The election of R. Premadasa as President of Sri Lanka was needed to give life to the North East Provincial Council (NEPC), and to get it moving. No sooner was he elected President, Varadaraja Perumal, the Chief Minister in waiting known as on HE R. Premadasa the newly elected President. What is happening in the NEPC? inquired the President. Sir, absolutely nothing is moving and to make the Council perform, I do not have officers. When the President gave kinetic energy to the Council ‘Premadasa Style’, it got started quickly and changed to top gear.
The sequence of events was as follows. On 19th November was the NEPC election. On 30th November Lieutenant Basic Nalin Seneviratne was appointed Governor. On 19th December was the Presidential election. The CM’s meeting was about 23rd December 1988. By this time the CM had only two officials. Dr.Wigneswaran, Secretary to the CM and Mr. V.N. Sivarajah, Chief Secretary (CS). Finances offered to the Council had been nil. Take any officer you want from the Public Service and the letter of release will stick to, was his directive. An allocation of Rs. five million was also made for spending inside a week and it was spent usefully. With these two choices the Council got going and established the Secretariat in Trincomalee.
Taking off was a challenge. At the outset several have been reluctant to join the NEPC. It was Wigneswaran’s notion and was endorsed by the CM, that to be Chief Secretary, the senior most officer in the SLAS alone can command the allegiance of the officialdom. He approached the most senior but he declined. He then requested the subsequent, he also declined. The third Mr. Sivarajah accepted. The option was excellent. In addition to varied encounter he was senior even to really a handful of Secretaries in central Ministries. His cast of mind was nicely suited for the challenges ahead. The news inspired self-assurance among other public servants to join the NEPC.
The Board of Ministers comprised five – three Tamils, one particular Sinhalese and one particular Muslim. In view of the merger of two Provinces, ten Ministries have been allowed with every one handling two portfolios. The identical quantity of Secretaries was also allowed. Selections were created on seniority and merit and letters have been issued from the NEPC Secretariat. 4 of us received letters in Jaffna about 1st January 1989. IPKF helicopter took us to Trincomalee. A handful of far more Secretaries joined us in close succession to compose the complete complement of ten.
Till permanent accommodation was arranged in two months, most of us stayed with each other in the Irrigation Department circuit bungalow. For the CS, the day dawned at three.30 am and with his humming of thevarams (Hindu religious songs ) we had been up at four. From four.30 to 6 am discussions and writing and then all at office between 7 and 7.30. All were in a single huge area of the CM. A single conference table served the table demands for all. In a few weeks the secretariat was furnished and well equipped. For most senior officers the day ended at six or six.30 and not later simply because of the curfew at 7pm. With time and power fruitfully spent, a vertical takeoff was attainable.
The initial duty of the Secretaries was to set up the departments, staff them and to equip them. All these were completed from scratch from Head of Division downwards. After the Council got stabilised obtaining the employees from established departments became effortless. Trincomalee ceased to be a bogey and the EPRLF government became respectable. It drew the consideration of Colombo and earned the respect of those in North East.
For all the good results, the leadership of the Chief Minister buttressed by the invaluable contribution of Mr. Sivarajah and sagacity of Dr. Wigneswaran mattered. The CM had a knack for taking swift and pragmatic decisions. His mind was not weighed down by any ideological baggage. Nor was it assailed by doubts or diffidence. In the NE he navigated in hostile waters given that Tigers had been on the prowl. Merged NEPC was twice the size of the other ones. He wanted to demonstrate that granted the chance Tamils could administer. Creating a success of it was a passion and he produced it so.
As the offices got streamlined, priority shifted to improvement effort. It had to be placed on a certain footing with a sound policy frame. Policy surely had to take its bearings from national parameters, though considerably leeway was offered for Provincial initiative. The approach of devolution itself demanded dialogue for expanding the scope and to quicken speed.
The first Central Minister to invite the CM and the relevant officials to the Ministry on his own initiative was Hon. S. Thondaman. This was in early January. I was present considering that I handled the subject of Livestock Development. The fullest authority to make this subject efficient was devolved by the Minister. At an in residence meeting in the Ministry, when an officer expressed fears at the extent of devolution the Minister quipped “nobody will go to courts on that score”. All through my tenure, I had maximum support from the Ministry and proactive cooperation from the parent Department. The Division of Agriculture as well was amongst the earliest to devolve with authority, finances and staff. The character of the Director Dr. Irwin, created a difference given that he had a very good grasp of devolution. Ministers also visited Trincomallee and had discussions with CM, Ministers and officials. Hon. Ranil Wickremasinghe had the twin subjects of Education as effectively as Youth Affairs and came far more often.
Since I was Secretary for the subject of Agriculture in the Province, I attended quarterly conferences at the national level in Colombo chaired by Hon. Lalith Athulathmudali, Central Minister of Agriculture. He extended his fullest cooperation for the devolution approach. Our initiatives coupled to his pragmatic approaches created for good results. The Secretary Mr. MDD Pieris, a blessing for the Minister was a blessing for us as well. He was amongst the most stand out and his choices in our support have been proactive and bold.
The 1st Governor of NEPC was Lt. Gen. Nalin Seneviratne. He held workplace for the full term from Nov. 1988 to Nov. 1993. He was exemplary. He was 1 amongst the initial batch of six multi ethnic selectees, to proceed to Sandhurst in 1952. Selections have been created by a Board chaired by Sir Kandiah Vaithianathan the then Secretary Defence. As soon as the Governor told me that this was the way Vaithianathan strove to keep an ethnic balance. He retired from the army as its Commander.
