By Neville Ladduwahetty
The Expert Committee, appointed to draft a new constitution, has invited the public to “submit their ideas and views” relating to the topics listed by them. This approach was confirmed by the Minister of Justice Ali Sabry in a media report that stated: “A new constitution is to be drafted to replace the Second Republican Constitution of Sri Lanka, and we are inviting the general public to submit their ideas, or views, under the topics of; nature of state, fundamental rights, language, directive of principles of state policy, the executive (President/Cabinet of Ministers/public service), the legislature, franchise and elections including referenda, decentralisation/devolution of power/power sharing, the judiciary, public finance, public security, and any other area of interest, not specified in the notice,”
The question that begs to be asked is; under what system of government, namely Parliamentary as in the U.K where Parliament is Supreme, or Presidential, under provisions of Separation of Powers, as in the USA, are the “topics” to be addressed by the public? Since these are the two broad systems of government that Democracies function with or without variations to accommodate particularities of each country, it is absolutely vital that these broad parameters are established prior to calling for views from the public.
Since such fundamental choices impact on the processes of governance, the choice as to the system of government should not be based on the views of the public, but on a determination made by the elected representatives of the People – the Parliament. Such a proposal was incorporated in an article titled “Constitutions and amendments” (The Island, September 19, 2020).
The relevant paragraph stated: “The few examples cited above amply demonstrate that while the framework of the 1978 Constitution is essentially Presidential, it has sufficient elements of a Parliamentary Democracy to warrant the Judiciary from giving contrasting opinions, depending on which Article it interprets. This ambiguity requires Sri Lanka to adopt either a Presidential or a Parliamentary system, but not a mix of both systems. Despite the fact that such contradictions have been brought to the attention of the public, confusion has reigned uninterrupted. Therefore, the need is for Parliament to vote on which system of government is best suited to govern Sri Lanka”.
It is only after such a clear and unambiguous determination by Parliament that the Expert Committee, set up to draft a new Constitution, would have a clear mandate for them to function. However, this was my view in September. My present view is that Parliament should go even further, and in addition to determining the system of governance, Parliament, should as a first step, determine the core principles under which the Nation and the State should function. Such principles should define who and what we are as a Nation and State, and it is only after establishing the core principles that define the Nation and State that the system of government is selected which would best make the core principles deliverable.
PREAMBLE and CORE PRINCIPLES of a CONSTITUTION
Constitutions do not as a practice list the core principles that guide the functioning of Nations and States. The practice normally adopted by most drafters of Constitutions is to incorporate the core principles of the nation concerned in the Preamble to its Constitution. Thus, Preambles become the platform to convey the core principles of a Nation and State. According to an article, cited below, the increasing importance attached to Preambles is reflected in the fact that some Judiciaries rely on the core principles stated in a Preamble when there are ambiguities in the texts in a Constitution. However, despite its importance, the contents of Preambles are often ignored.
The Preamble to the US Constitution states: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”. Having established these broad parameters, the framers of the US Constitution decided that a government, based on separation of power, would serve their interests best.
On the other hand, the Preamble to the 1972 Constitution of Sri Lanka states that the People resolved to exercise their freedom and independence and declare Sri Lanka to be a “free sovereign and independent Republic”, and how such a nation proposes to realize the objectives of a Socialist Democracy.
The Preamble to the 1972 Constitution of Sri Lanka states: “We the People of Sri Lanka resolved in the exercise of our freedom and independence as a nation to give ourselves a constitution which will declare Sri Lanka a free sovereign and independent Republic pledged to realize the objectives of a Socialist Democracy including the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of all citizens and which will become the fundamental law of Sri Lanka deriving its power and authority solely from the People…through a Constituent Assembly”. Having established the broad parameters, the then government decided that a Parliamentary system, where Parliament would be Supreme, would best enable them to realize their objectives.
Judging from the Preamble of the 1978 Constitution, its core principles are different from the 1972 Constitution other than to state that it is “a new Republican Constitution. The key elements of the Preamble to the 1978 Constitution are:
“The People of Sri Lanka having by their mandate freely expressed and granted…their representatives…to draft, adopt and operate a new Republican Constitution in order to achieve the goals of a Democratic Socialist Republic… whilst ratifying the immutable republican principles of Representative Democracy and assuring to all peoples Freedoms, Equality, Justice, Fundamental Human Rights and the Independence of the Judiciary as the intangible heritage that guarantees the dignity and well-being of succeeding generations…”.
