The All Party Representative Committee (APRC)
should go well beyond the 13th Amendment and
should rightfully yield proposals that could
be a basis for talks says Constitutional
Affairs and National Integration Minister,
D.E.W. Gunasekera. The veteran Communist
said that he currently endeavoured to
strengthen the 17th Amendment by reconvening
the select committee that went into its
anomalies so that the new process would pave
the way for a stronger Constitutional
Council than what was originally envisaged.
Gunasekera said the select committee would
be reconvened next week and said the
independent commissions too would be
redesigned at the committee level.
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Q: The delay in appointing the
Constitutional Council goes to the very
heart of the government's as well as the
President's commitment to good governance.
What is causing this inordinate delay in its
A: There is a backdrop to the current
impasse. It came to a sudden end when the 10
member council had one member's term coming
to an end. That also happened to be the
nominee of the minority parties.
That vacancy remained unfilled. The Speaker
sought consensus to resolve this and failed.
This was because the TNA and the JHU
objected to the JVP' participation in the
process to select a minority party nominee
on the basis that the JVP was part of the
Freedom Alliance, despite having crossed
over to the opposition by then.
While there was sheer lack of consensus on
this issue, the period of the Constitutional
Council itself expired. In the meantime, all
the independent commissions too completed
their terms. That's when everything
However, soon the government and the
opposition reached an understanding on the
need to go into the 17th Amendment in detail
as it was a hasty piece of flawed
legislation that needed serious amendment.
We were heading from one crisis to another.
We resolved to address the lacuna. For
example, the Speaker cannot convene the
Constitutional Council without all 10
members being present. Just eight members or
so would not be enough. Such anomalies had
to be addressed.
That's when we went into a Select Committee
headed by me. Soon afterwards, the UNP went
into a crisis and opposed Karu Jayasuriya
attending the sessions as a UNP delegate as
he had crossed over. As a compromise, I
suggested to the UNP to make fresh
nominations to the Select Committee to
prevent our purpose from getting defeated.
Subsequently we met without the UNP, which
in my opinion was futile. After all, it is
the main opposition political party and in
order to obtain a two third majority, it is
important that we have all these parties
reaching a consensus formula.
Next, while the UNP grappled with its
internal crises, the JVP and the TNA
resolved their dispute and nominated Former
Auditor General S.C. Mayadunne as the
minority political parties' nominee.
The President brought me under pressure to
recommence the select committee process but
the UNP was still refusing to nominate new
The UNP after that, sent some amendments
which I consider a positive step. I intend
reconvening the select committee next week.
My position is that irrespective of the
other process which is about reactivating
the CC through the President, this select
committee process must continue. As for why
the President has so far not reconstituted
the CC, only he can answer that. After all,
it is his prerogative.
Q: When the Select Committee process
recommences next week, will the UNP
A: I have just sent out letters
calling for participation by all parties
represented in parliament. Now that the UNP
had sent some amendments on how to improve
the flawed constitutional amendment, I
believe it is an indication of a wish to
participate. Other parties including the
government are very interested in
recommencing the process.
Q: There is general consensus among the
minority political parties with regard to
the appointment of Former Auditor General,
S.C. Mayadunne to the CC. In turn, he has
now expressed his willingness to resign from
his consultancy to the two parliamentary
watchdog committees if appointed to the CC.
Why is the government dragging its feet
A: If he quits the consultancy to
COPE and COPA, there should be no problem in
appointing him. He is a public servant with
integrity and is not a member of a political
party to our knowledge.
The issue is that the CC appoints all top
people in public service. Mr. Mayadunne
cannot work for one institution while
serving in the CC which also appoints the
head to the said institution. That would
seem improper. In short, if he gives up the
parliamentary consultancy, there should be
nothing to prevent him being appointed.
Q: There were recent news reports about
Labour Minister Mervyn Silva being appointed
to the Constitutional Council. Is there any
truth to this?
A: There was only speculation. It is
up to the President to appoint someone of
his choice as presidential appointee.
