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Devolution under the 13th Amendment

The defeat of the LTTE is not expected to bring a closure to Sri Lanka’s national question. It would however, create the space for the evolution of a political solution free of threat and intimidation. It would also create the space for the government to totally focus on issues relating to resettlement, rehabilitation and development. Opinion is that both issues need to be addressed concurrently if the military gains are to be consolidated.

The emphasis of the International Community has been on a political solution that addresses the concerns of all communities. While endorsing this view, India has been particular that such a solution should be based on the concept of devolution as contained in the 13th Amendment and if necessary beyond. These readings have influenced the deliberations of the APRC. Consequently, the approach of the APRC has been to evolve a new and in their view an improved version of the Provincial Council system under the 13th Amendment.

After experiencing the functioning of the Provincial Council system for two decades, consensus is that its costs outweigh the benefits. Irrespective of the explanations for its below expected performance it would be worth the cost if it served its intended purpose of addressing the concerns of all the communities. Since Law and Order affects all members of all communities, it would be appropriate to assess whether the current provisions in the 13th Amendment would assure fairness and impartiality in its dealings with Provincial Police Commissions.

Provincial Police Commissions (PPC)

Appendix 1 of the Provincial Council List (List 1 of the Ninth Schedule of the 13th Amendment) describes the devolved powers relating to Law and Order.

According to Clause 4 the PPC is to consist of three members: the D.I.G. of the Province, a person nominated by the Public Service Commission in consultation with the President and a nominee of the Chief Minister of the Province.

Clause 6 states: "The I.G.P. shall appoint the D.I.G. for each Province with the concurrence of the Chief Minister of the Province. However, where there is no agreement between the Inspector-General of Police and the Chief Minister, the matter will be referred to the President, who, after due consultation with the Chief Minister, shall make the appointment".

Clause 11.1 states: "The D.I.G. shall be responsible to and under the control of the Chief Minister thereof in respect of the maintenance of public order in the Province…".

Thus in addition to the D.I.G. being under the control of the Chief Minister, 2 out of 3 members of the PPC would in all likelihood have political affiliations which would make them lean towards the "interests" of the Chief Minister. To expect fairness and impartiality under such provisions is to be naïve. In the real world the tendency for the PPC as presently constituted would be to encourage a high degree of partiality in favour of the Chief Minister’s interests, not to mention the interests of his/her loyalists as well. While attempts are being to depoliticize Presidential powers through the 17th Amendment, provisions in the 13th Amendment foster politicization in regard to this one aspect of Law and Order. This is a serious anomaly that needs to be corrected. However, the task is a daunting one because of the inbuilt procedural labyrinth.

Amendments to the 13th Amendment

Any amendment to provisions in the13th Amendment requires conformance to the procedures set out in Article 154G:

154G (1) "Every Provincial Council may, subject to the provisions of the Constitution, make statutes applicable to the Province for which it is established, with respect to any matter set out in List 1…"

(2) No Bill for the amendment or repeal of the provisions of this Chapter or the Ninth Schedule shall become law unless such Bill has been referred by the President, after its publication in the Gazette and before it is placed in the Order paper of Parliament, to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon, within such period as may be specified in the reference, and –

(a) where every such Council agrees to the amendment or repeal, such Bill is passed by a majority of the Members of Parliament present and voting; or

(b) where one or more Councils do not agree to the amendment or repeal such Bill is passed by the special majority required by Article 82.

According to the above procedure it is unlikely that a President would initiate action unless there is a public demand. This would mean that the public would have to organize themselves to give expression to such a demand. Assuming a President is convinced that an amendment is needed the process involves drafting appropriate legislation, Gazetting it, and then circulating it to the Provincial Councils for comment. If even 1 out of the 9 Councils objects, a 2/3 majority of the Parliament would be needed before it could become law.

Since no Provincial Council would agree to relinquish the advantages it possess under current provisions as to the composition of the PPC, one can be certain that any amendment in respect of Law and Order would require a "special majority" meaning 2/3 of those present in Parliament voting for the amendment. The fact that it is near impossible to secure a 2/3 majority under the proportionate representation scheme is a fact that has to recognized and accepted. Furthermore, in the course of his determination Justice J. Wanasundara stated: "Factually speaking even the President has said recently that under the proportionate scheme, no political party would be able to secure anything more than a bare majority in the future" (Supreme Court case on The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, P. 347, 1987).

