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Sunday, 16 June 2013

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Government Gazette

13th Amendment, the talk of the town

It is common knowledge that over 20 million Sri Lankans had been subjected to untold misery due to LTTE terrorism for nearly three decades. The LTTE, which spread its separatist ideology among Tamils, unleashed deadly terror during the Tigers' military struggle for Velupillai Prabhakaran's dream state.

Previous Heads of State did their utmost to deal with LTTE terror since former President J.R. Jayewardene began his first round of peace talks with the LTTE in Thimpu in 1985. He had little or no option but to succumb to Indian pressure and sign the controversial Indo-Lanka agreement in 1987.

This gave birth to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution under which the Provincial Council system was introduced to the country. JR's successor - the late President R. Premadasa - had a different plan. He even pumped money and provided cement to the terror outfit at their request, under the delusion that he could tame the Tigers in a different way. But lo and behold, Prabhakaran took Premadasa for a ride. Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga went one step further and presented the infamous P-TOMs to the LTTE after the tsunami devastation in 2004, but her efforts to console Prabhakaran also failed miserably.

Although all these three leaders succumbed to international pressure, President Mahinda Rajapaksa took a firm stand with sheer courage and determination. Sri Lanka's friendly countries came to his rescue and did not permit Western elements to intimidate Sri Lanka.

The 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution has been a hot topic among political circles and a wide range of views has been aired, not only by politicians, but also by the topmost religious leaders.

The Government has decided to introduce changes to the 13th Amendment in Parliament on Tuesday as an urgent Bill, to repeal all Constitutional provisions to merge two or more provinces. The right enjoyed by the President to proclaim the merger of Provincial Councils under the 13th Amendment will be repealed. A fresh Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) will be appointed to discuss the other revisions.

The 13th Amendment was introduced to the 1978 Constitution in 1987 by the then Government headed by the late President J.R. Jayewardene. He yielded to international pressure by hurriedly introducing the 13th Amendment. Jayewardene kept most of his Cabinet ministers in the dark when he inked the Indo-Lanka Agreement with the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga said last week that the then Jayewardene-led government, under extreme pressure, accepted the 13th Amendment to the Constitution without calling for a referendum in the face of a threat of an invasion.

Weeratunga told the presentation of land deeds to persons who do not own land, under the 12th stage of the Ranbima title presentation at Temple Trees on Monday, that public discussion is brewing on the 13th Amendment and many secrets with regard to the introduction of the Provincial Council system are coming to light.

He said the President will not show any hesitation in shutting down establishments and institutions if they do not provide the anticipated services to the public, adding that President Rajapaksa has always given clear directives to them to close down establishments which do not provide the services the people need.

He said the country's administrative process changed dramatically with the 13th Amendment, which was implemented without the people's consent. The senior most civil servant said that the time is now opportune for people to evaluate the pros and cons of the Provincial Council system which was set up under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution without calling for a referendum.

It is now left to the masses to evaluate the benefits from the Provincial Councils which were established in 1989. The Jayewardene regime did not seek public views prior to enacting the 13th Amendment to the Constitution under which Provincial Councils were set up.

As the Secretary to the President had said, the provision of a plot of land to a person who does not inherit an inch of land in the country has become a cumbersome process today as there is a clash between the Provincial Councils and District Secretaries over land powers.

The people, more often than not, have to undergo a tremendous hassle when seeking land as they are driven from pillar to post to get approval due to the 13th Amendment. The distribution of lands among the landless was a simple exercise before the 13th Amendment came into force. Prior to 1989, an Assistant Government Agent had the power to provide a plot of land to a family who did not have legal ownership of their own land, but it is not so today.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and Minister Wimal Weerawansa has said the two changes to the 13th Amendment proposed by the Government were insufficient and advocated that all provisions which contribute to separatism must be abolished. He said that land and police powers and all other provisions which support separatism must be abolished prior to the Northern Provincial Council elections in September.

Leaders of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) also called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees last week to discuss the proposed changes to the 13th Amendment. Views were also expressed on the JHU's five essential amendments to the Constitution proposed by the party before the Northern Provincial Council is set up. The President, responding to the JHU proposals, said that the two factors pointed out by them had already been directed for ministerial consideration and the remaining proposals will also be immediately directed to the PSC. The President said he would also provide an opportunity for Government members to express their views on the matter.

On the other hand, the main opposition, UNP and the JHU have also decided to continue their dialogue to reach a consensus on the proposed changes to the 13th Amendment. During a 90-minute meeting at the UNP headquarters, Sirikotha, the leaders of the two parties had exchanged views on the 13th Amendment.

The JHU had called upon the UNP leader to permit his parliamentarians to vote according to their conscience. Earlier last week, the President had told constituent parties of the ruling UPFA Government that they could vote freely when the Amendments are being introduced in Parliament. This was indeed a bold move as it was not political, but a serious issue that affects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the motherland.

What matters is not whether to retain, abolish or change the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, but to ensure that any clauses are not detrimental to the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The then Government cared two hoots to look into any of those matters as it hurriedly implemented the changes behind closed doors. At a time when the country is making a determined effort to march forward and sustain the hard-earned peace, nothing should be done that would harm the country's unity and sovereignty. Else, the supreme sacrifices made by our valiant Security Forces to liberate the country from the clutches of terrorism would be futile. It is vital that we protect the unitary State, for which thousands of brave soldiers had sacrificed their precious lives.

Certain Tamil politicians and Tiger cohorts, who are still daydreaming of a separate state, are now resorting to various tactics to achieve their goals through democratic means - where Prabhakaran failed through an armed struggle.

Fortunately, we have a fearless leader who would never bow down to international pressure and go that extra mile when it comes to Sri Lanka's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Had it not been for his political sagacity and farsighted vision, Prabhakaran would have well achieved his cherished goal.

What is most baffling is that those who preach to us after terrorism was eradicated never practise it in their countries. At a time various conspiracies are hatched in the West, Sri Lanka should not do anything untoward that could affect the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. President Rajapaksa and the UPFA Government will never take any step that is detrimental to Sri Lanka's sovereignty and national unity.

In this scenario, the Government will, no doubt, make a careful study of the 13th Amendment and remove the clauses, if any, that are detrimental to the country's unitary status. It will seek the views of all political parties represented in Parliament and would take the most appropriate decision in the larger interests of the country.

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