No such Federalism characteristics are incorporated into the interim report proposals

Constitutional Assembly Steering Committee member MP Dr. Jayampathi Wickremeratne yesterday, assured that there are no Federalism features in the interim report of the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reforms which was submitted recently to the Constitutional Assembly. 
He was briefing the media on the interim report at the Department of Government Information, to raise public awareness of the proposals included in the report and what follows the submission. He said President Maithripala Sirisena extensively questioned on the same matter and said that he can rest assure no such federalism characteristics are incorporated into the interim report proposals. “The Constitutional Assembly(CA) will commence and continue discussions on the interim report submitted by the steering committee on October 30, 31 and November 1, 2017,” Dr. Wickremeratne also said. From the outset, Dr. Wickremeratne emphasised that the proposals in the interim report are not “carved in stone.” He pointed out that the report can be argued against or for, and stressed that extensive public discussions regarding the same are a must in order to raise public awareness and opinion. “Constitutions are always made by compromise,” Dr. Wickremeratne added. Speaking on the alleged federalism character traits, Dr. Wickremeratne pointed out that this interim report proposes that “In Sri Lanka, sovereignty will vest with the people and shall be inalienable and indivisible.”

Dr. Wickremeratne pointed out that the main characteristic of federalism is the dividedness of the sovereignty, which the above proposal negates. He said the interim report proposes that “Sri Lanka should remain an undivided and indivisible country,” which is not the case in the present Constitution. “In the present Constitution we have, there is no provision on saying sovereignty is indivisible, where as in the proposed one, a provision is made available.” Dr. Wickremeratne said. “Indivisible” means that the country cannot be divided now or ever, he explained. The added feature will put worried minds at ease on the alleged Federalist features of the report, Dr. Wickremeratne said. The interim report points out the classical definition of a “unitary state” has changed and proposes that the most appropriate wording to mean “aekiya rajyaya/orumiththa nadu” is “a state which is undivided and indivisible.”

Speaking on maximum power devolution proposed by the interim report, Dr. Wickremeratne said devolution of power does not mean dividing of the country. Dr. Wickremeratne pointed out that the proposal on devolution of power, will strengthen the provincial councils or such authority. However, Dr. Wickremeratne pointed out that the proposed provision to safeguard secession of land says that “No provincial council or other authority may declare any part of the territory of Sri Lanka to be a separate state or advocate or take steps towards the secession of any Province or part thereof from Sri Lanka.” Dr.Wickremeratne also spoke on much debated abolishment of Executive Presidency. He observed that numbers of political parties including UNP are in supportive of abolishing the post, whereas SLFP seem to argue otherwise.

The interim report says that “There was a general consensus that the Executive Presidency as it exists today, be abolished.” However, Dr. Wickremeratne said the need for a president has been considered as a result of which the report suggest that such “President should be elected by Parliament for a fixed term” and that “the President should be conferred with powers including those in relation to Provincial Councils in specified situations.” On the election of Prime Minister, the report proposes to use either of the three methods; Direct election, Pre-nomination or Westminister System, he also said.

Dr. Wickremeratne pointed out that the dominant view of the committee made its way into the report. However he said, other proposals and view points were also included in the report and is open for discussion. Addressing the allegation that the interim report attempts to turn Sri Lanka into a ‘secular country,’ Dr. Wickremeratne said, Sri Lanka already is a secular country. Drawing examples from several verdicts, Dr. Wickremeratne pointed out that according to the constitution of Sri Lanka, it is a secular state. According to Dr. Wickremeratne, the committee received six or more proposals regarding the matter of religion, however he said, they listed the proposals down to two. “These two includes what we already have in the constitution and a new provision. We could use either of them.” Dr. Wickremeratne said.

The first proposed formulation is that “Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuing to all religions the right granted by Article 10 and 14 (1) (e)” of the present constitution. The second formulation is that “Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while treating all religions and beliefs with honour and dignity, and without discrimination, and guaranteeing to all persons the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Dr. Wickremeratne pointed out that it is a matter of understanding the difference between “equality” and “no discrimination” when it comes to the matter of religion. “This does not suggest giving all religions give the equal state of Buddhism. This is to ensure that no religion to undergo discrimination. But, we always have the option of sticking with the clause we already have. This will also be taken up at discussions,” he added. The Steering Committee was appointed on March 9, 2016 by the Constitutional Assembly established by Parliament.

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