The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (13A), which introduced devolution of power to the periphery, is again in the news, this time on the need to fully implement it. President Ranil Wickremesinghe first raised the issue in Parliament, asking the various parties whether they are for 13 Plus, meaning improving on 13A. The SJB’s Lakshman Kiriella, an avowed supporter of devolution, while saying that his party is for it, asked the President whether Mahinda Rajapaksa’s SLPP, which provides the President with the Parliamentary majority he needs for his legislative agenda, was supportive. Pressed by the President and Kiriella for a response, Rajapakse, who had promised India to improve on 13A, half-rose reluctantly and said ’13 Plus’.
President Wickremesinghe’s attempt to get a consensus on a constitutional settlement of the national question did not get off the ground. The SLPP is unlikely to abandon its Sinhala-nationalist platform. Opposition parties were sceptical. Realising the impossibility of a far-reaching amendment, the President has changed his strategy to one of fully implementing 13A, without changes or with minor changes that could muster SLPP support.
Several Opposition parties that attended previous meetings of the All-Party Conference (APC) stayed away from the meeting held on 27 January. While the SJB said that the APC was a mere ‘talk show’ its ally among the Hill Country Tamils, the TPA said that the President had not considered the issues facing them. The SJB’s Muslim allies did participate. MP Harini Amarasuriya clarified that while the NPP supported 13A in principle, it did not consider the President’s statement on fully implementing 13A credible.
The main areas in which 13A has not been implemented are law and order (Police powers) and land. To add to this, successive governments have, over the last 35 years, taken back several subjects and functions that legitimately belong to the Provincial Councils (PCs), agrarian services being one of them. The high point of central intrusion was the Divineguma Act of 2013, under which several functions of PCs related to rural development were taken over, using the two-thirds majority that the Government possessed.
Constitutional and legislative changes
The President spoke of the need to establish the National Land Commission, a requirement of 13A, but which successive governments had not done. He also said that a decision on whether to continue with Provincial Police Commissions or to bring the Provincial Police under the National Police Commission had to be taken. The latter would be a centralising feature—a 13 Minus—that will be to the disappointment of pro-devolution forces.
At the time of 13A, there was no National Police Commission. Appointments, transfers etc of Police personnel were handled by the Public Service Commission, with the Cabinet of Ministers having the power to overturn decisions of the PSC. To set up the National Police Commission and Provincial Police Commissions provided for by 13A, the Police Commission Act No. 1 of 1990 was passed but has not been brought into force by successive Presidents. Under 13A, a Provincial Police Commission would consist of the Deputy Inspector General of Police, a person nominated by the Public Service Commission in consultation with the President and a nominee of the Chief Minister. Since 13A, a National Police Commission was set up by the 17th and 19th Amendments, and the President now appoints its members on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. The writer submits that these changes must be reflected in the Provincial Police Commissions as well. The sub-committee on Law and Order of the Constitutional Assembly of the previous Parliament recommended that the Chairman and the members of the Provincial Police Commissions should be recommended by the Constitutional Council, having considered nominations jointly provided by the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition of the respective Provincial Council. The writer submits that a better option would be for a Provincial Police Commission to be appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, which should be required to call for nominations from the general public and also consult the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition of the Province concerned. Any such change would require a constitutional amendment.
13A requires the Government to establish a National Land Commission, which would be responsible for the formulation of national policy concerning the use of State land. This Commission will include representatives of all Provincial Councils. The Commission will have a Technical Secretariat representing all the relevant disciplines required to evaluate the physical as well as the socio-economic factors that are relevant to natural resources management. National policy on land use will be based on technical aspects but not political or communal aspects. The Commission will lay down general norms regarding the use of land, having regard to soil, climate, rainfall, soil erosion, forest cover, environmental factors, economic viability, etc. In the exercise of the powers devolved on them, Provincial Councils shall have due regard to national policy formulated by the National Land Commission. The Constitution does not set out the composition etc of the National Land Commission. The establishment of the Commission would have to be ordinary legislation.
Broad consensus needed
President Wickremesinghe, with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Premier Dinesh Gunawardena sitting beside him, told the APC that the Cabinet of Ministers had approved the full implementation of 13A. If as President Wickremesinghe confidently says, he has the support of the Cabinet of Ministers and, thus, of the SLPP, the full implementation of 13A would be certainly possible. But it is important that the President reaches out to the Opposition parties as well. The SJB is for devolution as a solution to the national issue. Sajith Premadasa’s Presidential election manifesto pledged maximum devolution within an undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka. Premadasa won areas dominated by Tamils, Muslims and Hill Country Tamils, with percentages second only to those secured by President Kumaratunga in 1994. SJB’s Muslim and Hill Country allies support devolution, but the President needs to talk to parties representing those communities about issues pertaining to them too.
The new ‘Helicopter’ alliance seems unable to take a unified stand on 13A. Dullas and Dilan Perera were at the forefront of CBK’s campaign for devolution, and Professor G.L. Peiris was the architect of her devolution proposals. But their fellow party man Channa Jayasumana MP, better known for his role in the campaign against Dr Shafi for allegedly sterilizing thousands of Sinhala women, has come out against implementing 13A. Tissa Vitarana did an admirable job of getting a consensus on the national issue through the APRC process. The Left parties in the Utttara Sabhagaya are strong supporters of devolution, while their nationalist allies (MPs Weerawansa, Gammanpila, Rev. Rathana and Gevindu Cumaratunga) are vociferously against implementing 13A. Former President Sirisena spoke in support of implementing 13A at the APC. The JVP/NPP is unlikely to oppose moves to implement 13A.
