Give Me the Mandate to Implement 13A – Douglas Devananda
Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda has been struggling to enter ‘clean politics’ while representing the Tamils of the North and East, but his dreams have never been realised.
He says the Tamil people have always been misled and turned against him by Tamil politicos, which is why he has no mandate to implement what he thinks is right for the Tamil people. “When I returned from India I came to be part of the national efforts in building reconciliation and was committed to my moral obligations for the Tamils, but the Tamil polity did not allow me.”
In an exclusive interview with Ceylon Today the Minister shared his opinions on local politics, geopolitics and the fishermen’s issue.
Excerpts of the interview:
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Are you in favour of the Government holding the pending Provincial Council (PC) elections?
It should be held on time; respecting democracy and the rights of the people. But with the current pandemic and the spread of the virus, it is causing concerns. So we need to analyse the situation. My view is that it should be held when the time comes.
Is the Government ready to hold the PC polls, post pandemic?
They are exploring how to hold PC elections. There are around 300 PC members in the country and there is a colossal expenditure involved in holding PC polls. When Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power he held all the elections promptly but ones who postponed it was the Yahapalanaya Government. The environment we are in now is not conducive for polls.
However, Minister Public Security, Retd Admiral Sarath Weerasekara was of the view of scrapping the PC polls if the people didn’t want it, which raised concerns among the public. What are your thoughts?
The Tamil leadership past and present were not willing to resolve the Tamil people’s issues so they can be re-elected again and again while pointing out the same problems. They growl only when the polls are close by and stir negative sentiments among the people. When we held PC elections in the Northern Province, the TNA and other politicos said that the national problem cannot be resolved at the polls. They were against it. We the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), for the last 30 years, has reiterated that we will resolve the political aspirations of the Tamils. However, as soon as the polls were announced, the other political parties in the North were sure that issues will be resolved if the people voted for the EPDP; which was taboo for them. They wanted the problems to continue without any solutions so that they can have a say over the people. They cry sour grapes because they don’t have the capabilities to solve the issue, neither do they want to solve the issue.
India also wants the PC polls to be held and for 13A to be implemented so that Tamils will have equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka. What’s your take?
We need to seek an internal solution and it is not India or the intentional community that can solve it. They are acting like midwives trying to deliver other countries’ babies as theirs. We have to deliver our own babies. The Tamil politicos acting like surrogate mothers using those midwives to deliver babies for us says that they are incapable of delivering their own babies. All these years the international community had been saying the same thing, but why didn’t they do it? It is because the Tamil politicos disliked it.
Shouldn’t the majority of the country approve the implementation of PCs and 13A?
The 13A is in our Constitution. So why should we go to the majority to get a mandate? The 13A had nothing to do with the Sinhala majority. It is already a law. It is in our hands. From 1987, the 13A mandate is in our hands. How did we get it? We got it through our Tamil struggle and sacrifices. LTTE leader Prabhakaran got the mandate but he discarded it for his political goals. Then the EPRLF with Varatharaja Perumal and Suresh Premachandran had it but they exploited the mandate. So there is no link whatsoever to the Sinhala majority. It was the Government of Sri Lanka and India that signed the Pact and the Pact is active.
Then why is it not implemented? You were also with the same Government before and why did not you implement it?
If you are hungry you should eat your meal, another person cannot eat it for you.
Well you were also a Cabinet Minister before. Why didn’t you implement it?
The Tamil people voted for others to lead the community. It is them who should implement it.
You could have joined the Government, taken advantage of the situation and made 13A a reality?
No. People did not give me the mandate to implement it. In 2008, the Eastern Provincial polls were held and in 2013 the Northern Province polls were held which are partly of the 13A. But the rest were not handled well.
Can it be implemented now?
I will not blame successive Governments on 13A. It’s our mistake. Once we found fault with the system and then demanded PC and the 13A and led a struggle to achieve it. It is us who misused the opportunity. People say we need a political solution and this (13A) is the political solution and we need to take it forward by holding PC polls. If we want to swim we should get into the water.
So, what is your proposal now?
I need the mandate of the Tamil people to implement it. I’m anticipating it. I can do it if people are willing to cast their votes and support me with more seats in the Northern Provincial Council. I have reiterated this stance for many years.
Why are Tamils rejecting you if you want to do a noble service to them?
