- If we intend to sustain the provincial council system in the future, it is imperative to address the existing shortcomings and rectify them effectively.
- My role is to propose suggestions, while the ultimate authority to enact new laws for problem-solving lies with the Parliament – President tells the All-Party Conference.
At the All-Party Conference, President Ranil Wickremesinghe emphasized the need to discuss the 13th Amendment to the Constitution with all parties, not just the Tamil Party MPs, as it is a matter that affects the entire country. He stressed that decisions on the amendment should be taken collectively after thorough discussions.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe made these remarks while addressing the All-Party Conference held at the Presidential Secretariat yesterday (26).
This all-party conference was called to inform the party leaders representing the Parliament about the National Reconciliation Program and the North-East Development Plan.
During the conference, President Wickremesinghe highlighted the importance of rectifying the shortcomings in the provincial council system if it is to be maintained in the future. Recalling that not only he but also the previous seven executive Presidents did not have the power to pass new laws to solve the existing problems, the President clarified that his role is to propose suggestions, and it is the Parliament’s authority to pass new laws to address existing issues.
The President underscored the significance of working together as representatives of the Parliament to address the challenges faced by the nation. He acknowledged the limitations of his single vote and emphasized the need for collective efforts to progress with national development initiatives.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe further said:
During discussions with North and East MPs, concerns were raised regarding the implementation of the 13th Amendment, prompting a detailed examination of issues affecting the northern region. Several steps have been taken to address these concerns, including the passing of the anti-corruption bill in parliament and the imminent submission of the draft law against terrorism by the Minister of Justice. The affairs of the Truth-Finding Commission have been under discussion. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is discussing with various organizations both inside and outside Parliament, covering aspects such as compensation. These matters have been extensively discussed with Tamil Party MPs from the North, alongside plans for the region’s development over the next decade.
In recognition of the national significance of the 13th Amendment, the government’s position is to deliberate with all parties before making a decision. The country comprises nine provincial councils, with the majority of Sinhalese people residing in seven of them. The remaining two provinces have a majority of Tamil people in the North. The government has considerable experience with provincial councils in the southern regions, but acknowledges the need to address shortcomings in the system to move forward effectively.
The Provincial Council Act of 1987 has been subject to various limitations, lacking adequate regulations on administrative and financial control. The roles and powers of provincial ministers have not been clearly defined. In 2017, Chief Ministers from seven provinces, excluding the North and East, presented a report proposing increased powers for provincial councils, which received approval from opposition leaders of those provinces. Subsequently, the government has proposed legislation related to the implementation of these recommendations.
Among the proposed changes are measures to involve the Provincial Council in the appointment and removal of Divisional Secretaries, with recourse to the National Public Service Commission in case of issues. Full power over education would be granted to provincial councils, including the establishment of Provincial Boards of Education. Moreover, provincial councils would have authority over vocational and industrial training institutions, the establishment of universities under the 13th Amendment, and legislation related to grassroots services in agriculture.
To promote tourism, each province would have its own tourism board, similar to practices in other countries. Additionally, businesses with capital exceeding Rs. 01 million currently subject to central government laws may see amendments through parliamentary discussions, potentially raising the threshold to 250 million or more.
In conclusion, the government is actively considering and discussing these proposals to strengthen the provincial council system, ensuring equitable development and efficient governance across the nation.
During the discussions, the establishment of District Development Boards in every district was a topic of consideration. Additionally, certain subjects that fall under the purview of provincial councils are currently governed by the central government, and these matters will be thoroughly discussed to take necessary steps.
Apart from this, we have to discuss the exercise of police powers. The main problem that arises there is that it is not possible to exercise any of the powers according to the Police Ordinance. The first thing we need to do is introduce a new Police Act. Discussions will be held separately on the implementation of police powers, and opinions will be sought regarding the devolution of all other powers to the Provincial Councils, except for police powers. Necessary amendments to laws and the constitution will be presented to the Parliament with the aim of gathering extensive support for these initiatives.
For the provincial council system to be effective, it must function cohesively. Reflecting on the past 10-15 years, it is evident that adequate development at the provincial level has been lacking, with more substantial progress observed during the period of District Development Councils. The government’s role is to formulate policies and drive rapid national development, while delegating other responsibilities to the provinces.
Moreover, a proposal has been put forth to facilitate dual appointments, allowing members of the provincial council to hold positions in parliament and vice versa. This proposition will be further discussed in the Parliament to reach a conclusive decision.
We must find a solution to these issues. This system cannot be maintained. If that’s the case, let’s delegate authority to provincial councils like the rest of the globe. The activities of the 07 provincial councils are now underway. You can accomplish more work if you gain power. As a result, I propose that you express your thoughts about this.
To address these pressing matters, a committee comprising three ministers, namely Mr. Susil Premajayantha, Mr. Prasanna Ranatunga, and Mr. Wijayadasa Rajapakshe, along with the Prime Minister Mr. Dinesh Gunawardhena’s participation, has been assigned to delve into the discussions.
Comments and feedback on these proposals are expected to be collected within the next two to three weeks. Subsequently, the necessary drafts will be prepared and presented to the Parliament. Additionally, the involvement of the State Minister of Defence in this process is envisaged, given the separate amendment related to police powers. At the same time, we are bringing a new law about the police. Simultaneously, these actions have to be implemented.
The responsibility to fulfil these objectives lies with all stakeholders. I can only present proposals, it is crucial to obtain the support of all parliamentary members for successful implementation. It is the collective responsibility of all to find solutions promptly regarding the 13th Amendment’s implementation or potential abolition. I have informed you of my position on this. It has also been informed to the cabinet. I cannot do this alone. I have only one vote in Parliament. In order to pass this, the support of everyone in the parliament is needed. That is why I am asking for your support.
