27 September, 2020

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Proposals On Constitutional Reforms; Some Observations

By S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

S. Sivathasan

Precursor to Reforms

The current constitution, the way it led to concentration of power and authority in the hands of the uninhibited former President, the unstoppable erosion of citizens’ rights and the evil forces of fascism overtaking those of democracy were creating a veritable spectre. The polity alarmed at this prospect got seriously engaged in stopping it. Reform of the constitution was seen as a way out. To precede it a change of regime was considered most conducive. Now that it has happened, what next?

A serious debate on the parameters of a new constitution or a drastic change in the salient features that were contributing to the earlier malady. The 25 points in the 100 day plan set out though a bit discursively some of the cardinal principles envisaged for promising times. The skeleton needed fleshing up with regard to a new constitution. With a strong mandate enhancing the confidence of the new government, proposals have been formulated with a clothing of authority for people’s participatory engagement.

Eliciting the views of the public through public fora is an innovative precedent for us. The Colombo Telegraph has picked up this initiative for further support. Calling the Maithripala Proposals a Discussion Paper, it set the ball rolling by publishing the Proposals on 9th February. The writer’s lines seek to place the effort in perspective with observations on the proposals..

President

“The President shall always … act on the advice of the Prime Minister”, is prescription to establish the primacy of parliament.

MaithriWith regard to PM’s Advice and a Bill passed by Parliament, President’s power is limited to only seeking reconsideration. Endorsement follows thereafter.

In the exercise of powers and duties it is specified that the President shall keep on the front burner: national reconciliation and integration; preservation of religious and ethnic harmony and the proper functioning of the Constitutional Council and the independent Commissions. Excellent priorities to nurture a new beginning.

Presidential immunity not extending to acts or omissions is a powerful inhibition against infractions of the law.

Points made and the wording in the Proposals are sagacious.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister being made the Head of Government restores parliamentary democracy.

Appointment of a Deputy Prime Minister – If the need for a DPM be there, it is best done on the advice of the Prime Minister as is recommended.

The proposal veers clearly from the original one made in January for implementation by April 23. Decision making has now been moved away from the vagaries in numbers at the elections to a well deliberated judgment of the President.

At one stroke likely gridlocking in the earlier proposal is avoided and pragmatism has prevailed.

Cabinet of Ministers

Regrettably there is little diminution in the size of the cabinet.

Members of Parliament with Ministerial tag placed at 70 was inordinately high. Raising the bar to an attainable 100 will not be entertained by any citizen as prudent. Cabinet Ministers at 45 instead of 15 as in the sixties, is a trisection of Ministries.

It is not segmenting of authority and wide basing of financial responsibility that capable management demands. Neither does efficiency require it. Unity of command is the need. A compact cabinet is better for effective work and closer surveillance.

The polity will never fail to note that 100 Ministers from a House of 225 make 44% of all MPs. Can any country get ability in such a high number?

Singapore teaches the world that capable Ministers make it plain sailing for other MPs to get elected repeatedly. A smaller cabinet is a boon for non-ministerial MPs.

Provincial Government

The 9 PCs have taken over a share in governance. With this change, the ministerial tag is 45 more and the nation’s total will be 145.

Parliament – A 5 year term is appropriate. Checking capricious and arbitrary dissolution is pragmatic and wholesome.

Constitutional Council and Commissions

Members deemed to be appointed, if President does not appoint following nominations. Fine. It gets over a huge hurdle of derailment through inaction by the Chief Executive.

Council of State

An excellent creation. Institutionalizing a process of recommendation with due procedures for the highest levels of decision making is meaningful.

“Appointees shall be persons of integrity… vocations”. Similar or better sentiments we have heard ad nauseam since independence. When honest action matches high philosophy, the nation’s mood changes. Who will accept dereliction as if men of distinction are not available?

Parliamentary Committees

What is new is throwing open some of the proceedings to members of the public.

About consultative committee meetings, the experience of senior public servants is that parliamentarians are seldom present for a meeting from beginning to end.

Full time participation being made mandatory to warrant the allowance will be an innovation.

Bills

Gazettes used to reach even remote areas a day after publication. Till 1970 it was so from 1948. Accessibility after 2 & 3 weeks has prevailed for a long time. The work of all institutions connected to printing and distribution should be toned up so that even as few as 21 citizens at 1 per million may comment on the Bills. Only then 14 days will have substance.

Audit Service Commission (ASC)

As with SLAS, SLES, etc. Audit Service too can have a Service Minute to embrace all functions specified in para one.

What is the specific reason for ASC to address these issues? Such a step can impart a transitory nature to rules easily amendable by the ASC.

