President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in an interview in New Delhi, India, with the prestigious ‘The Hindu’ newspaper has turned down the implementation of yet incomplete aspects of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Replying to a question, Rajapaksa said: “Look, the 13th Amendment is part of the Constitution and, is functional, except for some areas like control of police powers, which we can’t implement. I am willing to discuss alternatives to that.”
Rajapaksa said that, in relation to the Northern region, he intends to focus on the development of the region and not on political issues. He pointed out the previous push for “devolution, devolution, devolution” had not changed the situation in the North.Asked for his reactions to the Indian Government’s statement, following Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar’s visit to Colombo, last week, that urged justice and equality for Tamils, the President replied:
“My approach, as I told the (Indian) Foreign Minister, is that it is more important to give them [northern Tamils] development, and better living. In terms of freedoms, and political rights there are already provisions in the Constitution. But I am clear that we have to find ways to directly benefit people there through jobs, and promoting fisheries and agriculture. We can discuss political issues, but for 70 odd years, successive leaders have promised one single thing: devolution, devolution, devolution. But ultimately nothing happened. I also believe that you can’t do anything against the wishes and feelings of the majority community. Anyone who is promising something against the majority’s will is untrue. No Sinhala person will say, don’t develop the area, or don’t give jobs, but political issues are different. I would say: judge me by my record on development [of North & East] after five years.”
The President also said that the 19th Amendment was a failure and if the new Government gets 2/3rds majority in Parliament they would look to drop it from the Constitution.The only way you can even make the 19th amendment work is with two brothers (laughs) [at the top]. For a country to be governed successfully, you need stability. This was not the case during the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, where they were fighting all the time and there was no development. Without stability, investors won’t come,” he said.
Asked on the nature of cooperation on terrorism he foresees with India, Rajapaksa said the new Government hopes to upgrade the country’s intelligence and help from India and others are needed on this as well as on technological cooperation.
“The threat in Sri Lanka has now changed: unlike the LTTE which was a specific threat to Sri Lanka, IS [Islamic State] is a global threat posed by terrorists across the world. India and other countries have more information on this threat than us.
The previous government didn’t give much priority to security and intelligence issues.
During our time, military intelligence was always the most important organisation, but the last government took their [oversight] away from the military. We have now reversed that. We also hope to upgrade our intelligence as it was earlier geared towards only LTTE threats, not the IS, and we need help from India and others on this as well as on technological cooperation,” he said.
Asked whether he would honour the MoU signed by former PM Ranil Wickremesinghe on projects like the Trincomalee oil farms and Port development projects, Rajapaksa stated, “There are certain projects where we have to change certain modalities, and we discussed it during this visit.
I haven’t studied all the projects in detail yet, but I will promise that we will expedite all the projects that are important to Sri Lanka”.