Influential sections of Sri Lanka’s Maha Sangha who have been in the forefront in supporting the incumbent regime, have now frowned upon several clauses in the draft 20th Amendment (20A) to the Constitution. The Maha Sangha has traditionally played a pivotal role in bringing Rajapaksa ideologies to fruition, and it is unlikely the Rajapaksas would want to disappoint them. However, the nation awaits the Speaker reading out the Supreme Court’s (SC) determination on the 20A in Parliament on 20 October, amid mounting criticism from clergy and other sections of society.
Dailymirror spoke to some of them and following are their views:
Government has forgotten those who brought them to power
Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera
There’s no point bringing in Amendments of sorts. There are administrative issues that need to be looked into
Echoing similar sentiments, Chief Incumbent of the Abhayarama Temple Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera said the government should introduce a Constitution that suits the country. “There’s no point bringing in Amendments of sorts. There are administrative issues that need to be looked into. The Health Sector is a fine example. There’s no Director General of Health Services and it is the Army Commander that is giving updates on the pandemic situation. Therefore the government has to rectify these issues first,” he said while adding the government had forgotten those who supported them to come to power.
20A WOULD LEAD THE WAY TO AN ‘UNDEVELOPED TRIBAL SOCIETY’
Ven. Aththangane Sasana Rathana thera
From the time the 1978 Constitution was introduced the President had unlimited powers as the Executive leader
On October 12, the Amarapura-Ramanna Samagri Sangha Maha Sabha expressed their concerns on the 20A and said it would pave the way for an “undeveloped tribal society”. “From the time the 1978 Constitution was introduced the President had unlimited powers as the Executive leader,” opined Ven. Aththangane Sasana Rathana Thera, Chief Lekhakadikari of the Ramanna Chapter. “To lead a country, the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary have to be equal in order to protect the democratic rights of the people. Just because the President is the head of state he cannot be a dictator. The present government promised to bring in a new Constitution, and in that light they are trying to introduce the 20A which is wrong. This is not what we expected,” he said.
Not good to dupe the country and people
Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera
Look at the Elections Commission and the Police Commission for example. The country still has an Acting Inspector General of Police. These foreign influences blocked the smooth functioning of the state
“We should be happy that people are coming forward to raise their voice against the 20A,” opined Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera. “There was an issue about this Amendment from the beginning. How come the SC determination is out even before the Speaker reads it? It’s not good to dupe the country and its public like this. Right now there are many foreign influences governing the country. There have been discrepancies in the functioning of Commissions. People who have been appointed to these Commissions are not impartial. Look at the Elections Commission and the Police Commission for example. The country still has an Acting Inspector General of Police. These foreign influences blocked the smooth functioning of the state. The NGOs created unnecessary trouble,” he said.
“But people shouldn’t wonder why the Maha Sangha that worked to bring the incumbent government to power is now against the 20A. We have a duty to guide the leadership in the right direction. Ours is a country with a written history that dates back centuries. Therefore when a Constitution is being drafted it has to take into consideration the country’s heritage, cultural values and other aspects. With the 19A a Tamil national anthem was introduced and there was no prominence given to religious doctrine. The country, religion and nationality should be in sync with one another. I have been campaigning for this regime for a long time, but that doesn’t mean we can support every move they make. We need to protect our resources, and that should be a priority.”
Certain clauses pave way for corruption
Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobhitha Thera
People have a right to know what happens to their money. Monetary transactions that happen at state institutions should be transparent
Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobhitha Thera opined the 20A would exempt several state institutions from being audited, including the President’s and Prime Minister’s funds, which was a major concern. “People have a right to know what happens to their money. Monetary transactions that happen at state institutions should be transparent. The 20A exempts these institutions from being audited, thereby paving the way for corrupt practices.”
He added when the Yahapalana regime came to power, they said they would end corruption, but they had continued these practices. “As a result of the mega-scale financial frauds that happened during that regime they were overthrown. When people vote in favour of a new government they don’t read statute books and Constitutions. People are trying to make ends meet. It’s true the Maha Sangha supported the incumbent regime to come to power. But they are opposing the 20A due to certain clauses which have been distorted. These clauses will reflect negatively on the mandate given by the people, and this is what we as the Maha Sangha too are worried about.”
Strength of Executive shouldn’t affect people
Ven. Magalkande Sudatta Thera
Another issue is about dual citizenship. Because of this issue people like Arjuna Mahendran have been able to flee the country and no legal action could be taken against him
Expressing his concerns about the Amendment, Secretary of the Sinhala Ravaya movement Ven. Magalkande Sudatta Thera said the public voted in favour of the incumbent regime based on the promise for a new Constitution. “The most pressing issue is that the Auditor General will be exempt from auditing the Prime Minister’s and President’s funds. But people have a right to know what’s happening to their money. This was a good clause introduced by the 19A. Another issue is about dual citizenship. Because of this issue people like Arjuna Mahendran have been able to flee the country and no legal action could be taken against him. With a dual citizenship any elected representative could rob people’s money and flee the country.”
He added when a Constitution is being drafted, it should be open to public opinion as well. “The 1978 Constitution had been open to the public for a week while the 19A extended this period to two weeks. But now it’s back to one week. If people are going to be affected by strengthening the Executive, then it shouldn’t be encouraged.”
Passengers are safe if pilot and crew are experienced
Ven. Pelpola Vipassi Thera
The Constitution should suit the people and its country. Here, the leader has to have Executive powers in order to make it a disciplined state
“According to the political culture that we have, this country cannot function without an Executive,” said Ven. Pelpola Vipassi Thera, President of Pelpola Vipassi Foundation and Chief Sanghanayake for Japan and the South East Asia region. “When looking at the time when kings were ruling our country, there was neither democracy nor human rights. But the country was far more developed than it is today. There have been countries that progressed with democratic principles. But certain people in our country don’t follow the law or protect principles. We have a very unpredictable political culture. If we take a country like Japan, they have a Constitution that hasn’t been changed to date. But when there are mixed nationalities, the Constitution has to consider all of them as well. While the Constitution should protect the country’s identity, it shouldn’t harm the majority or the sovereignty of the state,” he said.
“People should be disciplined and it should begin from kindergarten. National security should be established. No element should be able to challenge the law of the state, not even power and money. In Japan it is the media that questioned corrupt practices done by state officials who in turn resigned from their positions. The media has earned that respect by being impartial in their reporting,” he added.
Ven. Vipassi Thera added if all parties were rallying together for the betterment of the country, then why couldn’t they get together and draft one Constitution. “The Constitution should suit the people and its country. Here, the leader has to have Executive powers in order to make it a disciplined state. The 20A can be implemented only as a short-term solution, and a new Constitution must be introduced altogether. The Constitution should be simple and a document that people could understand. The 19A imposed a huge blow to the country. With it we only saw the President and Prime Minister at loggerheads. The head of state needs Executive powers to run a country like ours since we have people having different nationalities. People fear that President Rajapaksa would turn into a dictator. But he won’t change like that. The passengers can be safe if the pilot and crew are experienced. Likewise, if the President and his ministers act responsibly, people don’t have to have any fear.”
However, Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera of the Bodu Bala Sena who has adopted a hardline Sinhala Buddhist nationalist line, declined to comment on the 20A as it was currently being discussed by the Sangha Sabha he represents.