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Will not sign new Constitution if harmful to nation -Speaker

2017-10-31 00:31:15
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  • I was embarrassed at the way amendments were brought to the PC Elections Act
  • We cannot have legislations passed in this manner in the future
  • I am hopeful that there won’t be repetition of it in the future
  • Awaiting to see what the court ruling on the Act is
  • Speaker’s job is a thankless job
  • If there is a unity government, there must be principle agreements on policy matters
  • Currently, there is unfounded fear on the new Constitution

 

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, in an interview with the Daily Mirror, speaks out his stand on the constitution making process and the enactment of the Provincial Councils Elections Act. Excerpts:

 

QThere is a lot of criticism about the enactment of the Provincial Councils Elections Act with amendments starkly different to the contents in the original draft of the Bill. As the Speaker, what is your view?


It is the responsibility of the Government to bring forward Bills. They brought forward this Bill. Finally it was approved with 159 votes to 39. My role, as the Speaker, is to ensure that all the legal procedures are followed. As far as Parliament is concerned, we have acted within the existing rules, regulations and Standing Orders. The amendments passed have been duly approved by the Attorney General. We have acted within the prevailing regulations.


Of course, I too was embarrassed because the amendments were rushed in a manner so that there was not enough time for discussion. I conveyed this point at that time when the party leaders met. The Government was in a hurry to do this. Especially with the passage of the Local Government Bill, we did our duty as Parliament. The whole country was looking for elections.

 

Then, they will have to go to the people eventually. People themselves have to decide eventually at a referendum. Therefore, one does not need to have unfounded fear.


Of course, there were certain accusations to say that Parliament deliberately delayed the passing of the Bill, enabling the Government to get the required two-thirds. That is completely incorrect. As far as Parliament was concerned, the amendments were not ready. I was in touch with the Parliamentary Secretariat. After the amendments were cleared by the Attorney General and the Secretariat, I summoned Parliament.


QThe Original draft Bill sought to increase women’s quota in nomination lists. But, the amendments were about the change of the electoral system. It is argued that the general public did not have the chance to know about it in advance even and challenge its constitutionality. What is your view?


From the beginning I said, we cannot have legislations passed in the future in such a hush, hush manner. We have Oversight Committees. We have transparency. Sri Lanka Parliament is looked upon as a model. So, it has to follow all the good practices. I have spoken to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House, and all concerned. I am quite hopeful that, in the future, there won’t be a repetition of this nature. It is, of course, embarrassing to the Speaker and the Secretariat.


Now it is over. Having said, that I must also state, that the entire country is looking forward for a change in the election system. I remember in 2002, it was I who proposed that we should bring about electoral reforms. It was the UNP Government. We though it should be chaired by an Opposition member. That is how we appointed MP Dinesh Gunawardane to head the Committee assigned to work out electoral reforms. He, along with me, came up with various proposals. It was the 70-30 formula that was agreed upon. All of us wanted the new system. A mandate was given at the last election for electoral reforms. Bringing this 50-50 formula is a political decision. I have no control over it.

 

 There is a public opinion. Even the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has recognised the importance of giving Buddhism the Foremost Place. That does not mean that we can harm other religions. Certainly, there were privileges that were enjoyed in the past.


QWhat do you think of introducing the new system at the cost of postponing elections?


I was always against the postponement of elections. It is a Fundamental Right in a democracy to have due elections. Now, the Government has accepted the fact that the elections should be held. On the floor of the House itself, the Prime Minister gave the assurance that the Local Government elections would be conducted in January, and the Provincial Council Elections in March. I have no reason to believe that those promises will not be fulfilled. If these promises are not fulfilled, it will be bad for the Government.


QYou, as the Speaker, have already certified the Bill. The enactment process has been challenged in the Supreme Court. What is your view?


This is a democratic country. Everybody has a right to go to court. We have a competent, independent Judiciary. Let us see what it will be!


QDo you subscribe to the view that the Speaker’s ruling prevails finally?


Those are the ideas we have got to study. I can still maintain the fact that, in the past, we had various allegations against the Judiciary. Politicisation of the Judiciary and interference in Judiciary do not take place any longer. Let us see what the judgement is!


QAs the Speaker, how do you find your job during the last two years?


