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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Interim Self Governing Authority & Aftermath > ISGA Proposals and Precedence
ISGA Proposals and Precedence
28 December 2003, Courtesy Sangam.Org
On October 31, 2003 the LTTE, on behalf of the Tamil people, announced their proposal for an Interim Self-Governing Administration (ISGA) of the Northeast of the island called Sri Lanka. This proposed ISGA is a significant step toward a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict between the Tamil and Sinhalese Nations. The world applauded this proposal by the LTTE. Tamil people and their elected representatives have endorsed the proposals.
US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that the proposal is "the first time I have seen such a comprehensive delineation of the aspirations of the LTTE...it is significant". The EU, in a communiqué, stated that the proposal is an "important step forward in the peace process."
One of the criticisms leveled at the set of proposals drafted by the LTTE team of constitutional and political experts is that it goes beyond the Federalism concepts. US Deputy Secretary of State Armitage is one of those who expressed such sentiments and he urged the LTTE to "adhere to the Oslo principles." Mr. Armitage has also opined that the proposals are far reaching and do not have any precedence. The Oslo declaration stated that "The government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam reached a historic agreement to explore a solution to end the island’s conflict founded on the principle of internal self determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka.”
Sinhalese hardliners have called the proposals as "just short of Eelam." It is interesting to note that the Government of India is yet to formally respond to these proposals. The UNF wing of the Sri Lankan Government, which controls a Parliamentary majority, has stated that there are fundamental differences between its proposals and the LTTE's counter proposals. On the other hand, the PA and the JVP has rejected the proposals outright.
The third and latest version of the Sri Lankan government proposals offered authority for the Interim Administration in regard to reconstruction and rehabilitation, except for powers relating to security, land and revenue. However, the LTTE's proposals not only explicitly seek these powers, but also seek powers in relation to Maritime resources and Direct Foreign aid.
The LTTE's proposals state that "The ISGA shall have plenary powers for the governance of the Northeast including powers in relation to resettlement, rehabilitation, and development, including improvement and upgrading of existing services and facilities, raising revenue including imposition of taxes, revenue, levies and duties, law and order and over land."
The LTTE, by seeking powers in relation to law and order, is endeavoring to legitimize its Police Force in the Northeast area. In fairness this is a legitimate demand, as the Tamil Eelam Police force has been in operation for over 10 years in LTTE-controlled areas. Visitors from the South have been full of compliments for this bribery-free and efficient police force. Further, the Tamil people have lost faith in the khaki-clad Sinhalese Police force and would rather feel at ease with the blue-uniformed Tamil Eelam police force.
From an International precedence perspective, the Bougainville Peace Agreement signed between the Papua New Guinea Government and Bougainville rebels provides for an establishment of a Police force in the conflict region. The Oslo agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis also allowed for an establishment of a local Police force for the Palestinian area.
The Devolution Proposals, prepared by Prof. G.L. Peiris and Neelan Thiruchevam and published in August 1995, also contained provisions for a separate Police force for the Northeast region. Para 3.1 of the proposals stated "There will be a regional police service headed by a Regional Police Commissioner appointed by the Chief Minister, in consultation with the Governor of the Region. The Regional Police Commissioner will be responsible to, and function under the control of, the Relevant Chief Minister. The Regional police service will investigate all offenses against persons and property."
If there are international precedents to establish a Police force for an autonomous region from scratch and precedence in the devolution proposals offered by the Sri Lankan Government, then it is justifiable to seek to use the Police force, which has already been established and has been in force for over a decade. Therefore the LTTE's demand to utilize its Police force in the NorthEast is very legitimate, practical and with precedence.
The LTTE's proposals state, "Since land is vital to the exercise of the powers set out in Clause 9 (jurisdiction of the ISGA), the ISGA shall have the power to alienate and determine the appropriate use of all land in the Northeast that is not privately owned." Land management has been one of the areas that led to the ethnic conflict. Post-independence Sinhalese colonization in the NorthEast led to Tamil farmers being chased away from their villages. Land management goes hand in hand with one of the three core principles of the Tamil struggle, 'Tamil Homeland.' The Sinhalese colonization was intended divide the Tamil Homeland and change the demography of the Eastern province. I must admit the Sinhalese rulers did succeed to some extent in this regard. Therefore, it is justifiable that the ISGA needs power to protect the Tamil Homeland.
