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Editorial

 
 

Urgent Bills



Some UPFA parliamentarians have recently called upon the government not to present the proposed constitutional amendments as an urgent Bill to Parliament because such action will preclude public discussion thereon. They can rest assured that they have all right thinking people on their side.


These UPFA big guns, however, did not make a whimper when urgent Bills were presented to Parliament under the previous government of which they were powerful ministers. They unflinchingly backed those undemocratic moves, didn’t they? They voted for the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with their customary gung-ho zeal.


However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was the chief architect of the 18th Amendment which did away the presidential term limit among other things had to pay for his constitutional sin, as it were, with two years of his second term! But for that amendment he would still have been the President.


The 18th Amendment has, in a way, stood the enemies of Rajapaksa in good stead. A minister who could not realise his prime ministerial dream under the previous government has become the Executive President. A politician who was widely thought to be doomed to be in the Opposition for the rest of his life has made a stunning comeback as the Prime Minister. A former President the Rajapaksas wrote off as a liability has become the eminence grise. An impeached Chief Justice got her job and pension back. A cashiered army commander won back his hard earned medals as well as pension. A BASL president who bravely took on the Rajapaksas got a plum job.


There is a misconception among some political observers that only urgent Bills are bad as they are not open to public debate. But, there is much to be desired from the current process of passing ordinary Bills as well; only a woefully inadequate seven-day window is there for them to be challenged. Worse, there have been instances where amendments were sneaked in to existing laws. Once those Bills are passed they become faits accomplis which not even courts can review.


Another problem that needs to be addressed is that the present Constitution does not provide for post enactment judicial review. The so-called supremacy of parliament has robbed the people of their right to challenge in courts laws that have been passed. There are no such restrictions on judicial review of legislation in other countries which respect people’s sovereignty and believe in good governance, of which participation and responsiveness are hallmarks.


Let the born-again democrats in the new government give serious thought to bringing in a constitutional provision to enable the post-enactment judicial review of laws so that governments will be cautious when they pass Bills.


It will be unbecoming of the present government which is extolling the virtues of good governance to present constitutional amendments or anything else for that matter as an urgent Bill. What a song and dance its leaders made when the Rajapaksa government employed that undemocratic method. They must allow the pubic to discuss the proposed amendments.


We believe that a new law must be introduced to make a referendum mandatory besides a two-thirds majority for the passage of a new Constitution or constitutional amendments. During the past three months parliamentarians have been leveling very serious allegations of bribery and corruption and various crimes against one another and crossovers have been accused of having taken bribes to switch their allegiance. Following some abortive attempts to torpedo President Rajapaksa’s wartime budget in Parliament in 2008, we quoted a minister as saying that the then Opposition had used a lot of money and Russian prostitutes in a bid to engineer crossovers. In a country where there are drug dealers, fraudsters, bribe takers, thieves of public wealth and other such dregs among parliamentarians whose conscience obviously has its price, the passing of new Constitutions of vital constitutional amendments should not be left entirely to Parliament.


 
 
 

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