Constitutional amendments must be debated – Eran
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
An amendment to the Constitution must not only be debated for its constitutionality, but must also be widely discussed and debated to ascertain public opinion from a policy perspective, said Samagi Jana Balawegaya Parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne.
He added that he cannot comprehend why the Government wants to rush through an amendment to the Constitution, when it claims to have a two-thirds majority in Parliament and a President who has absolute control of the Executive function.
“The President’s policy speech set out the Government’s intention to introduce a new Constitution. The Opposition looks forward to participating in the process. We reject the 20th Amendment in its totality. The process of adopting the Amendment is flawed. In many countries including India and the United States, citizens have the right to approach the Judiciary for post-enactment judicial review. Sri Lankans do not have that right. The only available window for a citizen is to contest constitutionality of a Bill before it is adopted in Parliament. Substantive changes made to the Bill at subsequent stages cannot be brought before the Court to check its constitutionality. Given the above described process in amending the Constitution and adopting new laws, it is unthinkable that the 20th Amendment will provide the President, a right to introduce a Bill as an ‘urgent Bill’ without citizens having the right to go before the Court before or after legislative enactment,” he added.
The 20th Amendment only requires the President to send the urgent Bill to the Supreme Court for its observation on the constitutionality, providing the Court a minimum of one day for its observations. Such a process is fundamentally flawed, he said.
“The main goals of the 19th Amendment were to strengthen the accountability of the Executive function and to strengthen the independence of the Legislature and the Judiciary. Therefore, the Constitutional Council (CC) acts as a check and balance on Presidential nominations to ensure that fit and proper persons are appointed. It does not take away the right of the President to nominate and appoint, but requires the approval of the CC prior to appointment. In a country where there have been so many accusations of politicians appointing friends and relations who are unsuitable to hold public office, the CC and independent commissions was the way forward. The 20th Amendment removes the principle of an independent authority acting as a check on Presidential power. These mechanisms are needed in the system, as Presidents will come and go with time. These processes will protect citizens against any leader who might become authoritarian in the future.”
He also added that there are shortcomings in the operations of the independent commissions due to the lack of operational legislation, regulation, funding and personnel. “The solution is to correct the shortcomings rather than destroy independent, transparent and democratic institutions.”
He also pointed out that the Parliament and the President have two separate mandates given by voters and those must be honoured. “The dissolution of Parliament cannot be left only to the discretion of a President,” he added.