The All Party Representative Committee (APRC) recently presented interim proposals to provide a solution to the problems in the North and East of the country. The government has accepted these proposals, which were signed by thirteen political parties, making clear that a majority of the democratically elected representatives of the people of this country agree with these proposals. The special characteristic of these proposals is the ability to implement them without looking for any amendment of the constitution.Finding a political solution to the problem.
“ The idea of fully activating the 13th amendment was brought up by one such group, but it was the APRC as a whole that found it acceptable. This does not prevent the APRC from discussing further options, and it continues to do so, but agrees, especially in the context of the people of the North and East not having had elected representatives running their affairs for so long, that implementing the 13th amendment fully in those areas would at least be a start.”
“The All Party Representative Committee (APRC) recently presented interim proposals to provide a solution to the problems in the North and East of the country. The government has accepted these proposals, which were signed by thirteen political parties, making clear that a majority of the democratically elected representatives of the people of this country agree with these proposals. The special characteristic of these proposals is the ability to implement them without looking for any amendment of the constitution. “
Clearly a political solution is essential for the prevailing national problem, which began with political questions. A solution should be achieved not through the division of the country but through the devolution of power. By devolution is meant a system that will empower the public to make decisions about matters that affect it closely. But, in facilitating this, we need to pay attention to a prevalent fear, that devolution could lead to a division of the country. The 13th amendment, which was passed twenty years ago, will not rouse such a fear, but earlier it was difficult to assert how effective it was since the LTTE had been against it from the start. However the need to give the LTTE a decisive voice passed with the abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement that was signed with the LTTE, so now we now have an opportunity to implement the 13th amendment. In that sense the country obtained much greater freedom with regard to moving towards a solution with the abrogation of this Agreement.
In 1987 the 13th amendment to the constitution was passed in accordance with the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement. It was accepted by all minority parties, including initially the LTTE, though they soon rejected it and fell out with India. Because at that stage the Sri Lankan government got close to the LTTE, even though subsequently the LTTE returned to war against the Sri Lankan government too, the view point was created that a problem which in reality involves a multitude of stakeholders was essentially between the government and the LTTE. So, for a solution to work, it was thought that it had to be acceptable to both the government and the LTTE. This approach was reinforced by the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, which in effect sidelined the other Tamil political parties, for whom there was no place in the peace process.
This does not mean we should blame the Ceasefire Agreement in itself. The government of that day was of the view that, through that Agreement, it would be able to bring the LTTE into the democratic process, and thus get rid of terrorism. However within a short time that hope proved false. The LTTE violated the Ceasfire Agreement repeatedly, continued recruitment including of children, brought in weapons, and withdrew from talks. The present government, when it came into office, nevertheless tried to resume talks, and it seemed briefly to succeed. However, though three opportunities for talks were arranged, only one set of negotiations actually took place, the LTTE walking out on the other occasions, once before the talks even started. After that, though the government kept the door open, and though even informal talks were suggested, the Norwegians reported that the LTTE remained unwilling to talk. So the abrogation of the CFA simply confirmed what had already happened.
And through this there was greater freedom and increased possibilities to hold constructive discussions with the parties who believe in democracy. We do not have to look far to find out the LTTE view of this matter. From the very beginning, the LTTE has consistently stood out, not for any settlement, not for elections, but for an unelected absolute control of an interim administration, even while continuing to destroy all opposition to it amongst Tamils. This government was unwilling and unable to offer such powers, so it was a blessing that, because of LTTE intransigence, it was able to abandon the CFA and consider more seriously what other Tamil groupings had to say.
The 13th amendment
The idea of fully activating the 13th amendment was brought up by one such group, but it was the APRC as a whole that found it acceptable. This does not prevent the APRC from discussing further options, and it continues to do so, but agrees, especially in the context of the people of the North and East not having had elected representatives running their affairs for so long, that implementing the 13th amendment fully in those areas would at least be a start.
A close look at the 13th amendment shows the opportunities for the general public to fulfil their needs through the decentralization of power. The powers available in this regard can extend to most things, though of course there will be particular things under the central government, as is the common situation in any country whatever its system of government. Thus security issues, involving not only defence but also for instance foreign policy, or financial security through monetary policy, or legal security, will not be centralized.
The 13th amendment however had not two sets of powers, but three. Two of these, obviously, were the authority of the central government and the authority of the provinces. The different provinces should have been able to use these latter powers, but in some cases some confusion was introduced. For instance, with regard to education, that is supposed to be a matter for the provinces. But there is an exception in the form of National Schools. This should have been a minor exception, because at the time the 13th Amendment was introduced there were few National Schools. But because there were no clear guidelines on what exactly a National School was, several central government Education Ministers in turn created National Schools, in their own electoral areas for instance, so that they could interfere with regard to appointments and admissions and so on. So if the government agrees to fully implement the 13th amendment, it should make sure that this sort of mechanism, to increase central interference in what are recognized as areas of provincial authority, is stopped.
Another area where some clarification would help the full implementation of the 13th amendment is that of the concurrent list, subjects where authority belongs both to the central government and to the province. In theory both can exercise powers but, since the central government will be superior to the province, most provinces have done nothing in these areas, for fear that they would be countermanded. So here too the government can make clear, by regulation, that in most if not all these areas, it will leave decisions and necessary regulations to the provinces.
It will be easier for the central government to give up power with regard to most areas, because one important reason to fear devolution is no longer relevant. We should remember that a huge problem was created when the 13th amendment was introduced because of the merger of the Northern and the Eastern Provinces. This was done in a very underhand manner. Though the official position was that the President could proclaim such a merger when arms had been surrendered, that was changed, simply through a Gazette notification, to the power to do that when he was satisfied that the process of laying down arms had begun. As you know, J R Jayewardene could proclaim himself satisfied with anything, so he went ahead with the merger even though violence was increasing.
In addition, the merger was supposed to be subject to a referendum, to be held within a year, but that referendum was postponed for nearly twenty years. Because of all this maneuvering, the positive benefits to people of devolution were forgotten, and the impression developed that the 13th amendment was all about encouraging the idea of a distinct homeland within Sri Lanka, in two provinces that were given special treatment.