30 September 2010
Mr. P. B. Hettige
(Representations made in Sinhala, interpretation as follows)
Hettige: Chairman of the Commission and the Commissioners. I am happy that I was given this opportunity to come before this Commission.
My main idea is that the seeds of this ethnic conflict came to be in 1956 – that is my idea. Now Mr. Nanda Godage, the former Secretary of Foreign Affairs, when he came before this Commission, he had this same view. The Tamil people were caused an injustice. I feel that it was an injustice caused by making Sinhala language the official language by Mr. Bandaranaike. By making Sinhala the official language though much was done to the Sinhalese the Tamil people were forgotten; they were neglected. By this Act of 1956 whereby people were recruited to Government Service the Tamil people were caused an injustice. There is a clause which says if they do not gain proficiency in the Sinhala language within a certain period their services would be terminated. I have brought the copies of those gazette notifications – 1959/62/ and 72. I would like to present these to Your Honour.
Mr. Bandaranaike later on realized that though Sinhala was made the official language there should be some justice meted out to the others. Then there came to be Bandaranaike/Chelvanayagam Pact. Then in 1965 Mr. Dudley Senanayake made a pact with Mr. Chelvanayagam and provided for the reasonable use of Tamil but this did not materialize. Now what I am saying is the injustice meted out to the people of Jaffna – that is my main point here. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike she allied with the main Leftist Parties.
Rohan Perera: Mr. Hettige have you worked as a Government Servant in Jaffna?
Hettige: Yes. I was employed at the Jaffna Kachcheri during 1978/79. I retired in 1991. Earlier what I wanted to say was that I have written a series of articles to this paper based on my experience as a Government Servant along with my friend Mr. Sirimanne I have written this series of articles. Now I will be going back on that. Now at that time there was a vast improvement in cultivation – potatoes and onions were cultivated on a large scale. At that time Madam stopped all imports of these articles – potatoes, chillies and onions. Therefore at that time the people had a very good market. At that time the economy improved vastly and I have seen, I have witnessed people bringing in large sums of money to be deposited in banks.
Now during Mrs. Bandaranaike’s time there were a number of industries that were initiated in the country. Handloom industry, Government Corporations were formed, and thereby there was employment in the country and there was a food drive in the country and people started cultivating at all available places. Thereby the peoples’ problems were solved. There was economic development; there was employment in the country.
Then in 1977 a new economic system came into being that was not very suitable for the country and consumer items like potatoes, chillies and onions were imported into the country and this flooded the market. Specifically the result of this was that the farmers in Jaffna did not get a good price for their produce and goods were imported into the country. The articles that were manufactured in these Corporations, those same articles were imported into the country. And instead of the handloom textiles, imported textiles flooded the market. Then by 1978 the youth in these areas – Jaffna – they erupted like embers in a fireplace.
There was an incident that happened in 1978. The Army personnel wanted to (forcibly) get liquor from a wine stores in Jaffna. The salesman refused to issue them the liquor. Then the Army personnel they grabbed the bottles of liquor from the racks and threw it on the road. Then mayhem set in. I saw this when I was returning (home) after watching a film. The Army personnel did this and the Police did not take any steps to stop it. By evening a number of vehicles and a number of boutiques were set on fire.
Mr. Lionel Fernando, who was the Government Agent in Jaffna at that time, when he came to know of it he went there and reprimanded the culprits. Then he conducted an inquiry into it after getting down officers from Colombo. And I feel that this too made the Tamil people in Jaffna angry. Now Mr. Lionel Fernando who was the GA in Jaffna who was a very efficient and popular Government Servant was suddenly withdrawn from that post. Mr. Lionel Fernando was very popular in Jaffna. Even Tamil leaders, they protested against this transfer. Now they held a meeting at the Duraippah Stadium and protested against it. Subsequently the Government Agent’s post was cancelled and Divisional Secretaries were appointed. Now the person who assumed duties as Divisional Secretary was not a person from the administrative service.
Later on Mr. U.B.Wijekoon was appointed as the District Minister of Jaffna. He was from Dambadeniya. Mr. Wijekoon was there in Jaffna only for a few days per month and we were not able to perform our duties well. There was nothing that he could do in that district.
Now is the gravest situation. Brig. Weeratunga was appointed to Jaffna command. He was a relative of Mr. J.R.Jayawardena. Now I am narrating the causes for the eruption of trouble in Jaffna. Now this appointment caused a lot of unrest in Jaffna. He used the Government Agent’s quarters as his office. That is called The Residency House. Now this Government Residency became … it looked as if it was the quarters of Army personnel – they were always in and out of that place. What happened was during this Brigadier’s term of office normally the people who were making trouble were rounded up and brought at night and they were destroyed. Now although this Brigadier was appointed to quell the terrorist activities in this area what happened was these incidents increased and there were incidents of bank robberies.
