(By Shalika Wimalasena | Translated by Akitha Wijayasinghe)
Parliament Council established under the 20th Amendment to the Constitution convened for the first time on 04th November under the chairmanship of Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.
After welcoming the members present, the Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake, who is officially a member of the council, gave a lengthy explanation to the members on the legal status of the Council and how it functions, on the instructions of the Speaker.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa are official members of the Council. MP Douglas Devananda and MP Kabir Hashim joined the assembly as the representatives of the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader respectively.
Although the media reported that the vacant post of the IGP will be discussed at the first meeting, it has been agreed to discuss it at the next meeting that is scheduled to be held on the 10th.
Mahinda’s Parliamentary Council
D.M. Jayaratne was the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Leader of the Opposition, Chamal Rajapaksa was the Speaker, A.H.M Azwer was the Prime Minister’s Representative & M. Swaminathan and the then Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Kitulgoda were the Opposition Leader Representatives in the Parliamentary Council during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure.
Seven months without an IGP
The post of IGP has been vacant since March 31 this year. The reason for this is the retirement of former IGP Pujith Jayasundara who was sent on compulsory leave. Senior DIG C.D. Wickramaratne, who was appointed as the Acting Inspector General of Police at that time, is still serving as the Acting Inspector General of Police. This is due to the fact that the President has not proposed a name for an IGP to the Legislative Council, which has been active for the past seven months.
A Council with power and a Council without power
This Parliament was established by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, replacing the Legislative Council enacted by the 19th Amendment. However, senior lawyers point out that this Council does not have the powers of the Legislative Council.
The Legislature had the power to oversee and approve the President’s nominations for High Courts of Justice and persons nominated for senior government posts, including the Inspector General of Police, the Attorney General, and the Auditor General.
For example, former President Maithripala Sirisena nominated Judge A.H.M.D. Navas to chair the Court of Appeal on two occasions, but was rejected by the Legislature on both occasions. The reason given by the legislature was that there’s an ongoing bribery case against him.
Then, when the President sent his name for the third time, it was approved by the Legislature.
When inquired about this, a former member of the Legislative Council said that the members of the Council had carried out a lengthy investigation into the case filed by the Bribery Commission against the Judge, where it was agreed that he had acted on the instructions of the then Attorney General, Mohan Peiris, and therefore the President’s recommendation was approved on the third attempt.
The case was filed against Lanka Electricity (Pvt) Ltd for legal advice given on the purchase of property between December 1 and December 30, 2010.
Former Attorney General and Chief Justice Mohan Peiris, Chairman of the Court of Appeal A. H. M. Dilip Nawaz and former Chairman of Lanka Electricity (Pvt) Ltd. M. C. Ferdinando is charged with aiding and abetting the misuse and misappropriation of LECO property under the Bribery or Corruption Act. At the time of this allegation, H. M. Dilip Nawaz has been the Deputy Solicitor General of the Attorney General’s Department and Mohan Peiris has been the Attorney General.
False ideas laid out regarding 19A
During the last presidential and parliamentary election campaigns, the party representing the current government continued to say that the president’s inability to remove the IGP, no matter what the crime, was a serious problem.
They said the president did not have the power to remove the former IGP on charges of failing to prevent the April 21 attack. It was also stated that the reason for this was the enactment of the Legislative Council by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
However, commenting on this, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel, who was a member of the team that drafted the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, said the claim that the Attorney General and the Inspector General of Police could not be removed because of 19 was completely false.
The Removal of Officers Act No. 05 of 2002 clearly states that if there are allegations against the Attorney General and the Inspector General of Police, they can be given the opportunity to make excuses and the relevant removal can be easily done by passing a resolution by a simple majority in Parliament.
G.L. Peiris, the then Minister of Justice in the UNP government and the current Minister of Education, introduced the bill in Parliament, the President’s Counsel said.
Dr. Jayampathi further said that by the passed 20A, the President has the power to remove officers without asking for excuses and that this is a fine example of the opportunity for them to do their job independently.
Meanwhile, according to the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, independent commissions such as the Police Commission and the Public Service Commission will also be abolished from the date of passage of the Bill. Following the nomination of members to these commissions by the President, the names will be approved by Parliament in the near future.
However, the lawyers point out that this does not apply to the Human Rights Commission and the Election Commission, and that new members should be appointed after their term expires, with the term of those commissions set to expire in a few more weeks.
Status of Supreme Court Judge
The President has the power to nominate judges to the Supreme Court, the highest court in Sri Lanka, which was subjected to the approval of the Legislative Council from 2001 to 2011. But it was changed by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
It then delegated that power to Parliament until 2015, when the 19th Amendment came into force, and there were criticisms of its composition and independence as well as its power.
No bond to the President
After the 19th Amendment, the Legislature was empowered again, and even had decisive power over the appointment of the Chairman of the Court of Appeal. But again the 20th Amendment has delegated it to the Parliament.
Unlike the Legislative Council, this Council does not appoint scholars and civilians with basic knowledge of various subjects, and all the members are Members of Parliament. Although the main opposition also has membership of the council, other political parties represented in parliament have no official membership.
Even though the President is obliged to submit the names of the persons he appoints for the relevant posts to this Council for observation, the 20th Amendment does not state that the President is bound to act on their observations. According to lawyers, the president has the opportunity to act as he wishes.