The interim report of the steering committee set up under the Constitutional Assembly was presented by its Chairman Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday stressing that Sri Lanka should remain one undivided and indivisible country where maximum devolution should be granted. It states that there shall be specific provisions included in the Constitution to prevent secession (division of the country).
The report has proposed provincial councils would be the primary unit of devolution while local bodies have been named as the implementing agency of both the central government and the provincial councils.
Under the heading ‘Division of Powers between the several tiers of government to be clear and unambiguous’ the report states:
4.1 There is general consensus, including among the Chief Ministers who made submissions before the Steering Committee, that powers must be clearly and unambiguously divided and that the present Concurrent List should be abolished. This was also suggested in the Report of the ad hoc Sub-Committee on the relationship between Parliament and Provincial Councils.
4.2 The Public Representations Committee for Constitutional Reforms recommends the introduction of two lists, (i.e. a National List and a Provincial Lists) and also a Local Government List.
The Steering Committee is of the view that there should be a National List (Reserved List) and a Provincial List It was also decided to consider retaining a Concurrent List specifying subject areas which are necessary to be retained in a concurrent list.
National List will include subjects which are necessary to ensure Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity, Defense/National Security and Economic Unity of Sri Lanka.
4.3 Parliament may by law provide for the implementation of functions on selected Subjects in the National List by the Provinces.
4.4 Parliament or Provincial Councils may by law/statute provide for the implementation of specified functions within their purview, to be carried out by the Local Authorities.
The report had stated that further discussion is needed to decide on provisions provided in the present constitution for two or more provinces to merge stating that there are different opinions on the matter.
The following options have been discussed:
• The existing provisions of the Constitution [Article.154A(3)] relating to the possibility of two or more Provinces forming a single unit, should be retained, with the additional requirement that a referendum of the people of each of the Provinces concerned should also be required.
• The Constitution should not provide for merger.
• The Constitution recognizes the Northern and Eastern Provinces as a single Province.
Also provincial public service commissions are also recommended.
On article 1 and 2 of the constitution the following has been stated in the report:
The President whilst speaking on the Resolution to set up the Constitutional Assembly, stated that whilst people in the south were fearful of the word “federal”, people in the north were fearful of the word “unitary.” A constitution is not a document that people should fear.
The classical definition of the English term “unitary state” has undergone change. In the United Kingdom, it is now possible for Northern Ireland and Scotland to move away from the union. Therefore, the English term “Unitary State” will not be appropriate for Sri Lanka.
The Sinhala term “aekiya raajyaya” best describes an undivided and indivisible country. The Tamil language equivalent of this is “orumiththa nadu”.
In these circumstances, the following formulation may be considered:
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is a free, sovereign and independent Republic which is an aekiya rajyaya / orumiththa nadu, consisting of the institutions of the Centre and of the Provinces which shall exercise power as laid down in the Constitution.
In this Article aekiya rajyaya /orumiththa nadu means a State which is undivided and indivisible, and in which the power to amend the Constitution, or to repeal and replace the Constitution, shall remain with the Parliament and the People of Sri Lanka as provided in this Constitution
On Article 9 of the constitution the report states:
The following formulations may be considered:
• 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 article 10 and 14(1)(e).
• 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.
Other proposals include increasing the number of seats in Parliament to 233 and a mixed electoral system and ensuring a certain percentage of woman members which is to be decided later and the establishment of a constitutional court. The 233 parliament seats are to be distributed thus: 140 (60%) on the basis of First Past the Post (FPP) and 93 (40%) as compensatory seats required to ensure that the final result reflects proportionality.
On the establishment of a Second Chamber the report states:
1. There is general consensus that a Second Chamber should be established, which is largely representative of the Provinces.
2. It is suggested that the Second Chamber should consist of 55 Members, 45 drawn from the Provincial Councils (each PC nominating 5 Members of such PC on the basis of a Single Transferable vote), and 10 Members elected by Parliament on the basis of a Single Transferable Vote. Such 10 Members should be persons of eminence and integrity who have distinguished themselves in public or professional life.
3. The Second Chamber shall not have the power to veto ordinary legislation, but may refer ordinary legislation back to Parliament for reconsideration. After Bills are placed on the Order Paper of Parliament, they shall be referred to the Second Chamber to obtain its views, if any, prior to the Second Reading.
4. In addition to the legislative powers set out below, the Second Chamber shall also exercise such oversight and other functions as may be prescribed by the Constitution or law.
5. No Constitutional Amendment shall be enacted into law unless passed by both Parliament and the Second Chamber, with special (2/3) majorities.
If the Referendum requirement is triggered, the Amendment shall not be enacted into law unless also approved by the People at a Referendum.
The report had not made any suggestions on the executive presidency but has stated that proposals made by different parties should be considered. It has proposed that alternatives on how a prime minister should be appointed should be considered. The alternatives listed out include selecting according to a Westminster system, directly elected by the people or pre commit support of candidates contesting the parliamentary elections. A significant proposal with regard to the Prime Minister is that a no confidence motion could be brought against him or her only after he or she completes two years of office.
Under the heading Capital Territory the report states: The National Capital and the Seat of the Government of Sri Lanka shall be the City of Colombo within the Capital Territory. The Capital Territory of Sri Lanka shall consist of such area within the Western Province.
Several political parties including some of the government allies have made certain observation on various aspects of the constitution. The Joint opposition, government alley JHU had opposed the devolution to provincial council system and the setting up of a second chamber. TNA has suggested that Sri Lanka should be a united, indivisible federal state. SLFP has proposed that three members of the second chamber be appointed to the cabinet while the cabinet should be confined to 30 ministers while deputy ministers should be a maximum of 30. Also SLFP has suggested that subjects of the ministries should be spelt out in the constitution. Several parties have suggested that executive presidency should be remained. EPDP led by MP Douglas Devananda has suggested that there should be only a two types of local bodies namely pradeshiya Sabhas and Municipal Councils. All Ceylon Makal Cachi (ACMC) has opposed the mixed electoral system for Parliament and had proposed appointment of deputy presidents based on the clauses set out in the draft constitution of 2000. The JVP has suggested the abolition of executive presidency, setting up of a special constitutional court and has stressed that there should be a single police service.
Constitutional Assembly is expected to debate the interim report next month (October). (Yohan Perera and Ajith Siriwardana)