By Rajan Philips –
The so called presidential plenary powers are once again in contention. Last year, it was argued that the addition of the words “to summon, prorogue and dissolve parliament” to Article 33 of the Constitution by the 19th Amendment, somehow vitiated the Amendment’s clear and unambiguous change to Article 70, disallowing the President from dissolving parliament within four years and six months after a general election unless requested by a resolution of parliament passed by no less than two-thirds of the 225 MPs. The Supreme Court did not buy that argument.
One year later, the argument is about whether or not in November 2005, then President Mahinda Rajapaksa was within his ‘plenary powers’ in signing the dual citizenship authorization for his brother and American citizen Gotabaya Rajapaksa. With all due respect to the deliberations over the legality or the constitutionality of this exercise of presidential plenary powers, a simple question for ordinary Sri Lankans, dual citizens and non-citizen Sri Lankans, is how often does the President of the Republic sign the authorization for a former Sri Lankan citizen to become a dual citizen?
Sri Lanka has progressed light years from the stringent and patriarchal citizenship law of 1948. Among other changes to citizenship laws, mostly after 1977, the recognition of dual citizenship was introduced in 1987. Since then, there have been five presidents including the current one.
It would be instructive for some keen parliamentarian, probably from the JVP, to ask the relevant Minister or Ministers to provide the following information to parliament and to the public:
1. How many dual citizenships were granted between 1987 and 1993? How of many of them were directly signed by President R. Premadasa?
2. How many dual citizenships were granted between 1993 and 1994? How of many of them were directly signed by President D.B. Wijeytunga?
3. How many dual citizenships were granted between 1995 and 2005 October? How of many of them were directly signed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga?
4. How many dual citizenships were granted between 2005 November and 2014 December ? How of many of them were directly signed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa?
5. How many dual citizenships have been granted since January 2015? How of many of them were directly signed by President Maithripala Sirisena?
6. Is it correct that documents regarding the granting of dual citizenship between 2005 and 2007 are not available as part of government records? Is there any other period where the documents have gone missing? What is the number of dual citizens for whom the government has no documentation? What has the government done to reach out to these dual-citizens and recreate appropriate documentation, in hard copy or electronically? What has the government done to prevent fraudulent claims of obtaining dual citizenship between 2005 and 2007, or any other period of missing documentation?
As with obtaining any other government authorization, obtaining dual citizenship involves the submission of applications, the review of them by officials and recommendation for signature by a designated officer. The signing authority for dual citizenship is the Ministry Secretary. It would be very unusual for a Minister, Prime Minister or President to sign dual citizenship authorization. Even so, a ministerial or presidential signature cannot be executed without a proper application and official recommendation that the application for citizenship be granted.
Plenary powers do not mean the power to act regardless of, or overriding, applicable laws and regulations. One of the presidential plenary powers is to keep and execute the Public Seal of the Republic. But that does not mean, as a lawyer graphically explained to the Supreme Court last year, the President can jump up and down and put his seal everywhere. Nor can a President authorize dual citizenship without the due process of application, review and recommendation. Citizenship is not a presidential gift certificate.