President to establish NPC on July 5; TNA likely to take part High level Indo-Lanka meetings in New Delhi and Colombo  PSC chairman slams PC system; cracks widen within ruling coalition  The saga of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution continues but some hard realities became clear this week. Main among them — there will certainly [...]


Govt. whips up hype over 13A; changes unlikely ahead of Northern polls


  •  President to establish NPC on July 5; TNA likely to take part
  • High level Indo-Lanka meetings in New Delhi and Colombo
  •  PSC chairman slams PC system; cracks widen within ruling coalition 

The saga of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution continues but some hard realities became clear this week. Main among them — there will certainly be no constitutional amendments in the form of an ‘Urgent Bill’ before the September Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections. Not despite the PCs being told to approve two proposed amendments, one that was to constitute an ‘Urgent Bill’ and another which the cabinet of ministers decided not to go ahead with.

One of the key stakeholders at the upcoming NPC polls, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), will contest the polls in the light of no constitutional amendments ahead of it.

As exclusively revealed in these columns last week, serious Indian concerns prompted the Government to retain the 13th Amendment in its original form until the polls are over. Now, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa will fly to New Delhi on Thursday to brief Indian leaders of the Government’s latest position. The visit assumes greater significance in view of the NPC polls in September and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo in November this year.

Basil Rajapaksa told the Sunday Times yesterday he would meet particularly the External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon. “I will brief them on the political situation including matters relating to the proposed changes to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. I will also discuss a number of other bilateral issues,” he said. Rajapaksa, who headed a triad that handled Colombo-New Delhi relations outside the confines of the Ministry of External Affairs in the past (others being Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunge and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa), said he was reviving the same dialogue after a lapse of three years.

Rajapaksa said he would also raise matters related to trade, particularly in the light of the recent visit of an Indian trade official to Colombo.

The Sunday Times has learnt that the visit is at the request of the Government of India which has sought to convey its concerns over key issues related to Sri Lanka Government’s publicly declared objective of changing the 13th Amendment. It is said to centre on some of the official pronouncements made by UPFA leaders in Sri Lanka. This is ahead of the visit to Colombo by National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon. Though it is ostensibly for an India-Sri Lanka-Maldives regional security meeting, Menon is expected to follow up the same concerns over on-going issues.

In terms of other arrangements, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is expected to sign a proclamation on July 5 establishing the NPC. This is after his return from a five day visit to Tanzania and Seychelles. Simultaneously he will direct the Commissioner of Elections to conduct the polls. Nominations are now likely from July 15 to 27. The polls are to be held on September 27, still in keeping with Rajapaksa’s promise to the United States, United Nations and a few other countries.

Instead of hurried amendments, the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) comprising only members of the UPFA Government will come up with recommendations on changes that should be made to the 13th Amendment. All the opposition parties represented in Parliament have chosen to stay out. Ahead of their first meeting on July 9, its Chairman, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva has publicly defended the PSC. He told a meeting in Kundasale, “Devolution of powers does not help to solve problems. It is the resources that should be distributed. What happens if the water from the central parts of the country is not sent to another part of the country? Even in Australia there are disputes over distribution of water. In India, too, they have to seek the help of the Supreme Court to distribute water.

“The 13th Amendment was forced upon us. It is time to look at this amendment. Earlier we were scared as we did not have the strength. We should take into consideration the situation which existed at that time. Our party and the JVP opposed the 13th Amendment. We protested about it. Today there is a discussion. There are persons who are opposed and those in favour. That is the reason the President said this cannot be resolved by having discussions on the streets. That is the reason the President has said we should reach a consensus. That is the purpose we have set up a Parliamentary Select Committee. If someone says an Eelam should be set up, we are ready to listen. Maybe we will not implement it. If someone says powers in the councils should be strengthened we are willing to listen. It is the consensus reached at the PSC which will be accepted.

