The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is deeply concerned by the changes proposed by the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution Bill gazetted on 2nd September 2020 and its impact on constitutional democracy in Sri Lanka.
The changes proposed in the Bill will set in motion a process that will seriously undermine the separation of powers, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms, CPA said.
The principal changes proposed by the Twentieth Amendment Bill seek to remove the checks and balances on the executive presidency.
In particular, it abolishes the binding limitations on presidential powers in relation to key appointments to independent institutions through the pluralistic and deliberative process of the Constitutional Council.
Its replacement, the Parliamentary Council, is a mere rubber stamp of the executive, with no genuine deliberative role envisaged for its members, CPA said
It is a regression to what was in place under the Eighteenth Amendment, effectively providing sweeping powers to the President to appoint individuals to key institutions, and with it, politicising institutions that are meant to function independently of the political executive and for the benefit of citizens.
Moreover, CPA notes that the opportunity for citizens to challenge the executive actions of the President through fundamental rights applications has been removed, suggesting that the President is above the law.
The checks on presidential power within the executive are abolished by the removal of the requirement of the Prime Minister’s advice for the appointment and dismissal of Cabinet and other Ministers.
The appointment and particularly the dismissal of the Prime Minister are no longer dependent on the confidence of Parliament but at the discretion of the President.
Parliament is disempowered against the executive by the restoration of the President’s power to dissolve Parliament at will at any time after the first year of its term.
These fundamental changes to the constitutional separation and balance of powers will seriously undermine the accountability of government, and pose a significant challenge to existing democratic norms embodied in the Constitution, CPA claimed.
The erosion of constitutional checks and balances will also adversely impact on the efficient, effective, and transparent use of public funds, CPA pointed out.