Feb 10, Colombo: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a leading public policy research and advocacy think tank in Sri Lanka, today expressed concern over the new government’s failure to inform the public on its constitutional reform process.
Welcoming the general direction of the government’s 100-day reforms programme that is currently underway, the CPA said they are “increasingly” concerned that there is virtually no detailed information available in the public domain regarding the reform process.
In a statement, the think tank said it “unhesitatingly” support the government’s initiatives to abolish the executive presidential system, the re-establishment of the Constitutional Council and the independent commissions, freedom of information legislation, and the reform of the parliamentary committee system.
The CPA said further reforms must follow in the next Parliament to consolidate democracy and pluralism, including major changes to the framework of devolution and power-sharing, and the protection of fundamental human rights.
However, the CPA said as the new government reaches the completion of its first full month in office, they are concerned that there is no detailed information available in the public domain about how substantive proposals are evolving within Cabinet, Parliament, and the National Executive Council.
“Constitutional reform is not a matter exclusively for government and political parties especially in a long-standing democracy like Sri Lanka, and it is crucial that the public are kept fully informed about how the form and substance of the reforms are negotiated among parliamentary parties,” the NGO suggested.
The CPA said that more can be done to share and disseminate information, to encourage public participation and consultation, and to ensure the transparency of decision-making in regard to the reform process.
The organization noted that the full potential of information and communication technologies creatively leveraged to stimulate public debate during the election campaign, are not being exploited to disseminate information on the reform process to the public.
“The nature and form of the current process does not meet even basic standards in respect of transparency and participation established by international constitution-making best practice,” the CPA criticized.
The organization insisted the government to “at the absolute minimum” publish the final Nineteenth Amendment Bill and provide at least two weeks for public debate before presentation to Parliament.
“The reform proposals would undoubtedly be qualitatively improved by being subjected to open discussion, critique, and review,” the CPA pointed out.
“We also strongly believe that the durability and legitimacy of the reforms would be enhanced if the public are not only consulted on the way their governing arrangements are being changed, but if their views are seen to be actively taken into account. This will moreover lessen the scope for self-interested political opposition to the reforms, and it is in the interests of the people of Sri Lanka that the reform process is not derailed in any way,” the think tank explained.
The organization stressed that it is the government’s primary responsibility to reach out to the substantial part of the electorate that voted for the losing candidate in the presidential election.
All sections of public opinion must be engaged and included in building the new Sri Lankan political culture and its structures of constitutional democracy, the CPA underscored.
The government must continue the rich public discourse about democracy and good governance engendered during the last election and must ensure respect for the views of the public by taking immediate measures to improve the transparency of the process and public participation in it, the CPA insisted.
The organization also called on the government to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and replace it with necessary legislation consistent with applicable international standards.
The CPA further called upon the government to take the most expeditious steps possible to release the scores of Sri Lankan citizens who have suffered deprivations of liberty for long periods of time, and in most cases torture and ill-treatment, under its unconscionable provisions.
CPA also noted that the regulations promulgated under the PTA in lieu of Emergency Regulations continue in force.
“These are unconstitutional and ultra vires and in violation of our ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) commitments. They have to be withdrawn forthwith,” the CPA stressed.
The organization expressed hope that the government will consider “these constructive critiques in the spirit in which they are made, and will take steps to address them.”