An Echelon Media Company
Tuesday July 23rd, 2024

Sri Lanka president pledges full implementation of 13th amendment; TNA sceptical

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has pledged a full implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution as a solution to the country’s decades-long ethnic issue, though the opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is spectical.

TNA parliamentarian M A Sumanthiran told EconomyNext on Monday January 16 that successive governments have made the same promise for 35 years, to no avail.

“Nobody takes it with any seriousness because it has been constantly promised. It’s a question of implementing it. The president with his executive powers can do it,” he said.

President Wickremesinghe told a gathering at the National Thai Pongal Festival in Jaffna on Sunday that a Social Justice Commission will be established to “build a country where everyone can live in harmony, by solving the problems of the people belonging to all sections of the population.”

In his speech, Wickremesinghe assured the audience that the ever elusive full implementation of the amendment will be finally realised.

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry also told an Indian news network in November that Sri Lanka is keen on implementing the amendment.

The 13th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution emerged from the controversial Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 as a purported solution to the worsening ethnic conflict, four years after war broke out. Provincial councils came in the wake of this amendment, though land and police powers have yet to be devolved to the provinces as originally envisioned. Both Sinhalese and Tamil nationalists have historically opposed the amendment, the former claiming it devolved too much, the latter complaining it didn’t devolve enough.

President Wickremesinghe in November 2022 expressed his intention to find a final solution to the ethnic issue by February 04 this year when Sri Lanka celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British.

This deadline is now appearing increasingly unrealistic, with talks between the government and the TNA being less than successful.

“Talks have not been successful. In fact, there is disappointment because several things had been promised to be finalised by January, but hardly anything has been done,” said Sumanthiran.

As recently as Sunday January 15, the MP claimed, the government had made repeated assurances of releasing prisoners and military-occupied land, but there is still no progress on this front.

“There is no delivery on the ground yet.”

Asked if the TNA would welcome a fully implemented 13th amendment, the Jaffna district legislator said any provision that’s already in the constitution must be implemented.

“The law of the country must prevail,” he said.

It will not be the final solution being sought by the TNA, however.

“What we’re talking about is meaningful power sharing arrangements. If you can’t even implement what is already in the constitution, then what hope is there?”

Sumanthiran said the president has had many opportunities to resolve the issue.

“I don’t think he’ll be able to do it this time either, but we won’t stand in the way. We will help as much as possible,” he said.

Southern opposition parties have also pledged their support for a meaningful final solution, the MP claimed.

However, the position of Sri Lanka’s main opposition the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Alliance (NPA) have yet to make their positions clear. Meanwhile, critics of the TNA argue that the alliance does not speak for all Tamil voters and that there are diverse views within the Tamil political establishment vis-à-vis a solution to grievances of the community.

Asked what the proposed final solution will look like from the TNA’s perspective, Sumanthiran reiterated that it will involve a “meaningful power sharing arrangement.”

“There have been certain blockages in implementing power sharing arrangements. Those must be removed,” he said, referring to existing mechanisms as enabled by the constitution.

The TNA has on previous occasions touted federalism as a possible solution to the ethnic issue, and according to Sumanthiran, the alliance is still committed to it.

“Our proposal is that it must be a federal constitution. There is no question about that. We may not insist on the word federal being used, but certainly it must have the features of a federal constitution,” he said.

Federalism has been a highly controversial and politically inflammable idea in Sri Lanka over the years, with many nationalist or even some moderate parties in the south vehemently opposing the very suggestion of it. It is unclear whether this stance has softened over the 13 years since the end of the war, but to date no Sinhalese-dominated party – the SJB and JVP included – has come out in support for it.

However, Sumanthiran is hopeful that other opposition parties will be open to a lasting solution that is in line with provisions of the constitution.

“They’ve all agreed to full implementation of the provisions of the constitution,” he said.

If the southern parties change their mind, they will have gone back on their word, he added.

Though the TNA is far from optimistic of the success of the ongoing talks, Sumanthiran said the alliance will continue to engage.

“We’re going through the process, so as not to be blamed for the breakdown in talks,” he said, adding the TNA is awaiting a report that’s due Tuesday January 17. (Colombo/Jan16/2023)

Comments (1)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Thanga says:

    If Ceylon would have had a federal constitution from the very beginning the country would have prospered like Singapore. Singapore with 75% Chinese has declared 4 languages as official, including Tamil spoken by only 5% of the populace. The Sinhalese leaders thought that by depriving Tamils of their fair share in governance, the Sinhalese will prosper. This has been wrong as the present economic meltdown indicates.

