Govt to Add Amendments to 20A – AG
By Kamal Weeraratna
Attorney General Dappula de Livera yesterday (29), informed the Supreme Court, the Government has decided to add several amendments to the 20th Amendment Bill during the Committee Stage debate in Parliament.
He informed this to Court, as the sole respondent to the Special Determination petitions, challenging the 20th Amendment Bill, which was tabled in Parliament by the Government last week, when they were perused by a five-Judge SC Bench yesterday.
Several of these amendments that are to be made at the Committee Stage have already been submitted to Court through a motion, de Livera notified the Bench.
The Lawyers representing the petitioners then urged the Apex Court to provide them with the relevant document containing the Amendments. The Bench chaired by Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, instructed the Attorney General to hand over copies of those documents to the petitioners.
Four other SC Justices, namely Buwaneka Aluwihare, Sisira de Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardena and Vijith Kumara Malalgoda, are sitting for the hearing to consider the petitions along with the Chief Justice.
A total of 36 intervenient petitions, to make submissions opposed to the 39 Special Determination petitions, were also filed with the SC on 28 September.
Lawyer Suren Fernando, Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian President’s Counsels M.A. Sumanthiran, K. Kanag-iswaran and Geoffrey Alagaratnam and Nagananda Kodithuwakku made lengthy submissions to the Court on behalf of the petitioners who had filed the Special Determination petitions.
The petitions are slated to be taken up today (30) as well. The petitioners claim that certain provisions of the proposed Bill severely violate the Articles of the 1978 Constitution. They call for a two-thirds majority of the Parliament and a public referendum to approve the controversial Bill.
The Cabinet of Ministers had approved the 20th Amendment Bill to the Constitution on 2 September and the Extraordinary Gazette Notification was published the following day.
The Bill of the 20th Amendment was tabled in Parliament on 22 September, amidst loud protests from the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB)-led Opposition.
The petitioners have charged that certain clauses of the proposed Bill flout a number of Fundamental Rights (FR) and other provisions assured by the current Constitution. The petitioners through each petition, have stated that the mooted Bill contains provisions that are seriously prejudicial to the public such as the removal of the provisions allowing for the filing of FR petitions against the President, massively reducing the powers vested with the Election Commission (EC) to file legal action against the violation of directives issued by the Commission, the barring of the Presidential Secretariat, the Prime Minister’s Office and State institutions from being audited, and removing the restrictions placed prohibiting a person with dual citizenship from contesting future General Elections or Presidential Elections. The petitioners have further observed that the proposed Bill seeks to reintroduce the provisions allowing the tabling of emergency Bills, which were outlawed by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
They have also brought to the notice of the Apex Court that through the mooted Bill, the Government has taken away the power vested with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption to probe an incident of bribery or corruption sans a prior complaint and that it also removes the qualifications needed to be appointed as the Auditor General.
The 39 petitioners have also emphasised that the proposed Amendment flouts the basic rights ensured by the Constitution, as well as other Articles of the Constitution and therefore, have prayed the Court to deliver a verdict declaring that the said Bill will require a two-thirds majority in the House and a public referendum ahead of its ratification.
The 39 petitions in total have been filed against the Bill of the 20th Amendment so far. Citing the AG as the respondent, the petitions were put forward by the EC Member Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole, the SJB, United National Party (UNP) General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene, SJB Youth Wing Chairman Mayantha Dissanayake and Attorney-at-Law P. Liyanaarachchi of the Sirilaka Janatha Peramuna, the Transparency International Sri Lanka, former Governor and Executive Director of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, human rights activist Abdul Zanoon and many others.