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Prez to consolidate power

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* Constitutional Council to be abolished

* No provision for civil society members

* Dual citizens can enter parliament

* A person aged 30 can run for President

* Restriction on number of Cabinet ministers, deputies removed

* Parliament can be dissolved within one year

* Romesh de Silva heads team tasked with preparing draft new Constitution

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Constitutional Council (CC) introduced in terms of the 19th Amendment in 2015 is to be abolished by the 20th Amendment (20A) gazetted yesterday (3).

In place of the 10- member CC, the 20A has proposed a Parliamentary Council comprising the Prime Minister, the Speaker, the Opposition Leader and nominees (one each) of the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.

The 20th Amendment stipulates that the nominees of the Premier and the Opposition Leader belong to the communities other than the communities represented by the Prime Minister, the Speaker and the Opposition Leader.

In terms of the 19th Amendment, the CC headed by the Speaker, included three civil society representatives as well as a representative of the President. The 20A has done away with both civil society representatives and the presidential nominee.

Cabinet spokesman Mass Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella and co-cabinet spokespersons, Ministers, Dr. Ramesh Pathirana and Udaya Gammanpila refrained from commenting on the provisions of the 20A in spite of the media repeatedly seeking their comments.

The Attorney General on Sept 2, ruled that the 20A could be enacted by a two-thirds vote sans a referendum. SLPP National List member Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, worked out the 20th Amendment.

In line with 20A, the President will have the authority to make appointments 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 (all in Schedule I) having obtained observations of the Parliamentary Council.

The President will seek the observations of the Parliamentary Council in appointing the Chief Justice and judges of the Supreme Court, the President and the judges of the Court of Appeal and the members of the Judicial Service Commission other than the Chairman (all under Schedule II/Part I) and the Attorney General, the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman) and the Secretary General (Schedule II/Part II).

In terms of the 20th Amendment, the immunity of the President, both in official and private capacity has been restored.

The SLPP, both at the presidential and parliamentary elections held in Nov 2019, and Aug 2020, respectively, campaigned for a two-thirds majority to do away with the 19th Amendment. The SLFP obtained 145 seats and with the support of its allies can muster the required two thirds.

There is provision in the 20th Amendment for the President to remove the nominees of the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader in the Parliamentary Council.

The Parliamentary Council has to submit its observations as regards the President’s nominees to the above mentioned offices within one week. In case, the Parliamentary Council fails to respond within a week after the President sought its observations, there is provision for the President to go ahead with the appointments.

There is provision for leaders of recognised political parties to propose suitable persons to the Commissions categorized under Scheduled I for the President’s consideration.

The 20th Amendment also seeks to do away with the restriction on the number of ministers to 30 and non-cabinet ministers to 40 introduced by the 19th Amendment. The President will be head of the cabinet.

The 20th A seeks to provide space for the President, in consultation with the President, if necessary, to determine the number of ministers and also appoint ministers who are not members of the cabinet of ministers. There is also provision for the appointment of Deputy Ministers, from time to time, in consultation with the Prime Minister, if necessary, to assist members of the cabinet.

In terms of the 20th Amendment, the President can remove Prime Minister, a member of the cabinet, any other minister or a Deputy Minister.

The President has retained the constitutional authority to dissolve parliament after completion of sittings for a period of one year. The 19th Amendment, deprived the President the power to dissolve parliament until the House completed four and half years of five-year term.

The 20th Amendment has retained the five-year term for the President and two term restriction.

 

The 20th Amendment provides for the introduction of emergency Bills.

The age of presidential contestants has been reduced to 30 from 35. The 20th Amendment also paved the way for dual citizens to contest parliamentary election.

Addressing the media at the Information Department, cabinet spokesperson said that a nine member expert committee headed by Romesh De Silva, PC had been asked to prepare a new draft Constitution. The media was told that the 20th Amendment was temporary measure until consensus could be reached on a brand new Constitution. The team comprises Gamini Marapana, PC, Manohara de Silva, PC, Sanjiva Jayawardena, PC, Samantha Ratwatte, PC, Professor Nasima Kamurdeen, Dr. A Sarweswaran, Professor Wasantha Seneviratne and Professor G. H. Peiris.

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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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