The highly controversial 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill is to be presented to Parliament tomorrow for the second reading and be debated tomorrow and the day after. The main purpose of the Amendment is to confer the President with the powers to control the entire State machinery unhindered.
He would be the sole authority, if the Amendment is passed by two thirds majority to appoint persons to all important posts in the public service including the members of the Public Service Commission, the judiciary including the members of the Judicial Service Commission, heads of armed forces and the police and the officials who are considered to be independent of any other state institution such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman), Secretary General of Parliament and Auditor General. Chairmen and the members of the Commissions which are thus far called Independent Commissions would also be appointed by the President, according to his or her choice.
Under the current provisions of the Constitution, the President only can appoint members of the Commissions on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council and make other appointments with the approval of the same council.
This is the third time in which this arrangement is going to be implemented if the 20th Amendment is passed. Earlier, the arrangement had been in place during the period between the adoption of the second Republican Constitution in 1978 under President J.R. Jayewardene and the enactment of 17th Amendment to the Constitution in 2001 and again after the passages of the 18th Amendment in 2010 under President Mahinda Rajapaksa until 2015 when the 19th Amendment came to being.
Despite the government led by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) having won 150 seats - exactly the two thirds of the total number of the members of Parliament - at the August 5 election, one of the SLPP members is barred from voting as he is currently serving as the Speaker of the House. That alone prompts the government to get the support of a member of the Opposition.
Besides, several frontline members of the government and certain influential members of the clergy have already expressed their reservations on certain Articles of the 20th Amendment Bill, such as the issues on the dual citizens contesting elections in the country, excluding the State companies from the purview of the Auditor General and conferment of total immunity to the President. Thus the possibility of the ruling SLPP unethically luring Opposition members to vote for the Amendment by provide political bribes - leave alone financial bribes - cannot ruled out. In fact, the Present Constitution itself encourages the political bribe by allowing the ruling party to increase the number of ministers by way of forming a so-called National Government with another party, even if the latter has only one member in Parliament.
It is well-known that many, if not almost all Constitutions and Constitutional amendments in Sri Lanka have been enacted with some degree of sinister motives of the rulers of the day. They were devised for the rulers or the ruling party or the leaders of the governments to gain political or personal mileages. The Soulbury Constitution of 1947 was drafted in a manner that the British rule in Sri Lanka would continue through the local leaders. The first Republican Constitution in 1972 gave additional two years of rule for the ruling coalition, the United Front. The UNP, led by J.R. Jayewardene brought in the PR electoral system in 1978 with the second Republican Constitution, after perusing the voting pattern by the people at the previous elections, in order for his party to run the country for decades.
A Constitution of a country is no child’s play. It is the basic law of the country which would determine the destiny of millions of people of that country and that of the generations to come. Once enacted it would probably be difficult or impossible for the next government to repeal it or amend a section of it, since it needs two thirds of Parliamentary power and sometimes a referendum. Hence a Constitution inimical to democracy, development and reconciliation among communities would haunt sometimes generations. Such a Constitution would also curtail the democratic rights of those contributed to the passage of it, when a regime change happens, which is always a possibility, given the corruption in Sri Lankan politics and lack of viable economic development programmes with the Sri Lankan political parties.
Hence, we hope the law makers would have a healthy and prudent debate over the 20th Amendment and also vote according to their conscience, and thinking above petty party politics.