Now though there was no Cabinet Ministers in the north in Jaffna, though there were Members of Parliament, Mr. Cyril Matthew who was a Cabinet Minister used to go to Jaffna to the Naga Vihara on poya days and he used to give appointments to the CWE, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Salu Sala. These appointments were given to members of the family of employees who are employed in the north and kith and kin of soldiers and not to the people of Jaffna. Now these persons who received such employment – such appointments – after about 6/7 months they used to get transfers back to their home towns and to those vacancies thus created others were appointed.
Now there were a large number of persons from the south who were employed in the leather industry, bakery industry and in fishing. After I came away from Jaffna, after I left Jaffna, the Yal Devi train was blasted with 13 soldiers in it. Now these persons who were employed in these sectors they left with all their belongings there in Jaffna and came back to their home towns. After this incident those who were taken into custody and those who were in prison they were killed. And it was to avenge these acts that the Tamil youths voluntarily joined the LTTE. Now the persons who were in the south, the residents of the south, they grabbed the properties of Tamil traders who were engaged in business in the south.
On the 4th June 1984 there was an incident. They pilfered the Development Council election that was held in Jaffna. Now a group of politicians from Kurunegala along with another group of thugs they took a train load of these persons into Jaffna. I have seen in the media, in the press at that time, it was published that the ballot books were grabbed and these were marked and the final result of these incidents was that the biggest library in South East Asia was burnt down. And not only in Sri Lanka but around the world people were surprised and amazed, they were very sad about it.
Then no Government did anything for the development of the roadways in Jaffna. No industries were started and now the educated youths in Jaffna were debarred from entering Government Service. Cultivators did not get a proper market for their produce. Factories were not developed in Jaffna although there was the raw material that is necessary for the cement factory that was in Jaffna. It is no wonder that the youths take to arms when this type of harassment takes place.
We could show when we take the causes for the start of the war there were shortcomings on both sides – from the Sinhala as well as from the Tamil side – what they said and what they had written. By these writings and by these utterances the minds of both sections – the Sinhalese and Tamil – caused anger. Now Tamil politicians they used to utter one opinion when they are in the south and when they go to the north they make statements that are not conducive to keep peace. At that time Mr. Amirthalingam at the Duraippah Stadium referred to the Sinhalese as the Sinhala dogs. Then certain Sinhala politicians said that they will kill the Tamils and make shoes from their hides.
The culture of these two factions, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, there are similarities. The Sinhala people do not work when they make utterances and the Sinhala people do not work in a way that would make the Tamil persons feel good or feel kindness towards the Sinhala people. They took drastic action. The Sinhala people should understand that their culture is bound with the Hindu religion.
Now, as far as I know during this period 1978/79, about 60% of the population in Jaffna were farmers. Now they had only about 5 or 10 lachams (perches) but even this small farm they worked day and night and made these fields very successful and high yielding. I have seen them watering their fields even at 10 in the night.
During one season they cultivated onions, potato, chillies, mango and plantains and during the next season, second season, they cultivated paddy. They used carbonic fertilizer for their cultivation. Now I have stated in these serial letters there was a certain principal when he walks on the road he collects all the leaves on the roadside; that is, he takes such a lot of trouble to nurture his fields. Now they did not waste the monies that they earned by hard work. They did not use it on intoxicants or anything like that but they saved that money in banks.
Now the people who lived in the small islands they did fishing. Now they did not have boats as such but 3 planks were put together and used as a ferry. There was no market to sell the fish that they caught. The excess was made into dried fish. And there is another thing that I should say. The fishermen who did fishing along Mirissa, Weligama along the coast during the season of high tide they go to these areas and they are engaged in fishing there. Now they engage in fishing on a large scale and sell the fish and the excess is dried and made into dry fish.
Now my next item I want to make some proposals. What I say is let the politicians from both sides – from Sinhala as well as the Tamil politicians – they should not incite the people. These utterances which cause anger in the minds of the people could erupt at any time like an ember in a heap of ash. People living in any part of the country should be able to transact business with the Government in their mother tongue. When replying to letters sent by the people of the country the letters should be sent in the language in which they understand. I have a good example regarding this because I was able to write in Tamil I was able to reply the letters written by the people of Jaffna in Tamil. These were very short letters. Mr. Yogeswaran who was a Member of Parliament had told my chief had shown the letter that I had sent and told him that his voters were sent this letter by the office. My chief called me to his room and then Mr. Yogeswaran thanked me in Sinhala and in English.
