GL: Under 19A President has responsibility sans authority

20A does not dilute powers of Parliament

By Saman Indrajith

The main issue with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was that while it delegated responsibilities; it did not assign the necessary powers to ensure that those responsibilities could be fulfilled, Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris told Parliament yesterday.

 Speaking during the second day of the two-day debate on the 20th Amendment, the Minister elaborated that the best example was with regard to defence. “Under Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution, a key responsibility of the President is to safeguard national security. Yet, under the 19A, though the President was elected by 6.9 million voters, he can’t be the Minister of Defence. In fact, he can’t hold any ministries. He is the Commander of the armed forces and police, but he can’t command them.”

Prof. Peiris said that a lot of responsibilities had been heaped upon the President, but he had not been given the necessary powers to carry out those responsibilities. “There is responsibility without authority; that is the basic flaw in the structural framework of the 19th Amendment,” the one time top law academic said.

Prof. Peiris also asked whether the framework established by the 19th Amendment was really in line with democracy. “The Constitutional Council was the centrepiece of 19A. All appointments to the so-called independent commissions are made by the CC. Take for example, the civil society members in the CC. They can’t be removed, though a new President and government is in power. They will be in power for another year until their term ends, and no one can do anything about it.”

“We don’t fear the independent commissions, but their conduct is unjust. They have become totally politicised,” he said.  

While there must be checks and balances on those in power if those checks and balances went beyond a certain limit and became excessive, the end result was that nothing would get done, he argued. “Those who hold positions of power would not be able to do anything. There will be a gridlock situation.”

 The minister also dismissed claims made by the Opposition that the 20A would considerably reduce Parliament’s powers. “Under Article 148 of the Constitution, it is Parliament that is responsible for public finance. No matter how powerful a President is, he must still come before Parliament to obtain the necessary funds for the function of the governance mechanism. This cannot be done through any other entity. That is why the Finance Minister is due to present the Budget to Parliament in November; a Budget you all have every right to pass or defeat. As such, 20A will not reduce the powers of Parliament by one bit.”

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