“Therefore we believe that we can reach an understanding. There are disputes about the police and land powers. Sonia Gandhi (Congress Party leader) could not travel to another province as Mayawathi (a one-time Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, once a partner in the Congress Government and head of the Bahujan Samaj Party) objected to her visit. These are the problems which would arise. We are open. We cannot allow the country to be ‘messed up’ after the defeat of the terrorists. We cannot have a constitution which helps terrorism. It is a national duty to prevent such moves.”

On top of those PSC recommendations that are awaited, solely by 18 Cabinet ministers and a deputy, UPFA leaders are also mulling over another unrelated amendment. It is to enable a President to contest a poll after completing three years in office instead of the existing four years. That has heightened the prospects of a presidential poll in early 2014. Enhancing the possibility are plans being formulated by Government officials for a people-friendly budget in November.

All the constitutional changes, UPFA leaders expect, could be carried through with a two thirds majority in Parliament. Though five cabinet ministers — Rauff Hakeem, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, D.E.W. Gunasekera, Rajitha Senaratne and Tissa Vitharana — do not want any changes to the 13th Amendment, the prospect of some MPs joining that school of thought has fuelled fears over a two-thirds majority. This has led to informal overtures to at least six opposition MPs, three from the United National Party (UNP) and three from another in the opposition. President Rajapaksa has told his party stalwarts that obtaining a two thirds vote, however, is not difficult and to leave that task to him to achieve it.

At a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC), ministers Nanayakkara and Gunasekera were among those invited. They listened to police chief N.K. Illangakoon make a presentation about the dangers of Police powers being made effective in Provincial Councils. Nanayakkara told the Sunday Times, President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa were present at the meeting. “Some officials whom I did not identify were also there,” he said.

Nanayakkara added, “Inspector General Illangakoon made a presentation in which he spoke about the consequences of police powers being vested in the provinces. I pointed out that no fears should be entertained about police powers since the (Provincial) Police Commissions have not been set up.” He added that he had asked that the All-Party Representatives Committee report by Professor Tissa Vitharana should be re-considered in this regard. The latter chaired a PSC that recommended measures to address Tamil grievances after conducting lengthy sessions.

The UPFA leadership that applied brakes on hurried amendments have now ventured on an aggressive campaign. That is to drive home the point that the Government was serious about changing some key elements in the 13th Amendment after stripping the Provincial Councils (PCs) of police and land powers. A part of that campaign is to win the support of Provincial Councils by creating greater awareness of the Government thinking. Such a move could be cited by the Government as enhanced support for the changes. However, it has also created the impression; quite wrongly, that the ‘Urgent Bill’ is round the corner and was now in the process of being approved by the PCs. Claims to this effect by some sections are furthest from the truth and is not on the Government’s agenda.

The PCs have been told to approve two changes to the 13th Amendment. One was a move to change a provision that prohibits a Bill in respect of any matter set out in the Provincial Council List from becoming law unless every council approves it. This was to be changed to acceptance by a majority of councils. Ministers at their weekly Cabinet meeting on June 13 dropped the idea of making this change. Instead they decided to bring an ‘Urgent Bill’ to prevent two or more adjoining Provincial Councils to form one single unit with one Chief Minister and one board of ministers. However, as revealed exclusively in these columns, the UPFA Government veered away with this move in the wake of strong Indian concerns that any “unilateral action” by Sri Lanka would have its consequences. There were strong hints of an official boycott of this November’s CHOGM in Sri Lanka by India. A high ranking UPFA source claimed yesterday that during a telephone conversation with a high ranking official in Colombo, an Indian dignitary had sought to delay the constitutional changes until after the NPC polls. The latter has reportedly claimed that New Delhi would have lesser or little concern if that were to happen thereafter. This could not be independently verified.

Legislation relating to items listed in the Provincial Council List, in terms of the 13th Amendment, requires approval of the PCs. However, such a requirement does not apply to the two subjects the PCs have been told to approve since they were to be passed with two thirds majority. Moreover, they do not relate to the lengthy Provincial Council List which runs into three different parts. Among the matters the first deals with, for example, are police and public order, planning, education and educational services, local government, provincial housing and construction, roads, bridges and ferries, agriculture and agrarian services, health, indigenous medicine etc. List two or the reserve list deals with defence and national security matters whilst list three or the concurrent list deals with higher education, social services and rehabilitation, animal husbandry, tourism, trade and commerce among others.

The Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council approved the amendments proposed earlier by a majority of 17 votes. Voting in favour were members of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party (CP). Their leaders in Colombo, however, do not favour the changes. Two members of the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), Annamalai Bhaskaran and Kanapathi Ramachandran, did not cast their votes. At the Southern Provincial Council it was passed by one vote. Significantly seven UPFA members opposed it. At the North Western Provincial Council, the proposed changes were passed by a 29 vote majority. However, two Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) members, Rizwi Jowharshah and Abdeen Yehiya, spoke against any move to change the 13th Amendment.

They later complained to SLMC leader, Rauff Hakeem that they were intimidated to vote in favour. Hakeem told senior SLMC members on Friday that he would lodge a strong protest with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. After a discussion with them, Hakeem suspended the membership of the two pending an inquiry.

In the Uva Provincial Council, the proposed changes were passed by a majority of 19 votes. Significant enough, a CWC provincial cabinet minister Senthil Thondaman was not present. He had written to the Governor W.J.M. Lokubandara saying he was visiting New Delhi. Senthil, the son of Minister Arumugam Thondaman’s sister, is one of those given a heavy security contingent by the Ministry of Defence and travels with escort Defender Jeeps.

At the Central Provincial Council meeting on Friday, opposition members protested that the motion had been rushed through without giving them an opportunity for a debate. It was passed with 30 votes from the UPFA side whilst no opposition representative voted. The low vote was because some UPFA councillors had not turned up or were not there at voting time. Twelve UNP members walked out of the chamber whilst two were absent. Six CWC members too were not in the chamber when the voting took place. Some of them turned up thereafter. The opposition members are discussing the possibility of going to courts over the issue. The responses of the North Central, Western and Eastern Provincial Councils are now awaited.

The fact that the SLMC is strongly opposed to any changes in the 13th Amendment is known. They made their position clear in a letter to President Rajapaksa. However, the CWC member abstentions have come as a surprise to the UPFA leadership. It was only weeks earlier that a CWC delegation led by Minister Thondaman met Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi, as revealed in these columns on June 9. Matters relating to the 13th Amendment were discussed during the meeting. However, Thondaman told BBC’s Sinhala service Sandeshaya that there was no discussion with regard to the Sri Lankan constitution. Days later V. Narayanswamy, Minister in the Indian Prime Minister’s office, told the Colombo Tamil media that the 13th Amendment was indeed discussed.

These developments came as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leaders briefed their Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) counterparts on the outcome of their visit to India at the latter’s headquarters “Darus Salam” at Vauxhall Lane in Colombo. Of particular interest was the six member delegation’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. TNA leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan told SLMC leader Hakeem that New Delhi “was befuddled” with the “shocking developments” in Sri Lanka. He said that Premier Singh showed “serious concern” and assured that his Government would do everything within its means to “protect the minorities” in Sri Lanka. Sampanthan told Hakeem during their 90-minute discussion that the TNA would field candidates at the NPC polls. This is in the light of Government plans not to make any constitutional changes ahead of it. As revealed last week, the SLMC is also considering fielding its own candidates.

Besides Sampanthan, the TNA delegation comprised M.A. Sumanthiran and Selvam Adaikalanathan. The SLMC side comprised General Secretary Hassan Ali, Deputy General Secretary Nizam Kariappar and International Affairs Director A.M. Faiz. The high command of the SLMC met yesterday with Hakeem in the chair to discuss a variety of issues. Among them was the non-inclusion of SLMC members in the PSC, alleged intimidation of the SLMC councillors in the North Western Provincial Council and a proposed resolution in the Eastern Provincial Council urging that no changes be made to the 13th Amendment.

On the TNA talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, their leader Sampanthan told the Sunday Times, “I will not go beyond the news release put out by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. The Sri Lanka Government has made commitments to India, to the international community and to the UN to go beyond the existing constitutional arrangement so as to evolve a political solution that would be reasonable, workable and durable.

