Colombo: A group of civil society representatives on Saturday met Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to express displeasure on the proposed 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, saying it does not curtail the unfettered powers of the president nor does it place any checks and balances on the power structure.
Sri Lanka’s Cabinet on Monday approved the proposal presented by the Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms, to publish the bill in the Government Gazette.
The new legislation sets out a broad definition of the issues to be considered and met in the appointment of the President, the powers of the Prime Minister and the nature of the post, the new commissions and how the Cabinet will be collectively accountable.
“We told the Prime Minister that this does not address the serious governance issues the country is facing. Although some of it appears progressive it is not so in most areas,” Rohana Hettiarachchi, a civil society leader, told reporters.
The 22A has been gazetted and is expected to be presented in Parliament after the due process for enactment, the government announced last week.
The 22nd Amendment was originally named 21A and meant to replace the 20A. The amendment was formulated amid the ongoing economic crisis in the country which also caused a political crisis.
The amendment will be called 22nd as another draft 21st Amendment has already been gazetted.
The 20A adopted in 2020 had given unfettered powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after abolishing the 19th Amendment.
The powerful Rajapaksa family tightened their grip on power after their massive victory in the general elections in August 2020, which allowed them to amend the Constitution to restore presidential powers and install close family members in key positions.
Hettiarachchi said the 22A in no way curtails Rajapaksa’s powers nor does it place any checks and balances on the power structure given the background of the political situation which demanded the introduction of 21A.
After the resignation of his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime minister to pave the way for a consensus government of all parties, President Gotabya Rajapaksa pledged to introduce the 21st Amendment to the Constitution to tackle the wide-scale public protest over his failure to foresee the current unprecedented economic crisis.
The constitutional reform was a major plank of the agreement between Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe when he took over the job of prime minister on May 12.
Sri Lanka is facing the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948 which has led to an acute shortage of essential items like food, medicine, cooking gas and fuel across the country.
The street protests have been triggered across the country over the poor handling of the economic crisis and the lack of accountability to it. Protesters are demanding the resignation of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The 22A has proposed a Constitutional Council to make appointments to high offices.
The council in its present form is biased towards the government, the civil society claimed.
The government appoints 7 of its 10 members thereby undermining the independence of the institutions to which appointments are made through the Constitutional Council, it said.
The Opposition groups have slammed the 22A as an eye wash by Rajapaksa to deflect public calls for his resignation.
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