Districts, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Implement the 13 Amendment

Now that the war is over the question that comes to mind is in what way we can rebuild this country which has been affected by an ethnic cum terrorist conflict for over three decades. From a political perspective, the Government should fully implement the 13 Amendment to the Constitution. For this to take place problematic areas with regard to the implementation of the 13 Amendment need to be looked into. In an exclusive interview about the 13th Amendment with Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan (alias Pillayan) conducted by Vikalpa in March 2009, Chief Minister Chandrakanthan had expressed his disappointment at the Governments failure to fully implement the 13 amendment. The Chief Minister said “At present we are unable to even obtain the powers that are due to us. There is also confusion regarding certain issues. It is not possible to discuss certain issues openly. We are unable to legislate for the benefit of the people even after 8 months. The needs and concerns of the people have to be met without delay.”

Under the 13 amendment the center and provinces in some instances do not have a clear cut separation of powers and as a result the center can encroach upon the powers of the provinces. This invariably leads to disputes between the center and the provinces. The main points of contention with regard to the 13th amendment are land and police powers. For instance, Chief Minister Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan claims that he does not have powers over the police in the East even though the 13th Amendment is supposed to devolve police powers to the provinces and also provide for the establishment of Provincial Police Commissions. A point of contention with respect to land is that the center has control over the Divisional Secretaries and Grama Niladaris in the PC’s. Therefore, some of the powers of the provinces are exercised by these Divisional Secretaries who in effect are controlled by the center. What the Executive should do is to transfer these public officials to the provincial public service. EP Chief Minister Pillaiyan in the Vikalpa interview has also expressed his disappointment over the Governments failure to establish a Ministry of Law and Order as envisaged under the Eastern PC.

The NFF, the JHU and the JVP need not fear the 13 Amendment on the grounds that it might lead to secession as the Central Government possesses adequate powers to dissolve the Provincial Councils if the need arises. In the 1990 case of Varatharajah Perumal and the Northeast PC declaring unilateral independence, the Premadasa Government was able to dissolve the PC without difficulty as the powers reserved by the Central Government was more than adequate to deal with such situations. Even though the North and the East provinces was de-merged by a Supreme Court order in 2006, the 13 Amendment has been a part of our constitution for the past 22 years and if implemented in full will to a good degree satisfy the aspirations of Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Tamil Diaspora living abroad and all non-LTTE Tamil militant groups such as EPDP, PLOTE, TELO, EROS, EPRLF, ENDLF and others which gave up its weapons under the Indo-Lanka accord and joined the democratic process.

In the sphere of foreign relations it will no doubt satisfy the following: the Government of India who this time around was supportive of the Sri Lankan Governments bid to finish off the LTTE, most if not all Tamil Nadu politicians who have been agitating for devolution to Sri Lankan Tamils and Western Governments especially the USA and the EU which are the two biggest markets for our garments and who have also been consistent in its advocacy of devolution of power to the Tamil minority. As the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Geneva, Dayan Jayathilleke has stated in an article titled “National security, the national interest and the 13th Amendment”- “The implementation of the 13th Amendment is not a give away or dilution of our military gains. It is the necessary political accompaniment of them and the guarantee of the consolidation of our military victory.” (Daily News 3 July 2009, www.dailynews.lk)

President Rajapakse, the SLFP and the old left it seems is prepared to address contentious issues with regard to the full implementation of the 13 Amendment. In an interview with CNN-IBN on Tuesday (April 28) at Temple Trees, President Mahinda Rajapakse was asked the question “What is your political vision in the post-conflict phase? How will you assure the Tamils that their political rights are protected in this country?” President Rajapakse had replied by saying “What we are trying to do is implement the Indo-Sri Lanka treaty and the 13th Amendment. The 13th Amendment was introduced and even Prabhakaran signed it agreeing to it and then suddenly he changed his mind. The 13th Amendment is a part of our Constitution but unfortunately it was not implemented because of Prabhakaran and his crowd, because of the LTTE. So now we will have to implement that. And we have I have categorically said that it will be 13 plus 1.” (www.priu.gov.lk)

The end of the war has brought in a new chapter of hope and opportunity for Sri Lanka in relation to its economy. Even though the country is expected to register a low GDP growth of between 3.5%-4.5% in 2009, HSBC Singapore based primary economist for Vietnam and Sri Lanka Prakrit Sofat opinioned at a recent business community meeting in Colombo that Sri Lanka would record a healthy GDP growth of 6% in 2010. The predicted rise in GDP growth could be attributed to the end of military hostilities together with other domestic and international factors that could drive investment and growth. The good news is that Sri Lanka’s trade deficit has been gradually declining and foreign remittances in the first quarter of 2009 are estimated to have reached one billion US dollars. However, in terms of foreign direct investment Sri Lanka received US $ 889 million in 2008. This is a comparatively small figure when compared with other countries in the Asian region. But it is hoped that with the end of hostilities and the rebuilding of roads and infrastructure facilities in the North and East the country could once again see the inflow of FDI in the coming years to areas that have been neglected for many years. The Jaffna peninsula to my knowledge has never had a garment factory producing apparels for export to western countries. Perhaps the reason for this is that since the 1970’s the peninsula has not received any substantial foreign or local investment due to terrorist activity. Therefore, with the return of normalcy and the opening of the A-9 road industries such as garment manufacturing could be established in the peninsula on the lines of the setting up of Brandix Lanka’s apparel factory in Punani in 2008 which is said to employ 220 people from all ethnic communities.

In the area of tourism, Sri Lanka receives an estimated 450,000 tourists per year on average. Once again this figure is tiny in comparison to other countries in the Asian region. The industry in the past employed about 100,000 people directly and indirectly in parts of the country outside the North and East. It is hoped that the industry which was badly affected due to the instable situation in the North and East provinces in the past would show an improvement with tourists once again been able to visit the beaches of the East Coast such as Arugam Bay, Kalladi, Passikudah, Vakarai, Alles Garden, Nilaveli, Kanniyai and Kumburupitty. Towards this end the Eastern PC is considering the establishment of a Tourism Promotion Board through a provincial statute. Tourism and garments are two industries in which Sri Lanka can compete internationally.

Long term economic development can take place only in an environment of peace. In my opinion, to create a peaceful environment in the North and the East as well as the rest of the country Tamil political grievances need to be addressed sincerely and the only way in which this can be done is by resolving contentious issues regarding the implementation of the 13 amendment. This country may not be able to post high rates of GDP growth, attract substantial FDI or hope to get large volumes of tourists as long as there is a politically discontented Tamil community living in the North and the East and also in other parts of the country. The fears of the NFF and the JHU which are a party to the government and the JVP which now sits in opposition that devolution of power would lead to secession are unfounded. Any shortcomings in the PC system relating to the costs involved in maintaining PC’s and wastage of funds can and need to be put right. However, the PC system is not fundamentally flawed and it has and continues to provide a service to the public.