Committee recommendations on proposed 20A to be submitted today

G.L. Peiris

The committee appointed to study the proposed 20th Amendment will present their conclusions and recommendations to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa today, as well as at the Cabinet meeting tomorrow.

According to Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Chairman and committee head Prof. G.L. Peiris, the committee met yesterday evening to analyse all articles of the proposed 20th Amendment, and final decisions on the procedure to be followed will be taken after it is presented at the Cabinet meeting.

The committee consists of Justice Minister Ali Sabry, Labour Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa, Education Reforms, Open Universities and Distance Learning Promotion State Minister Susil Premajayantha, Postal Services and Professional Development of Journalists State Minister S. Viyalenderan, and SLPP MPs Dilan Perera and Premnath C. Dolawatte.

“As per the law, after being gazetted, we have to wait two weeks before it can be included in the Cabinet agenda,” Peiris said, adding that the proposed 20th Amendment can be included in the Cabinet agenda after 17 September.

“The next Cabinet session is on 22 September, and until then, it cannot be presented to Parliament. After being presented, the public has a week to file any objections with the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court has a time period of three weeks to hear the case, and inform the Speaker and President of their decision,” Peiris went on to say.

He added that the proposed 20th Amendment is the beginning of constitutional reform and not the end of it, and will look at issues that need to be resolved quickly, for instance, if the President can assume duties as the Defence Minister.

“We must find solutions for such matters quickly. It is with that finite objective that the 20th Amendment is being adopted. We have made the public fully aware of this,” the SLPP Chairman said, adding that once the 20th Amendment is passed, the Government will start the process towards the establishment of a new constitution, as it is a timely requirement.

“The current Constitution was adopted during J.R. Jayewardene’s time 42 years ago. Since then, society has changed in different ways, and we need a Constitution that suits the current society,” Peiris commented. One of the key factors that will be considered under the new constitution is a change of electoral system. Peiris explained that a mixed system would be considered, where a portion of the MPs will be elected based on constituencies, and the other portion will be elected through proportional representation. This system will be carried out at 70% and 30% proportions.

The main weakness seen with the current electoral system is that the relationship between the Member of Parliament and the voter is extremely diluted, and Peiris said this is harmful to a representative democracy.

Constitutional reform will also look at by-elections and the practical importance of it in assessing the public’s opinion of the Government. They will also consider election campaign spending. Limitations on campaign spending have been imposed in several countries, Peiris said, explaining that these limitations were required to ensure all candidates are given an equal opportunity at elections.

Transparency in this regard is also important, and Peiris said information on election campaign spending should be submitted to the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, with the public being given access to the information through the Right to Information Act.

Regarding Provincial Councils, the SLPP Chairman said no decisions have been taken yet, and such topics will be taken up with the adoption of a new constitution and is not relevant to the proposed 20th Amendment.

(Source: Daily FT – By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya / Pic by Upul Abayasekera)

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