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National Christian Council is “deeply concerned” about the 20A

ECONOMYNEXT – The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) is expressing deep concern about the manner in which the 20th Amendment to the Constitution is sought to be introduced and several substantive provisions of the amendment itself.

In a statement issued yesterday October 13, NCCSL called upon the Government to “preserve those parts of the 19th Amendment that promote the independence of key institutions and accountable governance.”

“Since one of the main objectives of a constitution is to protect and empower the people vis-a-vis the government, all amendments to the 20th Amendment should be made accessible to the public so that their views can be considered before the Amendment is debated in Parliament,” it said.

The NCCSL brings together all Protestant Christian Churches and Nine Ecumenical Organisations.

The statement criticised the manner in which the Amendments have been brought in and decry the promise to make Committee Stage changes to the proposals.

“This violates basic features of transparency, accountability and constitutionalism and betrays the promise made by several Government ministers that the public will be informed and consulted before constitutional amendments were introduced,” it said.

The NCCSL proposed that the positive aspects of the 19th Amendment be retained and deplored the disregard shown to “the recommendations made since the mid-1980s in favour of the importance of de-politicising key democratic institutions notably by the Presidential Commission on Youth Unrest (1990) and the concerted campaign since the constitution was adopted in 1978, led by a wide cross-section of political forces and civil society groups, to introduce greater checks and balances on the office of the executive presidency by curtailing the President’s wide powers of appointment.”

It said that the “introduction of a weak Parliamentary Council to replace the Constitutional Council is a retrogressive step. The President is only required to seek the observations of the Council. This in effect gives the President sole discretion to appoint persons to the superior courts and all the independent commissions. This will undermine their independence.”

It went on to say that the 19th Amendment established the Audit Commission and the National Procurement Commission to ensure that corruption, political patronage and abuse of power was reduced. It also provided that the funds allocated to the offices of the President and the Prime Minister were subject to audits like all other ministries and departments. “The removal of these features by the 20th Amendment lacks any justification.”

The reintroduction of provisions to enable the legislature to introduce “urgent bills”, a provision that has been subject to abuse by successive governments for decades, undermines basic norms of constitutionalism, accountability and the democratic rights of the people.

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(Colombo, October 14, 2020)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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