The August 1995 Devolution Proposals contained the following clauses in relation to Land Management: Para 4.1 Land will be a devolved subject and State land within a region will be vested in the Regional Councils. Para 4.2 Priority in future land settlement schemes will be given to persons first of the district and then of the Region.
The Bougainville peace proposals offered Land Management powers to the region. The Sudanese peace agreement also offers the rebels control over land in their region. Even the Oslo Accord signed between the Palestinians and Israelis had provisions for the establishment of a Land Commission in the Palestine areas. Once again, the LTTE has demanded something which has precedents both in the devolution proposals offered to the Tamils and in other conflict situations.
Imposition of taxes and levies is another power sought by the LTTE, which has raised some eyebrows. The preamble to the proposals explicitly recognizes the need for raising revenue to meet the urgent needs for the Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Development of the Northeast region, which has been devastated by war, and for the carrying out of the functions of Government. It is imprudent for any governing authority to rely entirely on foreign aid. The level of revenue raised through levies and taxes is driven by the amount of business activity carried on within the jurisdiction of the authority. Therefore it is reasonable for the LTTE to seek powers to raise revenue through levies and taxes because they will have significant responsibilities.
In a Federal setup such as Australia, state governments have powers to raise indirect taxes via stamp duty, levy, motor vehicle registrations and land taxes. Given the poor track record of the successive Sinhala government bureaucracies in handling finances directed to the Northeast, it is not surprising that the LTTE has sought powers to raise revenue to expedite the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Northeast. It should be noted that funds donated by the Japanese government to construct a teaching hospital for Jaffna University in the early nineties ended up in Ruhunu University in the South.
The Neelan-Peiris proposals of 1995 contained the following clauses relating to imposition of taxes and levies by a regional council. Para 2.2 stipulate that "Regional Councils will have the powers of taxation in certain specified areas, and the Constitution will require other revenue-sharing arrangements"
Therefore the power to impose taxes and levies is not something without precedence. It is being practiced in federal setups all over the world and more importantly is a power the Sri Lankan government was prepared to delegate in the past.
Foreign Aid and Investment
"The ISGA shall have powers to borrow internally and externally, provide guarantees and indemnities, receive aid directly, and engage in or regulate internal and external trade," states the LTTE's proposals. States in India and Australia compete against each other to lure Foreign Investments. The Australian states have their own credit ratings evaluated by the international credit rating agencies such as Standard and Poor.
Para 2.3 of the 1995 devolution proposals states that "Regional Councils will have the power to borrow as well as to set up their own financial institutions. International borrowing above a prescribed limit will require the concurrence of the center." In the following Para 2.4, "Regional Councils may regulate and promote foreign direct investment, international grants, and development assistance, subject to such conditions as may be specified by the center."
Foreign aid and borrowings granted in the name of rehabilitating Jaffna, after it was captured, ended in the pockets of corrupt politicians. It should also be noted that the Sri Lankan government used foreign borrowings to finance its military operations. The ISGA attempts to end this diversion of funds.
Road to final peace
The well-researched and thought-out proposals prepared for the LTTE by a team of eminent expatriate legal experts, which included a former attorney general of Sri Lanka, is not a work of fiction. Rather, the Sri Lankan government in the past with a view to resolving the ethnic conflict has offered these powers sought in the proposals to the Tamils. Therefore the international community should persuade the Sinhala government to accept these proposals and implement them.
It should also be noted that these powers are exercised by states in countries with a federal constitution. Therefore by seeking an interim administration with powers exercised by states in federal countries, LTTE has in fact endorsed the Oslo principles, not breached them. The ISGA proposals are a step in the right direction. It is the responsibility of the international community to lobby the Sinhala government to implement these proposals and bring peace and stability to the island nation.