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24thProductive day in Parliament, with the first reading of two amendments to the Constitution that I had proposed, seconded by Upeksha Swarnamali.The 24th, which is the more important I think, is about making Secretaries to Ministries Permanent, and restoring their appointment to the Public Service Commission. I hope that all those who are keen on independent commissions will accept that these will have no teeth if the most important appointments in the Public Service are left in the hands of the Executive.

 

The text in all three languages, as gazetted a couple of weeks back, is available at http://tiny.cc/19thAmendment

 

The other amendment, the 23rd, is to fulfil the pledge in the Presidential manifesto to introduce an electoral system that ensures individual representation for constituencies but makes the whole of Parliament proportionate to the will of the people. I cannot understand why we are making such a meal of this particular reform, since the text as gazetted indicates how simple it is to ensure this. The only question is the number of constituencies, and since the election Commissioner said that 125 would be hard to define, I have suggested that the first election under this system could be for 150 constituencies. He said that reducing the current number to this would not take him more than three months.

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19thAI was most disturbed that the proposed 19th amendment does not seem to take seriously the commitment in the President’s election manifesto to ensure the independence of the Public Service. Two dangerous provisions remain from the past.

The first is that Ministry Secretaries shall be appointed by the President (though, according to the amendment introduced in the Supreme Court, only on the advice of the Prime Minister). The second is that all Ministry Secretaries vacate office when a new government is formed.

Both these are contrary to practice in other countries with a Westminster style Cabinet system of government. Since this matter has been decided on without sufficient consultation, or understanding of the principles involved in ensuring that Public Servants serve the public rather than the Executive, I have proposed an amendment to the Constitution. This has now been gazetted I attach a copy of the Gazette of March 27th, and would be most grateful if you could raise the issue and promote support for this initiative.

The change from what used to be Permanent Secretaries was introduced when Sri Lanka had a Statist concept of government. But while governments that are elected are entitled to expect that Public Servants act in accordance with the policies of the government, this must also be in terms of law and regulations.

It is also important to ensure continuity, and help new ministers find their feet, by receiving briefs with regard to the policies and activities of the Ministry they are taking over. Simply establishing independent Commissions to recommend appointments will not help if the most senior members of the Public Service, and the Chief Accounting Officers of Ministries, are not appointed by the Commissions. The present draft 19th Amendment keeps them beholden to the government in power for their positions.

English

 

 

Sinhala

 

 

Tamil

 

Rajiva Wijesinha

April 2015
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