View all comments (1)

Comments (1)

Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Thanga says:

    If Ceylon would have had a federal constitution from the very beginning the country would have prospered like Singapore. Singapore with 75% Chinese has declared 4 languages as official, including Tamil spoken by only 5% of the populace. The Sinhalese leaders thought that by depriving Tamils of their fair share in governance, the Sinhalese will prosper. This has been wrong as the present economic meltdown indicates.

Sri Lanka to introduce digital program for foreign workers facing problems

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will introduce a digital program via smart phones for migrant workers to report any concerns while employed abroad, Minister of Labor and Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara said.

“We will have a digital program that is accessible from their smart mobile phones where domestic workers can notify us if they have not got their salary or if they have fallen into some trouble,” Nanayakkara said in parliament on Tuesday.

Sri Lanka has sent 301,000 domestic workers and 360,000 skilled workers abroad, Nanayakkara said.

Several workers, especially domestic workers, face abuse at the hands of foreign employers.

Nanayakkara said that the government only receives 0.001 percent of complaints with regard to abuse.

“We can only act on complaints received from people who go through legal channels. We are educating those who go through the Foreign Employment Bureau on how to escalate complaints.” (Colombo/Jul23/2024)

Continue Reading

Sri Lanka cabinet approves apology from Muslims for COVID-19 cremation ahead of election

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal to tender apology for the grievance caused for ethnic minority Muslims due to the cremation of bodies during the Covid-19 pandemic, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said.

The move comes ahead of the upcoming presidential poll in which Muslim votes are likely to become crucial for all candidates.

The government of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa led by current ruling party Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) forced Muslims and Christians to cremate the dead bodies of those who died of Covid-19 in 2020.

The   Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which includes Islamic states globally raised the forced cremations issue at the 46th United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in February 2021 after the SLPP government rejected repeated requests by local and global Islamic bodies.

The policy was later reversed, but the move hit diplomatic ties with Middle Eastern and OIC nations which is the highest source of employment for Sri Lankan expatriates.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa later said the decision was based on expert advice. Rajapaksa who was seen as an anti-Muslim leader was heavily criticized for his decision ahead of 2020 parliamentary polls while his elder brother and then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa declined to discuss the issue with Muslim parties which asked to reverse the decision.

Hundreds of Muslims were cremated during the Covid-19 period before Rajapaksa government allowed a separate burial ground for Muslim Covid-19 victims in the Eastern town of Oddamavadi.

“A joint Cabinet Paper presented by Ministers Ali Sabry, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe & Jeevan Thondaman apologising for the grievance caused to the Sri Lankan Muslim community due to the cremation of bodies during the Covid-19 pandemic, approved by the Cabinet,” Minister Sabry  tweeted quoting Cabinet Spokesman.

Already President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Estate Infrastructure Minister Jeevan Thondaman had tendered an apology in the parliament. The latest cabinet move is a formal and official apology.

BURIAL OR CREMATION

Along with the apology, the Cabinet approved proposed law on burial or cremation of dead bodies on religious discretion.

“As stipulated in the guidelines published by the Ministry of Health on the Clinical Management of COVID19, cremation was made compulsory in removal of the dead bodies of the persons who died due to the COVID-19 virus. The decision created displeasure among the various religious groups and human right activists especially Muslim religious persons,” a government document on the cabinet decision showed.

“The studies made in this respect have been confirmed that the faeces and the urine are the primary source of transmission the virus but not with the safe burial. Therefore, in order to prevent arisen of such condition in future, attention has been drawn to introduce a law, a certain person or relations to be selected the burial or cremation of the dead person at their discretion.”

“Further, it has been seemed that introduction of new laws is appropriate to donate the dead bodies to the Medical Faculty, if necessary.”

“Accordingly, Cabinet of Ministers has approved the joint proposal presented by the Minister of Justice, Prison affairs and Constitution Reforms, Minister of Foreign affairs to instruct legal Draftsman in order to prepare a draft for the introduction of new law.”

Rajapaksa’s arrogant policy led the OIC and Middle East nations to reject Sri Lanka’s repeated requests for credit lines and loans to buy oil before the country collapsed following an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022.

