By Jayantha Dhanapala and Prof. Savitri Goonesekere
The Friday Forum considers effective devolution essential to building trust and ethnic harmony, securing future peace and promoting good governance. The government has more than once publicly committed itself to the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. It is thus with deep concern that we view current attempts to dilute the already limited provisions for devolution embodied in the 13th Amendment.
The proposed amendment will make it much easier for the Centre to over-ride Provincial Councils. At present, if the Centre wishes to pass a law on a matter in the Provincial Council List, the Bill must be referred to all Provincial Councils for them to express their views. If all Provincial Councils agree, the Bill may be passed by a simple majority. If one or more Councils do not agree, a two-thirds majority is needed to make the law applicable to the Councils that did not agree, but if passed only by a simple majority, the law will apply only in the provinces that agreed. This is a safeguard against interference by the Centre and many Provincial Councils outside the North and East too have disagreed with such Bills and asserted their independence. According to the proposed amendment, such a Bill will apply in all the provinces if a majority of the Provincial Councils agrees. This would make it possible for the Centre to easily impose legislation on Provincial Councils controlled by the Opposition. The Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils are likely to suffer the most.
" The people of the East must give their consent at a referendum if the Northern and Eastern provinces are to be merged "
The provisions relating to the merger of provinces are also to be deleted. Presently, a merger can only be initiated by the President. Provincial Councils have no say in the matter at all. Further, the people of the East must give their consent at a referendum if the Northern and Eastern provinces are to be merged. We do not see the need to amend these provisions.
The proposed amendment also runs counter to the content and spirit of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission to which the Government has repeatedly expressed its commitment. The government has adopted an LLRC Action Plan which we are told is already being implemented.
Coming just prior to the long-delayed elections to the Northern Provincial Council, now due to be held in September, constitutional amendments of this nature, as would any further attempt to dilute the devolution provisions of the Constitution, constitute a clear breach of trust with our fellow citizens in the North. Our country has just emerged from years of suffering endured during the armed conflict, and devolution of power under the 13th Amendment is an important element in the path to peace and reconciliation.
Constitutional amendments including urgent bills based on political expediency are undemocratic and undermine the rule of law. After losing four valuable years that could have been used to find a political settlement, democratisation and reconciliation, this move to dilute provisions on devolution will further undermine post-war democratisation in the North.
The Friday Forum urges all political parties and groups to oppose any move to dilute the 13th Amendment, and to make every effort to ensure that a fair and free election to the Northern Provincial Council takes place under the present constitutional scheme.
The Friday Forum- the Group of Concerned Citizens
Jayantha Dhanapala, Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Suriya Wickremasinghe, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Rt. Reverend Duleep de Chickera, Tissa Jayatilaka, Ahilan Kadirgamar, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Sithie Tiruchelvam, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Anne Abayasekara, Manouri Muttetuwegama, J.C. Weliamuna, Javid Yusuf, Dr. A. C. Visvalingam, Lanka Nesiah, Professor. Camena Gunaratne, Damaris Wickramasekera, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Shanthi Dias, Danesh Casie Chetty, Prashan de Visser, D. Wijayanandana, Mahen Dayananda, Professor. Ranjini Obeyesekere and Chandra Jayaratne.