18 September, 2021

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Constitution, Executive Power & Oversight

By Asoka Seneviratne

Asoka Seneviratne

In my recent article titled how JRJ Constitution and 20th A Continue to rot Sri Lanka, I attempted to highlight that a good constitution must have vital built in checks and balances.  These are essential to ensure the executive cannot carry out certain functions without the legislative branch approval. Additionally an independent judiciary will stop any illegal acts by the president or even parliament by way of unconstitutional laws being passed. A member of the public can file suit.

In Sri Lanka President needs to reach out to parliament to sanction funds for his or her programs that includes all expenditure for his ministries and subsequent agencies, corporation etc. Also the President has to seek parliamentary approval for his legislative agenda. In essence the parliament can tie the president’s hand with these checks.

JRJ and 20 the A, circumvented these vital checks by allowing president to have mammoth cabinets, members of which come from the parliament. This negated the independence of parliamentary oversight over executive functions at a huge cost again to SL public.

To further dilute this vital check, the president who usually is also the leader of the party decides who runs for seats in the electorate. This gives him or her again control over their parliamentary vote. Also the JRJ and 20th A allowed the president to bring in his buddies, financiers, family members, bootleggers etc. To parliament.

All these complicated checks over the executive power makes managing a country difficult under a democracy hence why Obama called democracy a complicated process. In the name of expedience, you take the checks and balances away; one could end up exactly like where SL is today; broken and desperate! Decisions were taken unitarily, not though a filtering process like by the parliament.

Our current constitution also does not allow holding to fire those who run executive branch agencies like the ministers, chairman of government owned businesses and agencies.  In other words there is no oversight over the executive branch day to day functions by the parliament- the people’s assembly. The president does what he decides with no oversight as all chips are in his or her favor. A key ingredient for corruption.

Our current constitution also does not allow vetting through the parliament of those holding high public office, including the ministers. The president has total authority to appoint whomever he or she likes. That could potentially include convicted murderers, convicted or known criminals, drug lords, family (or girlfriend’s family) members, total mutts, or even his or her domestic aid.  Suffice me to say there could be domestic aids that are more educated, dignified or legally cleaner than some we have now. Far cry from what was promised by the current president running up to last elections.

20th A was so tilted in favor of executive power; current president was able to appoint his non-elected blood brother Basil to a defacto cabinet position. How many times we have seen him sitting next to president or heading a high level meetings usually chaired by a cabinet minister. Basil yielded executive power purely through nepotism. Not that he brings proven corporate experience or anything. These are all direct result of a bad constitution, what else?

So as it could be getting clearer by now, the constitution has serious flaws. The parliament while on the book is a co- equal and potentially adversarial branch has become a rubber stamp.

This brings us to our massive debt crisis. It is exactly due to this serious lack of parliamentary oversight that MR was able to launch his greedy sovereign bond auctions departing from the previous practices borrowing from global lending agencies. Lending agencies have strings attached. UNP’s Ranil followed through quickly and his Central bank buddies ended up robbing huge. None was brought to justice and once again empty promises given by the current president at elections turned out to be just what they are – empty promises.

Hopefully a curious mind can now see how all this debt crisis ties back to the lack of checks and balances of the JRJ Constitution and 20th A.

Monkeys, dictators, dangerous minds, crooks, low lives, 8th graders can all potentially become a president. But a smart constitution will stop him or her from taking our once well managed, relatively prosperous and most beautiful country to the CLEANERS!

Let’s get a new and a smart constitution first. Those noble and patriotic leaders we often yearn for …. They are only as good as our constitution. Power should be checked.  Period!

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Latest comments

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    “Let’s get a new and a smart constitution first. Those noble and patriotic leaders we often yearn for …. They are only as good as our constitution. Power should be checked. Period!”
    Asoka Seneviratne,
    Once again you have produced a valuable article. Nobody wants to see a failed state or country or people. Every one wants this island to prosper in every aspect of a civilised state and civilised people. The country should be for each and every one not for a few or some or more. If anyone thinks that the current state of the country is good and not bad then you are far away from civilised state.
    The purpose of the Constitution is to generate a set of inviolable principles and more specific provisions to which future law and government activity more generally must conform. If we have made 20 changes to the constitution and most of the amendments are made after regime changes means that the purpose of the constitution has lost and it proves that these amendments are made to suit to the leaders or party and not in the interest of the people or country or to improve democracy.
    So, new constitution making is not going to resolve the problems of the people or to meet the purpose of the constitution making.

  • 2
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    ”…Let’s get a new and a smart constitution first..” Agreed but how?

    The Constitution saved America from chaotic Trump but in SL, we have legal experts like GL Peris who are able to bend the constitution. With an all-powerful President, having more power than the US President (who is answerable to the congress), our President, who is answerable to none, can appoint officers to high places, including the judiciary, which makes a mockery of our democratic credentials, & with continued militarisation, we can expect a President for life & familial rule in the foreseeable future. Forget check & balances, we are in deep shit already but the final nail was when convicted murderers were not only pardoned but even given an important state appointment. Unfortunately, time is running out for change, Myanmar, we are joining the club too.

  • 0
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    Even Hitler had a constitution. Constitution is not the answer. We need some patriots who sincerely love and work for the prospects of the country and not people who think only about their family wellbeing.

    • 0
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      Jegan,
      You have a question of chicken came first or egg came first. The answer for that is always depend on the circumstances. But here, who knows that heck? When was , ever Lankawe history was written properly to read it and answer back that the constitution corrupted the Sinhala Buddhist or Sinhala Buddhist corrupted the Soulbury constitution and has brought them to the junction like in this manner. It was Don Stephen invented the bright idea of pledging the Trinco Harbor to Britain and get done what he wanted. But for 60 years the trade for land fell back badly as soon as Siri Ma O put the British Tea companies out of the and the tea out of London Auction. As soon as Old King reinvented the wheel of selling the lands and port to import Chinese and Thailand women, and foreign bank deposits, the trade started to heat up. The question now you want Royal aids like Pavitra rule the medical science or Talemnt and educated Tamils take over the 75- 85-95% of the adminitration by a constituion recognize the talent.

    • 0
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      Jegan,
      You have a question of whether chicken came first, or egg came first. The answer always dependent….. But here, who knows that heck? When was, ever if, Lankawe history was written properly to read it and answer back that “the constitution corrupted the Sinhala Buddhist or Sinhala Buddhist corrupted the Soulbury constitution and have brought them to the junction like in this manner”? It was Don Stephen who invented the bright idea of pledging the Trinco Harbor to Britain and getting what he wanted. But for 60 years the trade for land fell back badly as soon as Siri Ma O put the British Tea companies out of the land and Ceylon tea out of London Auction. As soon as the Old King reinvented the wheel of selling the lands and ports to import Chinese and Thailand women, and foreign bank deposits, the trade started to heat up. The question now is whether you want Royal aids like Pavitras to rule the medical science or Talent and educated Tamils take over the 75- 85-95% of the administration by a constitution that recognizes the talent. The Maxim is (this is not a solution for Tamils) neither constitution nor people cannot bring change unless the Buddhist culture stops falling on the Bald Head Modayas who are discarded by their own families, but they fall on the feet of talent and pray.

  • 3
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    Constitution is the supreme law of a country and people are supreme, therefore the constitution should not be formulated by politicians, lawyers or political scientists, but by the ordinary people.

    How to do it, is the challenge. Politicians arrive only after a constitution is formulated, passed and come into being.

    Checks are balances and Oversight committees are the essential institutional safeguards to prevent abuse of power. Absolute powers should not be granted to any branch of government

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