What is the ‘Citizens’ Initiative for Constitutional Change’?
A team of dedicated civil society organization representatives and other stakeholders advocating for the importance of public consultation in the process of promulgating a new Constitution. As the government proceeds with its plan to bring about prolonged change by redressing the issues prevalent in the current Constitution of Sri Lanka, and with the support given to include public submissions in the drafting process, civil society is presented with an opportune moment to ensure that the rights of citizens are safeguarded and represented by the Constitution; the supreme law of the land. With this in mind, a team of civil society organization representatives and other interested civilians conducted a
preliminary meeting in November to discuss the possibility of coalescing to form a movement to advocate for public consultation in the Constitutional reform process. A number of meetings proceeded, and more organizations expressed their interest to enter into this Initiative, which has now resulted in a vast network of civil society advocates determined to ensure that public participation is included in the new Constitution process. One of the main outcomes of the preliminary meeting held on the 25th of November at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian and Research Institute was the establishment of 2 sub-committees; the ‘Logistics/Steering Committee’ that looks into the logistical aspect of the CICC including which meetings to attend, where to conduct meetings etc. and a ‘Consensus Committee’ that deals with evolving consensus and the fundamental basis of the CICC. Another outcome of the meetings held on the 1st of December 2015 arose from the necessity to educate the populace on the need for a new Constitution as well as the fundamentals prevalent in a Constitution. To address this, a booklet was compiled and published by an editorial team selected from CICC membership and headed by prominent Human Rights activist and Attorney-At-Law S.G. Punchihewa, simplifying what a Constitution must entail and how citizens could contribute to the making of a new Constitution. The book was titled “Why do we need a New Constitution?” and will be made available to the public in Sinhala and Tamil soon.
The overarching goal of the Citizens’ Initiative for Constitutional Change (CICC) is ensuring that the new Constitution upholds its predominant duty of representing the needs of the people by including their suggestions in the Constitution draft document. After careful deliberation, the CICC agreed that public consultation and discussion would revolve around 4 thematic areas;
- Reform of the Executive
- Strengthening of Fundamental Rights
- Meaningful power sharing/devolution
Following a workshop held on the 22nd of December 2015 organized by Transparency International and the Centre for Policy Alternatives, the CICC expanded on the above four categories and developed its position in relation to the discussion. The core agreement of the CICC is as follows:
Reform of the Executive
Executive control should be transferred from the Presidency to the Cabinet.
- A Bicameral system should be implemented with upper and lower houses.
- The Upper house (‘Senate’) must include Provincial representation and unrepresented groups.
- Appointment of Head of State should be through an Electoral College, inclusive of Provincial Council membership.
- The Head of State should be an apolitical figure.
- The Head of State could be vested limited powers/portfolios.
- Cabinet membership should be strictly limited to 25 members, with 25 Deputy/State Ministers. The number of Ministries should also be specified.
- The Constitution must be considered supreme to Parliament.
- The Head of government should be the Prime Minister, whilst the Head of State being the President.
- The powers and duties of the Judiciary should be specifically compartmentalized, and must be separate to the Executive and Legislature.
As this was a more convoluted topic, a difficulty arose with regard to reaching a specific decision. However, the discussion focused on the following topics.
- Should terms such as ‘Unitary’ or ‘Federal’ be used in association with devolution?
- How must this topic be addressed in relation to the new political culture that has been introduced?
- On what principles’ must devolution of power occur?Devolution could be seen as a solution to addressing the national question. Devolution must occur in a fashion that upholds and respects the rights of Tamil and Muslim communities in the North and East Provinces.
- If a just society is built on the basis of securing fundamental rights of all citizens, devolution will not be a necessity.
- Devolution should not only focus on the ethnic issue but be constructed taking into consideration all populations of Sri Lanka.
- It was also suggested that without addressing the needs of the Tamil population, devolution will not be feasible.
- Devolution should occur keeping development in mind.
- Devolution should occur in a manner that provides maximum power to the public.
- Devolution cannot occur given this current political and social climate and in order to achieve successful devolution, these climates must be changed first.
- The citizens of the South must be made aware of the content of devolution and be included into the discussion.
Although everyone agreed that maximum devolution must occur, the mechanisms of implementation will be further deliberated.
Strengthening Fundamental Rights
- The right to life should be recognized as a Fundamental Right.
- The need to incorporate stronger language on Economic Social & Cultural rights was emphasized with special emphasis on the right to education and the right to health.
- It was agreed that the Human Rights Commission needs to take into consideration, matters pertaining to violations of economic social & cultural rights as well. One way this could be done is by ensuring that members appointed to the commission are representative of fields related to economic social and cultural rights such as education and health so that these members could advise the government of Economic Social and Cultural rights issues.
- It was also proposed that the powers of the Human Rights Commission should be increased. The Commission should have power to enforce its rulings.
- Provincial High Courts should be allowed to hear Fundamental Rights cases.Another way in which the backlog of FR cases in the Supreme Court could be reduced is by creating a tribunal to hear grievances and disputes of civil service employees.
- Gender should be added as grounds for non-discrimination. (It was also proposed during the plenary that sexual orientation & gender identity be added to this list).
- It was proposed that specific language needs to be added on women’s rights such as the right to be free from violence.
- It was proposed that those rights which are identified as non-derogatory should have specific exceptions for each respective right. Or agreed text from the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights could be used ‘necessary in a democratic society’.
It was proposed to recognize that the judiciary has a prerogative to further human rights to further human rights.
Again, a final decision was difficult to achieve under this topic. Therefore discussion was focused on the following issues.
- A specific day must be agreed to for elections
- A calendar that dictates specific election days in necessary
- If local government elections and Provincial Council elections are conducted at the same time, funding required for campaigns could be significantly reduced
- Donations and any other form of funding must be stopped a minimum of three months prior to receiving nominations
- Campaign finances must be restricted to the amount of voters that come under an electorate
- A mixed system of FPP and PR must be maintained
- An Elections Commission is necessary
By pooling in the resources of all organizations involved in the CICC, the Initiative aims to conduct broad scale workshops across the country to raise awareness on the governments’ proceedings with regard to the Constitution process, as well as encourage and identify recommendations of the public for the new Constitution. As the government declared the establishment of a Public Representation Commission entrusted with the task of compiling public submissions, the CICC at its various workshops will encourage citizens to contribute to this Commission. The submissions identified by the CICC will also be compiled into a report that would subsequently be handed over to the Public Representation Commission as well. The various organizations will work in their individual capacities as well as a coalition to further the goal of this Initiative. Parallel to this Initiative, a youth campaign titled ‘My Constitution; A Youth Movement for a New Sri Lankan Constitution’ has also been launched and aims to encourage youth populations to contribute to the new Constitution process.
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