Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2677

Sri Lanka's latest peace proposals push for the Indo-Lanka pact, wants polls in East

By Joseph Thavaraja

Colombo, 24 January, ( Sri Lanka's latest peace proposals handed over to President Rajapakse on Wednesday January 24 pushes the 13nth amendment to the constitution forefront while calling for polls in the East. It also calls for devolving police powers and 'official languages provisions' to the constitution.

The proposals are formulated by the All Party Representative Committee – the collective of southern political party representatives to formulate the 'southern consensus' to the protracted ethnic conflict. But the main opposition UNP has boycotted the APRC since its beginning and more recently, the JVP too withdrew from the committee.

President Mahinda Rajapakse engrossed in reading over the proposal. The APRC proposal was handed over to him yesterday Prof. Tissa Vitarana Chairman of the APRC.President Mahinda Rajapakse engrossed in reading over the proposal. The APRC proposal was handed over to him yesterday Prof. Tissa Vitarana Chairman of the APRC.

At times described as a 'constitutional sleight of hand' by observers, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution is the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardene Accord of 1987 presented in another form as an amendment to the constitution. It created the Provincial Councils and enforced a temporary unification of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. But in 2006 the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka ruled that the merger of Northern and Eastern provinces as "unconstitutional, illegal and invalid" shattering hopes of the Tamil minority.

One political observer said that the proposals are a massive waste of public funds saying "they go on reverse gear to the 13th amendment.' The three to four pages long APRC proposals were finalized after 63 sittings over a period of 1½ years. "After 63 sittings over a period of 1½ years the consensus document is being finalized" the APRC said in the document. Another observer said that 'there's nothing new.'

But Lionel Guruge, a senior member of the Centre for Policy Alternatives and a well known Federal activist labeled by ultra-Sinhalese parties as a non-patriot speaking in an independent capacity welcomed the move to hold elections in the East. "This will fill an urgent vacuum in the east – that is the absence of a politico-administrative mechanism in east to serve the regional populace" he said. He added "Even the nationalist party JHU has now come to a consensus that devolution is necessary to serve the minorities. In that sense, APRC proposals stand as a considerable victory for Mahinda Rajapakse. But Rajapakse should not attempt to rule the East in the way Varadaraja Perumal attempted under Indo Lanka pact's Eastern Province in 1987-88 period which ended in a debacle" Guruge said.

The full text of APRC is given below:

APRC Proposals to President

The following are the proposals handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa by the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) yesterday, on fully implementing relevant provisions in the present Constitution, in order to achieve maximum and effective devolution of powers to the provinces in the short term

Action to be taken by the President to fully implement relevant
provisions of the present constitution as a prelude to the APRC

1. Introduction

1.1 The APRC was mandated by the President to prepare a set of proposals that would be the basis for a solution to the national question. After 63 sittings over a period of 1½ years the consensus document is being finalized and it should be possible to hand it over to the President in the very near future. The outcome would be a basis for appropriate constitutional arrangements. Implementation of this would of course require amendment of the present Constitution, and in respect of some Articles, approval by the People at a referendum. This would of course take time, once a favorable climate is established.

1.2 Under the circumstances, the APRC taking into consideration its own proposals, has identified a course of action to achieve maximum and effective devolution of powers to the provinces in the short term. The emphasis would be on meeting the aspirations of the Tamil speaking peoples, especially in the North and East. This would be done within the framework of the present Constitution, that is, the 1978 Constitution. The course of action proposed by the APRC would be implementable with immediate effect, and envisages an interim arrangement pending the restoration of democratically elected Provincial Councils in the North and East.

1.3 The 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution was enacted following the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987. It resulted in the setting up of Provincial Councils throughout Sri Lanka and it devolved power to the Provinces under the unitary Constitution. The powers devolved fall under a Provincial List and a Concurrent List. All other powers were reserved for the Centre through a Reserved List. Further, any subject or function not included in any of the three Lists will also be deemed to be a subject or function in the Reserved List.

1.4 Implementation of subjects and functions devolved on the Provinces through the Concurrent List has not taken place at all due to the fact most of these subjects and functions were retained by the Centre as if they also belonged to the Reserved List.

2. Steps necessary to permit Maximum Devolution of Powers to Provinces under the 13th Amendment

2.1 The Government should endeavor to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in respect of legislative, executive and administrative powers, overcoming existing shortcomings.

2.2 Adequate funds should be provided by the Government to facilitate effective functioning of the Provincial Councils.

2.2.1 The Centre should hereinafter route all finances in respect of special projects undertaken by the Centre in the Provinces, if they are on subjects under the purview of the Provinces, through the respective Provincial Administrations.

3. Special Arrangements necessary to permit Maximum Devolution of Powers to the Northern and Eastern Provinces under the 13th Amendment

3.1 The APRC is of the view that conditions in the Eastern Province are conducive to holding elections to the Provincial Council and that elections should be held immediately.

3.2 Conditions in the Northern Province are far from being peaceful. A free and fair election in the North will not be possible in the near future. Hence an alternative arrangement is required in the Northern Province to enable the people of that Province to enjoy the fruits of devolution.

3.3 As it is not possible to hold elections in the North, the President could make appropriate order to establish an Interim Council for the Northern Province in terms of the Constitution.

3.4 The Interim Council of a Province will aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his executive powers, and will function until Provincial Council elections are held in that Province.

3.4.1 The Interim Council should reflect the ethnic character of that Province.

3.4.2 It is proposed that the Interim Council for a Province should consist of individuals who have political experience and an abiding interest in the development of the Province and in its people and be acceptable to the people of the Province. A person to qualify for appointment as a member of an Interim Council should have a thorough knowledge of the particular Province.

4. Implementation of the Official Languages Provision of the Constitution

4.1 The Government should take immediate steps to ensure that Parliament enacts laws to provide for the full implementation of Chapter IV of the Constitution on Language.

4.2 There are many contexts in which remedial measures will assume an administrative, rather than a legislative, character.

The following are instances of measures which should be strenuously accelerated and implemented by the Government.

(a) recruitment of Tamil speaking police officers in sufficient numbers to enable Tamil speaking members of the public, not only in the North and East, but in the country as a whole, to transact business in their own language in police stations;

(b) the taking of all steps, including recruitment of staff and procurement of equipment to enable Tamil speaking members of the public to deal with Ministries, Government Departments, statutory corporations and all other public bodies in
their own language;

(c) the regular holding of, and streamlining of procedures for, mobile "clinics" where officials fluent in the Tamil language will engage problem solving on the spot;

(d) the provision of interpreters, translators and other relevant facilities in all courts of law, so that the needs of members of provincial minority communities are catered fully with regard to all aspects of the administration of justice;

(e) The Sinhala minorities in the North and East suffer from disadvantages similar to those affecting Tamil speaking peoples as mentioned above. Suitable steps should be taken to address them along the same lines.

The All Party Representative Committee (APRC) comprised:

1. Sri Lanka Freedom Party

2. United National Party (D)

3. Jathika Hela Urumaya

4. Ceylon Workers Congress

5. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress

6. All Ceylon Muslim Congress

7. Mahajana Eksath Peramuna

8. National Unity Alliance

9. Up-country People's Front

10. Communist Party of Sri Lanka

11. Eelam People's Democratic Party

12. National Congress

13. Western People's Front

14. Lanka Sama Samaja Party

- Asian Tribune -

Share this