“Quite apart from not making improvements to the existing constitutional arrangements, the Sri Lanka Government is seeking to nullify the existing arrangements or to change them so as to dilute them and thereby avoid even implementing existing arrangements. We also briefed him on the ground situation, an attempt to change the demographic composition in the North and the East in order to change the linguistic and cultural identity of these areas which could in due course render the evolution of a political solution redundant.”

A serious cause for concern for the UPFA leadership was the strong stance taken by the Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne. At a meeting he addressed in Kudawella, Senaratne made some bitter attacks on President Rajapaksa and members of his family. A verbatim text of what he said was broadcast by a local television channel and later posted on YouTube. Here is the text translated from Sinhala into English:

“A monk has said that he will end my political life. There were other ‘big shots’ who tried to end my life with T56s, not just my political life. Even those ‘big shots’ could not do that. Some think we are ‘powder babies’ and are trying to scare us. For politics you need not have Ministry portfolios. If the country is protected that is sufficient. We have come here not to take portfolios. We got these as bonuses. We joined the Left movement after rejecting Parliament. We are not those who came to enter Parliament or to accept portfolios. The People come to teach us from various ‘Senas’ (Fronts). This is like the military wing of the Buddha Sasanaya. Something like the JVP’s ‘Deshapremi Balakaya’ (military wing) that existed.

‘It is lucky that Lord Buddha is not there to see what is happening. They have told the President to close the pork stalls. In that case you need not have Buddhan Saranang. You can say Rajapaksa Saranang Gachchami. Why, because these are not closed by the way of Buddhism, but because of President’s orders. Janadhipath Saranang — You can recite first —– Saranang Gachchami, thereafter Chamal Saranang Gachchami, thereafter Namal Saranang Gachchami — Not Thunsarane (triple gem), but there is pas sarane – because they can say Gota Saranang Gachchami and Basil Saranang Gachchami. We will respond ‘Sadu Sadu’.”

Last Monday, Minister Senaratne held a news conference together with his ministerial colleagues Reginald Cooray, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and D.E.W. Gunasekera. Senaratne said, “The 13th Amendment is a means of recognition of the rights of the minority. However this is not the ultimate solution. There is no end if communalism and extremism join hands. Extremism is a mental problem. Those who are involved in extremism do not smile or associate. You can even see it in their families. There is nothing as a majority community and minorities. There are only humans.

“It was first (the late S.W.R.D.) Bandaranaike and (S.J.V.) Chelvanayakam who tried to devolve powers. J.R. (Jayewardene) did not allow that. When JR tried to devolve powers, Bandaranaikes did not allow that. This is third grade politics. Those who later said that the provincial councils were an ‘Eelam’ (Separate state) subsequently voted to extend the powers.

“Tamil communalism was enriched by Sinhala extremism. Some said the PCs should not be given to the north as the LTTE was there. Now they say that since the LTTE is no longer there, the North does not need them. This is dirty politics. Many powers given to the Provincial councils by J.R. have been removed. This is something like giving by one hand and taking it off by the other.”

Minister Reginald Cooray observed that “Some persons have gone around collecting signatures against the 13th Amendment and called to scrap the Provincial councils. They claim they have collected one million signatures, but if we go around the same persons will sign for us as well. The people who signed a petition to get me removed from my Ministry also signed the petition to take me back.”
Here are brief comments made by the other three ministers:

Prof. Tissa Vitharana: “What is most important to the country is national unity. This is vital to achieve development. It is four years after the conflict was ended. It is time to win the hearts and minds of the Tamils. The Provincial councils should be strengthened for this purpose. We can win the hearts of the people in the North and the power in Colombo could be transferred only this way. We propose that the Government should implement the provincial councils and the Gam Sabha (Village Council) system.

“Some say the provincial council system should be abolished. The people have benefited from the system during the past few years. If the 13th Amendment is scrapped it would give a wrong message to the international community. The message will be that the people in the south do not want to devolve powers to the North. We accept that amendments should be introduced to the 13th Amendment, but the powers should not be reduced. Though Police and Land powers are in the 13th Amendment they have never been implemented. The argument that the country is small and therefore powers should not be devolved is not correct.”

