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Manohara: What is the point in being prez if one cannot sack a thieving minister or errant IGP?

(By Courtesy of The Island)

The country was in such a constitutional mess that a President elected by an overwhelming majority couldn’t remove an IGP arrested over the Easter Sunday carnage that claimed the lives of nearly 300 persons nor hold the defence portfolio as a result of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in 2015, President’s Counsel Manohara de Silva told a gathering at the Sri Lanka Foundation on Thursday, Feb 13.

Among those present were President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, SLPP Chairman and former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, lawmakers, Bandula Gunawardena, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Sisira Jayakody and Gamini Lokuge. Manohara de Silva pointed out that in spite of being arrested Pujith Jayasundera remained the IGP as the person now in charge received his appointment on an acting capacity.

The constitutional expert asked whether such situations existed in any other part of the world. Declaring that it would be the responsibility of the relevant court to decide on Jayasundera’s case, De Silva pointed out how the Constitutional Council headed by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya picked the wrong man. The country paid a huge price for Constitutional Council’s irresponsible conduct, the eminent civil society activist said.

The President’s Counsel explained how interested parties, both in and outside parliament worked in unison to weaken the State by causing constitutional chaos. Enactment of the 19th Amendment had been a high point in their operation launched after Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009, Manohara de Silva said. Having faulted the 1978 Constitution for deterioration of the government, Manohara de Silva alleged that the enactment of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution worsened the situation. Senior member of the National Joint Committee De Silva pointed out how the 13th Amendment caused turmoil by way of devolving power. “We had minister each for various portfolios. With the enactment of the 13th Amendment, all of a sudden there were nine ministers for each subject, De Silva said. The 13th Amendment was meant to impair the parliament thereby promote separatist agenda at the expense of the country’s unitary status. Their strategy had been simple and objectives achieved by way of constitutional changes geared to obstruct supremacy of the parliament. Manohara de Silva said that the 13th Amendment should be examined taking into consideration how it deprived the parliament’s legitimate right to intervene in case a Provincial Council resorted to measures not in conformity with the law of the land. The President’s Counsel pointed out the absurdity in the parliament being denied the power to rescind laws introduced by Provincial Councils unless approved by a two-thirds majority. He alleged that through constitutional means the parliament had encouraged extremism and paved the way for extremists to take control. The top lawyer said that it was a very unfortunate situation. What is the purpose in having such a parliament, de Silva asked. Having pointed out that there were provisions in terms of the 13th Amendment to re-merge the Eastern Province with the North, De Silva said that those hell-bent on dividing the country on ethnic lines wanted a parliament conducive for their operations.

Manohara de Silva said that the country faced serious threats due to the parliament coming under the influence of extremist elements. The President’s Counsel explained how the 13th Amendment facilitated the systematic destruction of Buddhist artifacts and historical sites to prove the Sinhalese didn’t inhabit northern and eastern regions. In spite of such activities had been brought to the notice of successive governments, unfortunately remedial measures weren’t taken, de Silva said.

The top lawyer pointed out that to facilitate the operation hitherto unheard category of unimportant artifacts at national level was introduced by way of the 13th Amendment. Manohara de Silva also discussed the introduction of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution in 1988 to restrict the usage of Sinhala as the official language. How many realized that the 16th Amendment restricted the recognition of Sinhala as the official language in respect of administrative and judicial work. One-time Navy Chief of Staff and lawmaker Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera earned the respect of the public for voting against the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. “Sarath inquired from me how to respond to the 19th Amendment. I advised him to vote against it. Sarath was also of the same opinion even before he contacted me,” de Silva said, adding that the piece of legislation was meant to cripple the country. If not for the Supreme Court striking down three fourth of the original draft, the country would have been totally destroyed, the President’s Counsel alleged. However, the Constitutional Council established in terms of the 19th Amendment caused so much turmoil the country was in deepening crisis today. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa wouldn’t be able to remove a dishonest, corrupt minister or one working against the national interest due to restrictions imposed on him by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. What is the point in being the President if one couldn’t remove a wrongdoer? Manohara de Silva asked.

De Silva emphasized that such flawed laws were produced by those who knew the implications. They followed existing laws and introduced laws inimical to the country which threatened the very basis of the nation, he said. The President’s Counsel was for a proper process leading to the adoption of a new Constitution. The civil society activist declared his support for the Yuthukama effort aimed at a new Constitution that would consolidate war winning Sri Lanka.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

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