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As delay may deprive country's democracy

Constitution should include election dates

Finance State Minister Eran Wickramaratne questioned if the Constitution should not include the election dates as the delay in elections deprives the democracy of a country.

He also said the Constitution should limit the amounts spent on elections by politicians. He said that the identity of those who finance politicians at elections should be revealed since the vote should not be allowed to be bought.

He made these observations yesterday, during the debate on the Interim Report of the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reforms which was held in Parliament.

He said that there had been long dialogues if Sri Lanka needed a new constitution.

He added that 40 years had elapsed since the second republic constitution passed. There had been issues with the same constitution. Chandrika Kumarathunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa protested demanding the withdrawal of the same constitution.

"Then President Chandrika Kumarathunga's attempt to pass a new constitution in 2000 proved a failure," State Minister Wickramaratne said. "Later, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa sharpened his powers by way of an amendment to the Constitution instead bringing in a new constitution. The Mahinda Chintanaya 2015 too stressed the need for a new constitution."

He said that Mahinda Rajapaksa staged protests when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was made, claiming the country would be divided. He questioned as to whether it had happened as Rajapaksa predicted.

He also added that when there was an issue at a particular area, the majority and those who were in power had to solve the issue.

"Always there are people who needed to divide the country," State Minister Wickramaratne said. "But we could not be driven by such demands and make a constitution."

He also said however, the country has to make a new constitution that was accepted by the majority of the minority groups. He also added that the proposals should be able to be accepted by the Sinhalese who are the majority of this country as a whole as well.

"We have missed many such opportunities of bringing in new constitutions," Wickramaratne said. "We should not miss this opportunity."

The UNP and the SLFP, the two parties of the government have a major responsibility in solving this issue.

A fear had been created that there was an attempt to divide this country by means of this new constitution. This report has it that the new constitution should have clauses that prevent the country being divided and it also recommends that there should be clauses that no province nor a section of the country could be separated or be promoted to do so. "None of us wish to divide this country," Wickramaratne said. "There is no hidden agenda behind this new constitution."

He also questioned if the Cabinet should not be limited, prevent delay of elections etc, by way of this new constitution.

CONSTITUTION GUARANTEES FOREMOST PLACE TO BUDDHISM, CITIZENS' RIGHTS: MANGALA

Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera yesterday asked as to how could anybody could object to a Constitution that guarantees rights of all citizens and essentially honours the Lord Buddha’s teachings of ‘Metta, Muditha, Karuna, Upekka’.

The minister was taking part in the Constitutional Assembly debate on the Interim Report of the Steering Committee. Observing that Sri Lanka cannot afford to miss this window of opportunity to create political stability and achieve prosperity and economic development, Samaraweera pleaded to seize the opportunity and go forward as one nation.

The minister, who took the floor after UPFA MP Dullas Alahapperuma, reminded the House how MP Alahaperuma together with colleagues Nalanda Ellawala and Dilan Perera went from village to village campaigning for a new Constitution in 1995 under the ‘Sudu Nelum’ Movement.

“It is he who asked in the House today as to whether the country needs a new Constitution. The draft Constitution that MP Alahapperuma then campaigned for was a far more progressive one than what we have proposed in terms of power sharing. That draft Bill did not contain the word ‘unitary’ but ‘united’. It even agreed to offer police and land powers to the Provincial Councils,” the minister recalled.

The minister citing several statements by former leaders SWRD Bandaranaike, JR Jayawardena, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Rohana Wijeweera and also the Communist Party, pointed out all have agreed beyond question that there is an ethnic issue in the country.

“All people, irrespective of background and which part of the country they live in, have suffered the horrors of violence for long years. They have sadly been deprived and cheated of the rights of economic prosperity that this nation could have achieved during the last 70 years.

All the citizens of this country desire for lasting and sustainable peace, equal citizenship, respect, economic prosperity, equal protection of the law and they all want to call this land their home. We must be able to be united in diversity” he added. The minister pointed out the Constitution making process followed by the Government was completely a bottom up and all inclusive process which left nobody behind.

Steering Committee interim report prepared after considering public views :Rajitha

It has been the first time that preparations of an interim report for a Steering Committee on the Constitutional Reforms was made after looking into the views of the public, said Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne yesterday.

He said that since January 2016, public views were taken to prepare the interim report, adding that even for the changing of the electoral system, a new Constitution needed to be formulated.

He made these observations yesterday, during the debate on the interim report of the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reforms, which was held in Parliament.

Minister Senaratne further said that six decades had passed after the late SWRD Bandaranaike had attempted to solve this issue.

"I always fought for the abolition of the Executive Presidency," Minister Senaratne said. "I regret that I had to vote in favour of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution."

