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Proposed 20A to the Constitution makes the President “a super-creature” – Suren Fernando

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ECONOMYNEXT –

The proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution concentrates power in the President creating a “super creature not accountable to Parliament or the Courts,” says lawyer Suren Fernando.

Fernando, who was a National List nominee for the main opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya, (SJB) says 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.

The government gazetted the proposed amendments which also allows dual citizens to hold political office.

This would open the door for Basil Rajapaksa, the Chief Organiser of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna to enter Parliament and hold a Cabinet position, he said.

The younger Rajapaksa brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is a dual citizen of the United States and Sri Lanka.

In an interview with EconomyNext Fernando said the crucial proposal to diminish the powers of the Constitutional Council (CC), created by the 19A will move power away from Parliament to the Executive.

The proposed Parliamentary Council will have no civil society representation and can only advise the President, he said.

The previous CC made the appointments and also reviewed the work of the independent commissions, Fernando noted.

The incumbent President “will have the sole power to appoint the members to Commissions, the Apex Courts (Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal) as well as the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General.”

“This creates the risk that President will appoint people he thinks are favourable to him,” Fernando says.

In the case of Parliament and the Cabinet, the President under the proposed amendments will have the supreme power to appoint anyone he wishes as Ministers. The President can also hold any Ministry he wishes.

“This means that that through this power, he can control Parliament as well,” he opined.

The Amendment does say that the President is answerable to Parliament, “but that will be nominal,” Fernando says.

Under the 19A the President could only appoint Members of Parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The proposal also abolishes the Audit Service Commission and the National Procurements Commission which were introduced by 19A as watchdog bodies on Public Finance.

“It was because of the Audit Commission that the Bonds Scam was discovered,” Fernando said.

The 20A also re-introduces the immunity granted to the President which was taken away in the 19A. Currently the President is immune from criminal prosecution during his term.

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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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