Gammanpila to present private bill to remove police powers from Sri Lanka’s provinces

Former minister Udaya Gammanpila plans to present a private member’s bill to parliament seeking a ’22nd amendment’ to Sri Lanka’s constitution seeking the removal of police powers devolved to the provinces by the 13th amendment.

Gammanpila told reporters that devolving police powers to the provincial councils could pose a threat to national security.

“If there is a separatist war in the future, that war will be fought between the provincial police of the north and the Sri Lanka Army. Both will be official armies,” the former minister who now sits in the opposition said.

“Countries that work against Sri Lanka could openly, without hesitation, provide aid to that separatist armed movement, or in the other words, the northern police army,” he said.

Asked if his bill could get a two-thirds majority in parliament, Gammanpila said it would test parliament’s resolve.

“Removing police powers is something the whole country is asking for. Only Tamil separatists believe that it should remain. The 22nd amendment will be a test for parliament to see whether there are more patriots or more separatists,” he said.

There have been no widespread calls from the public in recent times on amending the constitution to remove police powers from provincial councils as provided for by the India-backed 13th amendment. The provision exists only on paper as the 13th amendment has yet to be implemented in full.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that he is agreeable to full implementation of the 13th amendment except police powers.

At an all-party conference in July last year, Wickremesinghe said new police legislation would need to be introduced before police powers are dissolved to the provinces.

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said in August last year that parliament must discuss the implications of devolving police powers to nine provinces controlled by nine chief ministers.

“We have no issues with the Tamil people on police powers. However, people are already saying that the police force is politicised. Having a separate police force in nine provinces or having nine chief ministers controlling the police while there is a single minister and [what that might mean for] the country is a question.

“Parliament must discuss what the implications of that are for not just the Tamil people but the whole country and arrive at a solution,” said Sabry at the time.

“The president has said he is committed to implementing the 13th amendment in full sans police powers,” he added.

Former Northern Province Chief Minister C V Vigneswaran has said President Wickremesinghe is keen to implement the 13th amendment and is open to discussing devolution of police powers to the provinces.

The law already provides for police officers at the provincial level, but it is not being implemented, said Vigneswaran.He said the president and the group of Tamil MPs had also discussed alternatives such as a provincial police force that does not have the authority to use weapons but can enforce traffic and other laws as well as record complaints.

At the July all-party conference, Wickemesinghe also said Sri Lanka must either retain its provincial councils (PCs) with powers adequately devolved as provided for by the 13th amendment to the constitution or abolish the PC system entirely.

The full implementation of the 13th amendment continues to be a point of debate, with a number of political parties in the south boycotting the July 26 all-party conference.

President Wickremesinghe has indicated his willingness to fully implement the amendment, particularly in light of India stressing on its importance. However, sharing police powers remains an issue, with many national parties in the south arguing against it.

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.

A full implementation of the amendment would see land and police powers devolved to the provinces, a development that is not likely to garner support from Sri Lanka’s more hardline parties. In February, sections of the Buddhist clergy took to the streets against the proposed full implementation of the constitutional amendment.