Upon assuming the presidency, I took on the responsibility of finding swift solutions to the country’s challenges. It is crucial that we promptly determine the fate of the 13th amendment of the Constitution, deciding whether it will be effectively implemented or completely abolished.
Former President Mr. Maithripala Sirisena,
The primary objective of power distribution should be to advance the progress of the country, not to strengthen political parties. We must collectively work towards the recovery and upliftment of our nation from its current state, as neglecting this responsibility could lead to future generations facing hardships and disappointment.
Constitutional power must always be utilized for the development and betterment of the country, and not for political gains. As members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, we are committed to providing our support in this endeavour.
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Secretary General, Member of Parliament Mr. Sagara Kariyawasam:
It is evident that no president has fully implemented the 13th Constitutional Amendment, and it is crucial to ascertain the reasons behind this incompleteness. We must investigate the underlying issues that have hindered its implementation. Intelligence agencies should be tasked with gathering relevant information to help us understand the complexities involved. Taking necessary steps based on this information is essential. Instead of hastily taking action, it is prudent to seek input from diverse perspectives and carefully consider the views of different stakeholders before proceeding with any decisions.
Opposition Leader Mr. Sajith Premadasa,
National harmony requires the involvement of all citizens living in the country. Neglecting this inclusiveness can jeopardize national security. I express my gratitude to the President for extending an invitation to this event today. It is imperative that we carry forward this program with genuine sincerity and commitment, devoid of any political motives or manipulation. This approach is crucial to achieving its objectives and fostering trust among all citizens.
The President holds a constitutional mandate and was elected with a majority in the parliament. Therefore, we should know the program of the government. There cannot be conflicting protests in a government. We should be of one opinion in the program of moving the country forward. And this program should be carried forward with transparency.
Member of Parliament Mr. Dallas Alahapperuma,
As a Member of Parliament, I would like to express that a majority of the opposition political parties attended this event in response to your invitation. However, there are some doubts among us regarding the intentions behind this program. We seek reassurance that this endeavour is being carried out in good faith. Specifically, we have reservations about the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution for power devolution. Your leadership is crucial in addressing these doubts and ensuring that we can proceed with confidence in this initiative.
Member of Parliament Mr. Weerasumana Weerasinghe
Mr. Weerasinghe commended the proposals, expressing that they are highly favourable and unlikely to face opposition. However, he sought clarification on whether these proposals originate from President Ranil Wickremesinghe alone or represent the collective stance of the current government. His doubts were raised after listening to the speech of the Podujana Peramuna Secretary. Therefore, he suggested that the proposals be formalized as a government program and submitted as a draft for further discussion. He expressed willingness to engage in a comprehensive dialogue based on the proposals. As a loyal supporter of the 13th Constitutional Amendment, he reaffirmed his unwavering position on power devolution. He also stressed the need to improve the negative perception of provincial councils. Hence, giving due attention to the Northern Development Plan, highlighted as the final point under “O” in the proposal presented, holds immense significance highlighting its focus on addressing fundamental needs such as water for fields, livelihood opportunities, and better education prospects for the region’s children, rather than seeking extensive powers like police and land power.
Member of Parliament Mr. Wimal Weerawansa,
Highlighting the perspective of former Chief Justice Raja Wanasundara regarding the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the 13th Amendment is similar to three dangerous swords hanging over the nation’s head. He expressed concern that the amendment is bound by a fragile thread within the constitution, which poses significant risks. It is only by severing these ties that the true implications of the amendment will become evident. This matter is regarded with utmost seriousness.
Member of Parliament Professor G.L. Mr. Peiris,
Professor Peiris emphasized the importance of devolution and the transfer of power to representatives at the Provincial Council level, as stated by the President. However, he pointed out that currently, none of the country’s nine provincial councils have elected representatives, rendering discussions about the devolution of power meaningless. Therefore, the key focus should be on organizing provincial council elections in a manner that ensures proper public representation in these councils.
Member of Parliament Mr. M.A. Sumanthiran,
Mr. Sumanthiran highlighted the establishment of a selection committee chaired by the Prime Minister during the previous discussion. This committee recommended conducting provincial council elections under the previous proportional representation voting system and further suggested framing appropriate legislation to eventually transition to a mixed system with proper delimitation.
Mr. Sumanthiran also drew attention to the joint statements made during the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which demonstrated a commitment to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution for a meaningful devolution of power. However, he expressed regret over the conflicting position announced by the General Secretary of the same party, which has caused confusion regarding the issue of power devolution.
Member of Parliament Mr. C.V. Vigneswaran,
Member of Parliament C.V. Wigneswaran expressed concern over the loss of most of the powers granted by the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. To address this, a letter was submitted to the President, urging the restoration of the powers that were removed from the Provincial Council. The ultimate aim is to enhance the 13th Amendment, making it stronger than its current form before the upcoming elections. By prioritizing the strengthening of the 13th Constitutional Amendment, the provincial councils can be truly empowered and reinforced.
Venerable Athuraliye Rathana Thero, Leader of the Tamil National Alliance, Member of Parliament R. Sampanthan, Members of Parliament Gevidu Kumarathunga, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Udaya Gammanpila, Sarath Weerasekara, Weerasumana Weerasinghe, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Lakshman Kiriella, and others also expressed their views at the event.
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, and party leaders and representatives from various parties attended the event.