Ahead of the Sinhala and Hindu New Year, another week of parliamentary sessions would conclude today with the stage set for a lot of ‘political happenings’ in the post- festive period. The Constitutional Assembly, the committee of the whole House, met for the first time on Tuesday in the Parliament Chamber when the appointment of a steering committee and a panel of deputy chairmen to work on a new Constitution in conformity with an electoral pledge took place.
After the inaugural session of the Constitutional Assembly, the steering committee met for a brief time under the chair of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and decided to meet again on April 28 to appoint various sub committees the number of which would depend on the recommendations by the Committee on Constitutional Reforms that has deliberated with the general public in all 25 administrative districts. This committee headed by left leaning lawyer Lal Wijenayake is seeking the views of various organisations and personalities including religious dignitaries in drafting the Constitution.
It transpired at the Tuesday meeting that the committee would hand over its report to the steering committee on April 25. Based on the findings and recommendations of the Lal Wijenayake Committee , the steering committee is to decide on the number of sub committees to be appointed to proceed with the job at hand. The new constitution -making process is now on, and its activities will feature prominently in the post-Avurdu period. Undoubtedly, it is bound to meet many challenges.
Diverse opinions prevail in the country on the contours of the proposed Constitution, with some segments advocating power sharing asymmetrically and others opposing it diametrically.
The United National Party (UNP), the main force of the governing side, is keen to find a solution to the ethnic conflict through this exercise. President Maitripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) , while advocating a solution to the same issue, insists on working out a new electoral system as a priority amalgamation with the proposed Constitution. Also, it appears to be opposed to the total mitigation of Executive hold on governance in some contexts. Currently, the Executive has the authority to appoint provincial governors who wield power over the councils.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main opposition with an apparent understanding with the government, look to a power sharing arrangement. The Joint Opposition, which is the faction of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, stands for the preservation of the unitary character of the present Constitution. The Muslim parties demand a separate administrative unit for non-contiguous areas with concentration of Muslims in the north and the east. The stand of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is unclear. However, all these parties have to find common consensus to make constitution making a success.
Otherwise, it will be a futile exercise as it happened on previous occasions. In the past, some political parties refused to budge even an inch from their stand leading to a stalemate of the whole process. The demand for the total overhaul of the present Constitution emanates mainly from those pressing for power devolution or sharing with the minorities. It is the area where previous attempts of addressing this issue hit snags. However, this time, the process would fall under the watchful eyes of some sections of the international community interested in Sri Lanka’s case. Besides, the government of Sri Lanka has committed to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to offer a political solution for sustainable peace in the country after the defeat of the LTTE terrorism.
New Parliamentary Oversights Committees to come alive in May
Parliament, as the supreme authority overseeing public finance, is to be entrusted with an additional function from next month. It is the introduction of Sectoral Oversight Committees, a concept of the Prime Minister. A tradition followed in democracies such as Britain, the United States and Japan, these oversight committees would be empowered to supervise ministerial functions.
The Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella said no minister would be appointed as a chairman to monitor the subjects coming under his or her purview, a departure from the practice of ministers heading the present consultative committees. The government and the opposition are expected to share the chairmanship of these 17 committees including the special committee to oversee the work of the Finance Ministry in equal proportion. The UNP would hold chairmanship in seven committees.
Currently, the consultative committees are engaged in the same evaluation process,
but they are chaired by the subject ministers. Yet, it is doubtful whether a proper supervisory role can be performed as the ministers are bound to encounter matters with conflicts of interest.
However, Kiriella said the proposed system would address this concern and ensure effective supervision.
Joint Opposition sceptical
In contrast to the views expressed by Kiriella, the Joint Opposition is skeptical about its success although it is a good concept. At the moment, there are well over 40 ministries. But, only 17 oversight committees are planned to be appointed. Each committee is to oversee two or more ministries. But would they have enough resources, to do the job efficiently? Would their work overlap those of Consultative Committees?
These are the two questions directed by the Joint Opposition that expects to head three committees and it has ear-marked MP Bandula Gunawardane for one; the Finance Committee However, it is learnt that the government is proposing TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran for that position.
No confidence motion against Ravi K to be debated next month
Parliamentary business is likely to heat up next month when the Joint Opposition pushes for the debate on the no confidence motion against Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake. At Tuesday’s party leaders’ meeting, its parliamentary group leader Dinesh Gunawadane asked for a date for the debate in May. Kiriella agreed to assign a date after consulting his party.
UNP braces for future with changes
In its meeting on Tuesday, the UNP Working Committee made several key appointments while doing away with the National Organiser post. The party’s youth wing was entrusted to Gampaha district MP Kavinda Jayawardane, the son of late MP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardane. Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam received more responsibilities when he was assigned the trade union wing of the party.
Primary Industries Minister Daya Gamage was appointed as the Senior Vice President of the party while his spouse Deputy Minister Anoma Gamage was assigned the women’s wing called Lak Wanitha Peramuna.
The media anticipated the UNP doing away with the posts of Deputy Leader and Assistant Leader. But, it did not happen. A section of the party held the view these two posts were created under times of duress and that there was no necessity keep them and that they should be scrapped towards the end of this year at the party convention.
The UNP MPs who are not members of the working committee were also invited for the meeting on Tuesday. For the first time, Deputy Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe was nominated to the committee.The idea behind the appointments was to train a new breed of leaders to take over the party at the next level.
MR and MS in May Day crowd-pulling contest?
The UNP is to conduct the May Day rally on a grand scale as the party in power.Various committees appointed in this respect are making logistics for the event to be conducted in Campbell Park after the regular May Day march.
May Day Rallies are likely to be more exciting this time because President Sirisena and his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa face a popularity turn-out in their separate rallies.
The rally, organised by leftist parties of the Joint Opposition, is to be attended by Mahinda Rajapaksa together with SLFP MPs supportive of him.
President Sirisena would stage another one the Rajapaksa camp is trying to better through a stronger show of public support resulting in the two leaders being pitted against each other in their ability to pull crowds.