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President Sirisena Being Kept In The Dark About Steering Committee Interim Report Is a Bizarre Situation

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Janaki Chandrararatna

Sri Lanka is at the crossroads once again. This time it is with the introduction of a new constitution. Constitution making is no easy task and that is the reason that countries generally adopt the amendment process to make changes to a constitution.

Since Sri Lanka is like no other country in the world, our people, in particular the Heads of the current regime revel in doing things in their own way. Unfortunately, the outcomes of these strategies in most occasions are not of benefit to the country or its people. Appointment of a Prime Minister (PM) from a minority party; appointment of defeated candidates from the respective party national lists, sacking of the Chief Justice without due process, the Unity Govt. of two parties with disparate policy positions, postponement of elections, Office of Missing Persons etc. are a few examples.

Although the constitution making process was in operation over the last 18 months, the Interim Draft Report, which was submitted to Parliament on 21 September, appears to have mushroomed quite magically within a few weeks, quite unknown to the President. This is a bizarre situation where the President, the Head of the State, is not informed of a major piece of legislation that has the potential to affect the sovereignty, and the integrity of the country as a ‘Unitary State’. One would expect the President to have a close scrutiny of the contents of the Interim Report, before its tabling.

This admission of the President of not being informed, confirms an emerging trend when introducing legislation that are inimical to the country in the yahapalana regime. It appears that the legislative process begins with both the PM and President agreeing, at least on the broad principles and outcomes of the proposed legislation. This agreement is then generally followed through by the President informing the public of the need for the pending legislation, albeit in discrete terms, giving plenty of assurances that the armed forces and the integrity of the country will always be protected under his governance. The next step is for yahapalana supporters, in particular, the pro govt. SLFP faction in Parliament, to engage the media to market the assurances of the ingenious President.

The next act starts with the PM presenting the respective Bills to the Parliament with jest and banter. The opposition, in particular, TNA and JVP are not interested in the debate and doze off in the comfy chairs, because of the inducements to support the ruling party. The JO would air out their lungs on the controversies amidst interruptions, but times of debate are run out quickly, without making any impact on the debate. The Bills are then presented to a vote for the first and second readings and passed very often with 2/3 majority, as the President has guaranteed this favor with his SLFP supporters in Parliament. The third reading is also passed without much ado, even though the bills are substantially amended without any remorse or shame at the Committee Stage. The yahapalana bills are then endorsed as legislation with the Speaker’s assent that the due process had been followed. A good example is the recent Provincial Council Amendment Bill, where the original stipulation of including 30% of female candidates for provincial council elections is supposedly not present in the enacted version, as noted by the retired Chief Justice Hon. Sarath N. Silva, in a TV program.

Hats need to be raised, however, to the media for exposing this parliamentary skullduggery to the innocent, susceptible and vulnerable constituents. The JO appears to be too weak and victimized to follow through community engagements on the impact of the legislation. The final act of this drama is the entry of the President who professes his innocence of not being informed of or being unaware of the ruckus and confirms his previous assurances that there will be no impact on the safety of the armed forces or the integrity of the country, although he had to give his assent to the Bill. All agitation and criticisms die down with the President’s comments and gullible and uninformed people are back to square one without any qualms until the next enactment. The SLFP supporters of the government, although aware of the game being played, continue to be silent and provide the 2/3 majority to all legislation; for the fear of losing their perks with the belief that the President will pull out the rug from the unity govt. in a timely manner for the election, which currently is beyond the horizon.

The New Constitution, however, is much more sinister than other previous enactments, as Sri Lankans are in a do or die situation to preserve the integrity and sovereignty of their land. The Interim Report of the Constituent Assembly is significant as it deals with matters relating to Chapters I and II of the present Constitution, such as the State, Sovereignty and Buddhism, and the other significant topics of Principles of Devolution; State Land; Provincial List Subjects; Second Chamber; the Executive etc. This plethora of subjects no doubt would require substantial time for the understanding of the proposals, let alone to unravel the implications of embedded terminology and convoluted suggestions/recommendations.

For example, Articles 1-3 in Chapter I. The People, The State and Sovereignty, of the current constitution states the following:

1. Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is a Free, Sovereign, Independent and Democratic Socialist Republic and shall be known as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

2. The Republic of Sri Lanka is a Unitary State.

3. In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise.

The Interim Report suggests the following:

” Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is a free, sovereign and independent Republic which is an aekiya rajyaya / orumiththa nadu, consisting of the institutions of the Centre and of the Provinces which shall exercise power as laid down in the Constitution.

In this Article aekiyarajyaya / orumiththanadu means a State which is undivided and indivisible, and in which the power to amend the Constitution, or to repeal and replace the Constitution, shall remain with the Parliament and the People of Sri Lanka as provided in this Constitution”.

Unfortunately the Sinhala and Tamil meanings are said to differ, where the Sinhala meaning is equivalent to a Unitary State and the Tamil version indicating a union of States. The Tamil word for unitary that should be used is said to be ‘Ottaiartchi’. It is also significant that the term “Unitary State” is left out from the English version of the Interim Report.

In this set up it is reasonable to wonder why perfectly understandable clauses in the current constitution need to be changed to a convoluted version, which has the potential f

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