Hakeem says no harm in ensuring other religions too continue to enjoy existing freedoms


By Saman Indrajith

No one wanted the foremost place given to Buddhism taken away, but there was no harm in adding a few words to the Constitution to ensure that the other religions in the country would continue to enjoy the freedom they currently enjoy which had been enunciated in the bill of rights chapter, said Minister of City Planning, Water Supply and Higher Education and SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem.

Participating in the Constitutional Assembly meeting yesterday, the minister said: "That is all we want, nothing more and nothing less."

He said that it should be understood that amending a constitution would mean that they would have to present a bill which in the long title would describe it as a bill to amend or to replace a constitution. Today what had been placed before the house was not such a document and those are all documents to be considered by the assembly, to later on formulate a bill to replace or amend the constitution.

Hakeem said "Attempts are being made by a variety of parties in the house to create an impression as if we are attempting to change the constitution in a hurry. We set up this constitutional assembly for the solemn purpose of preparing such a bill to replace a constitution and address issues which we have pledged to the country in a variety of manifestoes by a variety of parties in this chamber as if to make out that we are in an attempt to introduce a constitution which does not accord with the basic norms of constitution making. That we must deny as we have set up a steering committee which deliberated for several sessions and we have taken great pains to look at various contentious issues pertaining to the structure of the state. We attempted to look at the concept of a unitary state and look at the obstacles for devolving power in a unitary state in order to enable the provincial councils to enjoy their powers in the proper manner as envisaged in the 13th amendment. Going by the history in devolving power in this country there is a yearning by the people living particularly in the Northern and Eastern provinces and provinces in the south. There is a document that has been tabled which gives details of what the chief ministers in the south came and spoke before the steering committee. All of them have been asking for more powers to look at various provisions in the constitution which inhibit the devolution of power in the proper sense," he said, adding that therefore, this was a very solemn and sincere exercise to make a truthful departure from the constitution to enable the provinces to enjoy power in a proper manner.

He however said there were several contentious issues. "They also make out as if we are trying to take away the foremost place given to Buddhism in the constitution. The PM in his speech today, said that there was never an intention to remove the foremost place given to Buddhism in the constitution. He also referred to the history when Buddhism was accorded such a place during Dudley Senanayake’s time and that those provisions had come over a period of time. There have been alternative formulas that have been suggested by other parties but that does not mean that there is consensus on the issue."

Referring to appointments to high office Hakeem said while certain communities view an appointment of one of their community into high office as an honour, these appointments have always governed appointments to high office and hoped that in enacting a new constitution these postulates would be preferred, rather than very narrow and very parochial approaches to appointments to high office. 

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