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President resists independent review by CC of his nominees to high posts – Lawyers’ Collective

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The Lawyers’ Collective (LC) has strongly condemned what it calls President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s attempt to intimidate the Constitutional Council of Sri Lanka.LC has said in a media statement: “The Lawyers’ Collective strongly condemns the recent attempt by President Wickremesinghe to intimidate the Constitutional Council of Sri Lanka. In an authoritarian move, on 23 November 2023, President Wickremasinghe in an address to Parliament entirely misrepresented the constitutional purpose of the Constitutional Council by stating that the ‘Council falls under the Executive’. The heavy handed and dangerous public comments of the President constitute a serious undermining of constitutionally imposed checks and balances in the governance of the country.

“The Constitutional Council (CC) was originally established by the 17th amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka in the year 2000 to vet presidential nominees to high posts prior to appointments being made by the President. The 19th Amendment re-established the Council. The 18th and 20th Amendments brought by Rajapaksa administrations abolished the CC as a means of regaining untrammelled powers of the Executive Presidency. Presently, the Council – now under the 21st amendment to the Constitution, is made up of the Prime Minister, the Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, one Member of Parliament appointed by the President, five persons appointed by the President as nominated; one Member of Parliament nominated by agreement of the majority of the Members of Parliament representing the Government; one Member of Parliament nominated by agreement of the majority of the Members of Parliament of the political party or independent group to which the Leader of the Opposition belongs; three persons nominated by the Speaker by agreement of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and one Member of Parliament nominated by agreement of the Members of Parliament other than those representing the Government and those belonging to the political party or independent group to which the Leader of the Opposition belongs, and appointed by the President. Three persons of those nominated by the speaker by agreement of the PM and Leader of the Opposition are to be persons of integrity, who have distinguished themselves in public life and who are not members of any political party.

“The Council was conceived in response to the largely unchecked powers of the President (a design of the 1978 Constitution) in making appointments to high posts such as Chief Justice, Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Judges, the Attorney General, Auditor General, Inspector General of Police, Secretary General of Parliament and the independent Commissions. The Council is a means of achieving national consensus on appointments that require persons of merit, integrity and acceptance across political divides to temper public perceptions of bias and partiality.

The Council was an integral step in depoliticising high public posts. It was also a leap in constitutional development towards securing public accountability and rebuilding public trust in key institutions. Since the Council was established, the executive has from time to time resisted the check placed on it by various means. There has been non-appointment of members and constitutional amendments that abolished the Council, one which replaced it with a rubber stamp Parliamentary Council. Many Presidents have struggled to abide by the high standards imposed by the Constitution.

“President Wickremesinghe, who heralded the 21st Amendment as a return to accountable governance has, by his recent statements in and outside of parliament, crossed a line. In an outrageous move, the President publicly found fault with the Council for failing to approve his nominee to the Supreme Court and his continuing requests to reappoint the current IGP long after his age of retirement. The Constitutional Council is fulfilling its obligations in refusing this reappointment.

He also makes broad claims that the lack of approval has resulted in the police not functioning and the courts coming to a standstill. The President’s decision to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee to probe into ‘delays’ by the CC constitutes a threat to the members of the Constitutional Council who are constitutionally mandated to deliberate on and independently decide on whether or not a presidential nominee will be approved. If only one candidate is nominated and CC approval is not given, he must hasten to place one or more better suited candidates for approval. He cannot expect to nominate one person and when the CC cannot endorse such person, resort to public complaints and threats against the Council. In fact, it demonstrates the President to disregard of clear constitutional limitations on his executive powers.

“The Lawyer’s Collective notes the growing authoritarianism of a President who serves without a mandate from the people. People’s sovereignty as articulated by the Constitution cannot be flippantly dismissed. This has been powerfully stated in several Supreme Court decisions including a majority decision delivered last week on the economic crisis.

By several previous statements we have raised concerns that the damage to public trust is long lasting. In the wake of an economic and political crisis, and people having expressed their strong desire for change, the conduct of the President signals a failure to break away from undemocratic governance practices of the past, breaching his own pledge of support for the 21st Amendment.

“It is vital that the corporate sector as well as the international community including the International Monetary Fund take grave notice of the growing authoritarianism of the President and the impact it has on good governance and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. If this authoritarian trajectory of the President continues unchecked, it will only lead to political upheaval and further economic uncertainty.”

Signatories to the LC statement are: Upul Jayasuriya, President’s Counsel, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel, Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Attorney-at-Law, Geoffrey Alagaratnam, President’s Counsel, M.A. Sumanthiran, President’s Counsel, Dulindra Weerasooriya, President’s Counsel, Dinal Phillips, President’s Counsel, Saliya Pieris, President’s Counsel, S.T. Jayanaga, President’s Counsel, Nalin Dissanayake, President’s Counsel, Lal Wijenayake, Attorney-at-Law, Professor Deepika Udagama, Professor Camena Gunaratne, Upul Kumarapperuma, Attorney-at-Law, K.W. Janaranjana, Attorney-at-Law, Srinath Perera, Attorney-at-Law, Akalanka Ukwatta, Attorney-at-Law, Ermiza Tegal, Attorney-at-Law and Manoj Nanayakkara, Attorney-at-Law



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United Republic Front presents ‘A united step for the country’ to the President

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Leader of the United Republic Front Member of Parliament Patali Champika Ranawaka, presented the proposal titled “A United Step for the Country” to President Ranil Wickremesinghe , at ‘Srikota’, the United National Party headquarters in Colombo this morning (24).

