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BASL: If 21A fails, that will adversely affect future law reform initiatives

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… adequate checks and balances in place

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has warned the government and all political parties represented in parliament that if the 21st Amendment (presented to Parliament as the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution Bill) fails to create strong independent institutions, it will have a bearing on future law reform initiatives such as the proposed composite Anti-Corruption law. The following is the full text of the BASL statement: “The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) notes that on the 21st of October 2022, Parliament approved the enactment of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which has now been renamed as the 21st Amendment to the Constitution.

The Bill approved by Parliament was by and large that which was presented in Parliament on 10th August 2022 and published in the Gazette on 2nd August 2022 by the Government, subject to certain changes at the Committee Stage mainly to bring it in line with the determination of the Supreme Court.

The necessity to amend the Constitution arose as a result of the public outcry that sprung up throughout the country in response to the present economic crisis.It has been perceived that the causes of the crisis include, the lack of checks and balances on the powers of the Executive including the Executive Presidency.The 20th Amendment to the Constitution rolled back the checks and balances which were introduced by the 19th Amendment on the exercise of executive power.

The 21st Amendment to the Constitution regrettably does not completely restore the status quo ante which prevailed prior to the 20th Amendment to the Constitution and does not place adequate checks and balances on the powers of the Executive President.

The BASL in its previous statements on the 22nd Amendment Bill highlighted the shortcomings of the Bill and of the danger that the nominations of a majority of members to the Constitutional Council will be controlled by the party or parties in the Government, resulting in it lacking independence and consequently affect the independence and integrity of the offices and institutions to which appointments will be made through the Constitutional Council.

Nevertheless, now that the 21st amendment is enacted into law, it is essential that the Constitutional Council which is to be appointed thereunder and the Independent Commissions which will be reconstituted thereafter, be independent, impartial and be institutions which will help restore confidence in Sri Lanka and its Institutions.

As such the BASL calls upon the President, Prime Minister, the Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, and all political parties represented in Parliament, to firstly ensure the integrity of nominations to the Constitutional Council and to ensure that such nominations are devoid of partisanship and in a manner that will inspire public confidence.For this purpose, it is important to ensure that the non-ex-officio members of the Constitutional Council appointed from among Members of Parliament and from among non-Members of Parliament be done in a transparent and open manner and to also ensure that those appointed will be acceptable to the members of the public and be persons of the highest integrity and reputation.

After the Constitutional Council is established, it should thereafter adopt a transparent, open, and inclusive process by which it nominates Chairpersons and members of Independent Commissions and other institutions established by the Constitution and other laws.It is also noted that upon the enactment of the 21st Amendment, the Chairpersons and members of Independent Commissions will cease to hold office upon these Commissions being reconstituted.

In doing so it is imperative that those appointed to the Election Commission, the Public Service Commission, the National Police Commission, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, the Finance Commission and the Delimitation Commission be persons who have not only the requisite qualifications and abilities but also be those whose appointments receive wide acceptance. It is equally important to ensure that the enactment of the 21st Amendment must not be used as an excuse or mechanism to discontinue Chairpersons and members of Commissions whose services helped establish public faith in such Institutions.

It is also vital for the Government to make provisions for the Commissions to have financial independence and that these Commissions adopt procedures that promote accountability and transparency in their work.Any failure of the 21st Amendment to address the issue of creating strong independent institutions in Sri Lanka will also have a bearing on future law reform initiatives, such as the proposed composite Anti-Corruption law, and will have an adverse impact on the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka



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Full implementation of 13A: NFF vows to torpedo Ranil’s move, asks Dinesh, Mahinda to disclose their stance

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent member of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya (NJS), has declared that it would oppose President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s bid to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The patriotic people were ready to defeat such plans, even at the expense of their lives, the party has vowed.

The breakaway JVP faction consists of six MPs, including former minister Wimal Weerawansa. The NJS is contesting the Local Government polls, scheduled for March 09, under the ‘Helicopter’ symbol.

NFF spokesperson, MP Jayantha Samaraweera, on Monday (30), told the media that his party was ready to lead a campaign against the UNP leader’s move to do away with constitutional safeguards meant to ensure Sri Lanka’s unitary status. The Lawmaker addressed the media at the NFF main office, at Pitakotte.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the controversial constitutional amendment at the Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15, President Wickremesinghe reiterated his commitment to the Eelam project during the party leaders’ meeting at the Presidential Secretariat, the former State Minister said.

Lawmaker Samaraweera asked Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had flanked President Wickremesinghe, at the party leaders’ meeting, to disclose their stand on 13th Amendment.

The Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya, consisting of NFF, Democratic Left Front, Communist Party, Lanka Samasamaja Pakshaya, Pivuthuru Hela Urumaya, Vijayadharani Jathika Sabhawa, Yuthukama, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa, Jana Jaya Peramuna, Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya and Nidahas Janatha Peramuna, has yet to disclose its position on this issue.

MP Samaraweera attacked the President, close on the heels of NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa, who is also the Chairman of the Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya (ULS), questioning the legitimacy of the move. Lawmaker Weerawansa addressed this issue at a meeting held at the BMICH, on January 26, to discuss ways and means to thwart the move to privatize the CEB.

The ULS consisting of seven political parties, and groups, is aligned with the NJS.

Referring to the circumstances UNP leader Wickremesinghe re-entered Parliament, through the National List, nearly a year after the last General Election, former Minister Weerawansa emphasized the President didn’t have a mandate to fully implement the 13th Amendment. How could the UNP leader abolish Sri Lanka’s unitary status, having received an opportunity to complete Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s remainder of five-year term, won at the Nov. 2019 Presidential Election.

The MP challenged their erstwhile comrades, in the JVP, to state their position on the 13th Amendment. Alleging that the JVP had been conveniently silent on the issue at hand, MP Samaraweera asked whether the current leadership would take up Wickremesinghe’s challenge.

In addition to Weerawansa and Samaraweera, Yuthukama leader Gevindu Cumaratunga, MP, has declared opposition to the President’s move, at the party leaders’ meeting.

Of the SLPP parliamentary group, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera is the only MP to publicly oppose Wickremesinghe’s proposal.

Political sources said that the NJS, as a group contesting the forthcoming LG polls, was yet to deliberate this issue and take a stand. They said that consensus was required without further delay as the President’s proposal would be a major issue at the forthcoming election.

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PHU, too, opposes land, police powers to PCs

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A lawyers’ group, aligned with Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), yesterday (31) said that President Ranil Wickremesinghe couldn’t unilaterally decide on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Attorneys-at-Law Pasan Gunasekera and Bhupathi Kahathuduwa, in a statement issued, explained why police and land powers, in terms of the controversial amendment, shouldn’t be granted to Provincial Councils. Abolition of current constitutional safeguard would undermine Sri Lanka’s unitary status thereby paved the way for a new conflict.

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Bangladesh FM to deliver LK memorial lecture

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Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, will deliver the Lakshman Kadirgamar memorial lecture at Block 3, Jasmine Hall, BMICH, on February 03, at 6 pm.

The LTTE assassinated the then Foreign Minister, Kadirgamar, on Aug. 12, 2005.

FM Momen will deliver the annual lecture on the invitation of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies.

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