Milinda meets Indian Finance Minister – The Island

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A committee of experts who have drafted a new Constitution intends to publish their draft before the controversial 21st Amendment is submitted to Parliament.

The President’s lawyer, Romesh De Silva, led the nine-member team, appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers, in September 2020, on a proposal made by then Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC.

The team included Gamini Marapana PC, Manohara de Silva PC, Sanjeewa Jayawardena PC, Samantha Ratwatte PC, Prof Naazima Kamardeen, Dr A. Sarveswaran, Prof Wasantha Seneviratne and Prof GH Peiris.

Authoritative sources said The Island that the draft prepared following a series of consultations with the political parties as well as other interested groups, including the Electoral Commission, could

be considered before the 21st Amendment is incorporated as an interim measure.

However, other sources said that Romesh de Silva’s committee delivered its draft constitution at the end of April this year, although the original plan was to unveil the proposals early in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s third year in office in November 2021. Sources explained that those pushing for the 21st Amendment wanted to remove the 20th Amendment except for the number of judges.

Referring to BASL letters dated May 23 to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Minister of Justice Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, sources said the 21st Amendment in its current form does not meet not meet the expectations of those who had pushed for the removal of the executive presidency.

Stakeholders had been unable to reach a consensus on the BASL’s proposals relating to the dilution of the powers exercised by the executive with regard to its constitutional capacity to hold ministerial portfolios and to assign to it all subjects and functions and to take over the subjects and functions of any minister. Another controversial issue is the power exercised by the executive to prorogue and dissolve Parliament.

Opposition sources say Romesh de Silva’s committee would not even consider a cosmetic change in key executive powers for obvious reasons. They said that the proposed new Constitution would not have rejected the 20th Amendment while the 21st Amendment proposed by the BASL in the context of a continuing politico-economic and social crisis sought to abolish the executive presidency.

Lawmaker Sabry said yesterday that a draft replacement for the 1978 Constitution had been undertaken in an entirely different scenario. The situation has now changed, the former justice minister said, while asserting that the conditions at the time a new Constitution was being considered shortly after the last legislative elections in August 2020 and the 21st Amendment presented in the turmoil could not in no way be compared. .

The President’s lawyer said so when The Island inquired about the fate of the draft Constitution prepared on a proposal he submitted to the Cabinet. When asked if he had seen the draft constitution, the SLPP national list MP said he had not had the opportunity to do so.

BASL President Saliya Pieris, PC told The Island that the Prime Minister’s Office had acknowledged receipt of the letter dated May 23 titled “The 21st Amendment to the Constitution” addressed to Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe. “We met with the Minister of Justice at the ministry to explain our position,” PC Pieris said.

Asked about the government’s response, Minister Rajapakse, former chairman of the BASL, said that the issues raised by the current leadership of the BASL in the letter he received had been discussed. According to Dr. Rajapakse, the BASL addressed two major issues

However, the BASL, in addition to its recommendations on important issues, has suggested the following (a) A provision that members of the Monetary Board be appointed with the approval of the Constitutional Council (in addition to the Governor of the Central Bank ); (b) Provision for appointments of Secretaries of Ministries, Governors of Provinces, Ambassadors and Heads of Mission be made on the advice of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Cabinet of Ministers; (c) A provision requiring presidential pardons to be granted on the recommendation of a body established by law, appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council and (d) A provision aimed at strengthening financial independence, transparency and the accountability of independent commissions.

In addition to these four recommendations, the BASL suggested that the number of non-parliamentary members of the Constitutional Council be increased from 3 to 5 and that, conversely, the number of deputies to the Constitutional Council be reduced from 7 to 5, as been found in the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. BASL stressed that the proposal is consistent with the position taken by BASL in 2015 when enacting the 19th Amendment.