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Statement by University academics on Proposed 18th Constitutional Amendment

Sep 7, 2010 6:01:13 AM- transcurrents.com

We, the undersigned academics attached to different universities in Sri Lanka, call upon the government to re-consider the proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution for the reasons set out below.

Constitutional reforms, like elections, go to the heart of what it means to be a democracy in the modern-day world. Any changes that are introduced to a country’s constitution should be undertaken after due deliberation and consultation while having at its centre, the will of the People. In a pluralistic society such as Sri Lanka, ascertaining the will of the People can be a time-consuming and complex exercise. While the will of the People must be given due consideration, the essential features of a democracy, such as the rule of law, accountability of the government and transparency must be preserved and promoted through any constitutional reform.

By choosing to amend the constitution through an urgent bill the entire process of reform has been expedited, if not short-circuited, and no room has been left for any kind of public debate let alone public consultation. Under a Constitution that explicitly recognizes the “Sovereignty of the People” that process is not acceptable, especially when no convincing reasons have been given as to the need to expedite this process. Indeed, the most distressing aspect to this whole process is the lack of interest in government ranks on the need to raise awareness, let alone build consensus, among the general public on the need for such urgent reform.

The substance of the proposed reforms is also problematic. History provides many examples of the need to limit not only power, but also access to power. The limit to the number of terms that the head of the executive can hold has emerged as a best practice, through those bitter lessons. The introduction of the Parliamentary Council instead of the Constitutional Council is not satisfactory as it contains no clauses to promote accountability on the part of the President in whose hands come to be concentrated the power to make several key appointments that promote governance, accountability and due process of law.

This is the first attempt at constitutional reform in the post-war era of our country. We hope that it would therefore signal a break from the constitutional reform experiences of the past, where powerful executive Presidents “reformed” the constitution to serve their personal political agendas.

We therefore call upon the government to re-consider their decision to introduce constitutional reforms in such a hasty and ad-hoc manner and to open avenues for greater participation and consultation before setting in motion a process that is of utmost importance to the political culture of Sri Lanka.

C. R. Abayasekara (University of Peradeniya),
Suresh De Mel (University of Peradeniya),
Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, (University of Colombo),
Priyan Dias (University of Moratuwa),
Asoka N. I. Ekanayaka (University of Peradeniya),
Avanka Fernando (University of Colombo),
Hans Gray (University of Moratuwa),
Dileni Gunewardena (University of Peradeniya),
Janaki Jayawardane (University of Colombo),
S. I. Keethaponcalan (University of Colombo), Amarakeerthi Liyanage (University of Peradeniya), Dinesha
Samararatne (University of Colombo),Vasanthi Thevanesam (University of Peradeniya),
Ruvan Weerasinghe (University of Colombo),
P. Wickramagamage (University of Peradeniya), Carmen Wickramagamage (University of Peradeniya)