21A given to Cabinet, BASL unsatisfied

  • Lawyers note omission of several 19A provisions in draft

Following a meeting of the Constitution Amendment drafting committee held yesterday (23) at the Prime Minister’s office, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was presented to the Cabinet of Ministers last evening, while the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expressed concern that the draft Amendment has omitted several provisions of the 19th Amendment.

The Cabinet decided to distribute copies of the amendment amongst the Parliament party leaders for their observations and the amendment will be discussed on Friday (27). Following this, the Amendment will be sent back to Cabinet for final approval. The first meeting of the new Cabinet was held yesterday under the patronage of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The Bill has reinstated the provisions of the 19th Amendment, whilst adding a number of other provisions, such as those related to an Audit Services Commission, Procurement Commission, and parliamentary oversight during the appointment of the Governor to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL). The 21st Amendment Bill has been drafted by a committee led by Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and newly appointed Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapaksa.

However, the BASL has expressed concern that while the 21st Amendment will bring back the provisions of the 19th Amendment regarding the Constitutional Council and the Independent commissions, there are several vital provisions contained in the 19th Amendment that are missing in the draft of the 21st Amendment.

The BASL said that the 21st Amendment must include a provision amending Article 44(2) of the Constitution to remove the power of the President to retain ministries and assign any subjects or functions to himself.

In letters addressed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka recommended that the following matters which were contained in the BASL proposals be included in the 21st Amendment:

  1. A provision for the members of the Monetary Board to be appointed with the approval of the Constitutional Council (in addition to the Governor of the Central Bank);
  2. A provision for the appointments of the Secretaries to the Ministries, Governors of the Provinces, and Ambassadors and Heads of Missions be made on the advice of the Prime Minister in consultation with the Cabinet of Ministers;
  3. A provision to require Presidential Pardons to be granted according to the recommendation by a body established by law, appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council; and
  4. A provision to enhance the financial independence, transparency, and accountability of the Independent Commissions.

The BASL further recommended that the number of members of the Constitutional Council who are not MPs be increased from three to five and conversely the number of MPs on the Constitutional Council be reduced from seven to five, as stipulated in the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. It noted that this is consistent with the position taken by the BASL in 2015 when the 19th Amendment was enacted.

The BASL called on the Government to ensure the early enactment of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, as it is a necessary step towards achieving stability in Sri Lanka.