COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Sri Lanka’s parliamentary speaker has given legal effect to a constitutional change aimed at reducing the arbitrary powers of the elected ruling class and giving more independence to the public service in a bid to give freedom to ordinary citizens.
The 19th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution will create a constitutional council to oversee the public service, making it more difficult for the elected rulers to arbitrarily interfere in the day-to-day delivery of state services to deny just treatment of citizens and undermine their sovereignty.
The state information office said Speaker Rajapaksa signed the 19th amendment on May 15.
Sri Lanka’s public service became ‘politicized’ after a civil service commission which had the sole power to appoint or transfer the then ‘permanent secretaries’ of ministries was abolished in 1971 and the power was taken by the cabinet and later the President directly.
Senior state officials who defied elected rulers to do the right thing were then transferred to a ‘pool’ and a culture of subservience fostered.
Attempts to staff a majority of the constitutional council with persons who are not politicians and fully ‘depoliticize’ the public sector failed, with sections of Sri Lanka’s United People’s Freedom Alliance that backed ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa opposing the move.
But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has promised a fully depoliticized public sector if he comes to power after planned elections later in the year.
At least two independent commissions set up under the constitutional council, the judicial services commission and the elections commissions will be fully independent from the parliament as well.
The change also re-imposed term limits for the President to two. He will now appoint ministers on the advice of a Prime Minister.
Sri Lanka’s mostly illiberal parliament has made several amendments to the constitution to reduce the freedom of citizens, and a 17th amendment and the latest 19th were the only changes that reduced the powers of the state and increased the freedoms of the citizens.
In the US, the congress has only passed two amendments that reduced the freedoms of citizens, one involving the imposition of Federal income tax, and other to prohibit alcohol. Prohibition has however been removed.