The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) noted that if the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution is passed in its current form, it would not bring about a system change or a political reform and would not create an environment of accountability and transparency.
President of BASL, President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris, said although the 22nd Amendment does propose the establishment of Constitutional Council ( CC) and Independent Commission, it does not guarantee the independence of the process of appointment of non-Parliamentary members of the CC as these members would be chosen with the approval of the majority in Parliament.
“The proposed composition of the CC comprising a majority of Parliamentarians and the appointment process of its non-Parliamentarian members would affect the ability of the CC to act as a check and balance on the exercise of Presidential powers,” he said adding that this in turn would result in questions being raised on the independence of its decision- making on appointments to key offices and independent Commissions.
He added it is vital to ensure the independence of key institutions including the judiciary and the Central Bank in order to restore political and economic stability. He further observed that the Monetary Board of the Central Bank has not been brought within the purview of the CC although the Governor of the Central Bank is included.
Pieris added that the 22nd Amendment does not create sufficient checks and balances on the exercise of powers by the incumbent President under the current Parliament, since most of the provisions in the amendment which seek to limit the powers of the President will become operative only after the dissolution of the present Parliament.
He said, at present, several subjects and functions unrelated to defence including certain sectors vital to the economy such as Telecommunication and Information Technology are retained by the President, while raising concerns that the proposal to require the President to be the Minister-in- Charge of the subject of Defence without failing to circumscribe the subjects and functions which could fall under the defence portfolio, gives the President a pathway to retain to himself as Defence Minister subjects and functions which are not directly related to the defence of Sri Lanka.
He observed that the present provisions relating to appointment of Secretaries will also remain intact with the 22nd Amendment and that secretaries to Ministries should be appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Cabinet of Ministers, as otherwise the President can wield authority through the Secretaries to Ministries and bypass the Ministers who have been appointed.
“The 22nd Amendment will also continue to allow the President’s power to prorogue Parliament whenever the President wishes and to dissolve Parliament after two and a half years without the approval of Parliament. As such, the President will continue to retain an unhealthy control over Parliament alhough the dissolution of the present Parliament on an early date seems inevitable if there is to be political stability” he said.
He thereby stated that introducing the 22nd Amendment and keeping the powers of the incumbent President intact will not be an answer to the demands put forward by the public.
By Faadhila Thassim