Debate over 13A resurfaces

By Easwaran Rutnam
With the elections for northern Provincial Council scheduled to be held in September the debate over the 13th Amendment to the constitution has resurfaced.
The government has said that no move at this moment to amend the constitution and repeal the 13th Amendment.
However Jathika Hela Urumaya leader Patalai Champika Ranawaka said he will submit a private member’s motion in Parliament this week against the 13th Amendment and the parliamentary system.
“If the northern provincial council elections are held while the 13thamendment is also in place the Tamil National Alliance will claim that the election is a referendum on the 13th amendment. That will then also be a referendum to create Ealam and divide the country. We should not leave room for that,” the Minister said.
He also said that the 13th amendment can be used to try and get UN recognition for a separate Tamil State and it is for this reason that he will submit a motion in parliament calling for the 13th Amendment to be fully abolished.
Under the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987 and the resulting 13th amendment to the constitution, the Government agreed to devolve some authority to the provinces. Provincial councils are directly elected for 5-year terms. The leader of the council majority serves as the province’s Chief Minister with a board of ministers and the president appoints provincial governors.
Presidential assurance
The Provincial Councils have full statute making power with respect to the Provincial Council List, and shared statute making power respect to the Concurrent List while all matters set out in the Reserved List are under the central government.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa had, at one time, given both India and the UN an assurance that the 13thAmendment will be implemented.
Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, the former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to France and UNESCO and former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva is of the view that though the implementation of provincial level devolution in the form of the existing 13th amendment constitutes a risk, a significantly greater risk, on balance, would be posed to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity by the unilateral scrapping or permanent freezing of such devolution.
“Just as the blockage of a domestic process of devolution to the provinces resulted in or provided the opening for external intervention in 1987, an ethnically unilateral abolition or disembowelment of existing arrangements for devolution is likely to revive such external interference and intrusion, and do so in an external environment that is at least as unpropitious as that of the 1980s and arguably even more so. I observe that this may dovetail with the strategic designs of the global Tamil separatist network and result in jeopardising Sri Lanka’s military achievement and our strategic assets. I therefore conclude that though the implementation of provincial level devolution in the form of the existing 13th amendment constitutes a risk, a significantly greater risk, on balance, would be posed to our sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity by the unilateral scrapping or permanent freezing of such devolution. The bottom line is that if Sri Lanka’s costly military victory which has given us back our natural borders, is to be made permanent; if Sri Lanka’s fine military is to be ‘target hardened’; if Sri Lanka’s security is to be truly assured, it cannot be done purely or primarily by hard power alone, but by restoring our soft power,” he told The Sunday Leader.
Slippery slope
Dr. Jayatilleka also notes that the provincial devolution in the form of the 13th amendment (perhaps with mutually agreed upon swaps in the concurrent list), is a political solution which lies at the cusp of acceptance, however grudging, by both Sinhalese and Tamils communities.
He says it will help us to strategically restabilise Sri Lanka’s relations with India which (as Geneva 2012 and 2013 have shown) have deteriorated since 2009 and seem to be on a slippery slope.
“Moderate, prudently centripetal provincial devolution is an indispensable part of our national defence shield,” Dr. Jayatilleka said.
The fear some political parties have, including the JHU, is that if elections for the northern provincial council is held with the 13th amendment in place it can result in a division of the country.
Tamil groups and political parties feel otherwise. Outspoken Tamil politician Mano Ganeshan says most fears about giving land and police powers to the provinces are unfounded.
He recalled a comment made by the Chief Prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwatta Chapter saying that if the provincial powers are abused then the President, using his executive powers can abolish that provincial council.
“The 13th amendment is already part of the constitution, but we as Tamils do not consider it as the answer for all the aspirations of the Tamils. We believe it falls short of expectations. However it is sad and surprising that some people are opposing it fully. People are calling for 13 minus now. They are trying to scare the public by giving the wrong impression about land and police powers going to the provinces. The police powers are only restricted to an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) and land powers are also restricted. This is not giving total powers to the provinces and is nowhere near what we see in India,” Ganeshan said.
He also said that those who fear the Singhalese may get affected should also think about the Tamils and the fears they already have.
“Our traditional land and sea areas have been taken away after the war, our culture is being destroyed. So people should think about the issues they are facing and why they want the 13th amendment implemented,” he said.
The Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pullikal (TMVP) had recently said it has also decided to push for devolution of powers to the provinces.
TMVP spokesman Azad Maulana said that the party led by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, a one time Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, would urge the government to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and through that to devolve maximum powers to the provinces.
He also said that the TMVP is ready to work with Leftist political parties and others in the government who support power devolution.
As was reported in The Sunday Leader last week, a group has been formed comprising government parliamentarians to ensure that the 13th Amendment is fully implemented and land and police powers given to the provinces.
The group is of the view that if any attempt is made to remove land and police powers to the provinces ahead of the Northern Provincial Council elections, then a 2-3rd majority will be needed in parliament.
The biggest push on Sri Lanka to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is coming from India.
An Indian media report said that India had two weeks ago asked the government not to take any step against their own commitments to the 13th Amendment.
The Press Trust of India said that Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had telephoned Minister G. L. Peiris and raised Indian concerns over reports that the government may abolish the 13th Amendment.
Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa then told reporters at the weekly Cabinet press briefing last week that the 13th Amendment is here to stay.
He said that in a democracy any member of the government can have different views on a subject and it is under this “democracy” that Minister Champika Ranawaka will have the freedom to submit the private member’s motion in parliament against the 13th Amendment. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)