By M. A. Sumanthiran –
I have obtained permission to make a personal explanation in view of certain statements made in this House yesterday while I was not here, with regard to the work of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly. As everyone knows, there were ten experts appointed to advise the Steering Committee, and all of these appointments were made unanimously by the Constitutional Assembly. That Panel of Experts was requested by the Steering Committee, on the 16th of November 2017, to submit a document to facilitate the Steering Committee to prepare a Draft Constitution. It is the Steering Committee that is tasked with the preparation of a Draft Constitution according to the Resolution adopted by Parliament unanimously, and the Panel of Experts was asked to submit a document to facilitate that process. Hon. Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne and I, as Co-Chairs of the Management Committee, were tasked with coordinating some of the work of the Secretariat. In January this year, at the meeting of the Panel of Experts, it was decided that different groups that were appointed will make first drafts of certain chapters and then the whole Panel of Experts will meet together and discuss it and finalize the document. One expert was asked to consolidate everything together, having got all of these reports from these different panels by the end of January. By the end of January, the work had not been done by any of the panels and therefore, that expert was asked to make a first draft. As you all know, if you are preparing a document, ten people can’t sit together, hold hands together and write the document. Generally one or two make a first draft and the others then discuss it and agree. This process went on for a long time and around May, six experts had agreed on one document. But, with regard to the information that was required by the Steering Committee, there was another process that was ongoing and that document was not ready. Nevertheless, in May, the Steering Committee gave the Panel of Experts one month’s time – they wanted two weeks’ time – but the Steering Committee gave them one month’s time to present this document. But even at the end of two months thereafter, it was not ready and at the Steering Committee meeting held two days ago, two documents were presented by the Panel of Experts. One of those documents was by six of the ten experts. The other document was by two of the experts. The other two did not subscribe to either document.
I must say immediately that there are no signatures of anyone on any of these documents. The six experts agreed via email with regard to that document that was submitted. The other two also agreed and submitted a document. So the question of forging anyone’s signature does not arise at all.
The Steering Committee having looked at the two documents and having found that six have submitted one document, and two have submitted another document, requested the entire Panel to see if they could present one single document with the information that was requested of them within two weeks’ time. But the Steering Committee was also conscious that you can’t force experts to agree on anything. If there are ten experts, there might be ten documents that emerge. But it was our request that they try and bring one document. So this is all that happened. There were statements made saying that some experts nominated by certain parties had not signed the documents, and so on. That is not accurate. The document submitted by the two experts – one was a nominee of the Joint Opposition, Ms. Chamindri Saparamadu., and the other, Prof. Camena Guneratne, was suggested by me. So somebody suggested by me and somebody suggested by Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena had agreed on one document. The other document, six had agreed on. And I must say, Hon. Jayampathy Wickramaratne and I coordinated these efforts. The document that was prepared by six experts, we had no input at all. It was drafted by one person, and seen by all the experts. Five others made suggestions, changes, and agreed on that document. We had no involvement in that document at all. Unfortunately, the story is being spread that one of them, Mr. Suren Fernando, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne and I have drafted the document. That’s entirely false.
I say ironically, because it is in the second document submitted by two other experts that we even sat through the proceedings of preparing that document. If an allegation is to be made, the allegation must be that we had some input into that document – the second document- by the two experts. But that also did not happen.
I must say at this stage, in fairness to Hon. Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel, and his expertise – he was appointed to a Panel of Experts to advise the APRC by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006. Ten years before that, he was Advisor to then Constitutional Affairs Minister, Prof. G. L. Peiris, on the drafting of a new constitution. If there is one expert in the country today with regard to these matters, it is Hon. Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne. Nevertheless, neither he nor I did anything to produce those documents. We are members of the Steering Committee. As far as I am concerned, after this dispute arose, I went and had a look at those documents. I have brought them. It is only after that, that I actually read through the document submitted by six experts. There are many matters in that with which I don’t agree. But that I will take up at the deliberations of the Steering Committee.
It is in the Steering Committee, that the members of the Steering Committee will discuss. It is the Steering Committee that will eventually prepare a Draft Constitution, according to the Resolution that was adopted by Parliament. Experts are there to advise. It is most unfortunate that accusations were made yesterday without true facts being known, or, being known, deliberately obfuscated to mislead the country that some underhanded thing is going on. There is no such thing that is going on. I want to assure the House that whatever the experts submit to the Steering Committee, eventually the Steering Committee will deliberate and decide on what to submit to the Constitutional Assembly. And it is not even the Constitutional Assembly that will decide. Thereafter it has to come to Parliament and thereafter it has to go before the People. These are very first few steps where some experts have been asked to prepare a document to facilitate the drafting. So it is most unfortunate that this kind of story has been spread. Some experts have been put at peril. Threats have been made over social media and so on. All that is totally unwarranted, and I regret that some members of the House also contributed to this yesterday.
*M A Sumanthiran’s speech in Parliament today (20th July 2018): Responding to recent allegations made regarding Steering Committee of Constitutional Assembly