A week of action

Saturday, 26 September 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Constitutional Council is now in place. Functions of ministries have been gazetted. A debate is on whether the death penalty should be brought back. The first walkout by Opposition MPs in the new Parliament has been recorded.

President Sirisena left for New York to attend the UN General Assembly. The Prime Minister returned after a successful Indian tour. The Right to Information Act has been finalised for presentation to Parliament on 7 October. And there is lot of talk on ‘hybrid court or not’.

This is a gist of the happenings of another week. It has certainly been a week of action judging from media reports.

Objections raised during the final session of the last Parliament on the three civil society representatives to serve on the Constitutional Council (CC) delayed its work. This week Parliament approved the same names: Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne – founder of the Sarvodaya movement; former Attorney General Shibly Aziz; and one-time UN Under Secretary General Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy – all well-known names.Untitled-1

The CC was first set up in 2000 under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. During President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime, it was replaced by a five-member Parliamentary Council when the nominees had to be approved by the President. Following the election of President Sirisena in January this year it was decided to once again form the CC.

The major task of the new CC is the appointment of members to independent commissions – 10 in all. They are: Election Commission, Public Service Commission, National Police Commission, Audit Service Commission, Human Rights Commission, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, Finance Commission, National Procurement Commission and University Grants Commission.

The CC comprises 10 members of whom three are ex-officio members – the Speaker (Chairman), Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Four are nominated members – Champika Ranawaka (President’s nominee), Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and John Seneviratne (nominated by the PM and Opposition Leader) and Vijitha Herath (nominee of other parties not represented in the CC).

There will be a lot of interest on the appointments to the commissions.


Need for sober assessment

While at least one MP is pressing hard for the death penalty to be reintroduced, Friday Forum has come out strongly against the move.

UNP MP Ranjan Ramanayake has sprung into action following the widely-publicised killing of the little girl Seya in his electorate. Meanwhile, the President is reported to have said at a public meeting that he is ready to bring back the death penalty if Parliament approves the move.

“This is not a matter to be decided by public opinion or even by majority votes in Parliament, understandably inflamed by ghastly sexual attacks and murders. It is a matter for leaders to show true leadership after sober assessment,” Friday Forum insists.

“The true incentive to crime is that perpetrators feel that they can get away with it. The real deterrent is the likelihood that one will be found out, arrested, tried, convicted and punished. The remedy is improving the criminal justice system – better crime prevention, better crime detection, better investigation, improved prosecutions and trial procedures”, it says.


Lengthy gazette notice

The gazette notification announcing the functions of the ministries is a long one – the Sinhala language along running to 68 pages.

Glancing through the gazette one could find a heap of institutions and State agencies generally not heard of. With several new ministries been set up, a re-allocation of functions and institutions was inevitable. Thus many of them allocated to the different ministries in January have been reshuffled.

With 36 State agencies coming under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, it’s the one with the largest number. Two have got just one institution under each. One is the Primary Industries Ministry with only Export Agriculture Department and the other is the Southern Development Ministry with Galle Heritage Foundation.

Many wondered what the functions of the Ministry of National Dialogue would be. It’s now clear. The Official Languages Department, Official Languages Commission, National Institute of Language, Education & Training, and National Secretariat for NGOs come under its purview.

No more delays – the ministers have to buckle down to do a job of work.