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Shivaji asked: What exactly is the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution? What is President Rajapaksa's promise of ‘13th Amendment Plus’ approach?

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  • Gulbin Sultana replies: The Sri Lankan Parliament passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution on November 14, 1987 with the objective of creating provincial councils based on the provisions of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987; also, the establishment of a high court in each province, and to make Tamil one of the official languages with English as the link language. In this regard, Article 18, 138, 155 and 170 of the 1978 Constitution were amended and Chapter XVII A consisting of Article 154A to 154T and Eighth and Ninth schedule were added by the Thirteenth Amendment.

    The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution provides for:

    • The establishment of Provincial Councils
    • The appointment and powers of the Governor of Provinces
    • Membership and tenure of Provincial Councils
    • The appointment and powers of the Board of Ministers
    • The legislative powers of the Provincial Councils
    • Alternative arrangements where there is a failure in the administrative machinery
    • The establishment of the Finance Commission.
    • Tamil as an official language
    • English as a link language
    • The establishment of the High Court of the Province

    ‘13th Amendment Plus’
    After the defeat of the LTTE, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had given assurance to India as well as the international community that the government would go beyond the Thirteenth Amendment to devolve substantial powers to the Tamil majority areas under ‘13th Amendment Plus.’ However, President Rajapaksa never made it clear what exactly he meant by ‘13th Amendment Plus.’ Rajapaksa had also talked about creating an upper house to the parliament or a senate to ensure more minority participation. Interestingly, it was said that when former Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon asked President Rajapaksa whether ‘13th amendment plus’ meant establishing a senate to the parliament, the latter had nodded in affirmation.

    However, given the continuing opposition of the Sinhala nationalist parties to the Thirteenth Amendment, Rajapaksa Government now wants to dilute the amendment by not implementing the provisions which provide limited land and police powers to the provincial council. Thus, though the president had promised for ‘13th Amendment Plus,’ but technically speaking, he is now talking about ‘13th Amendment Minus.’ As of now, he has left the final decision to the Parliament Select Committee appointed for reviewing the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment.

    Posted on January 20, 2014