The proposed Constitutional reforms had not in any way weakened the Unitary Character of the State and made way for a Federal System, Member of the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reforms Parliamentarian Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne said.
“The reforms have not diluted the first and foremost place given to Buddhism in the 1978 Constitution as suggested by a section of monks and disgruntled groups, who have failed to correctly absorb what contained in the Interim Report,” he said.
Dr. Wickramaratne, addressing the media today, said the recommendations of the Interim Report of the Steering Committee had not only further strengthened the Unitary Character of the State but included clear cut provisions to prevent division, declare Unilateral Independence or linking with another Province among Provincial Councils and ensured the first and foremost place given to Buddhism.
“The proposals in the Steering Committee report that contained the dominant view of the six committees would be considered for the final draft of the Constitution are not carved on a stone.
“These proposals are subjected to be changed, debated and amendments and the final draft must represent the hopes, aspirations and objectives of all Sri Lankans, political parties and the ethnic groups of the country,” Dr. Wickramaratne stressed.
Six sub-committees were appointed by the Constitutional Assembly to make recommendations on the areas of Fundamental Rights, Judiciary, Finance, Law & Order, Public Service and Centre-Periphery Relations.
These Reports have not been considered by the Steering Committee as yet. The Reports of the sub-committees are before the Constitutional Assembly (Parliament) for consideration.
The Steering Committee will consider the sub-committee reports and the views expressed thereon, in preparing its Final Report. The Sub Committee reports were tabled in the Constitutional Assembly on 19th November 2016.
The six sub committees were given then task to report on the Fundamental Rights, Judiciary, Finance, National and Public Security, Public Order, Police and Law Enforcement, Public Service and Center Periphery Relations.
Commenting on certain views expressed by a group of monks on the recommendation of Buddhism in interim committee report, Dr. Wickramaratne said there were two recommendations to promote inter-religious harmony and reconciliation while ensuring the first and foremost place to b Buddhism similar to that of the 1978 Constitution.
The Interim Committee report recommends two alternatives of religious freedom among other matters thus:
“Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while treating all religions and beliefs with honour and dignity and without discrimination and guaranteeing to all persons the Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Another recommendation of the Interim Report reads:
“Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by articles 10 and 14(1) of the current Constitution.”
“The options are there to include in the final draft either of the two recommendations or retain the paragraph 9 of the 1978 Constitution that deals with the religion. But we must not forget that Sri Lanka is a secular state and provisions are not found in any of the previous Constitutions on a state religion. This has also been accepted by the Supreme Court in many instances in its rulings.
Pooh-poohing the suggestion by certain elements that the Government was in a move to change the Unitary Character of the State through the new Constitution, Dr. Wickramaratne said the Interim Report has recommended that:
“Sri Lanka is a Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic which is an ‘Eakiya Raajya’ in Sinhala or ‘Orumiththa Nadu’ in Tamil or Unitary State in English consisting of the institutions of the center and of them provinces which shall exercise power as laid down in the Constitution.
“This means Sri Lanka is a State which in undivided and indivisible and power to amend the Constitution shall remain with Parliament and the people as provided in the Constitution,” he said.
“Additional recommendations not found in the current Constitution have also been included in the Interim Report. For instance, it has been recommended that the sovereignty of the people is undivided and indivisible, amalgamation of two or more provinces is not possible and the President has the power to take over such PCs (Chief Minister of members of the PC) promote division, amalgamation or any other act violating the Constitution. These provisions are not found in the current Constitution, Dr. Wickramaratne stressed.
Parliamentarian Prof. Ashu Marasingha said proposals had made to retain the Executive Presidency with reduced powers, fully abolish executive presidency, elect the President by the legislators etc.
“It is up to the Constitutional Assembly to opt for any of these proposals. But we must not forget that all Presidents from Chandrika Kumaratunga to Maithripala Sirisena have given pledges to do away with the Executive Presidency and no one fulfilled their pledge except President Sirisena, who on his own initiative clipped his own executive powers. However, the Supreme Court ruled that no more pruning of executive powers without the consent of the people in a referendum” Prof. Marasingha said.
Lawyer Suren Fernando said the proposed new legislature would have 233 members of which 50% will be elected directly through the First Past the Post system and the rest under the Proportional Representation based on the number of votes polled by each political party at the election. (Sandun A Jayasekera)