By Saman Indrajith
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe presented the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to Parliament yesterday to curtail powers of the executive presidency.
The Bill, if approved by Parliament, will make the Prime Minister the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers with powers to appoint its members.
Right to Information has been included among the fundamental rights in the 19th Amendment.
The Bill envisages the appointment of a Constitutional Council consisting the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, one person appointed by the President, five persons appointed by the President on the nomination of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, one person nominated by agreement of the majority of members of parliament belonging to political parties or independent groups other than the respective political parties or independent groups to which the prime minister and the leader of the opposition belong and appointed by the president.
The Speaker shall be the Chairman of the Council which entrusted with the task of recommending to the President persons to be appointed chairmen or members of the commissions, namely, the Elections commission, the Public Service Commission, the National Police Commission, the Audit Service Commission, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, the Finance Commission, the Delimitation Commission, the National Procurement Commission, the University Grants Commission and the Official Languages Commission.
The Bill seeks to limit the number of ministers of the Cabinet to 30 and the number of deputy ministers to 40.
After Prime Minister Wickremesinghe presented the Bill, Leader of the Opposition Nimal Siripala de Silva and JHU parliamentary group leader Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thera, raising a point of order, said that it could not be passed in Parliament as some of the amendments it envisaged to bring about would have to be approved at a referendum.
Leader of the Opposition Nimal Siripala de Silva: It was earlier planned to have the 19th Amendment passed with a majority of two-third in Parliament. But, now we find that these sections and clauses in the draft Bill are contradictory. It is not clear who is the head of the Cabinet of ministers and who is the head of the Executive is.
President Maithripala Sirisena mentioned to us that there was a need for amending the existing electoral system. Our position is that we will help you get this Bill passed only if amendments to the election system, too, are presented with it. That is the SLFP’s position.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe: We have drafted this Bill in a manner that there will be no need for a referendum. However, the Attorney General has opined that we can forward amendments after court ruling. I have heard that at least five petitions against the Bill have been filed. After the court ruling we will bring about amendments. In any case, the final decision lies with the Supreme Court. We are discussing how to amend the electoral system.
JHU Parliament group leader Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thera: We, too, can see that some of the content in the draft Bill will warrant referendum. We’ve been calling for curtailing the draconian powers of the executive president. But, now it seems that the draft Bill has failed to do so. It was earlier agreed that the 19th Amendment would not bring about changes that had to be approved at a referendum. That, too, has been changed. We express our displeasure at this draft Bill because changes have been effect without parties being consulted.