It must not be assumed that the President’s declared intention to implement 13A could be put into practice easily. Sinhala nationalists in the Uttara Sabhagaya have already declared war against fully implementing 13A, and not all SLPP elements would be enthusiastic about supporting the proposed changes. They are sure to be joined by Sinhala extremists outside Parliament. Already, a protest has been called against the move in front of the Dalada Maligawa. Anti-13A forces would attempt to use discontent among the masses suffering due to the economic mess the country is in. In these circumstances, the Government needs to convince the people and the Opposition of the genuineness of the exercise and the chances of its success. Lest the extremists raise the ‘separatist’ bogey, President Wickremesinghe and the Government must meet such arguments taking the bull by its horns and also explain to the people that power-sharing through devolution is a must not only to solve the ethnic issue but also for the development of the periphery. Given its composition, the present Government cannot do so on its own. It must reach out and build a broad consensus on the issue.
Captain Morgan / January 30, 2023
President Ranil Wickremasinghe had stated at the All-Party Conference held on the 26th that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution should be implemented according to the Indo-Lanka Agreement or else the Parliament should pass another amendment and have the 13th amendment abolished.
That is a surprising thing for a person who passed out as a lawyer from the Ceylon Law College to say.
I know very little about the law but my understanding is that a bilateral treaty between two sovereign states cannot be arbitrarily abrogated by any one of them. No local court or the Supreme Court or even the parliament of Sri Lanka can unilaterally abrogate the treaty and toss it into the waste basket. They have to discuss it and come to an agreement with the other party first before making any drastic changes.
old codger / January 31, 2023
The 13th Amendment is not a bilateral treaty but an Amendment to the constitution. The Indo-Sri Lanka agreement is bilateral.
old codger / January 31, 2023
The ISLA only asked that the North and East be given their own PC. But instead JR set up 8 more which nobody asked for. So we have another set of useless well-paid panjandrums added to the 82000 LG members. And some people still ask why we are bankrupt.
chiv / January 30, 2023
Jeyampathy, haven’t we heard and seen enough. Seems Lankans are never tired of these comedy shows. Mahinda is “mother of all crooks”. He lies for living. When confronted in the Parliament he may have said 13 Plus. But the very next day in Narehenpitiya celebrating Senile Theras B’Day , all those yellow robed in Presence of Mahinda, vowed not to implement 13, making usual gutter racist threats, just like those rabid A. holes SW, and Wimal. Mahinda’s politics is to “pinch the baby and pretend to swing the cradle” , at the same time . When Ranil says , he has the support of Cabinet and SLPP, what do people expect Mahinda to say ??? Mahinda is well known to promise many things to international heads and deny, within 24 hours. Ex Indian FM Sushma is no more but Ban Ki – moon , (I believe is on his way) can tell all about it.
Captain Morgan / January 31, 2023
I was under the impression that the 13th Amendment was introduced to fulfill some of the provisions of the Indo-Lanka Accord. Isn’t there any connection between the two?
SJ / February 1, 2023
It was intended to fulfill a part of the accord. But JR cleverly outmanoeuvered the architects of the accord. Instead of two provincial councils he created eight and diluted their content.
Native Vedda / February 1, 2023
China’s man in Sri Lanka (not EELAM)
“But JR cleverly outmanoeuvered the architects of the accord. Instead of two provincial councils he created eight and diluted their content.”
Many called it another white elephant.
Clever dick JR landed the country in bottomless pit, bankrupt, and …. hundred of thousands death, disabled, ….. and 30 years of war, still begging for food, oil, medicine, …. Simply Sri Lanka faced not only the LTTE but JVP too, both were run by Sri Lankan version of two Pol Pots.
Did the clever dick address the fundamental problems by his clever outmaneuvering?
If that was JR’s clever outmaneuver it was not his mistake however people should question the sanity of those who claim so.
old codger / February 1, 2023
The 13th is indeed connected to the ISLA. But neither the Indians or anyone else asked for 9 useless PC’s. JR was totally responsible.
Ajith / January 31, 2023
“Given its composition, the present Government cannot do so on its own. It must reach out and build a broad consensus on the issue.”
What about Buddhist Monks or Maha Sangha? will the military go against the Monks and other hard core Buddhist Fundamentalists if necessary?
SJ / February 1, 2023
There are some who cannot be changed, and they are stuck in one or another racist mud.
Why spend time on those who are positive? Strengthening them is the only way to overcome the negative forces.
Plato / January 31, 2023
……….MP Harini Amarasuriya clarified that while the NPP supported 13A.in PRINCIPLE,it did not consider the Presidents statement on fully implementing the 13A. CREDIBLE.
What if it was credible? Indian Expansionism is still haunting the JVP/NPP eh?
Successive Governments have over the past 35 years taken back several subjects and functions that legitimately belonged to the PCs. Prof.G.L.Pieris in his heyday called it an insincere exercise. If I remember right Dr.Jayampathy called the PCs as a White Elephant!
Again, the 13thA.interpretation on the Divineguma Bill was the cause that led to the Impeachment of CJ.Shiranee Bandaranayake…………