The Sunday Times today reports that President Sirisena has called for the complete abolition of the Executive Presidency and having a ceremonial President as head of state; this Sri Sangabo act is somewhat surprising, as we would have expected him to support the removal of some powers of the Presidency only, for he knows better than most of us that had we not had the Executive Presidency we would never have been able to defeat the LTTE. Yes the President must retain executive control over Defence and Foreign Affairs to ensure our country’s security and stability. These two subjects must not be passed on to the Cabinet and Parliament even though they should have oversight authority. We are fortunate that any promulgation of a new Constitution would need a two-thirds majority in Parliament and we the people should ensure that the President has control over Defence and Foreign Affairs in any new Constitution. If President Sirisena wishes to step down and out of politics we need look no further for we have in Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe the most experienced politician in the country; I have known him from 1978 when he first became a Minister (I was serving as Secretary General of the first Board of Investment under President JR); he has no doubt ‘learnt on the job’ and from whatever mistakes he may have made, so he would be either the best President and Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs or the most suited to be Executive Prime Minister to ensure the stability of our country.
Today there are five national issues we need to address without further delay in a new Constitution:
(1) The true unification of our people in our multi ethnic country through the resolution of our Ethnic Issue (hate speech must be made a criminal offence). We should revisit the matter of the devolution of power to the PCs and follow the Subsidiarity principle, within a Unitary State.
(2) The powers of the Executive or of the Presidency.
(3) The reform of the Electoral system .
(4) The elimination of corruption in all its forms
(5) There shall be no merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces in the national security interest
Our present electoral system is a caricature of what it should be: having the District as the Electorate has bred unbelievable corruption; and that is an accepted fact. The electoral system decides the composition of Parliament. Therefore every party represented in Parliament is governed by an instinct of self-preservation, in determining the electoral system. However, the combination of a directly elected Executive President and a Parliament elected on PR has enabled Governments with razor thin majorities to complete a full period of office. Furthermore, a number of small parties who would never have gained representation under a first post the post system have managed to enter Parliament because of the PR system. We should adopt the report of our Parliamentary Sub Committee and have a system similar to the German system; we must also do away with the preference vote and the District as the electorate, that has led to mindless competition and political corruption. A cleaner and cheaper electoral system is the urgent need of the country.
"We need to detail and categorise devolved legislative powers to the Provincial Councils. The Parliament will retain the powers to legislate on national issues and subjects such as the Police and all subjects not devolved"
Re the ‘ethnic issue’, the Party leaders in Parliament and a great majority of the members of Parliament and the people of all communities are agreed on the need for national reconciliation and a political solution to the ethnic and religious issues for they are long outstanding issues. We believe that a national government of the two main parties along with former President Chandrika Kumaratunge (she was the one political leader who made a valiant effort to solve this issue) would provide the best possible mechanism for reconciliation. Yes the two main political parties claim that they are committed to an early political solution, this will also put an end to the problem we have with the Tamil Diaspora. President Maithripala Sirisena also campaigned on the promise of National reconciliation. We cannot and should not miss the opportunity this time. There will not be a next time.
There are those who also favour the inclusion of the devolution of power to the local authorities and even to grass root levels through the proposed Grama Rajya Kendara in a new Constitution. The impeding task is to identify the additional powers to be devolved to the Provincial Councils. We need to strengthen the Provincial Councils but in this little country of ours we MUST have uniform legislation; we most certainly cannot afford to have different ‘laws’ in different provinces--- that would make this whole exercise a joke.
To eliminate corruption in all its forms, we should first reform our judicial system, perhaps reform the Penal Code and also reintroduce the law, which the late Felix Dias Bandaranaike had introduced, The Administration of Justice Law, to cut out delays and make the whole system more meaningful and fair, which was repealed by the JR Jayawardene government. We should also professionalize the Police Service to enable them to competently deal with the new forms of crime which are being committed today.
We need to detail and categorise devolved legislative powers to the Provincial Councils. The Parliament will retain the powers to legislate on national issues and subjects such as the Police and all subjects not devolved. Provincial Councils will have executive power on subjects devolved. Strengthening democratic institutions and good governance must and should be foremost in our minds when making the final determination in regard to these issues. Since there is general agreement that we are a multi-racial, multi-religious country we MUST, as stated earlier, make hate speech a non-bailable offence to unify our country.
We must also re-enshrine the substance of 17th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution, and have independent Commissions such as the Judicial, Elections, Public Service and Anti Corruption Commissions in any new Constitution. We most definitely need to have these values as ‘Entrenched Clauses’ which cannot be repealed under any circumstances in any future Constitutions. Let us reform and improve our Constitution if we cannot once again give ourselves a new Constitution.
To conclude, another important ‘entrenched clause’ should be that there should be no merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.