- Assembly will receive report from the Panel of Experts on stakeholder views
By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent
The Constitutional Assembly will sit this morning in the main Chamber of Parliament to receive a report the Panel of Experts has prepared.
The report will have the opinion of experts, political parties, Provincial Councils, and the deliberations of the Steering Committee meetings. This report was tabled at the Steering Committee meeting held on 9 January, at the Constitutional Assembly Secretariat on the 4th floor of the Parliament Complex.
Today’s Assembly meeting, which is scheduled to commence at 10 am, could be the last meeting of the Constitutional Assembly and likely conclusion of the uncompleted long process of drafting a new Constitution for the country.
With the constitutional crisis hitting political circles badly, the process was derailed on 26 October, and the Constitutional Assembly Secretariat is now left with two staffers to take care of the confidential documents and submissions received, before the remaining staff are transferred to other departments in Parliament and to take over normal duties.
The Framework Resolution of 9 March 2016 created a representative body known as the Constitutional Assembly, whereby all 225 Members of Parliament sit as a Committee for the purpose of drafting a Constitutional Proposal. The needs and aspirations of the people within the constitutional reform process is reflected through the composition of the Constitutional Assembly as a body comprising the democratically elected representatives of the people of Sri Lanka. The Constitutional Assembly is chaired by the Speaker of Parliament, and is aided by seven Deputy Chairmen, who have been elected by the Assembly to chair sittings in his absence. The quorum for meetings of the Constitutional Assembly is fixed at twenty, and sittings are conducted within the Chamber of the Parliament. The proceedings of the Constitutional Assembly are open to members of the public.
The first sitting of the Constitutional Assembly was held on 5 April 2016, and was presided over by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya as the Chairman.
The Framework Resolution of March 2016 further provided for the setting up of a Steering Committee tasked with the preparation of the Draft Constitutional Proposal for consideration of the Constitutional Assembly. Accordingly, the Steering Committee was appointed by the Constitutional Assembly on 5 April 2016 and is chaired by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The 21 members of the Steering Committee reflects the general political party leadership within Parliament.
In preparing the Draft Constitutional Proposal for consideration of the Constitutional Assembly, the Steering Committee is aided by six Sub-Committees. These Sub-Committees were appointed by the Constitutional Assembly on 5 May 2016 to deliberate on areas of Fundamental Rights, Judiciary, Law and Order, Public Finance, Public Service, and Centre-Periphery Relations. The final reports of the Sub-committees were presented to the Steering Committee in August/ September 2016 and tabled in the Constitutional Assembly on 19 November 2016. The recommendations contained therein are to be debated in the Constitutional Assembly and considered by the Steering Committee in drafting constitutional proposals on the respective subject areas. The Final Report of the Steering Committee and the Draft Constitutional Proposals will be subject to deliberation and debate by the Constitutional Assembly.
In terms of clause 4 (a) of the Framework Resolution, the Constitutional Assembly appointed experts in any field or profession where deemed necessary by the Constitutional Assembly. Clause 10 provided for the appointment of other experts to aid and advise the Constitutional Assembly and its various Committees. On 5 May 2016, a Panel of Experts was appointed to the Constitutional Assembly and its sub committees in terms of the aforesaid clauses. The meetings of the panel of experts are chaired by lawmakers Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne and M. A. Sumanthiran, Co-Chairs of the Management Committee appointed by the Steering Committee.
The first round of debates in the Constitutional Assembly commenced at the stage of considering the Interim Report of the Steering Committee, which was presented to the Assembly at its fifth sitting held on 21 September 2017. The Final Report incorporating approved amendments was to be submitted to the Constitutional Assembly thereafter, together with the Draft Constitutional Proposal containing the actual text of a Constitution for Sri Lanka. If the Constitutional Assembly approves the Draft Constitutional Proposal by a two-thirds majority, it will be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers. The Draft Constitutional Proposal will also be presented to the Parliament. Thereafter, the Constitutional Assembly will stand dissolved. With the planned dissolution of the Constitutional Assembly, the Draft Constitutional Proposal was to be converted to a Bill for consideration by Parliament, in accordance with the scheme laid out in the Second Republican Constitution of 1978 (present Constitution) for formally enacting a new Constitution for Sri Lanka.
The Panel of Experts was established based on nominations from different political parties in the Steering Committee. The contributions of the Panel of Experts include academic and technical input at committee deliberations, submission of position papers in respect of subject matters under discussion and the provision of general expertise. Prof. Suri Ratnapala, Prof. Austin Pulle, Prof. A.M Navaratna Bandara, N. Selvakkumaran, Prof. (Ms.) Camena Gunaratne, Prof. Kapila Perera, Suren Fernando, Niran Ankatell, Asoka Gunawardena, and Ms. Chamindry Saparamadu are the members of the Panel of Experts.