22 nd Amendment
Posted on August 8th, 2022

Sugath Kulatunga

Since the devaluation of the rupee in early March, five months have lapsed without any positive plan of action to address the problem of the dearth of dollars. People have died in queues; severe scarcities have arisen in essential goods and inflation has galloped over 70 percent. In brief the country has undergone and continues to be in an unprecedented economic and social crisis. But our parliamentarians have behaved as if there is no dollar crisis and are splitting hairs on a political solution through ad hoc Constitutional gymnastics which is a clever diversion. Now the magic formula has appeared in the form of the proposal for a 22nd Amendment to the Constitution. It is noted that one has to search the web for the document as it is not there in the list of Extraordinary Gazettes published by the Government Printer.

 There are a few provisions like the Audit Commission which are of value. But the main thrust of the Constitutional Council replacing the present Parliamentary Council is not very different from the provisions in the 20th Amendment which was criticized as leading to a Dictatorship. The official members remain the same except providing for a representative of the President. One is reminded of the Ministry representative in departmental and corporation selection boards where the Ministry representative ensures that the Minister’s nominees are selected. This post is superfluous and counterproductive. Of the three outsiders replacing the former distinguished citizens who were only onlookers, co-opting representatives from the academic and business world is good. But it would have been better if in both OPA and Chambers the Presidents of the organizations rather than nominees are brought in. They are responsible directly to their membership. The President of the Federation of Chambers is more representative than a nominee of the SL Chamber of Commerce.

The quorum of the meeting of the proposed council is five and at least five members must vote to make a decision valid. However, it is noted that the three outsiders with the leader of the opposition and his nominee can make a valid majority decision. It is the same with the Prime Minister, his nominee combining with the three outsiders. This is hypothetical but is a situation to be avoided by vesting a veto power in the Speaker.

It is also suggested to make the 3 outsiders responsible to the people whose names should be vetted by a relevant sectoral committee of the Parliament. it would be useful if the proposed relevant sectoral committees interview the candidates as is done by Senate Committees in the USA.

Historically we have had no serious problems in the appointments made by the President on his own  or on the recommendations made by a Constitutional Council except in the case of a former IGP. I believe anticipating a wrong decision in that case the distinguished citizens absented themselves. The real damage caused by the incumbents of high-level posts do not come from holders of posts considered under the Constitutional Council but from the holders of many more posts where the power of appointment is with the Cabinet or the subject Minister. Even in appointments approved by the cabinet it is only in very rare cases the Cabinet does not agree with a Minister as these decisions are made on the back scratching principle.

The colossal damage caused by the chairmen and Boards of State Corporation by blatant corruption and poor management of some of these agencies has been a severe burden on the economy. Corporations like the CEB, CEPET, and Port have become untouchable and are in the habit of dictating terms to the government. There are about 420 State owned enterprises. Only a few make any return on the investment or provide a satisfactory service. The problem with them is not the ownership but the management which is either corrupt or inefficient or often both. Politicians are keen on the Constitutional Council appointments but are not interested in cleaning up the feet of clay. Most time they wallow in the same muck.

Is the solution privatization? May be- but not sellouts like what has happened before.

Sugath Kulatunga

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