Who are these ‘experts’?
By Mohan Samaranayke
(courtesy of The Island)
Since Friday 11th January on which date Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe presented in Parliament, the report of the ‘Panel of Experts’ (PoE) working under the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly, as an ordinary citizen with very little knowledge in constitutional matters, I became curious to know who these experts are. When the well informed editor of The Island asked, “Who are the members of the Expert Panel, which purportedly prepared the report?” in his editorial of Monday 14th January it was evident that I am not alone in raising this question. The editorial further said “The Opposition claims that their names were neither presented to Parliament nor given parliamentary approval. The public has a right to know their identities.”
While searching through the internet for the names of those experts I came across an interesting article on constitution making on a website called AGORA-Portal for Parliamentary Development and supported by the UNDP and the World Bank among others. It says at the very beginning “A constitution is the fundamental law upon which all other laws of a country are based and must conform …. A critical aspect of constitution writing is to ensure the document reflects the interests of the vast majority of the citizens of a country. A constitution should be based on a consensus and the document should reflect a set of principles that all citizens in a country can agree upon. A constitution should be above partisan politics and should define the terms of government and interaction by which any party or political group will respect.”
It is indisputable that the constitution of a country is not just a legal document prepared by a group of faceless people working behind closed doors. It is the embodiment of fundamental principles of political economy and governance that collectively constitute the legal basis of the political organization of a country. It can have far reaching consequences both positive and negative, on the wellbeing of a nation. Now we all know the ill-effects of the 1978 Constitution and the 19th Amendment which was drafted by an unknown group of ‘experts’. The UNP which fathered the ’78 constitution now desperately wants to get rid of it. During the recent 50 day political crisis the fraudulent nature of the 19th Amendment covered with democratic garb was well exposed. Those MPs of UPFA who voted for the Amendment now regret their action. Whoever who writes the constitution ultimately it is the people who have to bear the consequences. As such people have a right to know all details of constitution making process including the identity of its authors.
What are the names of those experts? Why are they called experts? What are their expertise and credentials? Are they of the same or equal calibre of James Madison, the father of the US constitution or B.R. Ambedkar, the Chairman of India’s Constitution Drafting Committee who is said to have studied constitutions of about 60 countries? Have all or some of them involved in constitution making in other countries? If so what are the countries? If not do they possess a proven in-depth knowledge of constitutions of at least key nations of the world and the historical processes behind them? Are they well versed of Sri Lanka’s history, its civilization and culture, people’s aspirations, ethnic, religious and class divisions of the country and the contemporary world order? Are there NGO activists funded by hegemonic powers who insist that Sri Lanka make a new constitution in order to achieve what they call national reconciliation? Are they non-partisan and independent in their thinking and action? Are there people in the Panel who directly or indirectly supported the LTTE’s separatist cause and war?
The web search I made with those questions in my mind helped me to find the names of a ten member ‘Panel of Experts’ which was appointed on 5 May 2016, posted on the website of the Constitutional Assembly (CA). According to the CA website “The contributions of the Panel of Experts includes academic and technical input at committee deliberations, submission of position papers in respect of subject matters under discussion and the provision of general expertise”. Also it says meetings of the PoE are chaired by MPs Dr. Jayamapthi Wickramartne and M.A. Sumanthiran. I presume this must be the Panel of Experts that authored the report presented in Parliament by the Prime Minister on 11 January.
The CA website does not provide details of expert competencies of Panel Members in constitution making. I really cannot challenge their academic qualifications and experience in their respective fields. However does someone become an expert in constitution making just because he/she is a university professor in a particular subject taught in that university or a person with one or several law degrees? Majority, if not all, of the Panel Members were and are known ardent supporters and advocates of yahapalana regime. They vehemently campaigned for the regime change in 2015 both at Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Can they be non-partisan in constitution making?
These Panel Members are known for their strong conviction that there is an ‘ethnic or national question’ in Sri Lanka that can be addressed only through a new constitution with provisions to ensure extensive devolution of power to provinces. For years they have been campaigning to reach that goal. MP Sumanthiran, one of the two chairmen of the Panel meetings is a leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which in 2001 recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka. Without doubt there is a vast segment of the population of this country that do not subscribe to these ideas. So can these Panel Members write a constitution acceptable to the vast majority of citizens of Sri Lanka?