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Amendment will be repealed.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
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
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
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.