In my opinion, I don't think the President
would nominate Mervyn Silva What I do
believe in is that Mervyn Silva has an
uncanny ability to make news and loves
keeping the media focus even though not
always in a positive light. This time I
think he has successfully given the media a
de-rope and sent them all reeling!
Q: The delay in reconstituting the CC is
causing a series of problems with regard to
urgent top public sector appointments. There
are many like the Attorney General,
Secretary General of Parliament, IGP and
Supreme Court judges to be appointed. Why is
the government blind to this aspect?
A: This is true. This is why, while
one process has got stalled, we are trying
to amend the constitutional amendment fully
so that the role of the CC would be
I repeat, it is the President's prerogative
to appoint the CC and I can't comment on
that. But in the absence of the CC being
appointed, we are going ahead with a
practical process to strengthen the 17th
Amendment which is vital.
We should realise that this amendment,
though thoroughly flawed, was brought in the
best interests of the public. Just look at
the public service at present. There are one
million public servants in the country. How
can just five commissioners do justice to
them? It is humanly impossible.
The proposed amendments will redesign the
committees in a realistic way. For example,
the PSC should be handling only the top most
appointments. There should be delegation of
The Select Committee summoned those who
served the independent commissions to give
evidence on how to improve these bodies.
They all accepted that it was an
ill-conceived, hasty piece of legislation
that needed to be strengthened in order to
serve the spirit in which it was conceived.
Hence the important amendments we hope to
Q: How soon do you intend moving these
amendments to modify the 17th Amendment?
A: As quickly as possible. But it
requires a two third majority and I keep
striving to reach that parliamentary
consensus. If all parties cooperate on the
subject matter, then there should be no
problem. Then the CC will be stronger than
I want this done fast. I don't want to look
a fool as chairman of the Select Committee.
If the government and the opposition both
desire some results, there will be something
really positive. Or else I will resign.
Q: The 17th Amendment by now is a part of
the constitution. Following the President's
reluctance to appoint the CC, the JVP has
pledged to take the campaign to the streets.
Meanwhile the OPA has called it the
President's constitutional obligation to
give expression to the 17th Amendment by
appointing the CC. Do you agree with the
OPA's contention that it is an impeachable
offence not to appoint the CC?
A: These are only slogans. They have
little value except from platforms. The JVP
has suddenly woken up from its deep slumber.
Now that they are out of the government,
they are out to launch a fresh campaign and
this issue was there, luckily for them.
Q: The President has suddenly proposed the
power sharing envisaged by the 13th
Amendment to the Constitution as the
solution to the ethnic conflict. In your
opinion can a 20-year-old remedy still be a
solution to the festering wound?
A: I submitted a Cabinet Paper as
Minister of Constitutional Affairs to the
very first cabinet meeting held by President
Mahinda Rajapakse. This was in relation to
language and in the context of the 13th
Previously, language came under the Ministry
of Public Administration. My position was
that the language policy had remained
unimplemented despite the 13th Amendment
becoming crystallized here. My position was
that language remains the root cause of the
national question as well.
Frontiers will get further widened. I also
feel that the bilingual policy is important
to the rest of the country as much as it is
to the northeast. The reason is that 10% of
the population in each district excepting
Hambantota, belong to minority communities.
I have made Tamil compulsory for the public
service. For so long we have neglected the
country's second language. This is an issue
that should have been addressed at the dawn
of independence in 1948. There would have
been no problems if that were done. I am
happy that I had the opportunity to correct
a historical wrong through policy and
practice at least now.
The new entrants to the public service must
study the second language. The next step is
to introduce it to the schools. We now
require competent Tamil teachers. I am
inundated with requests for Tamil teachers
by various institutions. Some 7,000 new
public servants followed Tamil language
classes. In the past, Tamil public servants
were studying Sinhala.
To encourage, I have introduced substantial
increments and lump sump payments. Even
minor employees get the same rewards
proportionate to their grading in the
Every five years, there is a further
increment paid to maintain proficiency.
One of the key initiatives was to put up the
Institute of Language Education Training
which will be declared open in April. There
will be 6,000 rooms for residential
students. This will cater to the need of
translators and interpreters in some way.