Speaking at the event President Ranil Wickremesinghe, highlighted the government’s concerted efforts over the past two years to stabilize the country’s economy, which had faced significant challenges. Stressing the government’s commitment to steering the economy towards recovery through strategic reforms, the President expressed his determination to continue these initiatives with the collective support of everyone.

Recalling his open invitation to all political parties to unite under a common agenda for the country, regardless of political differences, the President reiterated his willingness to embrace constructive proposals from all political parties as part of the nation-building efforts.

The President responded positively to the request made by Member of Parliament Patali Champika Ranawaka to allow other political parties to participate in the upcoming negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) next month concerning the restructuring of foreign debt.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, responding queries about the scheduling of elections, affirmed that the Presidential Election will proceed as scheduled, with the General Election anticipated to take place early next year.

 

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Opp. fears govt. discarding SC recommendations on ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Bill

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Prof. G. L. Peiris

Prof. Peiris highlights need for ex post facto judicial review

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, MP, said that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena’s refusal to accept that Supreme Court recommendations hadn’t been accommodated in ‘Online Safety Act No 09 of 2024’, would undermine their faith in the committee stage of a particular Bill.

The dissident SLPP MP said so when The Island sought his opinion on the SC determination on the ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Bill.

Against the backdrop of the continuing controversy over the circumstances under which the Parliament enacted the ‘Online Safety Bill’, the Opposition was seriously concerned about the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government adopting the same strategy in passing the ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Bill.

Prof. Peiris emphasised that the Speaker even ignored the Human Rights Commission advice that SC’s recommendations hadn’t been accommodated. The academic, who recently aligned himself with the SJB, said that the genuine Opposition shared his concerns.

Several parties challenged the ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Bill in the SC in terms of Article 121(1) of the Constitution. The determination of the SC as to the Constitutionality of the Bill concluded as—

(a) Clause 3, Clause 42, Clause 53, and Clause 70 of the Bill are inconsistent with Article 12(1) of the Constitution and required a special majority to be passed by Parliament.

(b) However, the SC stated that the said inconsistencies can be ceased if the said Clauses are amended as per the Determination of the Court.

(b) Clause 4 has to be suitably amended as per the Supreme Court Determination. Clause 72 (1) is unconstitutional and needs to be passed by a Special Majority and a Referendum. The unconstitutionality will cease if this Clause is amended as per the Determination of the Supreme Court.

(c) Correspondingly, Clause 72(2) must be amended in accordance with the Determination.

(d) Clause 75 (3) infringed the Article 4 (c) read with Article 3 of the Constitution and required 2/3 majority and a Referendum. The invalidity will cease 7 upon the amendments suggested in the Determination.

(f) Clause 83 (7) requires a special majority to be passed into law. It has to be suitably amended as per the Supreme Court Determination.

Further, the Supreme Court has determined that subject to the amendments that have adumbrated to the provisions of the Bill by the Supreme Court, the Bill could be enacted into law with a Simple Majority only if the amendments determined by the Supreme Court are introduced to the provisions.

Prof Peiris said that the crisis highlighted the need for ex post facto judicial review, for which there is at present no provision in Sri Lanka. The position is otherwise in countries like the USA and India where an Act of Parliament can be impugned, even after completion of the legislative process, on the ground of conflict with imperative provisions of the Constitution. Such provision existed in Sri Lanka prior to the First Republican Constitution of 1972.

The former minister said that in the draft Constitution Bill which he presented to Parliament on 3 August 2000 on behalf of the Government of President CBK, appropriate provision in this regard was included. “Unfortunately, the Constitution was burnt in the Chamber of Parliament. This gap in our law should be filled, in my view, when a comprehensive exercise in constitutional reform is undertaken by a new Administration after the conduct of national elections this year.”

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US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Verma visits Sri Lanka

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Deputy Secretary of State of the United States of America Richard Verma visited Sri Lanka from last Thursday to yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a press release.

The visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and delegation had extensive discussions with Foreign Minister Ali Sabry at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on further strengthening bilateral cooperation. The U.S. Deputy Secretary of State also paid a courtesy call on President Ranil Wickremesinghe following the discussions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, while appreciating the humanitarian and emergency assistance granted by the U.S. to overcome the economic challenges encountered by Sri Lanka, welcomed the recent US$ 553 million development assistance extended by the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to the Colombo West International Terminal Private Limited. He also appreciated the U.S. assistance in securing the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) from the IMF.

Foreign Minister Sabry briefed Deputy Secretary of State Verma on Sri Lanka’s priorities as Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the opportunities to foster collaboration in blue economy and maritime security in the region to promote freedom of navigation for all and for the facilitation of trade and commerce. He also apprised the Deputy Secretary of State of the Government’s efforts to further strengthen governance, democracy, and rule of law, as well as to combat corruption.

Deputy Secretary of State Verma while noting the encouraging progress in Sri Lanka following the economic downturn in the last two years, assured continuous U.S. assistance to the country towards economic prosperity.

The Deputy Secretary of State was accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung, senior officials from the White House National Security Council, U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Department of Defence. Acting Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Jauhar and senior officials of the Foreign Ministry were associated with the Foreign Minister at the meeting.

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