A Sri Lankan lawyer who is also an international human rights activist, a former judicial officer and a domestic civil rights activist have now added their voices to the public call demanding that the Constitutional Council be immediately constituted in terms of the 17th Amendment.
Basil Fernando, (presently executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission), Samith de Silva (former High Court judge, Panadura) and Jayanthi Dandeniya (head of Families of the Disappeared, Katunayake) have written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, requesting him to forthwith make the appointments to the CC, once the nominations have been received by him, as he is constitutionally required to do.
The CC comprises the Speaker (as Chairman), the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, one person appointed by the President, five persons appointed by the President on the nomination of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and one person appointed upon agreement by the majority of parliamentarians belonging to the political parties and/or independent groups not belonging to the respective political parties of the Government or the Leader of the Opposition.
Once the nominations are made, they have to be communicated in writing to the President who is then forthwith required to make the respective appointments in terms of Article 41A(5) of the 17th Amendment. Last week, the public was informed that the five joint nominations needed to be sent by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister had finally been sent to President Rajapaksa. The nominations had been pending for over eight months after the term of the first Constitutional Council ended early last year.
However, the remaining nominee is yet to be named by the political parties and/or independent groups not belonging to the respective political parties of the Government or the Leader of the Opposition.
This process has become complicated reportedly as a result of controversy as to who exactly falls into this category out of the political parties represented in Parliament with the JVP arguing that it is also included in this grouping and consequently has a right to participate in the decision making.
This controversy is likely to delay the constitution of the CC yet further.
In their letters sent to President Rajapaksa, the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister, Mr Fernando, Mr de Silva and Ms Dandeniya have pointed out that a disturbing hiatus in constitutional governance had arisen as a result of the non-constitution of the CC due to the ‘highly regrettable” delay on the part of those who had the constitutional duty to make the required nominations.
Consequently, even though the terms of office of key commissions such as the National Police Commission and the Public Service Commission lapsed in November 2005, new members to the said commissions could not be nominated. In addition, appointments to the higher judiciary have been left pending.
In particular, insofar as the NPC mission and the PSC are concerned, the Cabinet has recently decided to allow the Inspector General of Police and heads of ministries/departments to respectively exercise the powers of these two Commissions in the interim period till they are re-constituted. This has been stated to have led to tremendous public concern in regard to the nullification of the provisions of the 17th Amendment.
Similar letters have also been written to the leaders of political parties and/or independent groups not belonging to the respective political parties of the Government or the Opposition, including the JVP, urging them to reach a consensus as to who belongs into this category and thereafter, to make the required nomination speedily.