SLMC MP Hassan Ali told LAKBIMAnEWS that the amendments which will give a central authority, National Physical Council, to acquire lands for economic, social, historical, environmental and religious purposes within municipal and urban areas will severely limit the autonomy of these local governing mechanisms.
“We had a meeting of the high command on February 19 and we decided that this bill should not be discussed in parliament at Provincial Councils. President Rajapaksa himself said a few weeks back that he will let the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) discuss all aspects of the 13th Amendment. We also believe that the PSC is the ideal place to discuss such matters, like the devolution of powers, which we think is intrinsically linked with devolution,” he said.
He added that the PSC will comprise MPs of all parties and will be a platform that will be more conducive to serious discussion than Parliament. Experiences in the recent past when important bills were passed in parliament, by using the strength of numbers to win than through the power of logic and reason of the MPs have done a lot to damage the people’s belief that serious decisions are taken in Parliament.
“We think that there will be less partisan feelings at the PSC. In Parliament or at Provincial Councils so much is dictated by party lines and I don’t think there is space for a serious discussion on the limits and the powers of provinces. So we say that there is no need to amend the bill or present new bills to Parliament about matters which deal with the powers of Parliament until the PSC has decided on them,” Ali said.
Move to limit powers
If the amendments to the bill are passed the National Physical Council will be able to earmark land as conservation, protection, architectural and historical and sacred sites. Many minority parties view this as a move to limit the powers bestowed by the 13th Amendment which gave land powers to the Provincial Councils.
Although the SLMC is a constituent of the Rajapaksa administration Ali said that the government has been consistently attempting to dilute the 13th Amendment despite promises of going beyond the amendment.
“The 13th Amendment is already a part of the law and the president himself said he is ready to go beyond the 13th Amendment. But the government in their actions has always tried to dilute the powers bestowed by the 13th Amendment and this is not right. Without these powers the PCs are pointless and I think if we properly empower the PCs, the issues faced by the centre will be lessened to a great deal.”
The PSC should be immediately appointed and members should come to a consensus on important issues regarding devolution immediately before the administration loses a golden opportunity, Ali said.
“It is this government that can do anything. It most certainly can go beyond the 13th Amendment and no one, not even the staunchest chauvinist, will say anything about it. This is the moment,” the SLMC MP added.
EP/NP should be empowered
However the PSC might be the place to discuss the Country Planning Bill as it is expected that it will be defeated in Provincial Councils which are being dominated by parties representing the minorities.
“As it is there is no consensus about how much power should be given to Provincial Councils or the limits of devolution. Without coming to a consensus that can be accepted by all such bills would not make any sense. Our stance is that any plans to limit the powers of the PCs should be opposed. Especially the Eastern and Northern PCs should be empowered to make the minorities who live there feel they are a part of the country and have their destinies in their own hands.”
By Rathindra Kuruwita