Minister Sabry faced harsh criticism from human rights defenders and from members of the Muslim community for what they claimed was his silence in the face of the inhumane, unscientific decision by the Rajapaksa government.

The Rajapaksa government’s stubborn insistence on cremating Muslim and Christian victims of the Covid-19 virus was against the communities’ religious beliefs and drew widespread condemnation and concern of Muslim countries and leaders.

Rajapaksa, after the economic crisis hit the country, was forced to flee in the face of massive protests against him in July 2022. (Colombo/July 23/2024)

Continue Reading

Fireworks erupt in parliament over Sri Lanka’s VFS Global controversy

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s parliament erupted in heated debate after government legislators raised a privilege issue against Committee on Public Finance Chair Harsha de Silva, who last week tabled report on a controversial visa deal with the IVS-GBSVFS Global, consortium.

Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa questioned the propriety of raising a privilege issue against a Committee chairman, who was acting under powers derived from the Constitution, saying it amounted to challenging the Speaker himself.

Related Sri Lanka visa deal with IVS-VFS be cancelled or revised, forensic audited: COPF Chief

Sri Lanka’s Department of Immigration had awarded a visa issuing monopoly to IVS-GBS-VFS Global without tender which was charging 25 dollars per visa compared to an earlier 1 dollar by Mobitel, and it should be terminated or revised, de Silva said presenting a report earlier this month.

Privilege Over VFS Report

State Minister Shehan Semasinghe said de Silva had presented a defective and false report misleading parliament saying among other things that the report was unanimously approved by the COPF membership.

As a result, privileges of 16 members had been broken, and misleading a parliamentary committee was a punishable offence and de Silva should be referred to the privileges committee.

De Silva said he severally and individually rejected the charges and all views of the members were attached to the final report and he would stand down as COPF chair until the matter was decided.

“This was not done secretly. There were three weeks for members to respond,” de Silva said.

“There was a debate about the tourism arrival numbers, which was included. If I am to be imprisoned, do it. I am not afraid. Give me an opportunity and I will show how each word is true.

Semasinghe said there was no desire on the part of government members to remove de Silva from the COPF.

Government member Nimal Lanza said that he was under the impression that tourist arrivals had fallen due to the VFS deal but there was an increase this year. There was no desire to imprison de Silva, he said.

Verbal Exchange

Public Security Minister Tiran Alles said five years of data was given, and there was an increase in tourism arrivals. And after April there were 53,000 tourists under new categories, which brought revenues of 1.4 billion rupees.

The report was also attached as an addendum, de Silva said.

Minister Alles questioned why the Deputy Speaker was allowing a debate over the VFS deal which would now attract media headlines.

“If you are allowed, all our members must be allowed to speak,” he said.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said if competitive tenders were called, there would not have been a charge of 25 dollars per visa as Mobitel was charging only one dollar.

Premadasa said he was responding due to charges made against de Silva and claims that he had committed a punishable offence. The opposition leader questioned how his microphone was muted.

Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa said while it was fair to allow de Silva to respond to the initial charge, a long debate should not have been allowed on the matter and also the contents of the report.

“The second bad precedent is this. It is not important whether it is Harsha de Silva or not. There are many committees. Can the Chairman of a Committee be called over a privileges issue?

“Under the Constitution there are powers to make standing orders. It is implemented through the 1953 Privileges Act. The Chairmen have certain powers. The Chairman has acted under the limits of his powers.

Parliament Undermined

Minister Rajapakshe said while there may be errors in a report, the Parliament’s powers were diminished if privilege questions were raised against Chairmen of a committee who carried out there duties.

“There may be errors in the report. We have seen that. But I am raising a question on the constitution.

“In this way, in whatever Committee, if he did his official duties, if he is made an accused in another committee of the same parliament and there is an investigation, it is the parliament’s power that is degraded.

“So it is the confidence people have in the parliament that is reduced. There is a legal question here. The Chair should consider whether it is possible to raise a question like this

“Ultimately the final responsibility of all these Committees rests with the Speaker. It is the Speaker’s powers that are delegated to the Chairman of a Committee.

“So, this challenge is made against the Speaker. How is the Speaker doing this?

“If the next day, the COPE, or COPA issues a report, someone asks to put him in the punishment log (dandu kanda) or to do whatever and calls him to the privileges committee.

“What are you going to ask at the Privileges committee? What punishment are you going to give? (Colombo/July23/2024)

Continue Reading