19A to defuse 13A!

Friday, 14 June 2013 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Cabinet decides to submit 19th Amendment to Parliament as Urgent Bill next week
  • Govt. to go ahead with repeal of provincial merger clause in 13A
  • Fast-tracked PSC to decide on other revisions to 13A to be appointed next Tuesday
  • Second proposed amendment to be referred to PSC
  • Mangala Moonesinghe PSC recommendations to be scrapped; Govt. does not believe there is an “ethnic” issue, Cabinet Spokesman says
  • Absolutely no question of delaying northern poll: Keheliya
  • Govt. confident of two-thirds majority to pass amendment
  • Decision reached after stormy Cabinet meeting
  • SLMC will still vote ‘no’; Socialist Alliance oppose both amendments in writing to Cabinet

By Dharisha Bastians

The Government will attempt to change the Constitution for the 19th time next week with an amendment that will repeal provisions that permit the merger of provinces under the 13th Amendment, despite strong opposition from constituent parties within the ruling coalition.

The Cabinet of Ministers that took up the two amendments to the 13th Amendment which sets up the provincial councils again during a stormy and extensive meeting yesterday, decided to submit the proposal to repeal Article 154(A)(3) of the Constitution, which allows Parliament to provide for two or three adjoining provinces to form one administrative unit.

The second amendment proposed last week, to revise Article 154(G)(3) of the Constitution to permit the centre to pass legislation in relation to subjects in the Provincial Council List by a simple majority provided that a majority of PCs agree to the said legislation, will be referred to a Parliamentary Select Committee that will be set up by the Speaker when Parliament meets next Tuesday, Cabinet Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told the media last afternoon.

“The PSC will begin deliberations even as early as next Wednesday and the process will be time-bound and fast-tracked and will review the amendments proposed to 13A,” Rambukwella said. He said under no circumstances would the Northern Provincial Council poll be delayed and added that this was why the Government had decided to fast-track the Select Committee process.

“The Government has decided the process must be even more democratic, so the proposed revisions will be referred to the PSC for decision,” the Minister said. Asked whether the 13A had not been intensely debated and decided upon by the Mangala Moonesinghe PSC previously, Minister Rambukwella said those recommendations would be scrapped because they were reached during a time of war.

“The situation is different now and requires a different approach. Today it is a more democratic process,” the Minister said. He said that as a party, the Government did not believe that there was an “ethnic issue” in the country. “There is an economic issue and a development issue, but it is debatable whether there is an ethnic issue,” Rambukwella told journalists at the briefing.

The Government’s moves to dilute the provisions of the 13th Amendment ahead of the scheduled September poll in the north has come in for strong opposition from within the ruling coalition, with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the Communist Party and the LSSP deciding to oppose the constitutional amendments.

However, Rambukwella said the Government was confident of being able to muster the 150 votes in Parliament – two-thirds of the House – to enact the amendment. “We believe that support for this proposal may even come from parties that do not support the Government in Parliament,” he told the Cabinet briefing.

The Minister said that the SLMC had disagreed with the amendment proposals during yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, but added that it was the Government’s position that amendments to the 13A were “imperative”.

“The 13th Amendment is not set in stone. There is public opinion building about it and different opinions on the issue. The Government believes revisions are necessary,” he said.

The Daily FT learns that the SLMC will oppose the Government’s Urgent Bill to repeal the merger clause of the 13th Amendment when it is presented to Parliament, based on the party’s 13 page letter to the President about its opposition to the moves to dilute the powers of the provincial councils.

Meanwhile, LSSP General Secretary and Minister Prof. Tissa Vitarana told the Daily FT that his party had decided it would support the removal of the merger clause in the Provincial Councils Act, but it wanted the merger provisions set out by 13A to be referred to PSC for decision.

Prof. Vitarana, Communist Party Leader D.E.W. Gunesekera and Democratic Left Front Leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara submitted a joint Cabinet memorandum yesterday saying the Socialist Alliance was opposed to both proposals submitted by the Government to dilute the 13A on a matter of principle and in view of the serious adverse political consequences that would surely follow. “However, we can agree to legislation to repeal Section 37 of the Provincial Councils Act, No. 42 of 1987,” the memorandum said.