Thus the reality is that the public may not succeed in securing the needed 2/3 majority to redress a provision that has the potential to seriously undermine its right to equality before the law when it comes to provincial matters. In such an eventuality would not the sovereignty of the People be compromised? As stated by Justices L.H. de Alwis and H.A.G. de Silva in their determinations: "Article 154G (2) therefore imposes a fetter on the Parliament in amending or repealing Chapter XVIIA or the Ninth Schedule and thereby abridges the Sovereignty of the People in the exercise of its legislative power by Parliament, in contravention of Article 3 and 4 (a) of the Constitution" (Ibid).

The determination of the Chief Justice and 3 other Justices however were: "…the legislative competence is not exclusive in character and is subordinate to that of Central Parliament which in terms of Article 154G (2) and 154G (3) can, by following the procedure set out therein, override the Provincial Councils. Article 154G conserves the sovereignty of Parliament in the legislative field… In our view 154G (2) and (3) do not limit the sovereign powers of Parliament. They only impose procedural restraints"(Ibid, P.320).

While legally the sovereignty of Parliament may not be compromised the "procedural restraints" imposed prevent the People from seeking redress due to these very restraints arising from the reality of adversarial and coalition politics. The irony is that while Parliament which is an instrument of the People’s sovereignty may retain its sovereignty, a fetter or an abridgment, has been imposed on the People’s sovereignty in respect of amending provisions pertaining to provincial Law and Order by 154G (2) and (3); a restraint that was not there prior to the introduction of the 13th Amendment. The removal of this fetter, this abridgment, would have to wait until such time the political formations in Parliament are conducive to the People’s requests for amendment.

The issue raised above relates only to one aspect under the 13th Amendment; that being Law and Order. Without fairness and impartiality in matters relating to Law and Order there cannot be Justice and it is both that contributes to a sense of security. Under the current provisions where to 2/3 of the PPC is not only partial to the interests of the Chief Minister, but also the provincial D.I.G. is under the Chief Minister’s control, it is unlikely that the People would experience a sense of security under the current provisions.

Issues addressed thus far relate to amendments and repeals. 154G (3) relate to Bills in respect of any matter. Here too, the President has to Gazette the Bill and circulate it to all Provincial Councils. If all Councils agree the Bill is passed with a simple majority. If some disagree a 2/3 majority is required for the Bill to become Law. On the other hand, if only some agree and only a simple Parliamentary majority is possible, the Bill would apply only to those Provincial Councils that agreed with the Bill. Would this not foster asymmetrical devolution? If one or more Provincial Councils request Parliament to make law on any matter, the passage of such a law by a simple majority would apply only to those Councils making the request. This too would foster asymmetrical devolution.

CONCLUSION

The Government is under pressure to implement the full provisions of the 13th Amendment. If Police powers as required by the 13th Amendment are devolved the Law and Order situation in the country would be politicized far beyond what exists today. What impact full devolution would have on other issues needs further intensive study. However, since Law and Order is central to Justice and overall security, provisions relating to Law and Order as currently constituted need to be amended. However, since the procedures involved to amend are the same as what is needed to repeal the entirety of the 13th Amendment, the People should be given the opportunity to make the decision as to whether to accept or reject the 13th Amendment by a referendum.

The suggestion may be considered by some or even many to be too late in the day. The question to them is how familiar were they of the existing provisions relating to Law and Order. This applies also to those who press for devolution of Police powers. If current provisions relating to Law and Order are acceptable to them they would be sanctioning a politicized Provincial Police.

Repealing the 13th Amendment is justified because it is a byproduct of a political intervention by India following the Indo-Lanka Accord. Real independence and the right of true self-determination require that all Sri Lankans are governed by Laws of their own making and not by what is imposed. Therefore, the Government has a moral obligation to its People to create the necessary conditions for them to decide whether to accept or reject the 13th Amendment. Only then would their long denied democratic rights be restored in full measure.

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