He assumed office with the benefit of experience, but dispensed with his command antecedents. He had the most exact conception of a Constitutional Head of the Province yielding the fullest space to the elected Council, the Chief Minister, the Board of Ministers and officials. He entertained no thought of deflecting or overriding devolved authority with Central directive or control. With all the personnel he had a warm rapport. In Parallel he maintained a delicate balance with the Centre. Provincial governance moved smoothly on.
In addition to Ministries and Departments, two critical institutions had been created: the Provincial Public Service Commission and the Auditor General’s Division. Each had been manned by competent personnel who did credit to those institutions. For new appointments which were numerous, in various grades, procedures have been laid down and selections created accordingly. Full documentation was produced and appointments were duly authorized by the PPSC. Adherence to propriety insulated all appointees from any future issue. In all this the Chief Secretary brought his mature expertise to bear. With higher stress function it was tempting for some of us to neglect them.
Till April New Year, governance was smooth sailing. Circumstances demanded it. President was sworn in on twond January 1989. General elections have been scheduled for February. What ever the spread of the IPKF, the militants produced their presence felt in the North East. Turmoil in the South seemed challenging to include. The economy was in the doldrums. The President’s concern was to consolidate his position. Perhaps cordiality with India seemed advisable and it was extended to the CM and the Provincial government.
Spending budget 1990
In the latter component of 1989, the budgetary workout was initiated by the Ministry of Finance of NEPC, with a Budget Call supplying realistic parameters. The Draft Estimates ready by individual Ministries had been additional reviewed with the Ministry Secretary by a committee of three Secretaries prior to getting sent to the Provincial Treasury. The ‘Printed Estimates’ brought out soon after laborious work and submitted with the Budget Speech was an impressive 300 web page volume in Programme Spending budget format. It was to the credit of the Secretary Finance Mr.S. Dharmalingam who was both SLAS and an Accountant. In a number of approaches the NEPC demonstrated that it had come into its personal with consummate ability.
Turn of the Tide
A handful of days preceding New Year an explosion close to the Trinco clock tower – constantly a sensitive area – signalled a break down in relations among the Centre and the Province. For the powers that be at Trinco and probably with IPKF intelligence, particular surmises were possible. For all the cordiality and aid some quid pro quo or reciprocity was anticipated by Colombo politically. It was not forthcoming from the CM who had his Provincial constituency and interests to safeguard and foster. He stood steadfast. The breakdown did not hinder the perform programme that was set in motion. Nonetheless the talks that the government had with the LTTE and the expanding rapport between the two, had their inevitable influence in the Province. This was from mid-1989 onwards.
The next significant occasion to have significant political consequences was the Basic Election in India in November 1989. The Congress and Rajiv Gandhi had been defeated and VP Singh was elected Prime Minister. The latter’s compulsion was to correct a incorrect. The decision to invade wastaken with no circumspection. A wasteful war with heavy casualties to India, was getting prosecuted due to miscalculation of enemy strength. These elements had been compounded by the hostility of Premadasa Government. The changed political equation was unfavourable to the NE Provincial government. This was completely realized after the CM’s meeting with the PM in early January 1990.
On his return he called all the Secretaries and apprised us of the adverse turn in political situations. He told us quite candidly that his mission had failed. “IF I say I can give you protection it is a lie. Therefore you have to safeguard yourselves. Photo copiers and typewriters we can get, but Secretaries (ie like you) we cannot get. So you have to remain safe”. He added “By 15th March the Provincial Council will wither away. By the 15th June war will break out between the government and the LTTE”. On the dot each happened. This was not advance expertise of a diabolical plot. It was intuitive political judgment. The Secretaries getting targets had been constrained to move out soon after mid-February.
Unilateral Declaration of Independence
UDI is critical business and a matter of life and death. Even right after thirty years of a non-violent mass movement Nehru did not declare a UDI. Pirapakaran did not situation a declaration even after 26 years of violent struggle. Varadaraja Perumal’s declaration was treated as issued with levity. It was a respectable smoke screen, as a prelude to flight. On February fourth evening 1957, the writer was present at a public meeting of the Tamil Congress, in the premises of the Jaffna Town Hall. G.G. Ponnambalam the leader announced “On this day the fourth of February 1957, I Declare an Independent TAMIL NAD”. This was significantly less than in levity. ‘Tamil Nad’ was delivered with perfect anglicized accent and impeccable intonation. In India it was Madras State then and Thamil Eelam had not come into vogue in Ceylon.
Following an unremitting independence struggle, a rebel group that has grown over time and is potent sufficient to defend territory, considers such a declaration. Preceding it is also severe preparation for recognition. None of it occurred ahead of this UDI. What is surprising is, it is commented upon to this day. It is also said that President Premadasa reacting angrily to UDI dissolved the Council. Following decapitation was it essential? No doubt a death certificate was necessary. In March 1990, The Provincial Council presided over its own liquidation. Regrettably enough we were witness to its premature finish. Mr. Sivarajah lamented quoting the words of Bharathi – “Paathi thinkintra pothilae thaddi parippaan”. Hardly had I eaten half, than he snatched it away.
(This report is a tribute to the late Mr.V.N.Sivarajah whose services had been unparalleled. It was a persistent request of his to place on record, our perform and achievement in the NEPC and in the Ministries.)