The crisis in the Northern Provincial Council (NPC), overshadowed by a relay of court cases which showcased the gravity of the internal power struggle, has prevented the Board of Ministers of the NPC from functioning and serving its people for months while turning the place into a ‘ghost house’.
The Sunday Observer spoke to two of the main characters in the evolving drama to shed some light into the problem which is most unlikely resolved before the five year term of the NPC comes to an end in October 2018.
Excerpts of the interviews:
Q: The term of the Northern Provincial Council is due to expire in September 2018. But the elections to the PCs are being delayed since the delimitation report is yet to be passed in Parliament. What is your take on this development?
It is going to be unfavourable to the Tamil-speaking people. The elections must be held without delay for the Provincial Councils. Otherwise, power will pass on to an unelected Governor as it is, whose penchant for Buddhist domination if not Sinhala in the North and East is known. Already Buddhist Priests are putting up two Buddhist Vihares in Kokkilai and Nayaru in the Mullaitivu District without local government permission or approval. They are backed by the Armed Forces. Add the Governor to the list and we would lose all freedom in these areas of the North and East. Like how Manal Aru became Weli Oya. There would be many Tamil areas being rechristened within a short time.
The elections may even get postponed up to the time of General or Presidential elections. There are criticisms already emanating from the East. They say the female of the species is more dominant than the male. Unless a way out is found for those representing the wills and minds of the people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, to run the affairs of those Provinces until Provincial Council Election, we are done for. Even Tamil Governors replacing the present ones unless they are indigenously ingrained and unselfish could pose a threat to the well being of the people of the North and East in the long run.
Q: Would you or have you already discussed or made any representations to the authorities concerned about extending the term of the NPC? If not how could you ensure that the matters of the Northerners are looked after beyond September?
That is precisely our problem. Since we came into office, except for Mr. Pallihakara, a retired Civil Servant of stature, the military man and the politician have not maintained due impartiality and human concern for the people of the North empathising with their concerns and considerations. I have not discussed any extensions as such except to voice our concern.
Q:There are rumours that the funds from the Consolidated Fund to the NPC will have to be returned since the end of term of the Council is very near and also because there had hardly been any development projects initiated by the NPC. Your comments?
Development proposals/Projects are implemented by the Secretaries of Ministries and Heads of Departments. You cannot say we have hardly initiated development projects. All matters before our officers are projects or development proposals. Politicians and Provincial Councils may come and go but the officers will be there forever. Once the projects/proposals are taken in, they will see that they are completed by the end of the year. Funds will never be returned and the projects/proposals will be implemented fully. It seems the person who had asked you to pose this question doesn’t know anything about administrative procedures and how development works are implemented. Have no fear. NPC never returns money to the Centre because we hardly get sufficient money to return.
Q:There are allegations against you that you are purposely trying to scuttle the functions of the NPC to show that the 13th Amendment is a futile piece of legislation, without even giving it a fair try. How would you respond?
On October 28, 1987 our Leaders Messrs Amirthalingam, Sivasithambaram and Sampanthan addressed a letter to Shri Rajiv Gandhi complaining about the weakness and the inadequacy of the Thirteenth Amendment. Added to that is the purposeful extension of the powers of the Centre by Act No. 58 of 1992 which took place subsequently. Indeed it looks as if there are powers vested in us but we are circumscribed by the Centre in being able to stultify our activities or scuttle them even. For example our Local Authorities have their powers curtailed by the Urban Development Authority coming under the Centre. Our Land Rights are considerably intruded into by the Mahaweli Authority. Since the so called devolution of powers that took place in 1987, the powers and authority of the Mahaweli Authority have not been re-examined and redrafted to make them subservient to the Provincial Authority. They wield authority and are able to curtail and control our Land Rights under the Thirteenth Amendment.
Even our Provincial Schools have their activities affected due to the running of National Schools from the Centre. Our Provincial Hospitals’ rights are affected by the powers wielded by the Centre. Everyone knows to what extent the administration and activities of the Province are disturbed and denigrated by the Governor holding his office directly under the Executive President.
The Centre controls everything. Professor G.L. Peiris at the time when we had high regard and esteem for him as an intellectual par excellence, uttered a home truth. The Thirteenth Amendment and the Provincial Councils’ Act, he said, gave with the right and took back with the left! That is indeed the truth. You want me to give it a fair try? I have to cringe and cower before the Centre to get what I am legitimately entitled to. For the largesse dispensed on us we in turn must give over our rights in our areas and allow the Centre to thrive or thrust in our regions. I deny that I am trying to scuttle the functions of the NPC.
Q: A Sunday Observer journalist who visited the NPC recently witnessed that the Council has been reduced to a ghost house and no councillor, with only one exception, was seen within the halls of that noble place. Why did you allow this issue of your own Board of Ministers to grow into something so big?
I do not know what the journalist saw and when it was. He may have gone there when the Councillors had gone for their tea! If you are talking about the effect of the Court of Appeal order on the NPC, well I had nothing to do with it. You must ask those who went to Court on it. I am sure the Supreme Court will put the matter straight.
