The government has drawn heavy flak over the constitutional reform proposals prepared by an expert panel appointed by the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly (CA). The UPFA and the SLPP maintain that the document, presented by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to the CA, recently, is a draft constitution, which Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa has condemned as part of a campaign to divide the country.
The Opposition has stopped short of questioning the legitimacy of the CA against the backdrop of crucial changes in Parliament during the last several months. One of our columnists has put forth some cogent arguments, in his article published on this page today. One is that the two post-Independence governments which introduced new constitutions (in 1972 and 1978) had a two-thirds majority and a five-sixths majority in Parliament, respectively, and the incumbent minority UNF administration has no right, moral or otherwise, to undertake a constitution-making project. One can also argue that the UPFA did not ask for a mandate from the people, at the 2015 general election, for drafting a new Constitution though it later formed a national government with the UNP-led UNF and extended support for constitutional reforms. The UPFA has also done something morally and politically wrong.
As our columnist argues the composition of Parliament has undergone a radical change owing to the collapse of the yahapalana government and the subsequent developments such as the recognition of the UPFA as the official Opposition; therefore, if the CA is to have any legitimacy, its current operations have to cease, and the entire process has to recommence with the Steering Committee, the Sub-Committees and the Panel of Experts being formed again.
Meanwhile, one can also call the legality of the continuity of the CA into question on account of the prorogation of Parliament, last October. Legal experts point out that a parliamentary committee ceases to exist when Parliament is dissolved and needs to be reappointed afterwards unless it is specifically stated that ‘this committee shall continue until the conclusion of its task irrespective of the prorogation of Parliament’. The reappointment of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) is a case in point.
The Rajapaksa government acted arbitrarily in impeaching Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake. Its failure to follow the proper procedure created a situation where the legality of the impeachment of Dr. Bandaranayake could be challenged subsequently and President Maithripala Sirisena could declare the appointment of her successor Mohan Peiris null and void ab initio and reinstate her. The government ought to ensure that proper procedures are followed in writing a new Constitution. Else, its constitution making project will have a foundation of sand.
Absenteeism in Parliament
UPFA MP and Joint Opposition firebrand Dullas Alahapperuma has urged the media to reveal the names of MPs who do not attend Parliament regularly. There is no need for the media to publish such information. Parliament already does so, on its official website.
According to information available thereon, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is one of the MPs with the worst attendance record. From 2017 to 2019, he has been absent on 107 days and present only on 45 days. This was cited by the government in support of its argument that Rajapaksa was not eligible for the post of Opposition Leader.
The Parliament website also reveals that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was present on 122 days and absent on 30 days during the same period.
Anyone desirous of ascertaining information about MPs’ attendance can easily do so by accessing the parliament website or by just consulting Google Guru with the name of the MP concerned and ‘parliament of Sri Lanka’ as keywords.
The problem of absenteeism in Parliament is not something that can be tackled by naming the errant MPs. Action should be taken to ensure that they are present in the House to carry out their legislative duties. The onus is on the party leaders to corral their MPs and take disciplinary action against those who do not fall in line.