We, the undersigned, issue this public statement to urge the Government to adopt a transparent and consultative approach to its ongoing constitutional reform process. We make this request in light of the following:
1. In September 2020, the Cabinet of Ministers appointed a committee of experts to draft a new constitution. This committee received submissions from the public for several months and is presumably now drafting a new constitution. The President has indicated that a new constitution will be adopted in 2022. However, there is no information in the public domain as to the process that is being followed by the committee at the present moment, in developing its draft. The principles that should guide the content of the proposed constitution have not been made public either. Moreover, it is yet unknown whether the draft will be made available for public discussion before being presented to Parliament.
2. We recognize that previous attempts at amending the Sri Lankan Constitution and previous efforts to adopt a new Constitution have almost always been problematic. They have been unsatisfactory, in terms of process as well as substance. However, we would like to note that we all should strive to learn the lessons that a critical study of past experiences in constitution-making teach us and aspire to improve.
2. Constitution-making is a challenging task. Ensuring effective public participation and consultation that goes beyond a box ticking exercise is challenging, yet necessary. Some aspects of constitutional reform will be the subject of contentious political negotiation and bargaining. Even the best of efforts, made in good faith, often yield unsatisfactory results. Nevertheless, elected representatives of the people are duty bound to consult the public who give them a mandate to draft and authorize a new constitution and therefore engage them in this process to ensure that their views are also counted. In any event, a process that involves no consultation or transparency is not acceptable within a democratic society.
2. Despite the importance of the task of drafting a new constitution for Sri Lanka, the public is disengaged from the process. Other reform processes, including reforming the electoral system are underway. Meanwhile, the recently announced proposal for a ‘One Country, One Law’ initiative gives cause for concern. It has the potential to create much anxiety among the ethnic minorities. The committee appointed for it fails to inspire confidence due to the lack of representativeness in its composition. Moreover, these processes seem to run parallel to the drafting of a constitution which is the supreme law of the land. It is not clear as to how these parallel initiatives will align with the constitutional reform exercise.
3. We also express our deep concern about the long-term negative consequences of the very idea of ‘One country, One Law’ for a multi-ethnic society. Sri Lanka’s national unity requires the recognition of pluralism within a framework of democratic constitution and a Bill of Rights.
Therefore, we urge the Government:
1. To ensure that a strong degree of accountability and transparency is maintained in the ongoing constitutional reform process. This could be ensured through regular reporting by the Committee to the Parliament and to the public.
2. To make the draft available to the public in all three languages, to accompany its distribution by a meaningful and effective constitutional literacy programme aimed at supporting the Sri Lankan citizens to engage with the draft, and to ensure that adequate time will be afforded for public debate and discussion on the draft.
3. To design a process whereby the public will get an opportunity to respond to the draft and provide inputs.
4. The constitution which is in force requires that a new constitution be approved with 2/3 majority in Parliament and by the People at a referendum. Such a referendum must be carried out in a context where Sri Lankan citizens can exercise their vote in an informed, critical and responsible manner.
- Prof Abeysinghe Navaratne Bandara
- Geoffrey Alagaratnam PC
- Dr Lionel Bopage
- Dr Visakesa Chandrasekaram
- Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy
- Dr Priyan Dias
- Rohan Edrisinha
- Ameer Faaiz
- Marshal Fernando
- Dr Mario Gomez
- Dr Kumaravadivel Guruparan
- Tissa Jayatilaka
- K W Janaranjana
- Dr Sakuntala Kadiragamar
- P Muthulingam
- Prof Arjuna Parakrama
- Prof Harshana Rambukwella
- Sanjayan Rajasingham
- Ramesh Ramasamy
- Shreen Abdul Saroor
- Dr Dinesha Samararatne
- Kumudini Samuel
- Dr Kalana Senaratne
- Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu
- Prof Sumathy Sivamohan
- Emeritus Prof Jayadeva Uyangoda
- Dr Asanga Welikala
- Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne PC