Newly-retired members of the Constitutional Council (CC) have urged political parties to correct some significant loopholes in the 17th amendment that greatly hindered their duties and have caused the public to lose confidence in the system.
The members, whose terms ended last month, have left their recommendations with CC Secretary Dhammika Kitulgoda, to be conveyed to relevant authorities. They urge that their proposals be taken into consideration before a new set of members is appointed.
`We are aware that the public feels the 17th amendment has failed,` said one member, speaking on condition of anonymity. `It?s time
for us to take stock. We have indicated to the secretary what we felt were the shortfalls and weaknesses of the system along with our proposals for improvement.`
`There are clearly weaknesses in the Act,` said yet another member. `It was the view of all the members that changes are necessary.`
He warned that politicians were treating the council and the commissions frivolously and seriously compromising the credibility of these vital democratic institutions. `We must make the system work, somehow or the other,` he said.
One of the most urgent issues they have highlighted is the absence of a time frame within which the president must appoint members nominated by the CC to the various commissions. They stressed the case of the elections commission, which is still hanging in limbo three years after the CC sent a list of their nominees to President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
`When commissioners are nominated, the public would like to see the commissions functioning,` said one of the members earlier quoted. `The elections commission is still not through because the president doesn?t like the face of one man. How do we prevent this from happening repeatedly and thus undermining the CC and the commissions?`
`I don?t think the 17th amendment has provisions for dragging one?s feet,` he continued. `Perhaps the president has writer?s cramp`85 I don?t know. Whatever it is, we are left with no further options.`
All the ex-council members interviewed opined that an amendment to the law was necessary ? and urgent ? to correct what they defined as a `major impediment.` None of them wanted their comments attributed.
The 17th amendment merely states that: `No person shall be appointed by the President as the Chairman or a member of any of the Commissions specified in the Schedule to this Article, except on a recommendation of the Council.` It does not set a time-frame and is not geared to meet the eventuality of the appointing authority rejecting a nominee that the council staunchly holds suitable.
`What is necessary is greater understanding and cooperation between the recommending authority (the CC) and the appointing authority (president),` said another ex-member. `Conventions have to be developed.`
He also noted that the president is yet to provide the council with feedback on a set of criteria that they had designed for choosing members to the commissions. The criteria had been published in the CC?s first report more than two years ago.
`The president made a definite commitment to consider that report and to give the council her views within two weeks,` he said. `It?s been some years since and we still haven?t got the promised feedback.` If the president and council could agree on certain terms, the scope for conflict of opinion would reduce greatly, he said, adding that the criteria had been designed after exhaustive consultations with relevant persons.
`For instance, to draft the requirements for recommending an inspector general of police, we interviewed several retired IGPs,` he noted. `We are not claiming that the criteria we designed were infallible but she could have come back to us.`
Of the Constitutional Council?s ten members, the term of one ? S S Wijeratne, whose name was put forward by the small parties in parliament ? ended last year. Messrs T Sunderalingam, M M Jameel, A R B Amerasinghe, R C Karunakaran and L H G Weerasekara retired on March 19. A term lasts three years.
The other members of the CC are the prime minister, the leader of the opposition, the speaker and one person appointed by the president. It is not known when the new CC will be formed.
The CC is responsible for nominating members to the elections commission, the public service commission, the national police commission, the human rights commission, the permanent commission to investigate allegations of bribery or corruption, the finance commission and the delimitation commission.