Caught between its promises to India and the international community to hold elections to the Northern Provincial Council in September 2013 on the one hand and certain defeat at the hands of the Tamil Nationalist Alliance on the other, the Rajapaksa Government is now mulling an amendment to the Constitution to take away some of the powers of Provincial Councils, the Colombo Telegraph understands. According to Government sources, the proposed amendment will make far reaching changes to the Thirteenth Amendment.
Under the Thirteenth Amendment, if a Bill on a subject devolved on Provincial Councils is to be passed by Parliament, the Bill has to be referred to all Provincial Councils for their views. If all Provincial Councils agree, then the Bill can be passed by a simple majority. However, if one or more Provincial Councils do not agree, then the Bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority if it is to apply to the provinces which did not agree. If passed only by a simple majority, the Bill will be law only in the provinces that have agreed.
It may be recalled that several Bills of the Rajapaksa Government on provincial subjects were rejected by Provincial Councils including Councils controlled by the UPFA. The Government is worried that with a TNA-controlled Provincial Council in place, other Councils, especially the Eastern Provincial Council, would follow the Northern Provincial Council and not agree to government Bills. As such, the new amendment would provide that a Bill on a provincial subject will become law applicable to the whole country, if a majority of Provincial Councils agree to the passing of the Bill. The Government is confident that Provincial Councils other than the Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils can be pressurized into supporting any Bill.
Another amendment being considered relates to Police powers. Although Police powers have been devolved to a certain extent by the Thirteenth Amendment, Provincial Councils are unable to exercise those powers as the Police Commission Act, No. 1 of 1990 which provides for the establishment of a National Police Commission and a Provincial Police Commission for each province has still not been brought into operation by successive Governments. Police powers will be completely taken back to the central government or limited to minor offences, Government sources told Colombo Telegraph.
At present, Provincial Councils have certain powers over State land. Under paragraph 1:3 of Appendix II of the Thirteenth Amendment, alienation or disposition of State land within a Province to any citizen or to any organisation shall be by the President but only on the advice of the relevant Provincial Council. It may be recalled that in the case filed against the former President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, for transferring state land to Water’s Edge Golf Company, one of the grounds on which the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Sarath Silva held that the transfer was illegal was that the advice of the Western Provincial Council had not been given. The Government is now considering deleting the requirement of advice and also taking back many other land powers devolved.
However, the Rajapaksa government is worried that the required two-thirds majority will not be forthcoming in the new political climate. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is already under severe pressure from the Muslim community to withdraw from the Government because of the Government’s reluctance to deal with extremists who are fuelling anti-Muslim hatred. Muslims also believe that the newly formed extremist Buddhist organizations have the covert support of the Government. Further, the SLMC would find it extremely difficult to agree to a dilution of the powers of Provincial Councils. The Government may also find it difficult to get the Left parties to support such an amendment. At the vote on the impeachment of Chief Justice Bandaranayake, the Secretary General of the SLMC and three MPs of the Left parties, all Cabinet Ministers, did not vote with the Government.
However, the Government is exploring the possibility of getting a few more UNP MPs to join the Government “to strengthen the hands of the President”, Government sources stated.
Colombo Telegraph –