Replacing a toothless Constitution

srilanka_parliament-8By Easwaran Rutnam

The process to form a new Constitution took a big step forward last week with Parliament unanimously adopting a Resolution to convert Parliament into a Constitutional Assembly.

Simultaneous to that move, the Committee on Constitutional Reforms had crucial meetings with the Government and the opposition.

Chairman of the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms, Lal Wijenayake said the committee will submit its report and recommendations by the end of next month.

The Committee also expressed confidence in the process to draft a new Constitution following talks held so far with the public and politicians.

Lal Wijenayake said that the committee is confident that the Tamils can also receive a solution through a new Constitution.

Wijenayake and his committee last week met opposition and Tamil National Alliance leader R. Sampanthan to discuss the process of obtaining views for a new Constitution.

Wijenayake said that the meeting was very productive with several views and opinions on the new Constitution being exchanged.

“We discussed how we can draft a Constitution acceptable to all communities” he said.

He said that all are expecting a new Constitution which will strengthen the rights of the public and also address the National issue.

He however said that apart from the Constitution issue, the public have more pressing problems which his committee recorded.

“We feel without addressing those issues there will be no point from a new Constitution. We have not been asked for a report on that but we have decided to go ahead and draft one apart from the one on the new Constitution,” he said.

Wijenayake said that some of the issues faced by the public in the North and East and in the South can be easily addressed.

He said that among the issues raised by the public are land issues and lack of basic infrastructure facilities in some areas.

Meanwhile, Wijenayake said that while there was a debate if there needs to be a new Constitution or if the existing one must be amended, it was later agreed that the way forward is to create a new Constitution since the existing one does not protect the rights of the people.

“Under the old Constitution people went missing, teachers were forced to kneel and people were tied to trees by politicians and people who were in police custody were killed. Proper action was not taken on any of these issues. That meant the Constitution is weak. So we must create a Constitution which ensures that does not happen again,” he said.

The drafting of the new Constitution will be carried out by Parliament in line with the amended Resolution passed by Parliament last week to convert Parliament into a Constitutional Assembly.

The Resolution included amendments from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the joint opposition and other political parties in Parliament.

The original Resolution submitted to Parliament by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in January states that the Constitutional Assembly will prepare a draft of a Constitution Bill for the consideration of Parliament in the exercise of its powers under Article 75 of the Constitution.

The Speaker of Parliament will be the Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly. There will be seven Deputy Chairmen of the Constitutional Assembly, who shall be elected by the Constitutional Assembly.

In the absence of the Speaker, the Constitutional Assembly will elect one of the Deputy Chairmen to chair the sittings of the Assembly.

The quorum for meetings of the Constitutional Assembly will be twenty and there will be Constitutional Advisors to the Constitutional Assembly, a Legal Secretary to the Constitutional Assembly and assistants to the Legal Secretary, Staff for the purpose of recording the proceedings of the Constitutional, Assembly and the Committees referred to in Clause 5, Media (including Social Media) Staff of the Constitutional Assembly, Media Staff shall set up and maintain a website and use other appropriate, media, towards giving due publicity to the process for the adoption of a new Constitution for Sri Lanka.

The Media Staff will ensure that the proceedings of the Constitutional Assembly and its Committees, as well as public representations / submissions are documented and published on such website along with such other relevant expert or technical opinions.

The Constitutional Assembly will have the power to invite any member of the Public Representations Committee for consultation and / or to make submissions and / or to report on the findings of the Public Representations Committee.

The Constitutional Assembly has also been authorized to determine the procedure and mechanisms to be adopted in the conduct of its business, provided that such determination are made pursuant to a Resolution moved by the Prime Minister with the concurrence of the Steering Committee.