Having thus established the core principles cited above, the then government determined that the best system of government to realize its objectives was under provisions of a Presidential system that functions under provisions of Separation of Power.
THE NEW CONSTITUTION
The approach of the Expert Committee is to seek views and ideas from the public under topics listed by them. Judging from the nature of the topics listed it is highly improbable that the Committee would be able to develop a set of core principles that would be sufficiently broad in scope as in the two previous constitutions. However, whether the new constitution is drafted, based on the views expressed by the public or any other, there is a procedural issue that would determine the final shape and form of the new constitution.
Although the 1972 constitution was the product of a Constituent Assembly, it was not subjected to a Referendum. On the other hand, the 1978 constitution was not formulated by a Constituent Assembly. It was drafted for the Parliament that had existed under the 1972 constitution.
This constitution too had not been subjected to a Referendum. The justification in both instances was that the People empowered the elected representatives to draft the respective constitutions based on mandates sought and given. In keeping with past practices there is a strong possibility that the new constitution too would not be subjected to a Referendum either, because of the mandate asked and given. If that be the case, the new constitution would have to comply with the provisions of the 1978 constitution. Furthermore, since the new constitution is not an amendment but one intended to repeal and replace the 1978 constitution, it would have to comply with provisions of Article 120 of that constitution which gives the authority to repeal and replace the constitution subject to certain conditions.
Article 120 (a) states: “In the case of a Bill described in its long title being for the amendment of any provision of the constitution, or for the repeal and replacement of the constitution, the only question which the Supreme Court may determine is whether such Bill requires approval by the People at a Referendum by virtue of the provisions of Article 83”.
Article 83 (a) states: “a Bill for the amendment or for the repeal and replacement of or which is inconsistent with any of the provisions of Articles 1,2,3,6,7,8,9,10 and 11 of this Article…shall become law’ if approved with a two-third majority of Parliament and by the People at a referendum. Similar procedures are required if the durations relating to Articles 30 and 62 are extended.
Since these Articles embody the name of the State, its unitary character, that sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable, its National Flag, National Anthem, National Day, foremost place for Buddhism, freedom of thought, conscious and religion and no person shall be subjected to torture or cruel and inhuman treatment, and the fact that they cannot be amended, repealed or replaced without the consent of the People at a Referendum, they become the entrenched core principles of the Sri Lankan People. Therefore, whatever approach the Expert Committee adopts the core principles on which the new constitution would be founded would be predetermined.
An article titled “The preamble in constitutional interpretation” in an International Journal of Constitutional Law refers to the increasing importance of Preambles attached to Constitutions. For instance, the Preamble to the US Constitution “highlights the legal and social functions of preambles”. The article cited in the Journal “discusses the growing use of preambles in constitutional interpretation. In many countries, the preamble has been used, increasingly, to constitutionalize unenumerated rights. A global survey of the function of preambles shows a growing trend toward its having greater binding force—either independently, as a substantive source of rights, or combined with other constitutional provisions, or as a guide for constitutional interpretation. The courts rely more and more on preambles as sources of law. While in some countries this development is not new, and dates back several decades, in others, it is a recent development. From a global perspective, the U.S. preamble, which generally does not enjoy binding legal status, remains the exception rather than the rule” ( International Journal of Constitutional Law, Volume 8, Issue 4, October 2010, Pages 714–738, https://doi.org/10.1093/icon/mor010)
In the Sri Lanka context little or no attention is paid to Preambles in our constitutions despite the primacy given them when drafting or interpreting constitutions by other countries. Therefore, those engaged in drafting constitutions should pay attention to the content in the Preamble, because it is recognized as a statement that embodies the core principles as to who and what Sri Lanka is as a Nation and State.
What is evident from the material presented above is that any attempt by any government to draft a new constitution would be compelled to incorporate the entrenched Articles listed in Article 83 of the 1978 constitution if it intends to avoid having to face a Referendum. On the other hand, if any government is prepared to face a Referendum, the Parliament concerned would have to reconstitute itself into a Constituent Assembly in order to be free of any constraints imposed by the existing constitution. However, since this would amount to a totally fresh exercise, the process should start by first establishing its core principles on which to base the constitution, and having done so, determine which of the two primary systems of government, namely Presidential based on separation of power, or Parliamentary wherein Parliament is supreme in order to realize its objectives.
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!