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NPC tells got not to proceed with 20A in its present form

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The National Peace Council (NPC) yesterday urged the government to reconsider the need to proceed with the 20th Amendment in its present formulation as it is excessively centralizing and does not reflective of the plural nature of the Sri Lankan society.

“The proposed 20th Amendment to the constitution has been approved by the cabinet of ministers and put before the general public prior to being debated in parliament. This far reaching constitutional change seeks to centralize power in the institution of the Executive Presidency with the justification of ensuring stability in the country and safeguarding national sovereignty. In terms of the amendment, the President can remove the Prime Minister, a member of the cabinet, any other minister or a Deputy Minister and authority to dissolve Parliament after completion of sittings for a period of one year. This massive transfer of power to the Presidency has been justified to the electorate as stemming from the inability of the previous government to govern effectively under the 19th Amendment to the constitution,” the NPC said in a statement.

The NPC added that the 20th Amendment empowers the President to make appointments to top positions of the state having obtained observations of the Parliamentary Council, which is made of members from Parliament. The President will also be empowered to appoint the Chief Justice and judges of the Supreme Court, the President and the judges of the Court of Appeal, the Attorney General, the Auditor General and also to make appointments to the Election Commission, the Public Service Commission, Judicial 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, the MPC said. Unfortunately the proposed Parliamentary Council will have no civil society representation and can only advise the President and the previous 10 member Constitutional Council, which included 3 members of civil society, made these appointments, the press release said.

“The time frame for Bills to be challenged in the courts has been reduced from the previous two weeks to one. The Urgent Bills, a concept which was introduced by the 1972 Constitution had been misused by the successive governments in the past to pass various Bills. The extremely short time frame will compromise people’s right to know and constrain public discourse to challenge a Bill in a court of law. The sweeping powers given to the Presidency takes away the checks and balances on the powers of the President brought in by the 19th Amendment which it supersedes. The National Peace Council is particularly regretful that a constitutional provision eliminated that is relevant for our work is article 33 (1) (b) which said that the President shall “promote national reconciliation and integration.” It was the President’s office that was warranted by the 19th Amendment to be the driver of reconciliation,” NPC said.

Given the importance of the amendment and the serious nature of the changes, NPC request the government to reconsider the need to proceed with the 20th Amendment in its present formulation as it is excessively centralizing and not reflective of the plural nature of Sri Lankan society. The NPC added that there was no urgency for the 20th amendment because it is said to be an interim measure until the formulation of a new constitution. The NPC said that they fear this amendment may undermine the good work done by the office of the President to date, including providing entry to educated professionals to parliament through the national list, providing employment to many thousands of people and relief to those affected by the COVID induced economic downturn in terms of delayed loan payments and other development measures.

The NPC said that the 20th Amendment is a return to the 18th Amendment, which was passed in 2010 and made the Parliament subservient to the Presidency. The governance practices of the pre-2015 period, and their negative consequences, contributed to the change of government in 2015, the statement read. The entire basis of the 19th Amendment of 2015 was the need to ensure that the Rule of Law prevailed “over the rule of men” and that misuse and abuse of power should be prevented through a system of checks and balances in which the independence of institutions such as the judiciary was safeguarded to the maximum.

“The main negative outcome of the 19th Amendment was the inability of the former President and Prime Minister, and other government leaders, who came from two opposing political parties to work together. This led to a paralysis in the government which prevented it from governing in a problem solving manner. The current government does not suffer from the same constraint as they come from not only the same party and enjoy a 2/3 majority in Parliament, but also the President and Prime Minister are from the same family. An option for the government would be to focus on formulating a new constitution in which the weaknesses of the 19th Amendment can be addressed along with a reform of the electoral system. This could be a through a well thought out consultative process in which the opposition parties and civil society are also included that will enable the new constitution to be passed consensually by Parliament and the people,” NPC said.

 

 

 

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Foreign qualified medical students protest

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A group of foreign medical degree holders protested opposite the Presidential Secretariat yesterday (23) requesting that tangible measures be taken to conduct the Examination for Registration to Practice Medicine (ERPM) without further delay.

They alleged that over 1,500 students had been deprived of the opportunity to sit the examination due to the fault of the Sri Lanka Medical Council, which is now under investigation by a committee, appointed by Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi.

Photo: A section of the protesting students (pic by Thushara Atapattu)

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SJB insists referendum necessary besides 2/3 majority in Parliament

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Supreme Court moved against 20A

By Chitra Weerarathne

General Secretary of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya Ranjith Madduma Bandara, MP, yesterday (23) filed a petition in the Supreme Court stating that the proposed 20th Amendment (20A) to the Constitution was inconsistent with the Constitution. It requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approval by people at a referendum for passage, the SJV has argued.

The SJB says 20A violates people’s sovereignty and franchise enshrined in Article (3) and (4) of the Constitution.

The petitioner has argued that the provisions in clause 55 of the Bill are inconsistent with the public trust doctrine and the principle of checks and balances and would prejudicially affect public finance.

 The clause 54 of the Bill seeks to repeal Article 156 A of the Constitution, which provides constitutional recognition to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or corruption, the petition says.

 The petition says 20A seeks to repeal the prohibition on dual citizens being elected to Parliament and to the post of President.

The power of the Auditor General to audit the state institutions has been curtailed, the petition says, arguing that it could be detrimental to the economy.

It will be detrimental to the country if the Constitutional Council is replaced by a Parliamentary Council, the SJB General Secretary’s has contended in his petition.

Clause 20 (2) of the proposed 20A has restricted the powers of the Election Commission as regards the conduct of elections, the petitioner has argued.

The 20A states that an omission by the President could no longer be challenged through a fundamental rights violation petitions in the Supreme Court, the petitioner has said, adding that the Bill seeks to further enhance the powers of the President by allowing him to unilaterally remove the Prime Minister. The President would not be accountable to Parliament, the petition says.

The 20A would repeal Article 70/ (1) of the Constitution and enable the President to dissolve Parliament even immediately after a general election, the SJB General Secretary argues.

The respondent to the petition is the Attorney General.

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Lawyer Hijaz’s foundation received funds from banned foreign outfit – CID tells court

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By A.J.A.A beynayake and Kasuni Rebecca

The CID yesterday informed the Colombo Fort Magistrate Priyantha Liyanage that Save the Pearls Trust run by lawyer Hijaz Hisbullah, now in custody for allegedly aiding and abetting one of the Easter Sunday bombers, had received Rs.13 million from a banned organisation named the Caliphate of Qatar.

The CID told court that according to the bank accounts of the trust the money had been received by it during the last few years and the police had launched an investigation to ascertain whether the funds had been used for terrorist activities.

The CID told court the investigation had been launched under the Money Laundering Act and a psychologist’s opinion had been sought on the book titled “Navarasam” found in a madrasa (school teaching Islam) run by Save the Pearls Trust in Puttalam.

The Magistrate order the CID to submit to court a Sinhala translation of the book and examine whether the contents of the book promoted terrorism.

The case will be taken up again on October 7.

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