Introduction to Public Participation in Constitution Making

CPA hosted a meeting for Civil Society to introduce its Programme on Citizen Participation in Constitution Making on the 13th of October at the OPA, Colombo.
Senior Researcher from CPA Outreach, Lionel Guruge introduced attendees to the objectives of the proposed programme, which are mainly to ensure that citizen recommendations and aspirations were included in the formulation of a new Sri Lankan Constitution. This had not been the case in the formulation of the previous Constitution and its amendments.

CPA Executive Director, Dr Saravanamuttu emphasised the responsibility that Civil Society bears to ensure that the Constitution reflects people’s aspirations and needs. Speaking on the actions of previous governments, he stated that when good governance was spoken of people laughed; when eradication of corruption was mentioned people stated that this was Sri Lanka; democratic deficiencies were considered an occupational hazard, but presently these have been included into the spectrum of public policy. He further stated that we as civil society must not forget that it was us who included these actions into public policy, and it will be incumbent upon us to not participate in the making of the supreme law of the land.

Human Rights activist SG Punchihewa emphasised that in making a new Constitution, civil society must be sensitive to various factors such as the ambiguity of laws in the Constitution which subsequently lead to ambiguous implementation of laws. He stated that this was the case in the section of the current Constitution dedicated to Sri Lanka’s obligation to international treaties. He further emphasised the need to preserve and promote language equality in the Constitution.

Speaking at the programme, parliamentarian and President’s Counsel Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne said that a special committee to make recommendations for the preparation of a new Constitution for Sri Lanka has been appointed under the guidance of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He stated that Officials of the Legal Draftsman Department, intellectuals from the legal sector, parliamentary officials and representatives are included in the committee. He added that no final decision has been made by the government on how they may proceed with this initiative; yet a number of options are being discussed including the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee to oversee the process, or the Parliament adopting a ‘whole-house’ approach i.e. the whole Parliament acting as one body for the purpose of drafting the new Constitution. Dr. Wickramarathne further stated that currently there hasn’t been a discussion on a Constitution making process beyond parliamentary intervention but that the government is very much in favour of a Constitution that includes public participation and that the government led approach for such an initiative would depend on what option the government decides to take for the drafting of the Constitution.

Attendees of the event included civil society organization representatives, academics, former ministers, legal professionals, media, Trade Union members and University Students. Former Auditor General Mr. Sarath Mayadunne, Dr. Jayampathy Wicramarathne, Executive Director of PAFFREL Mr. Rohana Hettiarachchi were also among the attendees.

A number of suggestions and considerations for the new Constitution were made by the attendees of the event, including;
• As stipulated in the 13th Amendment, the inclusion of Tamil language as another official language in a separate Article in misleading and unnecessary; therefore to include Sinhala and Tamil as the two official languages of Sri Lanka in one Article
• To remove any mention of religion from the Constitution and promote a secular Constitution
• More attention given to the minority Tamil population in the Estate Sector
• To include the suggestions and representation of minorities such as Burgher, Malay, and Indigenous populations of the country
• The inclusion of a structured mechanism for the devolution of power including the duties of the Provincial Councils
• The inclusion of the Right to Life and Right to Health in the new Constitution
• Inclusion and greater representation of women in the new Constitution – women’s issues to be considered a national issue instead of being isolated as a burden of women alone

There was also concern raised regarding the timeline of the government in drafting the new Constitution as many believed one year is not sufficient enough to formulate a truly representative Constitution that includes the aspirations of the public. Other civil society organization representatives stated that a campaign of this scale would be difficult for one organization to conduct in isolation and promoted the suggestion of a concerted effort from all interested civil society organizations so that they may pool in their resources for a successful program. Some were also of the opinion that the government must be proactive in this process so that citizens are given assurance that the government is indeed interested in promoting a representative Constitution.

Press cover of the event can be found at:

http://varunmultimedia.me/videos/btv/vmtube/hiru-news/hiru-news_-13-10-15/play.html?1
http://varunmultimedia.net/videos/btv/vmtube/sirasa-news/news-1st-sinhala_-13-10-15/play.html?1
http://www.rupavahini.lk/main-news/sinhala-news/8677-2015-10-13.html
http://www.news.lk/news/politics/item/10280-pm-appoints-a-committee-to-create-a-new-constitution
http://www.tamilwin.com/show-RUmtzASYSVgo0E.html
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/news-online/special-committee-prepare-new-constitution-appointed-guidance-pm.html
http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=local/cpa-seek-massive-public-participation-formulation-new-constitution