Professional advisory board on national security raises questions on constitutional principles – Expert
A senior constitutional expert has expressed concern over President Maithripala Sirisena’s appointment of a professional advisory board on national security chaired by Parliamentarian Dr. Sarath Amunugama earlier today.
Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law Director Dr. Asanga Welikala speaking to RepublicNext said while the creation of such a body is not strictly unconstitutional in terms of legal provisions, it raises serious questions of constitutional principle.
“If this body is simply a group of the President’s personal or political confidantes who will now have access to highly sensitive and confidential information including state and foreign intelligence, and be in a position to influence or even determine national security policy, then it is clear that this will be unconstitutional, because such a body will not be transparent or accountable,” he said.
The Advisory Board, which convened for the first time today, comprises President’s Counsel and Bar Association President Kalinga Indatissa, President’s Counsel Nigel Hatch, Attorneys-at-Law Javed Yusuf, Dr. Ram Manikkalingam and Dr. Suren Raghavan and others.
According to a statement issued by the President’s Media Division, the Board is expected to “strengthen the process undertaken to ensure national security by expressing its views and suggestions in an independent manner.”
Dr. Welikala warned that an advisory board of this nature may not answer to the different branches of government.
“The Cabinet, Parliament, and the courts will not have any control over this body. This is not a desirable outcome, and in the aftermath of Easter Sunday, when we need to be seriously reforming security sector governance, this type of half-baked measure is the worst possible response,” he said.
Considering that defence and national security are not areas heavily regulated by the Constitution (barring the reference in Article 4 to the defence of Sri Lanka being a responsibility of the President), said Dr. Welikala, much of the institutions and procedures fall to be determined by executive and administrative action.
The result of this, he said, is that arrangements have been ad hoc, uncoordinated and distorted by institutional rivalries, weak in both policy formulation and implementation, skewed towards military operational and tactical issues to the exclusion of strategic and joined-up decision making.
“Just as it is between foreign and domestic policy, generally lacking in coherence, capacity, leadership, transparency, and accountability,” he said.
“The Easter Sunday attacks exposed the thoroughly dysfunctional nature of the apex national security coordination body, the National Security Council (NSC), although the institutional weaknesses of this area were known well before that,” he added.
Dr. Welikala called for more transparency on the composition, constitution and objectives of the freshly appointed advisory board that may help deal with some of the problems associated with the creation of such a body.
“Without those details, we cannot assess the strengths and weaknesses of the reform, and it gives rise to a presumption that it is no more than some cosmetic innovation, which like all such other initiatives in Sri Lanka, serves little or no purpose in improving or strengthening governance,” he said.
“It also begs the question as to why this body was established rather than the main reform that is necessary in this area, which is to regularise the composition, powers, functions, and meetings of the NSC through an Act of Parliament, and possibly also the creation of a National Security Advisor as the administrative head of the NSC, broadly in line with the practice in other Commonwealth countries,” he added.