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Text of lecture at a workshop at the Kotelawala Defence University – January 20th 2013

In the first section of this talk I spoke about the confusion in Sri Lanka between the Executive and the Legislature. Flowing from a system in which expansion of the Executive is seen as the easiest way of ensuring a Parliamentary majority, we have overlapping Ministries. We have however failed to institutionalize systems of coordination, both within the executive branch and also within Parliament which is supposed to exercise oversight and contribute to policy formulation.

We have also failed to promote coordination of activities between the different levels of government, or between different branches at the same level. As it is, we have a very confusing Constitution that entrusts several responsibilities to Provincial administrations but then gives authority also to the Central government. This is because we have what is termed a Concurrent List, which is nothing but concurrent because in the event of disagreement the will of the Central government prevails; and dual responsibilities at provincial and local level. It is also because the Centre is given responsibility for National Policy on all subjects, but we have failed to conceptualize this clearly and to spell it out in legislation.

I have become more acutely aware of the problem in my role as Convenor of the Task Force meant to expedite implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan. It is important to make policy changes in accordance with the plan, but ensuring acceptance of these and relevant action at all levels will not be easy. In particular, while we should not duplicate action, and should leave this to local agencies which are best equipped to cover all geographical areas, we must ensure monitoring, and that is best done through a Central agency to ensure uniformity. However our legal officials have still not entrenched a system of legislation that makes clear the primacy of National Policy and the obligation of the Central government to ensure its implementation, while leaving implementation to other levels of government. I should add that they have also completely failed to ensure conformity with the 13th amendment in much legislation that has entered the statute books in the last two decades, while this has also been ignored in various administrative decisions taken by Central government.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the Province, while it should remain the unit that exercises responsibility for both regulations with regard to devolved subjects and for executive action in those areas, is too large for the consultation and accountability that make devolution meaningful. We should therefore be building up local government institutions, but at present these are not given sufficient authority, while they suffer staff shortages that prevent effective action in many vital areas.

To illustrate the confusion we suffer from, let me consider the care of children, which I have been much concerned with recently. Fortunately we now have a Secretary at the Ministry who can conceptualize coherently, and who understands the problems and is also capable of developing systems of coordination which will enhance the services on offer. But whether he can cut through the accumulation of entities in the field is a question.
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Some years back the Council for Liberal Democracy produced an influential book called ‘Ideas for Constitutional Reform’, edited by Chanaka Amaratunga. A shorter version of this was issued a few years back, and I have now put together a brief outline of further Ideas for Constitutional Reform, based on principles that have emerged in recent consultations with regard to a National Reconciliation Policy, and on the needs expressed in Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings. These are given below, and will be followed by brief articles on the various topics covered.

  1. Electoral Reform

To ensure responsibility of members for a limited area and accountability to a constituency

And

To ensure that Parliament as a whole is proportionate to the wishes of the electorate

The House of Representatives shall consist of two hundred Members elected on a mixed system. One hundred of them will be elected on the basis of constituencies in which the electors shall be similar in number. Such constituencies shall be prescribed by a Delimitation Commission which shall combine the Grama Niladhari Divisions into Constituencies which have commensurate numbers or as near commensurate as possible.

Voters shall vote for individuals in these constituencies. They may give up to three preferences in order, of which only the first shall be counted initially. This is in accordance with the alternative system of voting. After the first count, unless a candidate has received over half the votes cast, the candidate with least first preferences will be eliminated, and such candidate’s preferences redistributed. The process shall be repeated until one candidate shall have received 50% plus one of the total votes cast.

Voters will also cast a second vote for a political party. The remaining hundred members of the House of Representatives shall be chosen so as to reflect the proportion of votes obtained by each party. Each party shall submit a list known as the Party List. After the constituency representatives are declared elected, parties shall receive an allocation that brings up their total representation in Parliament to the proportion they received in the Party vote. .

In the event of a party receiving more seats on the Constituency Vote than the proportion it receives on the Party Vote, it will not receive any seats on the Party Vote, but the surplus shall sit in the House of Representatives which, for that Parliament alone, may have more than 200 members. If independent candidates are elected on the Constituency Vote, without being part of any Independent Group obtaining Party Votes, they too may constitute a surplus for the life of that Parliament.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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