Pay Heed To BASL Proposal

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A month has gone by since public agitation was initially levelled against the incumbent President and Government. Although the demands of the protesters are loud and clear and have been heard by those they are directed at, they have been conveniently ignored.

While those in power tend to believe that the only real solution to the ongoing economic crisis is to declare a State of Emergency or to prioritise the appointment of a Deputy Speaker to Parliament, professionals have come forward in formulating proposals that would actually address the grievances of the public.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) recently took the initiative to publish a 13-point proposal to restore political and economic stability with  primary focus on the need to establish an Interim Government of National Unity.

In the proposal that was also submitted to the Malwathu and Asgiriya Chapters early last week, BASL noted that the Interim Government of National Unity should consist of 15 Cabinet Ministers and for the Prime Minister to be a Member of Parliament who is able to establish a consensus among all political parties recognised by the Speaker in Parliament on the national economy and to enact necessary reforms.

‘’The Government of National Unity will be for a maximum period of eighteen months and a further 6 weeks as a caretaker Government to oversee elections. At the conclusion of eighteen months, Parliament will be dissolved and a General Election will be held at the expiry of six weeks. The Government of National Unity will cease to exist at the conclusion of the General Election,’’ BASL proposed.

One primary focus was to repeal the 20th Amendment to the Constitution and to bring back the 19th Amendment. Why is the BASL and several others so keen on bringing about the 19th Amendment to the Constitution? Will a Constitutional Amendment really address the economic crisis and be of any relief to the public?

The BASL also answered this vital question by observing that a major cause for the crisis is the failure of institutions as their independence has become weaker and that in order to restore political stability, the 19th Amendment has to be reintroduced by way of the 21st Amendment.

The introduction of the provisions of the 19th Amendment should also result in the re-establishment of the Constitutional Council, the Independent Commissions which existed under the 19th Amendment whilst enhancing their financial independence, transparency and accountability, they said.

The 19th Amendment would also minimise the excessive power that was vested in President by way of the 20th Amendment. Thereby, according to the proposal, President should not hold any portfolio as stipulated by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

They further noted that in addition to the 19th Amendment provisions, the 21st Amendment should also provide for the appointment of the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and the Monetary Board to be carried out with the approval of the Constitutional Council, for the appointments of the Secretaries to the Ministries, Governors, Ambassadors and Heads of Missions to be done on the advice of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Cabinet of Ministers.

BASL also proposed to abolish the Executive Presidency within six months while stating that the amendment to that effect should be passed in Parliament no later than 30 November 2022 and that the Executive Presidency should be replaced by a Parliamentary form of government, where the Prime Minister is the Head of the Government and the Cabinet of Ministers is accountable to Parliament.

They also called for an independent Advisory Council consisting of 15 qualified professionals from disciplines corresponding to the 15 Ministries or relevant to the national economy and that all major policy decisions of the Government to be taken in consultation with the Advisory Council in a transparent manner.

Among the proposals was that the Cabinet of National Unity should prepare a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) in consultation with the Advisory Council. The CMP will be tabled in Parliament for its approval and implementation of the CMP will be the responsibility of the Cabinet of National Unity while the CMP would focus on crucial matters.

While the detailed proposal is now in the public domain and is to be discussed with several political party representatives within this week, BASL also intends to obtain the support of several institutions to call on the Government to implement the proposals. Thereby the Government and the President should not turn a blind eye on such exhaustive proposals and should instead implement them with the involvement of relevant stakeholders.