The Bishops Conference has issued the following statement signed by Rt. Rev. Dr. J. Winston S. Fernando, SSS Bishop of Badulla, President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka and Rt. Rev. Dr. J. D. Anthony Jayakody Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo, Secretary-General, Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka, on the proposed 20th Amendment:
“In the wake of the change of Government following the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka is constrained to share its grave concern to protect the sacredness of the State that transcends the mutable political and governing bodies. The 1978 Constitution changed primarily the Westminster type Cabinet Democracy to an Executive Presidency.
“Since then 19th Amendments have been made citing various reasons. However, one cannot deny that the main reasons have been to ensure economic growth, national security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the island nation. Apparently, the proposed 20th Amendment to The constitution under consideration does not seem to put forward any other rationale for the move. Whether it is an amendment or the drafting of a new Constitution, the sovereignty of the people should always be safeguarded and protected. In all probability, the contents of the 20th Amendment will find its way into envisioned new Constitution. It is imperative then to closely examine the proposed 20th Amendment before it is voted upon the Parliament.
“The Executive Presidency has been the bone of contention since it was created in 1978. All elected Presidents since 1994 vowed to abolish the Executive Presidency with powers vested in it by the 1978 constitution and transfer power to the democratically elected Parliament, but none had the political will to do so for reasons not unknown to the people.
“We need to emphasise that concentration of power in an individual without checks and balances does not augur well for a Democratic Socialist Republic. The two-thirds majority of the members in the Parliament based on political parties do not necessarily manifest the true conscience of the people. Therefore, let the entire membership of the Parliament appoint an Independent Constitutional Council comprising a majority of men and women of proven integrity from the society who will take of drafting a new constitution that ensures transparent democracy, the rule of law, and the equality of all citizens.
“It is our view that rules need not be changed due to the vagaries and inconsistencies of individual players, but to identify and elect or appoint suitable persons who will abide by the rules to safeguard the truth, justice, and the well-being of the country. It is the bounden-duty of the democratically elected Parliament to create wholesome governing structures capable of moving this country forward. The drafters must beware to plug the loopholes that lead to multiple interpretations.
“Greater clarity is needed if the Constitution is to serve the citizenry. Thus the 20th Amendment should not proceed with, in its entirety, and instead, a new Constitution needs to be the national priority at this moment.”