Some are in the habit of pulling the strings and stirring an anti-EPDP stance. During those two polls in the North and East I told the people, “If you give me the mandate, we will promptly solve the Tamil issue”, but others have been instigating against me. In 1990, I returned from India, without migrating. I returned because I was a senior member of the struggle. I came back because I had a moral right to implement many things that the people had lost. I wanted to join the democratic path, to enter Parliamentary democracy, to engage in national reconciliation path. I wanted to find a solution. Prabhakaran called it treachery including those who were part of the struggle but later turned to politics, namely the; Tamil Congress, Thamilar Viduthalai Kootani, and the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi, whose leaders were killed by Prabharkaran. So in fear, they all supported Prabhakran on selfish grounds. We wanted to take the democratic path and douse the blaze while they were setting fires. As I told before, the Tamil people should have given me the mandate, and had they done that, we would have been in a different level in terms of development and prosperity. A single Cabinet Minister cannot bring about changes. I joined the Government because I want national reconciliation between all and to inculcate the understanding between southerners and northerners. I’m doing all that I can as the Minister of Fisheries.
What is the role of the newly appointed Chief Secretary of the Northern Province, Saman Bandulasena?
It’s was the President’s decision to appoint him. If his appointment is misused or exploited, I will not turn a blind eye. I will correct the mistake or will bring someone new to that position. There are Chief Secretaries in all Provinces, by the way.
What do you think of the geopolitical scenario Sri Lanka is in while located in a strategic position: Do you consider China, U.S., India and Japan have a better understanding with us?
There are conflicts between China and India but Sri Lanka is a tiny island, we need to embrace all countries for investment. In this context, China has come to support us with mega project and looking to benefit from them, too, at the same time. They are not going give anything for free. They came here seeking to make revenue, gain benefits geopolitically. As we take loans from China, there are commitments endorsed too. Once the loan is settled, we retake the commitment we have with them. There is a give and take policy. Even the U.S. has acknowledged China’s growth despite their conflict.
However, India has upped its maritime security due to China’s strong presence in Sri Lanka and recently and Indian Air Force chopper flew over the Manner basin with a top Air Force officer. These are new security measures taken by India. What’s your reaction regarding this new kind of threat India is seeing because Sri Lanka has embraced China?
No one should fear China’s Port City in Sri Lanka because it is commissioned by the Sri Lankan Government and it’s for purely economic reasons. On geopolitical grounds both India and China may have their own agendas but Sri Lanka should not give room for their agendas. We need to balance them, is my view. They are worried about their security and they have the right to beef up their security.
What happened to the three solar power projects by the Chinese to be implemented in the Northern Province?
The bids were called and India and China were the bidders. The Chinese bidders won and the projects were awarded to them. India was not the top bidder it means they were ‘not up to the mark’. However, the Government has halted the procedure over a technical fault. Most probably the Indians will get the project. I also feel that the project should be given to India and that is my stance. There is a technical default in the Chinese tender.
How can such faults be detected after winning the bid?
It is said, I have no more information on that.
Did the Government give permission for a private Chinese company to engage in sea cucumber farming in the Northern Province?
Beginning of 2017, there had been a contract signed between China and Sri Lanka; two private parties for a joint venture. The former good governance Government had issued the licenses. The company obtained a four blocks of land for the hatchery on a lease. They started the nursery In Ariyalai. But the Chinese company could not reap the benefits. So they approached the Gowadarimunai fisher community and with their support, they started a trial farm. It is a Chinese investment; running with their technical know-how. It turned to be good and we are thinking of expanding sea cucumber farming. The license will be issued to local fisher societies.
Are the Chinese only conducting trials and teaching how to run sea cucumber farms? While the solar power project is on hold due to India’s concerns, wouldn’t the Chinese in the north create tension too?
We need investment. We have also called India to invest in projects.
Did you call India for sea cucumber investment?
No, it’s for many other projects. They always say they will come but they don’t show up. India was invited to start aquaculture programmes and to engage in development projects but they are not yet ready but only interested in sending those Indian bottom trawlers.
There are speculations that the Chinese are in the habit of registering businesses but in fact, they are operating though front companies run by Sri Lankans, is that true?
China is buying our sea cucumber and no one else. We need to exploit this market to strengthen livelihoods. It’s a good business. Only few Chinese are in the North. China is only doing business with locals and they are working under the Ministry of Fisheries. If they are upto some mischief then I will watch over them.