By Sandun Jayawardana
Former MP and State Minister Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, who is running as an independent candidate under the ‘owl’ symbol at next Saturday’s presidential election, said he was contesting to draw attention to what had been promised in President Maithripala Sirisena’s election manifesto and to highlight the manner in which those promises could be implemented.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Prof. Wijesinha, who supported Mr Sirisena when he successfully ran for the presidency in 2015, said Mr Sirisena broad-based reforms, but most of them had not been followed up.
Describing the past five years of the Yahapalanaya government as “disastrous,” the academic said he had now completed drafting a new Constitution along the lines of what was promised in Mr Sirisena’s manifesto.
According to him, the first of the major changes proposed is the reduction of executive power.
“We do not say in our manifesto that we are getting rid of the executive presidency. If we replace an Executive President with an Executive Prime Minister as Ranil Wickremesinghe wanted, that is still excessive power,” he said.
The Executive should be controlled by the legislature and should not be subordinate to a Prime Minister, he said.
“As for the electoral system, it should be a German style mixed system as promised in our manifesto,” Prof. Wijesinha said.
Regarding devolution, he said he wanted the devolution of power not through the provincial councils but through divisional secretariats and pradeshiya sabhas, making them a third tier of government. He said this too was a promise made by Mr Sirisena in his manifesto to make the divisional secretariat “the centre of service delivery to the people.”
He said powers should be devolved at the PS and Divisional Secretariat level as the district administrative unit had grown far too large.
“The centre has to now move to the divisional Sscretariat because the number of people means the district doesn’t know what’s going on,” he said, adding that he had identified 11 distinct areas where the local authorities must have full administrative power. These areas include local transport, markets, preschools and school administration subject to national policy.
Prof. Wijesinha said that he was not proposing that the PCs be abolished, but to elect members to PCs through the pradeshiya sabhas. The number of PSs in a province can constitute the number of members in the PCs.
Prof. Wijesinha said legislation such as the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the National Audit Act should be further strengthened. The RTI Act for example, was passed with flaws which has made information a privilege rather than a right.
Prof. Wijesinha also called for more transparency regarding asset declaration of those who held or run for public office. Asset declarations of the president and ministers should be made public on websites and should be open to challenge, he said, adding that the same should apply for any candidate running for public office.
Read a synopsis of the draft Constitution proposed by Prof. Wijesinha
Part 1 – Principles
Introduction of Oversight power of the people
Fundamental rights should stress need for bail rather than remanding
Monitoring of children in care to be mandatory
Right to education should stress a holistic education and development of employability
The state shall ensure that education is freely available to all at primary and secondary level and that children shall be gainfully occupied during school hours and when in care, including through opportunities to develop socially through aesthetic and sports and community activities
Easy, inexpensive and expeditious justice
Decentralized and participatory government
Practical suggestions rather than platitudes to promote national unity
Promoting creativity and self-expression for children
Three official languages with all educational institutions providing communicative competency in a second in addition to medium of instruction
Part 2 – The Executive
In no other country do you have a directly elected President subordinate to a Prime Minister. The amendments restore the primacy of the President, but strengthen controls on him, such as
a) No dissolving of Parliament prematurely
b) No calling an early election at his convenience
c) A rationale demanded for all appointments and approval from parliament (without other members of the Executive) for constitutionally established institutions and individuals
d) Ministry Secretaries to be appointed with the approval of the Public Service Commission
Definite limitations on the size of the Cabinet with departments allocated in a schedule to the Constitution
Assets Declarations of President and Ministers to be put on websites and open to challenge
Cabinet to make policy as to appointments but appointments etc by individual ministers subject to PSC approval
Part 3 – Parliament
Bicameral, Senate based on equal representation for Provinces, 45 members, no remuneration
House of Representatives to have 240 members, half on constituency basis, the other half to make up proportions by appointment of losers with highest percentages
All Members have to present Assets Declarations to Commissioner of Elections, subject to scrutiny
Legislation must be submitted to consultative committees for their views, Ministers not to be members
Senate must approve all legislation or, if the House is not convinced, may participate in the debate. Voting rights for joint sessions only when a two thirds majority is needed.
High Posts Committee rather than the misnamed Constitutional Council, no members of the executive or their representatives, 5 parliamentarians and 5 non-parliamentarians elected by STV
Constitutional Powers to Finance Oversight Committees
Answering questions to be mandatory with penalties for protracted failure
Consultative committees to be concerned with policy and oversight, constituency concerns to be taken up at meetings in the Ministry
I noted that the Human Rights Commission does not figure, it should with a clear mandate to address local issues, not spend its time convincing foreigners that we are following their ideas
As suggested by the Parliament committee on administration, I have introduced local government authorities into the constitution with specific responsibilities.
Instead of wasting money on provincial councils, which means cost of election is recovered, I suggest that they be constituted through electoral colleges consisting of all members of local authorities.
I have introduced powers with regard to police and lands into the constitution instead of through unreadable appendices, but specified that the President should be Minister of both Defence and Lands
Judiciary and Public Security
Introduction of Mediation and Arbitration Tribunals in each administrative Division and
Judicial Service Commission to be required to supervise implementation of rules it makes, including re training of Judges that includes training in the need to expedite justice and avoid custodial sentencing and remanding unless essential); and to make rules regarding active exercise of supervisory functions with regard to all persons held in detention by judicial orders or remanded or placed in care to ensure they are maintained in proper conditions and without constraints not appropriate to their situation
Amendments required by the Supreme Court to be examined again to ensure conformity with ruling
Chief Justice with colleagues making rules required to ensure that withholding bail shall be for good reason based on the capacity to endanger society of any individual to be refused bail and to limit the stay or postponement of proceedings in any court, with the purpose of ensuring that justice is not unnecessarily delayed
Higher Courts required to issue warnings in cases where the lower court judges have not satisfactorily fulfilled obligations to monitor places of detention and remand including care facilities