Sri Lanka Freedom Party strongmen yesterday lent their voices to growing calls from far right factions of the ruling UPFA coalition for alterations to the 13th Amendment, including the removal of land and police powers granted to the provincial councils ahead of the Northern provincial council polls, saying they threaten the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.
Addressing a media conference yesterday, Deputy Minister of Investment Promotion and SLFP Central Committee Member Faizer Mustapha and SLFP Batticaloa District Organiser Arun Thambimuttu said it posed a serious threat to national security and the sovereignty of the nation if land and police powers were handed over to individuals in the north who still had aspirations for a separate state.
The two SLFP members were referring to the Tamil National Alliance, the country’s main Tamil party that is likely to win elections in the north if the polls are held. Thambimuttu and Mustapha said that the TNA has repeatedly affirmed that the provincial council system was a stepping stone to meeting their further aspirations.
“The last time a North Eastern Provincial Council was constituted, the Chief Minister Vartharajah Perumal declared Eelam. He went on to create a civil voluntary force that went on to become the Tamil National Army that conscripted young children,” Thambimuttu warned. He said the current Chief Ministerial Aspirant for the North was Suresh Premachandran who was a former EPRLF militant.
Asked about the inclusion of former LTTE commanders Karuna and Pillaiyan into the high ranks of Government, Thambimuttu claimed that once individuals and parties had entered the political democratic mainstream, they must be recognised and accepted.
The two SLFP members said the problem with the TNA was that they continued to toe the separatists’ agendas of the Global Tamil Forum and the Trans-national Government of Tamil Eelam.
“Police powers in the hands of such individuals threaten the country’s sovereignty. This is why we are calling for these amendments ahead of the Northern provincial poll,” Thambimuttu said.
Mustapha said that the police powers accrued to the provinces posed allowed a provincial authority to make decisions about the appointment of senior police officials to their respective jurisdictions.
“The Act clearly says that the Chief Minister has to endorse the DIG appointed to that province and in the event the President does not heed the advice, the Chief Minister can have the DIG appointed by the National Police Commission – this poses a threat to the independence of the police,” Mustapha warned.
Asked if the police was independent under its current authority, Mustapha claimed that the police appointments were now made by the Executive President whose authority was different to that of a provincial Chief Minister.
Asked why the issue was so critical ahead of the poll in the north, Mustapha responded that the north was the birthplace of terrorism and history had shown provincial power lead to dangerous consequences.
Responding to a question about why the Government could not simply withhold land and police powers to the Northern Provincial Council as it had done in all other provinces for the last 26 years, the Deputy Minister said President Mahinda Rajapaksa was adamant to ensure provincial councils were fully constituted and working as per the law’s provisions pertaining to them, instead of having their powers withheld. To that end, Mustapha said, these amendments were necessary before provincial councils could exercise their full constitutional powers.
Hitting out at the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress that decided on Monday (10) that it would not back any amendments that dilute the powers of the provincial councils as set out in the 13th Amendment, Mustapha said land and police powers and the potential for merger of provinces threatened the security of the Muslim community that had historically been subject to the jackboot of terrorism under the LTTE.
“I cannot understand why Minister Hakeem and the SLMC are refusing to back these amendments when it is the Muslim community especially in the north and the east whose security is threatened by the risks posed by the police powers and merger clauses of the 13th Amendment,” the Deputy Minister said.
The two SLFPers said that they were making their stand in the current context because it was necessary to showcase that some members of the minority communities were willing to think beyond community alone, and could look at the issue in the broader national interest.
“We think Sri Lankan. This is not a Sinhala problem or a Muslim problem or a Tamil problem. It is a national problem. That is why there is a huge public outcry and concern ahead of the Northern poll. Can this country afford to open up another can of worms?” Thambimuttu said.
The Government last Thursday (5) proposed an urgent bill to dilute the powers of the provincial councils as laid out in the 13th Amendment. The removal of land and police powers though a major demand of the ultra-nationalists within the ruling coalition, were not included in the amendments. The Cabinet is to decide on the amendments when it meets again tomorrow (13).