Earlier this month the Liberal Party sent some suggestions for reform to the Parliamentary Select Committee meant to recommend solutions to current national problems. They are based on a vital principle that should be followed in all discussions, namely that we should try to assuage the fears of others rather than seek to assert one’s own desires. Through sensitivity to the concerns of others, one can often also ensure sensitivity to one’s own concerns.
Our suggestions reaffirm the primary obligation of the State to fulfil the objectives detailed in Chapter VI of the current Constitution. Safeguarding the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka are vital and all those wishing to broadbase the decision making process should recognize that these principles should be paramount. But equally those concerned with national integrity must also appreciate the importance of decentralizing the administration and affording all possible opportunities to the People to participate at every level in national life and in government. National unity should be strengthened by promoting co-operation and mutual confidence, while discrimination and prejudice should be eliminated.
To avoid concentration of power, the doctrine of Separation of Powers should be followed. The different layers of government should be sensitive to the needs of other layers and the People they represent, and this needs to be encouraged by structures that enhance accountability. Some suggestions below need to be entrenched in the Constitution. Others are more appropriately fulfilled through legislation, but the Constitution should direct that such legislation be put in place. I should reiterate here the importance of the first suggestion, since it is little recognized that we have the only Executive Presidential system in the world in which the Executive President is tied down to a Cabinet that is hamstrung by its Parliamentary responsibilities – which means electoral concerns in the main.
1. If the Executive Presidential system continues, the Cabinet shall be composed of individuals who do not sit in Parliament. It should not exceed 25 members, and vital portfolios should be specified. A schedule should contain the principal Departments under each Ministry, to ensure consistency of policy and better coordination.
2. The legislative and oversight roles of Parliament shall be strengthened, through a Committee system that promotes accountability and transparency for all executive functions. Members of the Cabinet shall be answerable to Parliament, and shall attend relevant Committees and answer queries related to the discharge of their functions.
3. The electoral system needs to be changed to promote accountability to the people. Half of Parliament shall be elected through Constituencies, and the other half shall consist of members chosen from a National List in a manner that leads to Parliament reflecting proportionately the electoral choices of the people.
4. There shall be a Second Chamber of Parliament with equal representation for each Province. It shall be consulted with regard to Bills on all subjects, though its decision making powers shall be limited. It shall be elected either direct by the People or else by all their Local Government representatives.
5. Provincial Councils shall be elected by the representatives in Local Government institutions within the Province. The Chief Executive of the Province shall be elected either direct by the People or by all Local Government representatives. He shall appoint a Board of Secretaries who shall have executive responsibility for subjects assigned to the Province, and be accountable to the Provincial Council.
6. The Provincial Council Act should be amended for purposes of clarity, though no powers now granted to Provincial Councils should revert to the Centre. The Constitution should include a list of subjects that are devolved to Local Government institutions, and the Concurrent List should be reduced by transferring most subjects contained therein to either the Province or to Local Government. Administration and the filling of cadre positions with regard to basic social services, including health and education, should be the responsibility of Local Government, subject to Provincial supervision.
7. With regard to police and land powers, and other subjects of concern to both the Centre and Provinces, the primacy of National Policy should be stressed, with mechanisms for the Centre to ensure that it is carried out and take remedial action if needed, with delivery belonging to Provinces.
8. The importance of grass roots governance and people participation shall be stressed through statutory systems of consultation at Grama Niladhari level, which is the first level at which there is formal interaction between the people and government.
9. The importance of accountability and consultation at Divisional Secretariat level, which is the first level at which significant decisions are taken by government, shall be stressed through ensuring that cadre positions are filled with regard to all officials responsible for welfare and development. All government departments with local responsibilities should be based on Divisional Units. Coordination between appointed and elected officials must be entrenched at this level through regular meetings.
10. The integrity and efficiency of the Judiciary shall be promoted by the establishment of a Judicial Services Commission which will be independent of the active Judiciary as well as the Executive. It shall be responsible for appointments, except to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, and for ensuring that rules of conduct and procedure are formulated and followed to promote expeditious justice.
11. The integrity and efficiency of the Public Service shall be promoted by the establishment of a Public Services Commission which will ratify appointments of the President to senior positions in the Public Service, and shall lay down and enforce guidelines for other appointments as well as administrative procedures and conduct to promote efficiency and accountability.
12. Appointments by the President to the senior Courts and to independent Commissions and other positions established by the Constitution shall be ratified by the Senate. There shall be provision for acting appointments which do not need such ratification in the event of the Senate rejecting three consecutive nominees of the President.