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New Constitution generates heated debate

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  • Govt. assures foremost position to Buddhism retained 

By Ashwin Hemmathagama 

Lawmakers on both sides of the political divide traded barbs on the new Constitution yesterday with Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella charging Joint Opposition Parliamentary group leader Dinesh Gunawardena shot down Government plans to table a draft of the new Constitution, which the latter denied. 

According to MP Gunawardena, the Steering Committee appointed by the Constitutional Assembly had considered tabling an interim report prepared by the panel of experts. “No such decision was taken at the Steering Committee meeting held on Thursday. Both I and MP Douglas Devananda were present at the meeting. Only a report of the experts was considered to be presented. So, the Leader of the House should not mislead the Parliament as it is a matter of Constitutional Assembly.”

The first phase of the Constitutional process began in January 2016 with the appointment of the Public Representations Committee for Constitutional Reforms (PRC) by the Cabinet of Ministers to seek the views of the people.  A 20-member Committee comprising of academics and experts from different fields were nominated by political parties under the Chairmanship of Lal Wijenayake.

Meanwhile, raising a question for oral answers, UPFA Joint Opposition MP Udaya Gammanpila inquired the formation and the cost incurred by the Public Representation Committee (PRC), which was the first step – the public consultation process the Unity Government took to bring a new Constitution as mentioned in its election manifesto. The public consultation process was broadly structured to capture the needs and aspirations of the people through nation-wide consultations over several months. This mechanism paved the way for wide and active public participation and a culture of inclusiveness. The mandate of the PRC was to seek oral and written submissions from the public on Constitutional reforms through public consultations throughout the country. The PRC held public consultations in all 25 administrative districts and considered a large volume of submissions made by members of the public.According to the Government, the PRC has incurred a total cost of Rs. 8 billion and was born by the Government. “The Prime Minister moved an interim report of the sub-committee in Parliament recently. That report categorically confirms that it is the responsibility and the duty of the Government to give Buddhism priority and to protect it while supporting the other religions in the way forward,” said the State Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs Niroshan Perera.


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