There is a big crisis in the public sector
due to lack of bilingual officers. Soon we
will have nobody left when the seniors leave
Also, we have trained 3,000 police personnel
at district level. Just let me cite one
police used to be 100% Sinhalese managed
until recently. We have now managed to send
at least one Tamil proficient policeman to
each of the police stations.
We have also identified 69 AGA divisions as
'bilingual' where language policy is
implemented. It has been declared by the
President through Gazette declaration as per
the provisions of the 16th Amendment.
Another aspect is the teaching of the link
language. It is a huge concern. The
management level has crashed due to the lack
of English education. Its absence shows at
the senior level management. Learning a link
language is also about national integration.
When one does not know each other's
language, there should be a neutral language
known to all for communication.
We have managed to teach Tamil to 59
pirivenas including the Malwatta and
All of the above was explanatory to show an
aspect of non-implementation of the 13th
Amendment. We need it fully implemented
urgently. That's one step in the right
direction. For the NE it is necessary. I am
happy to note that I was the only opposition
MP who voted with the government when the
amendment was introduced. Today I consider
that I have a right to speak about power
devolution and advocate the 13th Amendment
as a means to bridging the gap.
I recall asking then President J R
Jayewardene as to why he introduced
provincial councils to the entire country
whereas the need was felt only by the
northeast. He said he did not wish to get
branded as a traitor caving into the
northern demands and wished to make it a
I told him that he opposed a similar
exercise when he rejected the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam
pact to which he smilingly replied, 'I am
also learning from history." I also believe
that even asymmetrical power devolution is
alright if that caters to the political
needs. Devolution does not separate. That
has to be first understood. Devolution in
actual fact is an extension of democracy.
Q: But given the level of resistance by
Tamil political parties, why attempt full
implementation only 20 years later when it
is, in your own admission not enough to
cater to Tamil political aspirations? It is
a well-documented fact that parties such as
the TULF rejected outright the 13th
Amendment as a 'fraud' committed upon the
Tamil people. But now it has been brought
through the APRC exercise which was
primarily appointed because the previous
attempts have obviously failed to cater to
A: I believe the APRC must go beyond
the 13th Amendment. It is already there as
part of our constitution. What is required
is full implementation. For that the APRC is
Tamil parties have collectively rejected the
13th Amendment as a solution to the
conflict. That proved its inadequacy as a
Also, the east just can't be hanging there.
Economic and social development need to be
urgently addressed. Ordinary people have
suffered since the war broke out in 1983.
These areas form the poverty belt of the
To implement a constitutional amendment that
is already in place, the President can hold
elections in the east. That's what's
happening now. It will be followed by a PC
poll in the east.
Q: How can there be full implementation of
the constitutional amendment without merging
the north and east to begin with?
A: Something is better than nothing.
We are currently there. It was by no means a
mere white elephant though a lot of people
condemned the 13th Amendment as such. That's
also why I supported it when the tide was
against it. It may have had overlapping
areas and weaknesses that needed to be
addressed. But it was a vital first step.
Through the PC system, infrastructure
development happened at village level. This
I know as a fact as a member who earlier
The PCs are vital to introduce
infrastructure development of an area. East
should be given the opportunity to enjoy the
fruits of development fast.
Q: Does is mean that this is only an interim
A: It is. The President's exact words
were, immediate and interim measure.
Q: To fully implement the 13th Amendment,
shouldn't the northeast be merged first?
A: No. There is a Supreme Court
decision with regard to that. The merger is
not part of the law. It was part of the
agreement to get the thing moving and
announced under emergency power. A court
ruling separated the provinces and that
should not hinder anything.
Q: Do you also subscribe to the view that
the northeastern provinces should be
A: As per the terms of the agreement,
it is a matter for the people of the
northeast to decide. Let them decide to be
together or go their separate ways. Let's
give them the opportunity to decide their
fate by holding elections.
In The Sunday
Leaderís interview with WPF Leader,
Colombo District Parliamentarian and CMC
Convenor, Mano Ganesan published on
February 10, 2008, it was reported that
the Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA)
was proposed by UNP Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe due to an oversight.
We regret the