Responsibility of the Members of Parliament in regard to the 20th Amendment

Responsibility of the Members of Parliament in regard to the 20th Amendment

16 September 2020 07:17 pm

We acknowledge the responsibility of the new government, upon being elected, to act in accordance with its policy statement and fulfill the promises made to the people. Also, if there are any obstacles in carrying out this responsibility, they too, should be dealt with carefully. However, in doing so, it is essential not to ignore and overlook the basic principles of democratic rule which is a benchmark of a system of good governance.

Also, we note that many actions so far of the incumbent President, since being elected, have won the admiration of the people irrespective of   political differences. The trust placed in him by the people undoubtedly, had contributed to the overwhelming victory in the Parliamentary election. It is our observation that those who have drafted the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution, knowingly or unknowingly have formulated it in a manner that undermines the public respect and trust placed on the President.

The present government has received a clear mandate at the presidential and parliamentary elections, and abolishing the 19th Amendment has been a major theme in their election campaign. In that sense, the abolition of the 19th Amendment amounts to fulfilling a promise mandated by the people. But inevitably people will be displeased if the government fails to recognize the fact that they have not granted a mandate to bring any amendment arbitrarily over the abolition of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Accordingly, in introducing the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, it is important that the decisions must be taken very carefully in keeping with the aspirations of the people. Also, every time when amendments were initiated in the past by previous Governments, disregarding the systems of checks and balances to the constitution of Sri Lanka where a representative democratic system of governance is in operation, such amendments came under severe criticism and public displeasure creating crisis situations in the country.

Therefore, we urge all Members of Parliament, especially those representing the Government, to read and re-read the draft of the 20th Amendment before raising their hands for it. You are bound to defend the sovereignty of the people on their behalf and the decision you make at this moment will invariably determine your political career and the future of our country; therefore, we insist that you carefully discuss positive aspects of the 20th Amendment as well as the issues that do not conform to the democratic system of governance, and amend them before passing it.

The PAFFREL has identified 22 serious issues in the proposed 20th Amendment, the most important of which is the politicization of institutions that should operate independently. Especially the removal of powers pertaining to the appointment of members to the Elections Commission, prevention of appointments, transfers and promotions in the public service and misuse of public property during election times are serious issues.

Under the circumstances, the Election Commission will invariably run into a crisis in the future, if the Public Service Commission decides to transfer public officials during election times on instructions of the Cabinet. If such a situation arises in which future elections cannot be held in a free and fair manner, certainly it would not be possible for you to absolve yourself of the responsibility.

Also, this amendment deprives the Parliament of its responsibility and right to control public finances by removing the responsibility and authority of the Auditor General to audit State-owned enterprises vested in him under Article 154 of the Constitution. The proposed 20th amendment also deprives the President and the Parliament of their right to know about the functioning of more than 100 State-owned companies such as Sri Lankan Airlines, Litro, sugar companies and electricity companies which are using billions of public money.

The abolition of National Procurement Commission, abolition of constitutional provisions that make the President accountable to the Parliament, removal of restrictions on the number of ministerial portfolios, empowering the President to dissolve the Parliament after one year of its office and allowing the persons with foreign citizenship to contest presidential and parliamentary elections can be cited as key issues among several others to be amended in the proposed draft.

It should be the responsibility of the new Members of Parliament who are educated and intelligent, and were elected to build a wholesome political culture to apprehend the legislative responsibility of Parliament and act according to their consciousness in regard to the proposed 20th Amendment to the constitution and thereby become an exemplary model and guide to the conventional Members of Parliament.

We therefore urge the leaders of the Government, the Opposition, the Party Leaders and all Members of Parliament to overlook their political affiliations and differences   and make an objective and thorough study of the positive as well as negative aspects of the proposed 20th Amendment and formulate a new draft or pass it with appropriate amendments made at the Committee stage.  

We would like to draw your attention to two important points. One is that the Members of Parliament who raised their hands for the 18th Amendment later apologized to the public. The other important fact is that 99.5 percent or 224 Members of Parliament with the exception of one Member supported the 19th Amendment. Today, a significant number of this group  supports the 20th Amendment as well.

Therefore, we urge you to act in a manner that will not cause repentance in the future, and it will certainly bring honor to you as a Member of Parliament and also to the supreme body of Parliament itself.

Also, we respectfully request you to put an end to the infamous practice that had been followed in the past in making amendments to the Constitution, the supreme law of the country, based on personal factors, current political situations and random changes, and instead take into account the long-term state of affairs and the well-being of the country and the people in amending the Constitution.

Rohana Hettiarachchie
Executive Director