20A: A wolf in sheep's clothing

Staff Writer | Author . පරිවර්තනය කරන්න සිංහල හෝ தமிழ் 9/3/2020 8:11:00 PM
20A: A wolf in sheep's clothing

By Sara Attanayake | Translated By Akitha Wijayasinghe

The power of the legislative and the power that had been assigned to the Independent Commission Councils for the independence of public service, have been taken under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa by the 20th constitutional amendment draft, which is to be presented in parliament.

It is said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be granted greater power and authority than the powers that the former president and current prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa vested through the 18th constitutional amendment. Senior lawyers state that this will be a greater challenge when it comes to securing democratic rights.

Constitutional Council has been abolished

It is proposed to completely abolish the Constitutional Council, which was assigned power with the aims of securing independence of public service and to reform the Parliamentary Council. After being activated by the 19th constitutional amendment, almost all of the main posts of the government including Chief Justice, Attorney General and Inspector General of Police were assigned by the Constitutional Council.

Immunity Returns

According the draft which has been granted the cabinet permission, it is suggested to grant immunity to the president again. This means that any act of the president during his time in power cannot be questioned in front of a Judiciary. This power which was criticized as an erratic force included in the 1978 constitution, was removed in the 19th constitutional amendment. Filing charges against the former president Maithripala Sirisena on for not taking actions to avoid the Easter Sunday attacks on 21st April last year was possible because he was not granted the immunity. Until the relevant draft is passed from the parliament, current president Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not receive such privilege.

Judicial Service Commission 

Meanwhile, senior lawyers have shown that taking over the power of removal and appointment of members of the Judicial Service Commission under the president could have disastrous circumstances. They emphasis is that this may cause doubts regarding the independence of the Judiciary.  And also, by the 20th constitutional amendment, the independence of the Audit Commission and the National Procurement Commission have been completely abolished. Both these Commissions were given power with the aims of preventing state financial irregularities.

Dissolution of Parliament

Power to make emergency acts which was removed by the 19th amendment has been reinstated and it is mentioned that the Supreme Court should issue the recommendation regarding the submitted act drafts. Currently the time to dissolve the parliament is fixed at four and half years and it has been reduced to its previous status before the 19th constitutional amendment, which limits it to a year. Senior lawyers emphasize that this makes the legislature to submit to the reign of the president.

Retention of Ministries

Even though the president was prevented from retaining ministries by the 19th amendment, this proposed draft has suggested to remove that and grant the president the power to retain as any ministry at his will. Taking decisions about the number of ministers and the condition to inquire the Prime Minister when appointing ministers have been also abolished.

Duel Citizens to the Parliament

The condition that the personnel with dual citizenship cannot hold a seat in parliament, proposed by the 19th amendment, has been abolished.  Critics say that the sole purpose of this is to allow former minister Basil Rajapaksa to secure a place in the parliament.

Minimum age for a Presidential Candidate

Also, the minimum age for a presidential candidate has been reduced to 30 years. Previously it was capped at 35 years.

The draft is Challenged

Senior lawyers commenting on this strongly emphasized that the 20th amendment draft should be challenged in the Supreme Court for denying the rights given to the public by the 19th amendment.  However, this draft has excluded some controversial facts like the Information Act, the presidential duration and changing the number of times the position of president can be held.