Passing the 22nd Amendment the need of the hour - Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe | Sunday Observer

Passing the 22nd Amendment the need of the hour - Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe

16 October, 2022

Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms Dr.Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC said that passing the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution is the need of the hour as it is of national interest.

The Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said without these reforms, we cannot make much progress. Else this rotten system will continue. Dr. Rajapakshe said: “The 22nd Amendment was not an ad hoc one. Before it was presented to Parliament, I discussed it with all the Party Leaders and gave an opportunity to each and every party which is not only in Parliament but also outside Parliament. Therefore, I accommodated all views with those who wanted to discuss this issue and nobody was excluded.”

Excerpts of the interview

Q: Some say the solution to the current political crisis is to declare an early election. However, some Government lawmakers like Namal Rajapaksa have said that we should not talk about elections at this juncture and everybody should extend their support to the President to stabilise the country. Your comments?

A: There are two aspects. If you go for an election one can happily argue that we are protecting democracy. The other argument is when you go for an election all things will become uncertain. The IMF will say you finish your elections and come back. Various other countries will also say that they also can’t get involved with even giving us donations due to political uncertainty. Those kinds of things are there. In addition to that, I don’t know whether the Treasury can afford to conduct an election at this juncture.

Q: However, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) and certain sections allege that the Government is trying to re-draw the election map by postponing Local Government elections. Your views?

A: To my knowledge nobody wants to postpone elections. I don’t know what purpose we have to postpone it. What the President says at the moment, is that all these Local Government bodies have become useless because their revenue is not enough to maintain those Local Government bodies.

We have increased the number of members of Local Government bodies up to 8,400 in an ad hoc manner. Those members are just fighting among themselves and doing nothing. Therefore, we will have to streamline it. That is why we say the electoral system has to be changed. For that if the majority of those in the political parties are agreeable, it won’t take much time to make these changes as we have time until March next year.

Q: Many political parties have boycotted the National Council proposed to find a solution to the current crisis. In this scenario what would be the future prospects of the Council?

A: That shows our politicians are not so concerned about the country and they are only concerned about their political future. In fact, I first brought the proposal of the National Council during the first week of April this year.

I am the one who introduced a resolution to have a National Council, Interim Government and All-Party Government. At that time all the political parties rejected it. Thereafter all those troubles and protests started and then everybody was asking for a National Council. However, still they couldn’t come to any consensus. Thereafter, we had to form the Government. Once again most of the parties say they don’t want to participate in the National Council. That shows their agenda is not really the concerns of the country and the people. Their concern is only their political agendas.

Q: Concerns have been raised by various sections on the proposed Rehabilitation Bill and the Opposition alleges Aragalaya activists, protesters and political opponents can be sent to rehabilitation camps under the pretext of this Act. Would you like to comment?

A: This is a myth about how certain sections of the people think. This Bill had been a concept that had been started somewhere in 2010 whereas they were rehabilitating the LTTE combatants as well. That is the idea they have. At the moment, we are doing rehabilitation. In Kandakadu also there are a large number of persons who are being rehabilitated. There are many other such places also but some people go as prisoners. Therefore, there had been few ideas and objections to bringing a law like this.

The first thing is to regularise that and just to have a legal mechanism for rehabilitation. The second reason is if we have to send somebody like a drug addict for rehabilitation, we will have to have a court order. Now some parents and relatives of those who are addicted to drugs want them to be rehabilitated without going to courts because it is like a stigma on their family. Now as it is there is no provision for us to take anybody for rehabilitation unless there is a court order. Now we still have to facilitate voluntary rehabilitation.

Thirdly, at the beginning the idea was to give some legal sanctity or mechanism for the rehabilitation of these misguided combatants or cadres in the LTTE. Now it is no more. But later on the former Minister had thought that there had been some misguided youth connected to those Easter Sunday attacks and those kinds of persons also could be rehabilitated just to educate them on the danger of extremism and as to how they should live in a civil society.