D.E.W. Gunasekara: “Some argue that the 13th Amendment was brought without the will of the people. I wish to ask which of the amendments were liked by the people. Even the Executive Presidency was brought against the will of the people. It took 30 years to recognise Tamil as a national language. To implement it another 30 years were taken. It was Vasudeva Nanayakkara and myself who were instrumental in implementing it. Did the Sinhala language disappear?”

Vasudeva Nanayakkara: “There are some who are against the Provincial elections in the North because they do not have a chance there. The provincial council system is needed for democracy to thrive. Their objective is to keep the areas under their control if they cannot contest the elections there successfully.”

The Pro -13A Ministers (From left) Reginold Cooray, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Rajitha Senaratne, Tissa Vitharana and D.E.W.Gunasekera at Monday’s news conference in Colombo. Pic by Sanjeewa Niroshana, Lankadeepa

These developments prompted President Rajapaksa to order the immediate summoning of a special meeting of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) parliamentary group. As he walked into the meeting at the Presidential Secretariat on Tuesday, he asked those present “Ko, Kalutara Kattiya aviladda” (Where? Has the Kalutara crowd turned up?). He was alluding particularly to both Senaratne and Cooray who are from the Kalutara District. The meeting began with SLFP General Secretary and Minister Maithripala Sirisena proposing a resolution. That was for the party to endorse the constitutional changes that are to be made. It was seconded by his ministerial colleague Dullas Allahapperuma. It was carried unanimously.

Sirisena noted that the PCs enjoyed wide powers and could become detrimental to the country’s interests. Allahapperuma said SLFP members should not create policy issues. He pointed out that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) were the ones who were earlier opposed to a merged North and East. Now they did not want to serve on the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). They were not adhering to policy issues but were taking an anti-Government stance. He said the SLFP should not be like that. Minister Rohitha Abeygunasekera was strongly critical of Minister Senaratna. He wanted to know whether any promises were made about the 13th Amendment when he joined the Government.

President Rajapaksa told the SLFP parliamentarians he could not disclose the terms under which some who were now holding ministries have crossed over to the Government side. However, he said, if anyone wanted to speak of personal issues, they should leave the party. He said the SLFP could have only one policy and all parliamentarians are duty bound to abide by it. From now on, they should follow this policy and not speak in different voices to the media. Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage noted that there were amidst them some who wanted to return to the UNP if ever they formed a Government. “We are the ones who are getting assaulted,” he said. Just then, Minister Reginald Cooray walked in. There was heckling by MPs. Cooray was to say that the SLFP should not dance to the tune of the Jaathiwadis or communalists.

Earlier, there was heckling when Minister Senaratne spoke. Minister Wimal Weerawansa was to charge that “federal types” and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga were behind the “anti-Government moves.” He alleged that measures were afoot by Kumaratunga to launch her son Vimukthi into politics. The same remarks were also made by Weerawansa at a news conference. Kumaratunga, however, wrote to sections of the media that had reported on the matter denying any role. Rajapaksa was to have earlier signed a proclamation constituting the Northern Provincial Council on June 26. He will now do so coming Friday after his return to Sri Lanka.

Given that the Parliamentary Select Committee is made up of 18 ministers (in addition to one deputy minister), their work could have been concluded in less time if they functioned as a Cabinet Sub Committee. However, the PSC means they would have to still hear a broader section of civil society notwithstanding the fact that no opposition party representatives would serve in it. Thus, despite all faithful predictions of completing their task within a specific time frame, the exercise would yet be time consuming.

It is clear it will not be before the September NPC polls. It is highly unlikely the PSC could end sittings and make its recommendations before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November. Even if it does, they will remain in the backburner until the event is over. So, in the meantime the UPFA Government has embarked on what it considers the next best thing to do — heighten the hype against the 13th Amendment to hysteric levels.

Share This Post

comments powered by Disqus

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.