Colombo: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sunday batted for the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, saying it will curb the president’s unlimited powers while enhancing the role of Parliament in governing the debt-ridden country which is also facing an unprecedented political turmoil.
In a special televised address to the nation on the current constitutional reforms programme undertaken by the government, Wickremesinghe said the 21st Amendment when approved by Parliament would help Sri Lanka in several ways.
He underlined the need to strengthen the existing laws to give more authority to Parliament in the exercise of monetary powers.
Following the example of countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and India, we are proposing a stronger and more powerful law, he said.
The 21st Amendment is expected to annul the 20A to the Constitution, which gives unfettered powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after abolishing the 19th Amendment that will strengthen Parliament.
The 21st Amendment to the Constitution will be passed and Parliament will be strengthened. The move is to make parliament stronger while holding the presidency accountable to the assembly, he said in his statement.
The government has launched a move to introduce 21A in order to restore the 19A of 2015.
Powers of Parliament will be increased by the proposed 21A , prime minister Wickremesinghe said.
In his statement, the prime minister emphasised that the main issues in Sri Lanka are not limited to the economic sphere.
There are also two major issues in the political sphere. The re-introduction of the 19th Amendment is one of these issues. We, as party leaders, are now preparing the 21st Amendment. The second issue is to work towards the abolition of the Executive Presidency. The timing and methodology must be decided by the Party Leaders, he said.
Referring to the functioning of the parliament, Wickremesinghe said that powers given to the house have been weakened.
The functioning of the Parliament has been paralysed due to the weakening of the Parliamentary powers by the 20th Amendment. The Executive has been given more powers. The main allegation today is that the Parliament has not acted to prevent the economic crisis. There is an allegation that even though the ruling party had a majority in Parliament they neglected the work of the Parliament. Everything was systematically controlled by the Cabinet Ministers, he said.
We do not always have to look at what happened in the past, but there are examples we can follow, Wickremesinghe, who was appointed prime minister earlier this month, said.
Wickremesinghe replaced Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Sri Lanka is near bankruptcy and has severe shortages of essentials from food, fuel, medicines and cooking gas to toilet paper and matchsticks. For months, people have been forced to stay in long lines to buy the limited stocks.
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has created political unrest with a protest occupying the entrance to the president’s office demanding his resignation continuing for more than 50 days.
Wickremesinghe said there was a need to change the structure of Parliament and create a new system.
Now we need to change the structure of Parliament and create a new system by combining the existing system of Parliament or the Westminster system and the system of State Councils. In those cases Parliament can participate in governing the country, he said.
At present there are three Committees on Government Finance. The three Committees are the Public Finance Committee, the Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Enterprises. Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena has made several proposals to strengthen the powers of these three Committees, he said.
Wickremesinghe said that they are working to establish two new Committees on Monetary Affairs.
We will appoint a Legal and Methodological Committee to look into the matter. Secondly, the main problem we face is the financial condition of the banks and financial institutions. There are a number of issues that have been weakened, he said.
The new prime minister also proposed roles for the youth and creation of a National Council.
The youth are calling for a change in the existing system. They also want to know the current issues. Therefore, I propose to appoint four youth representatives to each of these 15 committees. One of them will be appointed by the Youth Parliament. The other three will be from the protesting groups and other activist groups, he said.
The Sri Lankan youth of late have been highly active in demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
We also propose a National Council. A committee consisting of the Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the major parties is called the National Council, he said.
Under the 21A, the President will be held accountable to the Parliament. The Cabinet of Ministers is also accountable to Parliament. The National Council is also accountable to Parliament. Fifteen Committees and Oversight Committees are accountable to Parliament.
There is a system in place to control the Government through the Cabinet, to examine the work of the President, to oversee the work of the political affairs through the National Council and to oversee the financial affairs and other matters of the other fifteen committees, he said.
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