the entire country.
Nowhere in the world has anyone who has taken to federal constitution ever wanted to separate. Quebec did not want to separate. Scotland did not want to separate. All these different types of cantons in Switzerland are wanting to be together. In India, it also is the same thing….
We have got to say truth as it is what the problems are. If we do not understand the basic problems of our people, the fundamental problems that really led our youngsters taking up to arms, if we do not understand, explain and tell these things to people , ‘look, this is the cause for all what has happened.’ If you are going to allow those causes to persist, don’t you think that these things can happen again?
Have you arrived at an understanding with Mr Sampanthan, TNA leader?
There has never been any problem with Mr Sampanthan for me to arrive at an understanding. There had been certain misunderstanding because of the Tamil People’s Council (TPC). I explained to Mr Sampanthan and I told him that this was going to be complementary to the TNA. The TPC was never going to be any form of a contestant against the TNA. I have a document written and signed by them wherein they have said that the TPC will not become a political party and which will not be interested in fighting elections. After all these matters were brought to the notice of Mr Samapanthan, he was quite satisfied. There was only a small misunderstanding. Otherwise, we never had any problem with the TNA leadership.