by M.S.M. Ayub
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has reminded the country a long forgotten matter that is highly important in respect of the ethnic problem and national reconciliation. The TNA MP Mavai Senathirajah who is also the General Secretary of Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi known as the Federal Party has complained to the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the two Bills relating to the local authorities cannot become law since they had not been referred to the Northern Provincial Council, an almost forgotten entity.
The premier Tamil coalition has said the court that there was no evidence before parliament that the “Local Authorities (Special Provisions)” Bill and the “Local Authorities Elections (Amendment)” Bill had in fact been referred to the Provincial Councils for the expression of their views before it was placed on the Parliament Order Paper, as required by the Constitution.
The “Local Authorities (Special Provisions)” Bill seeks to amend the Municipal Councils Ordinance, the Urban Councils Ordinance and the Pradeshiya Sabha Act No. 15 of 1987 and the “Local Authorities Elections (Amendment)” Bill seeks to amend the “Local Authorities Elections Ordinance.”
Even though the Bills have been referred to some Provincial Councils they were not referred to the Northern Provincial Council as the members of the council have not been elected so far in an election, in spite of the fact that there is an administration of Provincial Council in that Province.
It is up to the Supreme Court now to interpret as to whether a Bill that requires to be referred to the Provincial Councils could be a law without being discussed in a particular Provincial Council as there is no elected Provincial Council in that Province. However, apart from the legal aspect of it, the issue raises a political question as to why there should not be a Provincial Council in the Northern Province, now that seventeen months have passed since the end of the war.
The elections in the Eastern Province, first for the Local Government bodies, were held eight months after the end of armed conflict in that Province. And leaders of the Government boasted before the international community on its policy of restoring democracy.
Soon after the results of the Eastern Provincial Council election that was held on May 10, 2008 were announced President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that the results of that election show “the people’s endorsement of the government’s policies of restoring democracy and normalcy to areas hitherto controlled by terrorists.” The then Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogllagama while addressing the diplomatic corps on May 22, 2008 said that “the successful conduct of elections in the Eastern province is a clear reflection of the genuine interest of the Government to create an environment, in which all communities and ethnicities could live in harmony and achieve economic prosperity.”It goes without saying that the government’s said policy has to be applied to the Northern Province as well.
Provincial Councils came into being with the highly controversial 13th Amendment to the Constitution which was a direct upshot of the equally controversial Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. These councils were especially meant for the Northern and Eastern Provinces and were instituted in the other seven provinces as a means to pacify the southern psyche that was inimical to the self rule in Tamil areas.
Ironically, the system was not in operative in the areas where it was meant for, almost from the very inception. The first Provincial Council elected in 1988 for the merged Northern and the Eastern Province could not last until it reached its full term, as it ceased to be exist following an amendment to the Provincial Councils Act in 1990 that took note of the threat of Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by the first Chief Minister of the council Annamalai Varadharaja Perumal.
The armed conflict prevented successive governments from holding Provincial Council elections in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces and the two provinces were de-merged in 2006 after a lawsuit by the JVP and the JHU. Now that the war is over and the resettlement of the people displaced by the war is almost completed, it would be difficult for the Government to find reasons to put off the Northern Provincial Council election any further.
The call for a political solution to the ethnic problem has not been totally shot down though it has considerably died down with the decimation of the LTTE, the main bargaining power of the Tamils. Tamil political parties are again accumulating their strengths, though slowly, in search of a political solution.