Q: It seems the power struggle within the TNA has resulted in this stalemate. Could it not have been resolved amicably through dialogue. Don’t you think that this drives home the assumption that none of the mainstream Tamil politicians are interested in the welfare of the Northern Tamils? Mr.Deniswaran was absolved by a Panel of Inquiry and the Appeal Court, yet you have resolved to pursue the matter further bringing all functions at the Council to a standstill.
There is no power struggle within the TNA. Dialogue takes place when people talk to each other. If they are in no mood to talk to each other then there cannot be dialogue. The difficulty to talk emanates from those who have taken unilateral actions detrimental to the NPC for reasons best known to them. Your sweeping general statement about mainstream Tamil politicians needs to be researched into before coming to such conclusions. If individuals are to be blamed then you would be blaming the other blameless too.
Regarding Mr. Deniswaran his dismissal had nothing to do with his Inquiry by the Panel. He was found wanting to be kept in the Board of Ministers any more if we were to maintain ‘Cabinet’ responsibility. We could work only with like minded people. Hence, my decision to dismiss him. I had that right as Chief Minister. I dismissed him and informed the Governor who should be the new Ministers. The Governor appointed them lawfully and conducted their oaths too. But he had not published the fact of dismissal of Mr.Deniswaran in the Gazette. There is no law as I am now informed which says you need to publish such dismissals or ending of periods of office with regard to People’s Representatives unlike in the case of State Officials.
The fact of non publication by the Governor gave rise to a Court of Appeal Order that there had not been proper termination of the office of Mr. Deniswaran. The powers to the Governors in all Provincial Councils has taken away the devolution promised to the periphery at the time the Thirteenth Amendment was passed.
The matter is before the Supreme Court now. If the Governor decides to publish the dismissal of the Provincial Minister Deniswaran even now retrospectively, the matter would come to an end. This is a matter for the decision of the Governor and his adviser the Attorney General. It is not for me to say so to him.
Q: Will you be contesting the next PC election? Assuming that you are coming to power again after the NPC elections what is your alternative plan of action? What would you do to force the hands of the Government?
Not decided yet. Lots of requests to contest. Only thing that motivates me is a sense of duty towards fellow men and women. So, it is their wishes and aspirations that push me. I have no ambitions.
If I come again I have to take my decisions in consultation with my new Ministers. Therefore it is not possible to answer your question now.
Chief Minister Wigneswaran’s Board of Ministers’ crisis
The executive branch of the NPC is virtually defunct, after a controversial decision by Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran to sack his entire board of ministers, after an inquiry board found two out of four ministers guilty of fraud.
Since July 11, 2018, the NPC Board of Ministers has not convened, on the orders of Northern Provincial Council Governor, Reginald Cooray, since the Chief Minister and his ministers are embroiled in a massive legal battle at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. As a result, NPC officials say, the Council has been crippled, with the Statute Committee entrusted with studying provincial laws to be presented to the provincial legislature also being held down until the crisis is resolved. The five year term of the first ever NPC lapses on October 25, 2018.
Last week, the Court of Appeal issued summons on the Northern Province Chief Minister and his new ministers after Wigneswaran failed to comply with an interim order by the court issued on July 29, to reinstate his former Fisheries Minister B. Deniswaran, who challenged his sacking in the Appeal Court. The summons by the Court of Appeal includes NPC Ministers Ananthi Sasitharan and K. Sivanesan, to answer the contempt of court complaint levelled against them on September 7.
Deniswaran filed a writ against the Chief Minister in the Court of Appeal last year, challenging his sacking, which he said was illegal and an arbitrary action by the Chief Minister.
A committee of inquiry, comprising two retired High Court judges and a former Government Agent hand-picked by the Chief Minister, found NPC Ministers T. Kurukularajah and P. Aingaranesan guilty of irregularities, but absolved NPC Health Minister P. Sathyalingam and NPC Fisheries and Transport Minister B. Deniswaran in May 2017. Despite the committee ruling, the Chief Minister insisted that the two ministers not found guilty also go on a month’s compulsory leave pending a fresh investigation.
On August 23, 2017 Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray informed the two ministers absolved by the committee that the Chief Minister had removed them from their portfolios.
Chief Minister Wigneswaran went on to appoint four new ministers to his ‘cabinet’ – namely NPC legislators K. Sarveswaran, Ananthi Sasitharan, G. Gunaseelan and K. Sivanesan.
Deniswaran argues that his removal by the Chief Minister is illegal because he has no power under the Constitution to remove ministers, since that power is vested with the Provincial Governor, who is also the appointing authority. After hearing initial arguments, the Court of Appeal issued an interim order, ordering Deniswaran’s reinstatement as Minister until the case is heard.
Deniswaran alleged that Chief Minister Wigneswaran and his new ministers had acted in contempt of the Court of Appeal order of July 29 and prevented him from acting as an NPC Minister.
Attorney-at-Law, Suren Fernando appeared for Deniswaran.
The legal battle was exacerbated when Chief Minister Wigneswaran went to Supreme Court in July, asking the Court in which he was once a Justice, to quash the Court of Appeal interim order granting relief to his former Fisheries Minister. The petition has been fixed for support on September 5, two days before the Chief Minister must answer the Court of Appeal summons on his contempt of court complaint. President’s Counsel K. Kanag-Iswaran appeared for the Chief Minister in both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.