Among others, “Audit” should include Efficiency Audit. Terms and phrases we have had for long, now we must have the substance.

National Procurement Commission

Rules are prescribed and norms are specified for procurement of goods and services. In 5 separate areas a to e; perfect procurement with perfect officials working with perfect timelines to deliver perfect outcomes are envisaged.

Were hypothetical timelines worked out? How much performance is practicable in a financial year of 12 months, with these unrealistic, labyrinthine and bookish rules?

Right to Information

Without question, a citizen has a right to information. The government will have two obligations:

1 Proactive – Each Ministry to host a website in respect of Ministry operations.

Departments, Boards, Corporations and other institutions to have their own individual Websites.

2 Responsive – All queries to be responded to.

Response from the government should be as per the mode used, eg online for online. Facilities should be available for all 3 media at websites. The same rule applies for written communication.

Speed of response should be as per the electronic age.

The above prescriptions need to be incorporated in the Right to Information legislation.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    President always act on the advice of the Prime Minister?

    Is it always?

    What happens when there is a hung Parliament? or when the Prime Minister losses his majority in the midterm?

    The president should have the discretion and how the president should exercise his discretion at such occasion should be specified in the Constitution.

  • 3
    0

    Another way to look at it is to allow the Sinhala hawk DJ to go through the proposal in great detail. He will spot things with Hawk Eye.

    He has spotted for example that with this program it prevents the president from massacring civilians. So he is very very upset the Presi can no more massacre Tamil civilians.

    So he is whining about it. When he whines we need to party !

    The change for sure is a jolly good one.

  • 2
    0

    S. Sivathasan –

    RE: Proposals On Constitutional Reforms; Some Observations

    “The current constitution, the way it led to concentration of power and authority in the hands of the uninhibited former President, the unstoppable erosion of citizens’ rights and the evil forces of fascism overtaking those of democracy were creating a veritable spectre”

    Yes, the core problem. When you get a Mahinda Rajapaksa, Saddam Hussein ot a Caligula, big trouble.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caligula

    There are few surviving sources about the reign of Emperor Caligula, although he is described as a noble and moderate ruler during the first six months of his reign. After this, the sources focus upon his cruelty, sadism, extravagance, and sexual perversity, presenting him as an insane tyrant. While the reliability of these sources is questionable, it is known that during his brief reign, Caligula worked to increase the unconstrained personal power of the emperor, as opposed to countervailing powers within the principate. He directed much of his attention to ambitious construction projects and luxurious dwellings for himself; he initiated the construction of two aqueducts in Rome: the Aqua Claudia and the Anio Novus. During his reign, the empire annexed the Kingdom of Mauretania as a province.

    One Cannot be All things to All People.

    It has to be give and take.

    Both the Sinhala and Tamil Modayas and Mootals need to understand that, even though their average IQ is 79.

    http://www.photius.com/rankings/national_iq_scores_country_ranks.html

    Sri Lanka has and has too many Mootals and Modayas in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho.

    Is the Problem related to the average IQ of 79?

  • 2
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    Amarasiri

    You have invoked the good example of Caligula. It was he who appointed his horse a consul.

    The country knows how many horses were appointed consuls to the Foreign Service. Who did it? The world knows it.

    • 1
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      S,Sivathasan

      “The country knows how many horses were appointed consuls to the Foreign Service. Who did it? The world knows it.”

      Corrections,

      1. “The country knows” Incorrect.

      The Country only knows partially. So, 47.5% of the people of Sri Lanka Still voted for Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. So you need to list and table for the country that do not know, so that they will know. You can put it as a Chapter in the Common Sense Pamphlet. What the Country does not Know.

      2. “Who did it? The World knows it” Incorrect

      The people and the world only knows partially. So, 47.5% of the people of Sri Lanka Still voted for Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. So you need to list and table for the country that do not know, so that they will know. You can put it as a Chapter in the Common Sense Pamphlet. What the People and the World do not Know.

      Think about it. Most Tamils with common sense were prevented in voting or discouraged to vote by the Tamil Mootals, many of whom are no more.
      Some of the Mootals who were left were asking to boycott the 2015 Presidential Elections. Fortunately the Tamils with Common Sense braved and came forward, so that Mr. Maitipala Sirisena could be elected,and you know the rest of the story, still unfolding.

      Want to write more Chapters for the Common sense Phamplet? Still not everybody knows!. That is why JVP is trying to educate the people and let them know. You should educate the Tamil Mootals who do not know.

      Anura Disanayaka speaks at Nugegoda Rally [Edited out]

    • 0
      0

      But those Horses run on sleigh, they bray while you eat the hay.

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