He added that devolution of power was not a new topic. "It had been functioning for a long time now. None could oppose this and call himself a true patriot," Minister Senaratne said. "There is no other traitor than those who oppose this. The biggest victory for this Constitution is that the TNA is agreeing to support it, which was an unprecedented opportunity. Therefore, we must grasp this opportunity." Health Minister Senaratne said that during the Constitutional Council in 1972, the late J R Jayewardene proposed for the Executive Presidency, but the late Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake refused it. But in 1978, Late Jayewardene and late R Premadasa set up the Executive Presidency.

"But late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike pledged that she would abolish it at the first opportunity they get to do so," Minister Senaratne said. "Former Presidents Chandrika Kumarathunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa too promised to do so."

He also said that G L Peiris maintained that a President should be a nominal President. Dinesh Gunawardena too said the executive Presidency should be abolished. For the first time we have a President who was ready to reduce his powers.

"So we should not miss this opportunity," Minister Senaratne said.

New Constitution a Trojan Horse

The new constitution is a Trojan Horse brought to Sri Lanka, said Joint Opposition Parliamentarian Dullas Alahapperuma yesterday.

He also said there are similarities in the new Constitution and the existing one. He added that the when the 1978 constitution was formulated the opposition Leader was Amarthalingam whereas today the opposition leader is R Sampanthan. The leader was J R Jayewardena in 1978 and today Ranil Wickremesinghe.

He made these observations during the debate on the interim report of the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reforms which was held in the House of the Parliament.

He also said that although this is a historic event there are many flaws in the process. He added that Wijayedasa Rajapakshe had questioned the legality of the process. On the first day of the debate a government side deputy minister resigned from position and came to sit with opposition. He added that by the time of the debate an American war ship was in Colombo Harbour and he could understand the message of it clearly. However he questioned as to who was correct, was it the then President J R Jayawardena who formulated the 78 constitution or those who protested against it. He added however although the American constitution that was formulated 241 years ago had been amended 27 times the Sri Lankan Constitution that was formulated 40 years ago has been amended at 20 occasions.

Due to JO's stance of criticizing new Constitution

Bandula lost a chance to highlight his progressive contribution as Chairman of Finance Sub-Comm.

JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti pointed out that the Joint Opposition MP Bandula Gunawardena lost the chance to highlight his progressive contribution as the Chairman of Finance Sub-Committee because of the JO’s stance of fiercely criticizing everything related to the new Constitution.

Taking part in the Constitutional Assembly debate on Constitutional Reforms, Handunnetti pointed out Finance Sub-Committee, in which he was a member, has proposed empowering Parliament in a meaningful way to establish effective parliamentary control and thorough supervision over “projects” undertaken utilizing public finance.

“It has also proposed disclosing the advantages and disadvantages related to major public investments undertaken either as public or public-private partnerships. These are progressive proposals. Is the JO asking to discard all these by abandoning the Constitution making process?” he asked.

Handunnetti revealed that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya recently convened a meeting with the COPE and COPA Chairmen, Auditor General, the Finance Minister and Finance Ministry Secretary to discuss on follow up actions on the reports of Parliamentary watchdog committees. “The Speaker, referring to five COPE reports and three COPA reports, presented in the current Parliament said that he felt it as a big sin to overlook the revelations in them.

He asked what measures could be taken in such regard. This again highlighted the need to strengthen Parliament control of public finance in a more meaningful manner,” he noted.

The MP, pointing out that a constructive debate on the content of Interim Report could not be seen in the country, said some are trying to pander to ultra-nationalist mentality by using the report as a football and as a short cut to power.

Unitary status and position granted to Buddhism

Viable solution applicable to all communities should be reached

Let's try to negotiate and reach a viable solution applicable to all communities as nothing is affecting the unitary status and the position guaranteed to Buddhism, said Highways State Minister Dilan Perera yesterday.

He said further that the this is the last bus that the country gets to formulate a new constitution with the co-operation of all communities of the country so all should attempt not miss it.

He made these observations yesterday during the debate on the interim report of the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reforms which was held in the House of the Parliament. He said that all the parties and communities would not be able to fulfill their aspirations in this endeavor and all have to be flexible. "All leaders who were in power attempted to solve the issue but failed," State Minister Perera said. "But we all have a habit of objecting all."

He also said that during the Sudunelum movement Mahindananada Aluthgamage, C B Rathnayake and myself went from village to village for a united country.

"I think Althgamage could not have two thoughts," State Minister Perera said. "Even Wasudeva Nanayakkara maintains that there should be power devolution. But he has a different issue with Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe. So he hesitates to support this."

State Minister Perera further said there is a split in the Joint Opposition and the Parliament cant stop formulating the new constitution for fear of the cardboard hero Wansa. He also said that the Tamils too have issues. "The Tamil women remained within palm leaf fences," State Minister Perera said. "But the issues dragged them out of the fences bearing weapons."

He added that cast system is festering most of the Tamil people in Jaffna. "These issues have to be addressed soon," State Minister Perera said. 


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