Wednesday, January 15, 2020

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19th amendment needs modification

By Gamini Abeywardane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa when he met a well-known Buddhist monk recently made it clear that the 19th amendment to the Constitution needs modification. He indicated that it fetters the executive presidency and the newly elected President is able to function because he is in the Premier’s seat.

It is obvious from the experience of the previous government that split of powers of government between the President and the Prime Minister under the current status is so irrational that the country cannot be governed smoothly if there is any disagreement between the Prime Minister and the President.

This is the very malady which technically made the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration wholly ineffective to the extent people felt as if there was no government in the country. Most of the lapses which threatened the national security causing great damage to the economy and finally bringing down the very administration could be attributed to the imbroglio created by the 19th amendment.

Then what is the solution? It is not certainly going back to the 18th amendment to the Constitution which gave excessive powers to the President. Some of the good things like the independent commissions created under the 19th amendment should be retained while removing some of the obstacles created for the executive president directly elected by the people to carry out his normal functions.

For example the nineteenth amendment prohibits the President from holding ministries; nevertheless the appointment of ministry secretaries is entirely within the President’s powers. Cabinet ministers are appointed by the President in consultation with the Prime Minister while the President remains as the head of the cabinet and therefore should preside over the cabinet meetings.

By virtue of the Constitution President is the Head of the state and also of the Government. He is also the commander on chief of all armed forces and he alone has the power to declare peace or war. Such powers are generally inherent in a head of state, but here the point is our head of state is directly elected by the people and the system of government we still have is executive presidency.

In such a situation it can be argued that the executive president who is also the head of the state and head of government should technically have the power to hold the defence ministry although the position under the nineteenth amendment is not quite clear.

These are anomalies that need to be rectified and they cannot be done without the two thirds majority in the Parliament. The next general election that is supposed to be held in the mid-year is quite crucial in that sense and it may not be impossible if the President continues to go on the correct track which we believe he is already on.

In case he is unable to muster that kind of majority on his own he should be supported by the other political parties in the Parliament to correct this anomaly in order to ensure smooth functioning of the Constitution and the system of government it has bestowed on the country.


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