Well, I did not want to be a Speaker. But, of course, I was unanimously appointed by all the 225 MPs. Actually, I was looking for a quiet life. The party and a lot of people felt that I still need to make a contribution. I was behind Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera’s movement. What we wanted is democratic governance and transparency. After the Parliamentary Elections in 2015, everybody felt that some of those democratic reforms were needed to be brought in. In fact, I was the Minister in charge of democratic reforms, that I should be the Speaker. I took up the challenge. I am very happy when looking back. We were able to bring a large number of democratic reforms promised at that time- the Right to Information Act, the setting up of Independent Commissions. All the commissions are now functioning.

 

There is an educated set of people in Parliament. I do not think they will take any wrong decision. At the moment, I think there is unnecessary, unfounded fear on the Constitution.


We have a completely independent administration. Political interference is minimal. Now, a police officer can work without being subjected to political interference. A public servant can also do the same.


QHow do you find your job specially in maintaining the decorum in the House?


It is not an easy task. The Speaker’s job is a thankless job. You cannot satisfy everybody. There have been instances where my decisions were agreed upon by one section, and opposed by another. I am criticised by both sides. I do what I think is right. For the first time in history, we are going through a new political culture in this country. The two main political parties have come together. The UNP is more to the right of centre and the SLFP more to the left of centre. There are occasions of disagreements. People gave a mandate that the two main parties should get together. None of the parties got a working majority. This is the only way we can restore this country. It is not a love marriage. It is a marriage of convenience. There are occasional hiccoughs. We have to live together, though.

 

Various proposals will come forward. Some people ask for federalism, some other people for something else. These are ideas. It is up to Parliament to decide what the best is.


QSome people believe that there is a stalemate in the country with the decision making process hampered. What is your response to them?


There are ideological differences. These have to be sorted out. It has to be sorted out inside. That is a very important factor. The two leaders are determined to work together. If there is a Unity Government, there must be agreement on policies. I think there is more dialogue between the two main parties. I am apolitical.


QAt a recent function, you said you would not certify the new Constitution into law if it were against the interests of the country. When you say the interests of the country, what does it mean?


A lot of people are now talking about ‘Aekiya Raajya, the special place accorded to Buddhism, rights of people, the protection of other religions. If there is anything harmful to the nation, I will not sign. Having said that, I must tell that there is an educated set of people in Parliament. I do not think they will take any wrong decision. At the moment, I think there is unnecessary, unfounded fear on the Constitution. On March 9, the Constitutional Assembly met for the first time, and unanimously agreed that we should go ahead with these reforms. Various proposals will come forward. Some people ask for federalism, some other people for something else. These are ideas. It is up to Parliament to decide what the best is. I have told both the President and the Prime Minister that they should go before the religious leaders to get their blessings. Then, they will have to go to the people eventually. People themselves have to decide eventually at a referendum. Therefore, one does not need to have unfounded fear.

 

Then, they will have to go to the people eventually. People themselves have to decide eventually at a referendum. Therefore, one does not need to have unfounded fear.


The country is gaining a lot of international respect as a country that is democratic, and values human rights. There is transparency and good governance. Parliament should be used.


QWhen you say ‘Aekiya Raajya’ does it mean the unitary character of the Constitution?


I would rather leave it to the Constitutional Assembly to come out with it. There are various meanings being discussed. The Government is consulting various experts, including people like Suri Ratnapala. I would rather wait for what eventually comes out. As the Speaker, I cannot comment on what is coming out.

 

The country is gaining a lot of international respect as a country that is democratic, and values human rights. There is transparency and good governance. Parliament should be used.


QWhat is your view on the status of Buddhism granted in the present Constitution?


There is a public opinion. Even the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has recognised the importance of giving Buddhism the Foremost Place. That does not mean that we can harm other religions. Certainly, there were privileges that were enjoyed in the past.


QNow, you say you act according to what you feel is correct. In fact, you supported the war on terrorism. You defied your party in this case. Will you take such a stand if you feel that the new Constitution is harmful to the country?


For that, I must see what is coming out. I cannot talk of something unborn. At the beginning, I said I would not sign anything harmful to the nation. Parliament consists of educated, mature people. They will not take a decision harmful to the nation.

 

A lot of people are now talking about ‘Aekiya Raajya, the special place accorded to Buddhism, rights of people, the protection of other religions. If there is anything harmful to the nation, I will not sign

 

 

 

I have told both the President and the Prime Minister that they should go before the religious leaders to get their blessings


  Comments - 2

  • wick Tuesday, 31 October 2017 07:44

    As an intelligent and a person loving the country we hope yo u take correct decision.

    Reply : 0       0

    Jim Wednesday, 1 November 2017 06:36

    No point regretting now! Sorry, you lost any credibility you had after the PC Act vote.

    Reply : 0       0

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