Colombo, May 23: The Sri Lankan cabinet, which met here on Monday, discussed a draft 21 st. Amendment of the constitution meant to reduce the powers of the Executive President and increase the powers of the parliament on the pattern of the repealed 19 th.Amendment.
The Prime Minister’s office said in a statement that the draft 21 st Amendment will be given to the leaders of the parties represented in parliament on May 27. Thereafter the cabinet will discuss the amendment and the observations of the party leaders on it.
There has been a persistent demand since the mid-1990s for the reduction of the gargantuan powers vested in the directly elected Executive President and increase the powers of parliament. The Executive Presidential system was created by the 1978 constitution authored by J.R.Jayewardene, who was keen on setting up a steady and strong central authority to carry out radical economic reforms. He replaced socialism by neo-liberal policies to bring about rapid economic development.
But successive Presidents tended to misuse the authority vested in them instead of using it for development or the welfare of the people.
However, from the time of President Chandrika Kumaratunga in the 1990s, attempts have been made by Presidents to tone down their powers either through a new constitution or an amendment of the existing one. But these attempts were half-hearted and therefore unproductive. In fact, President Mahinda Rajapaksa increased his powers by enacting the 18th.Amendment.
When the ‘Good Governance’ government came into being under President Maithripala Siridena and Pime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2015, the 19 th.Amendment was enacted, reducing the powers of the President and increasing the powers of parliament and also introducing non-political Independent Commissions to oversee executive power.
But in 2020, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa replaced the 19 th.Amendment by the 20th. Amendment which once again concentrated power in the hands of the Executive President. However, Gotabaya Rajapaksa messed it up his job so much that within two years into his term, he faced a massive and popular movement to get rid of quit. He would not quit but agreed to get his powers pruned.
The 21 st.Amendment which is meant to do this job has been drafted by the lawyer MP and the present Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe.
New Economic Policies
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday met representatives from the Chambers of Commerce, the Treasury (Finance Ministry) and Economic Advisers to discuss a new budget and future economic plans.
Wickremesinghe said that a new budget would be presented which would significantly reduce capital expenditure. The money thus saved would be used for welfare programs. The Prime Minister further said that due to the war in Ukraine and also mismanagement by the previous governments, Sri Lanka is facing a food shortage. Government is trying to minimize the impact of the shortages.
The business representatives told the PM that the process of distributing relief to the people should be digitized. The Prime Minister said that government will work out the criteria for those eligible for welfare.
He further said that an economic policy framework that enshrines economic rights would be included in the proposed Constitution. He has asked the Finance Ministry to undertake structural reforms based on a competitive social market economy that can achieve development goals.