Before I became the Minister everything had been done with regard to the Bill. I think when they drafted the Bill they never thought about the Galle Face Aragalaya. This is just to accommodate the people to make them good citizens who have gone astray. Now it is in the Supreme Court. We don’t want to do anything forcibly. We are waiting for the Supreme Court judgment. Let the court decide what should be the framework.

Q: Has the Government decided to introduce a new anti-corruption law?

A: I had said several times that I initiated it. In 2015, I initiated it just after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. We drafted the Bill but before that process was completed, I lost my portfolio. Again I have restarted the process and the Bill is ready. It has been sent to the Attorney General for his certificate of constitutionality. Once we get it, we will go to the Cabinet.

Q: The UNHRC passed a resolution against Sri Lanka’s human rights record sponsored by the West with 20 votes in favour, 20 abstained and seven against. How would this affect Sri Lanka?

A: That will very badly affect us because we are a dependent country. If not for our GSP plus, it would be difficult for us to continue fish exports and things like that to sustain our economy. Therefore, there can be very severe hardships and repercussions but we have started our negotiations with those who sponsored the resolution. We are trying to resolve the matter by having an internal dialogue and also showing our genuine efforts to restore peace and reconciliation. I have already spoken to several Ambassadors and the Government representatives on this issue.

Q: The main Opposition SJB has urged the Government to convene a discussion with the Opposition parties, Attorney General and the Government to decide on appropriate amendments to the proposed 22nd Amendment prior to next week’s scheduled two-day debate and vote on the Bill. Has the Government looked into this request made by the Opposition?

A: I have already fixed a time for it. Even last time, there was a ministerial consultative committee but only very few people came and others disregarded it.

On the day of the debate, if they want to talk to the Attorney General, I will make arrangements towards that end. Now again they have pleaded and we have fixed it for October 18, in Parliament and they can discuss it with us at any moment.

This 22nd Amendment was not an ad hoc one. Before it was presented to Parliament, I discussed it with all the Party Leaders. I really don’t know if all of them are Party Leaders. In Parliament, there are six political parties which contested elections but there are 43 political leaders in that group. I think we had four rounds of discussions with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is the incumbent President.

Q: Do you think passing the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution is the need of the hour and all political parties should extend their support to pass this legislation in Parliament?

A: Unless there is an urgent need, I would not have worked on it. Actually, it is a matter of national interest. Without these reforms, we cannot make much progress. Else, this rotten system will continue.

Q: How do you view the comment made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe that the country needs a National Policy that doesn’t change with every Government that comes to power and invites everyone to commit to building the country on National Policy devoid of party differences?

A: That is what I was doing right throughout my political career. I had never gone by party politics whenever there was an adverse effect on the country. That is why I have been sacked from the parties and the Cabinet. That is the policy that I was following right throughout my political career. That is what we are asking the people to follow. Until we get into that kind of policy, the country will be in a peril throughout.

Q: The President recently said that he intends to reduce the number of council members for Local Government bodies from 8000 to 4000. Is there an urgent need of reducing the number of members of the Local Government bodies?

A: Of course. That is what I said earlier as well. there are too many and we will have to reduce the number of Local Government members. Even the revenue of most of these Local Government authorities is not sufficient to maintain its members.

Q: Has the Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal submitted by you to increase the compensation paid to relatives of missing persons citing high inflation?

A: Yes. The Cabinet approval has been granted to make a one-time payment for the welfare of the families of missing persons and a decision was taken to increase the compensation from Rs.100,000 to Rs.200,000. Those who are eligible under the missing person’s office certificate, instead of Rs.100000, the will receive Rs.200000 as compensation.

Q: Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has stressed the importance of minimising the burden and pressure the majority people in the country are currently undergoing due to the unbearable price increase of essential food items. Would you like to air your views?

A: Of course, no specific person should say so. Everybody knows it is in the common domain.

Everybody is facing hardships due to high inflation and there is nothing to hide.