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ECONOMYNEXT – The 21st Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution is eye candy that has not stripped the office of the executive chairman of any of its powers as promised, the opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) lawmaker has said ), MA Sumanthiran.

Speaking in parliament during the second reading of the 2023 budget on Tuesday, November 22, Sumanthiran said the 21st Amendment allows the president to hold any number of ministerial portfolios, contrary to assurances given that it would serve to control the excesses of all the governments of Sri Lanka. powerful executive presidency.

“This amendment was only an eyewash. It really didn’t do anything independent in this country. Nor did it strip the presidency of all executive power,” the MP said.

The opposition MP for Jaffna district said that since 2010 he had opposed the president – who is not an MP – holding the finance portfolio.

“When a person who is not a member of this chamber presents the budget, it seriously limits the ability of this chamber to fully control public finances as stipulated in article 148 of the constitution,” he said.

Article 148 of the Sri Lankan constitution states: “Parliament shall exercise full control over public finances. No tax, rate or other levy may be imposed by any local or other public authority except by or under the authority of an Act passed by Parliament or any law in force.

The fact that Speaker Ranil Wickremesinghe holds the finance portfolio, Sumanthiran said, exposes the lie that the 21st Amendment would remove the 20th Amendment and be a revert to the 19th Amendment.

The 21st Amendment, passed with 179 votes in a 225-member assembly, was largely aimed at removing the previous major constitutional amendment, the controversial 20th Amendment brought by the two-thirds majority government of ousted former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The 20th had removed many of the checks and balances established by the 19th Amendment, widely seen as one of Sri Lanka’s most progressive attempts at reform. President Wickremesinghe was then prime minister under President Maithripala Sirisena, whose Yahapalana government fulfilled a campaign promise by introducing the 19th Amendment to reduce the powers of the office of the president.

“Under the 19th Amendment, the president could not exercise any ministry, not even that of defense. For the tenure of this president at the time – personal to him, to Hon Maithripala Sirisena, three appointed ministries were allowed in the transitional provision. Thereafter, the president could not exercise any ministry. But now the president can hold any number of ministries. In fact, he can hold all ministries,” Sumanthiran said.

“This is another opportunity where we can expose this lie to the country, that reform has been done, that executive powers have been curtailed by the 21st Amendment. No, nothing like that has been done,” a- he added.

Sumanthiran voted against the 21st Amendment bill, despite the decision of main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) to vote for the bill.

“Even the only positive thing that is being touted is the restoration of the Constitutional Council. This too, we have emphasized, is a political organ. This is not 17th Amendment advice. More members are from this house, which makes it political. And this body is responsible for appointing, among other things, independent commissions,” the MP said.

Sumanthiran referred to a new controversy over a widely disputed decision by the chairman of the police commission to welcome former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa on his return to Sri Lanka after a private visit to the United States. Opposition lawmakers and others have blamed Basil Rajapaksa for Sri Lanka’s current economic woes, and thousands have taken to the streets to demand his resignation and that of his brother, President Gotabaya. Rajapaksa.

“In recent days, we have found out how this supposed independent commission chairman behaved. We saw the chairman of the national police commission going to the VIP lounge to receive a person expelled from this country for fraud, for corruption in large scale. And who else but the chairman of the national police commission is there to greet and welcome him,” Sumanthiran said.

“A few days before, we had heard the president of the missing persons office say that only a few people were missing and that all were missing abroad. This same office was created to investigate missing persons. And government commissions – there are many of them – have all reported that more than 20,000 people are missing. This is a conservative number. The chairman of the office appointed to this so-called independent office says no one is missing,” the MP said.

Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Sumanthiran said, had explained the commission chairman’s remark as if he did not understand the government’s priority for reconciliation efforts.

“That creates another problem. Why should an independent commission chair know what the government’s priorities are if he is independent? Why should he conform to what the government wants to do? The government may not want to do that tomorrow. The government changes its mind every day. But if it is an independent office, it has been mandated by law to investigate these tens of thousands of disappearances in the country and that is what it says. (Colombo/November 22, 2022)


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