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STATEMENT BY NATIONAL CHRISTIAN COUNCIL OF SRI LANKA ON THE 20th AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION

The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) expresses its deep concern about the manner in which the 20th Amendment to the Constitution is sought to be introduced and several substantive provisions of the amendment itself.

THE PROCESS

The Government has decided to table the 20th Amendment Bill while also announcing that changes will be made to the Bill during the committee stage process in Parliament. It has not stated what changes will be made. Since the Constitution only provides a brief period for judicial review of Bills and prohibits post enactment judicial review, committee stage amendments will in effect be immune from both public and judicial scrutiny before they are adopted. This violates basic features of transparency, accountability and constitutionalism and betrays the promise made by several Government ministers that the public will be informed and consulted before constitutional amendments were introduced.

THE SUBSTANCE

The 20th Amendment Bill seeks to repeal many features of the 19th Amendment. Not all of the !9th Amendment’s features were flawed. The positive features should be retained. The 20th Amendment also disregards the recommendations made since the mid-1980s in favour of the importance of de-politicising key democratic institutions notably by the Presidential Commission on Youth Unrest (1990) and the concerted campaign since the constitution was adopted in 1978, led by a wide cross section of political forces and civil society groups, to introduce greater checks and balances on the office of the executive presidency by curtailing the President’s wide powers of appointment.
We urge the government to review the following aspects of the 20th Amendment:

  1. The introduction of a weak Parliamentary Council to replace the Constitutional Council is a retrogressive step. The President is only required to seek the observations of the Council. This in effect gives the President sole discretion to appoint persons to the superior courts and all the independent commissions. This will undermine their independence. The independence of the judiciary and commissions responsible for Elections and Human Rights are essential prerequisites for the Rule of Law and democratic and accountable governance.
  2. The 19th Amendment established the Audit Commission and the National Procurement Commission to ensure that corruption, political patronage and abuse of power was reduced. It also provided that the funds allocated to the offices of the President and the Prime Minister were subject to audit like all other ministries and departments. The removal of these features by the 20th Amendment lacks any justification.
  3. The reintroduction of the provision that enables the President to assign to him/herself ministerial portfolios and to dissolve Parliament one year after a parliamentary election undermine the powers of the Legislature which is expected to act as a watchdog on the executive.
  4. The reintroduction of provisions to enable the legislature to introduce “urgent bills”, a provision that has been subject to abuse by successive governments for decades, undermines basic norms of constitutionalism, accountability and the democratic rights of the people.

CONCLUSION

We call upon the Government to preserve those parts of the 19th Amendment that promote the independence of key institutions and accountable governance. Since one of the main objectives of a constitution is to protect and empower the people vis-a vis the government, all amendments to the 20th Amendment should be made accessible to the public so that their views can be considered before the Amendment is debated in Parliament.

‘But speaking the truth in love, may grow up to Him in all things;
which is the Head, even Christ’
(Eph.4:15)

Signed:

29th September 2020

Constituent Churches

  • Rev. W.P. Ebenezer Joseph, Chairperson of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, and President, Methodist Church of Sri Lanka
  • Rt. Rev. Keerthisiri Fernando – Bishop of the Church of Ceylon, Diocese of Kurunegala
  • Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel S. Thiagarajah, Bishop of Jaffna Diocese, Church of South India
  • Rt. Rev. D.R. Canagasabey – Metropolitan’s Commissary and Vicar General, Church of Ceylon- Diocese of Colombo
  • Rev. Heshan De Silva, President, Sri Lanka Baptist Sangamaya
  • Rev. Saman Perera Moderator/President, Presbytery of Lanka
  • Rev. Shirley Faber, President, Christian Reformed Church
  • Lft. Colonel Suresh Pawar ,Territorial Commander, The Salvation Army
  • Rev. Dr. Chrisso Handy General Superintendent/Chairman, Assemblies of God of Ceylon
  • Rev. S. George Neranjan, Acting President, Church of the Foursquare Gospel.
  • Rev. Maxwell Doss, General Secretary, National Christian Council of Sri Lanka

Member Ecumenical Organisations

  • Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)
  • Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA)
  • Student Christian Movement (SCM)
  • The Ceylon Bible Society
  • Christian Literature Society
  • Theological College of Lanka
  • Back to the Bible Broadcast

Associate Member Churches and Ecumenical Organisations

  • Rev. G. Nadarajah, President, Lanka Lutheran Church
  • Rev. T. Thevanesan, President, Church of the American Ceylon Mission
  • Colombo Theological Seminary
  • Youth for Christ

Download the Sinhala statement here

Download the Tamil statement here

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