The vacancies available in Jaffna area should be filled by the youths living in that area. Parliamentary representation and the Gam-Sabha system is quite sufficient as a means of Governments in this area. The preferential voting system should be removed. The powers that are vested in the Central Government should be delegated to the Divisional Secretaries. All the Government Servants within a number of years should be able to work in Sinhala and Tamil – they should learn Sinhala and Tamil. This is not only passing examinations but they should be proficient enough to work in these two languages. Steps should be taken to provide agricultural implements to the Jaffna farmers at a reasonable price and it should be made freely available. Carbonic and other fertilizers should be provided to them. They should be given financial aid. They should be provided tractors, water pumps on a credit basis.
I saw that a fishing wadiya was set on fire in broad daylight (Champion Pattu). Then at every instance when there is an ethnic conflict their fishing areas and their implements were set on fire. Still they are engaged in the fishing industry. They should be encouraged. There were markets – Chavakachcheri, Kilinochchi and Maruthanamadam. Though there are markets there these produce they do not find their way to Colombo.
There is another fact. I went on a tour to Jaffna about 3 months ago. There were very luxurious palm trees but those are not there now. These trees are not there because these had been cut down to erect bunkers and to fight with the enemy. So therefore I propose that palm trees should be (grown) … we should do a recultivation and help the people to cultivate more palm trees. There are a large number of products like treacle and jaggery.
There is another point that I want to say. This is a bit difficult but I want to propose that there should be a plan or a system where the Sinhala, the Tamil and the Muslims they should not be segregated, where they should live together. There should be a plan. There was no ice factory in Jaffna during this period 1977/79. Ice was transported from Colombo in lorries. Then the fish was packed into these lorries and sent to Colombo. This causes a delay. Finally I would like to say based on these proposals that I made you can formulate new proposals based on these so that there would not be an ethnic conflict again.
Thank you. May the Triple Gem bless you.
Q & A:
The questions raised by the Commissioners have not been interpreted; only the answers have been interpreted. Gist of the questions are provided according to interpreter’s understanding
Ramanathan: Mr. Hettige, you stated that over a long period of time the Tamil community has been discriminated. In the future do you think the Tamil community can live without any discrimination?
Hettige: It is possible.
Hettige: Now I gave a set of proposals. Proficiency in Sinhala should be removed when recruiting them to Government service and they should learn both Sinhala and Tamil.
Paranagama: Mr. Hettige, you stated the Central Government should delegate more powers to the Provincial Councils with regard to land. What type of powers should be delegated to the Provincial Councils?
Hettige: What I said was the powers that could be delegated – I did not specifically say land.
Palihakkara: Mr. Hettige, during which period 75 or 79 …?
Hettige: No, 78/79.
Palihakkara: You were there only for one year?
Hettige: No, 2 years – 1978 and 1979.
Palihakkara: What was your designation at the Kachcheri?
Hettige: I was a clerk at the Kachcheri – Grade 1.
Palihakkara: I would like to raise two points and if you could please give a detailed account. More powers should be delegated to the Divisional Secretaries. What type of powers?
Hettige: I cannot give an opinion on that until I have studied it further, but I can see there are certain areas where power can be delegated.
Palihakkara: Now you as an experienced officer who had been in Jaffna, what type of powers could be delegated to the Divisional Secretaries?
Hettige: I have to make a further study about it. I only put forward a proposal.
Palihakkara: Question of land?
Hettige: No, not land.
Palihakkara: Then something like agrarian services?
Hettige: Yes, that type of thing.
Hettige: Administration is delegated to the Divisional Secretaries.
Palihakkara: Mr. Hettige, you state Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people instead of being segregated they should live as a mixed community. Even now they are not segregated isn’t it? If you take the western province (in the south) the Tamil population was even more than in the north in the western province. Next in the eastern province the Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese the ratio was almost the same. Beyond this, what do you expect?
Hettige: There should be a better mix. In Jaffna there are no Sinhalese and no Muslims at present. Beyond Vavuniya there is hardly anybody.
Palihakkara: That situation arose recently after Prabakaran chased away the other communities. Is this to be done as a Government policy or should people live in these areas voluntarily?
Hettige: I as a small man I cannot say anything like that.
Paranagama: I don’t see anything small in you. You have a good knowledge.
Palihakkara: I also have to say the same thing. Don’t under estimate yourself.
Hettige: I have discussed these matters with Tamil politicians too like Mr. Ponnambalam (MP) of Kopay. I meet him quite frequently.
Chairman: Thank you Mr. Hettige.