Paving the way for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to fully enjoy executive powers, Parliamentarian Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s attempt to introduce amendments to the constitution allowing the President to hold defence and any other ministry has come under heavy criticism from all corners.
The former Justice Minister who presented the 19th amendment and ensured its passage through parliament back in 2015 is now strolling back on the same efforts to reintroduce executive powers through a private members bill.
During the debate stage of the 19th amendment back in 2015, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe is heard pleading with the opposition not to disagree with certain clauses saying that “there is no political agenda here this is introduced for the benefit of all.”
Senior Counsel Viran Corea who took to twitter on the said issue states that this bill seeks to “reduce judicial independence, reduce independence of key public officers, concentrate direct executive powers in the president, reduce the need for parliament’s involvement in exercise of executive power and discourage national government”.
The amendments propose that the President be able to hold any ministry including defence and appoint officials to key positions such as the Chief Justice, justices of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, Attorney General, IGP, Ombudsmen and the Secretary-General of Parliament.
The bill proposes to do away with the Constitutional Council and allow the President to make judicial appointments with the ‘views of the’ Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the views of the Prime Minister in making other appointments of public officials including members to the Judicial Service Commission.
It further proposes to “remove excess provisions in Article 41(C)3, prohibiting inter alia removal of any holder of those key public officers except as provided for in the Constitution or in any other law.
Currently, Removal of officers (Proc) act no 4 of 2002 gives security of tenure to the IGP and the Attorney General which only allows the removal of the said officials through a procedure in parliament.
Legal experts stating their opinion on the matter told Colombo telegraph that this is a complete reversing of the system from a parliamentary centric to an executive presidency.
“In the event, this bill is to become the law in essence it will completely do away with the main safeguards introduced by the 19th amendment,” a legal commentator told the Colombo telegraph.
JVP Parliamentarian Bimal Rathnayake tweeted saying “21st Amendment! Back to JR!”. He went on to state that this bill will “completely destroy the relatively independent systems established by the will of the people.”
“This dictatorship mania should be defeated irrespective of party lines,” Rathnayake claimed.
Although these efforts are clearly to back President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s wishes it is unclear as to why it was introduced as a private members bill.
“Million-dollar question is why did Wijayadasa R MP brought this 22nd amendment as a private member bill? According to the Standing Orders of the Parliament Private members bill will at least, take more than 6 – 8 months to be included in the order paper. Why SLPP cabinet didn’t bring this bill?,” Bimal Rathnayake posed a question on the uncertainties that have surfaced pertaining to the matter.
While questions remain as to how successful this attempt is, it is clear that this is something the government is checking as a viable option.
Late November last year following the Presidential Election, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa speaking with monks criticised both the 19th Amendment and the Constitutional Council. He lamented that these two have made it difficult for the government to conduct its business without any hindrance.
“It is difficult to appoint anyone that we deem fit due to the constitutional Council,” President Rajapaksa said at the Sunethra Bellanvila Temple last November.
Also, the fact that there has only been appointed a non-cabinet minister of defence has made the clear indication that the position has been reserved.
The two bills that have been gazetted as the 21st and 22nd amendments to the constitution has been gazetted and is scheduled to be introduced in Parliament session that is to commence from today (03).