Wednesday, May 31, 2017

People keen on new constitution

by Fr. Augustine Fernando- 

Diocese of Badulla

A well attended and keenly followed, four hour session of study on the matter of the New Constitution was held at Mount View Hotel, Badulla, on Monday 22nd May. Lal Wijenayake was the keynote speaker. Very lucidly explaining the work that had been done in preparation for drawing up the draft of the New Constitution, Wijenayake said that over 2500 persons representing various important groups of people were interviewed and over 3000 written statements were examined. Further, the six subcommittees of parliamentarians have submitted their observations on matters pertaining to 1. Fundamental rights 2. The Judiciary 3. Law and Order 4. Public Finance 5. Public Service 6. Centre Periphery Relations.


All views presented by the people, including those of some expatriate professionals have been carefully summed up in a 300 page volume. What has been done is unprecedented in our Country. The draft Constitution has to be prepared. Once prepared it needs to be presented to the Constitutional Assembly which consists of all the 225 MPs. They will have to see that the final draft measures are up to the expectations of the people.

It is incumbent on them to read through at least the 300 page volume and the six committees’ recommendatory proposals which may run to another 500 pages. By reading them carefully, the MPs will come to know what the peoples’ views are on democracy, reconciliation, power sharing, good governance and the need for checks and balances and accountability on the part of all power holders including the President, Prime Minister, Judiciary, the Cabinet of Ministers and Elected Representatives. If all of them submitted yearly reports to the public on line, then the public will be able to evaluate, from the kind of report they submit, whether a proper and honest job has been done by each of them .


Now, the problem is that over 100 MPs do not have the background to sit down and read through, understand, digest and select the best options in the many pages before them. They are handsomely paid to attend to this serious matter, yet they seem to be congenitally incapable of attending to functions they have been elected to perform. The educational, professional, ethico-moral and behavioural standards of more than half the number of MPs leave much to be desired. Nevertheless they cannot now shove off their crude capabilities in many and various ways.

Provided they had the capacity to do the basic work of reading through all the suggestions of the people contained in the exhaustive summaries, and take it all in, they should then seriously consider those best options that have made their way to the new draft Constitution. It would be impossible for each one of them to incorporate his or her options. If they are all far-seeing and clear sighted, they would have recourse to a ‘technique’ in their debates, discussions and dialogue, which need not be acrimonious at all, as they often become outside the august chamber. At least at those times in Constituent Assembly they could discuss the input to the Draft Constitution, they could become their best selves by transcending themselves to become ‘Founding Fathers’ of the new Sri Lanka coming to birth in the second decade of the twentyfirst century. Absolute honesty and integrity is called for from the MPs. If they wish to sincerely fulfill the obligations for which they have been put in Parliament, in whatever manner. The prospect before some of them is such that, aware that it would be impossible for every single one of them to get re-elected to the next new Parliament, many of them will need to make the ultimate sacrifice of the possibility of not returning to Parliament as an MP. Do many of the present MPs have at least this capacity ? Or would they rather sacrifice the future of this Country for them to ensconce themselves once again in Parliament? Nor should they be able to console themselves in the possibility of finding a place in the Second Chamber, should one come to be established. The second chamber should never be for party politicians but for experts, professionals and eminent persons in various fields.


The past seventy years of Sri Lanka has been for her people, years of great tragedy brought on them by political parties and individual politicians who have caused havoc in the Country in such a manner that we have been left behind while other Countries in our Asian neighbourhood itself have made great strides, developed and forged ahead. Most MPs have been and still are feudal and shallow minded individuals who do not respect people but once elected wish to be only condescending towards them. We do not need hypocrites and bluffers of whose specimens we have seen very notable ones in the past few decades and far too many after the war.

The data gathered from all over the Country show that the greatest majority of the people wish to have a thoroughly democratized system of government and they want to see reconciliation, harmony, unity and peace in Sri Lanka. A radical change took place on January 8th 2015. Fear has been banished and there is freedom now. Yet, the ghosts that threatened the people are still among them: the unheard of corruption they indulged in, the social disorder they caused, the rights of the people they trampled underfoot so haughtily, arrogantly and despotically, the hatred they generated, the many they killed and the blood they shed cry to heaven for justice. Many prominent persons now acting as cowards are still out there. Justice that people expect is still to be meted out.


We should do everything to have a Constitution based on the equality of all citizens. All citizens of Sri Lanka should have equal rights and civic responsibilities. No one should be immune from and above the law. The law should be supreme and all should be equally subject to the law from the highest citizen in the land to the ‘most humblest’ of all, as Shakespeare himself would say. Each and every citizen should be able to hold his/her head high and go forward with honour and self-respect. No member of the Constitutional Assembly should fail even by an iota in the constitutional task of presenting to the people for a referendum the best possible draft of a New Constitution for Sri Lanka.

Some time back an asinine minister tied a government servant to a tree as due punishment he thought of imposing on that official for not appearing for a departmental operation. Another idiotic fellow made a teacher kneel down before the students, for ‘humiliating’ his daughter at school by telling her that her skirt was too short! We did not hear that the party leaders called these swollen headed fools to order or remind them of standards of acceptable public behaviour. Now comes another who has imaginations of the wilderness. He says the non-existent constitution draft is a ‘mara ugulak’ – a death trap, for the people!

The people wonder how some of them act like clowns on occasion and proclaim very authoritatively that the Preparatory Committee has prepared a trap for the people, when it is from the people’s input that the draft of the New Constitution is prepared. It is up to the Constituent Assembly not to mangle and re-draft out of shape what has been prepared. What they have to do is to dot where dotting is needed, make the reading lucid and clear and approve the Draft New Constitution by a two thirds majority and present it to the people for a referendum and persuade them to accept it.


The Referendum should be more than a yes or no one. A few questions could be asked for the people to answer so that they could indicate their preferences. The promise was to abolish the executive presidency, as it existed and as it was exercised, which also meant the President could arbitrarily appoint an apparently unsuitable individual as a Chief Justice and a henchman as Police Chief. If the People wish to have an executive President with limited powers and answerable to Parliament, even that option could be manifested in the Referendum.

The campaign should be on those articles which are crucial and on which the New Constitution will be hinged on. The General election could come after the Referendum and under the new Constitution so that there will be no more constitutional confusion.