The discussion in the Constitutional Assembly on the interim report of the Steering Committee turned out to be a very positive discussion, where a large number of members of the constitutional assembly expressed their views critically.
There emerged few important positions on which there was wide agreement that will enable the Steering Committee to move on to the next stage of the process to prepare a draft constitution for the consideration by the constitutional assembly.
Positive developments that we notice through the discussion in the Constitutional Assembly on the interim report were:
i. The broad acceptance of devolution of power to the provinces.
ii. Acceptance of the need for a rights-based constitution with the wide chapter on fundamental rights.
iii. The importance of power sharing.
iv. The nature of the state to be unitary with its meaning well defined in the constitution itself with provisions for the protection of the rights of minority groups and marginalized sections of society through entrenched clauses.
v. Equality to be the foundation of the constitution.
It is seen that to proceed from this point to the next stage of preparing a draft constitution, certain important changes in the process is needed to strengthen the process.
It emerged from the discussion that the constitutional reform process is being carried on by a few, giving rights to the serious criticism that the process is not open and lacks transparency.
This drawback in the process has to be corrected at this point of the process to proceed further towards the ultimate step of drawing up a constitution acceptable to all sections of the people. The process has to be broadened to include:
I. In the steering committee even as observers representatives named by the President so that President will be able to play a major role in the process by his being privy to the discussions and decisions of the Steering and/or Drafting Committee and his views being placed before the Steering Committee / Drafting Committee.
II. It is absolutely necessary for the process to acquire legitimacy that there should be a broad consultative committee of persons from civil society (from outside the political community) who has the knowledge, experience, competence and acceptability to make a contribution on issues that may arise from outside the political community.
The nature of the state to be unitary with its meaning well defined in the constitution itself with provisions for the protection of the rights of minority groups and marginalized sections of society through entrenched clauses
For example, people of the calibre of Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala, Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama, Dr. Nessiah, Dr. Selvakumaran, Dr. Uyangoda, Dr. Harini Amarasooriya and Dr. Deepika Udagama to mention few names to explain my point.
The Steering Committee itself should be broadened to include such personalities who can contribute towards the development of a constitution acceptable to a vast majority of the people and more particularly to show that it is not the work of a few but the work of the best minds available, for example, it should include people of the calibre of Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Iran Wickremaratne, Harsha De Silva, Ajith Perera, Dr. Fernandopulle.
What I would like to highlight is the fact that if the Constitutional Reform Process is to move forward and reach a meaningful end, then it is of vital importance to broaden the process and allow the meaningful participation of a wider section of society. These corrections have to be made today without delay.
There has to be a wider public discussion on the draft constitution if it is to gain legitimacy.