Devolution dilemma!

Thursday, 5 June 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Opposition Leader asks what assurances President Rajapaksa gave new Indian Premier Modi on national issue during recent talks
  • GL says constitutional issues were not discussed at length
  • Insists devolution of police powers is not acceptable
By Ashwin Hemmathagama Our Lobby Correspondent Power devolution and the issue of national reconciliation came into the spotlight yesterday in Parliament when Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe asked to hear the Government’s current position as articulated to new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Making a statement under Section 23 (2) of the Standing Orders, Wickremesinghe wanted the Government to explain the action it intended to take. “On 26 May 2014, President Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the swearing-in ceremony of the new Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. The next day, bilateral talks were held between the two sides. The media reported that during the meeting, President Rajapaksa had explained the steps taken by the Sri Lankan Government to achieve national reconciliation,” he said. Highlighting a statement made by Indian Ministry of External Affairs Secretary Sujata Singh during a media briefing, Wickremesinghe said: “She has stated that they have highlighted the importance of the wellbeing of Tamils in Sri Lanka and urged President Rajapaksa that the 13th Amendment be implemented and stated that it is important to go beyond it. So we are hopeful that this request coming from the Indian Prime Minister will be heeded and that Sri Lanka will take appropriate action as required.”             Asking the Government to outline assurances given to the Indian Prime Minister during the meeting promising a political solution towards national reconciliation, Wickremesinghe said: “An earlier joint press statement issued by the two Governments on 17 May 2011, during the visit of Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs to New Delhi to discuss national reconciliation in Sri Lanka, stated that our External Affairs Minister had affirmed the commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress. A devolution package building upon the 13th Amendment would contribute towards the necessary conditions for such reconciliation.” In his response, Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris confirmed holding bilateral talks between the two countries immediately after the new Prime Minister took office. The Minister said there were no in depth discussions on constitutional issues. “These talks straddled a wide range of topics including new Modi’s vision for SAARC and expanding economic relations between the two countries. References were also made to the Indian fishermen. It was not the case that there were detailed in-depth discussions on constitutional issues, but discussions at a friendly level. The President explained our position lucidly,” Minister Peiris said. “We made it crystal clear that devolution of police power is not acceptable,” Peiris said though he did not give a reason. He said the 13th Amendment was nothing new and had been part of Sri Lankan law for more than quarter of a century. “During that period five different governments ruled this country but failed to establish it fully. Sri Lanka very clearly mentioned that it is necessary to obtain agreement from our people to establish it. The best solution we proposed was the Parliamentary Select Committee, which articulates different points of view to arrive at a conclusion,” said Minister Peiris.