Govt. denies provision for federal features.

Parliament to meet over a period of three days to discuss proposals.

The government yesterday said the proposed new Constitution wouldn’t have any federal features whatsoever though some interested parties distorted facts in an obvious bid to derail the process.

The assurance was given by member of the Steering Committee spearheading the project, UNP National List MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, PC, at a special press conference at the Information Department.

The former LSSP stalwart was flanked by UNP National List MP Ashu Marasinghe and attorney-at-law Suren Fernando, a member of panel of experts assisting the Constitutional Assembly as well as the Steering Committee.

When The Island pointed out that no less a person than President Maithripala Sirisena had declared on Sept. 29 that he was yet to see the interim report of Steering Committee submitted to parliament on Sept 21, Dr Wickramaratne said President

Sirisena inquired from him about the proposed Constitution having federal features.

Dr. Wickramaratne said he assured President Sirisena that there was absolutely no basis for such accusations. The UNPer said that President Sirisena had called for tangible measures to inform the public of the latest developments.Contrary to claims, the Steering Committee had proposed specific safeguards to thwart possible threats on unitary status, Dr. Wickramaratne said, asserting their recommendations vis-a-vis the present Constitution were geared to meet any eventuality.

The constitutional expert recalled President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s predicament in the wake of Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by the then Chief Minister of the North-East Provincial Council Varatharaja Perumal. The government lacked the constitutional measures to tackle the situation, Dr. Wickramaratne said, explaining slew of measures proposed to rein in renegade provincial administrations.

Dr. Wickramaratne explained the specific roles played by the Steering Committee headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Constitutional Assembly consisting 225 members of parliament (now minus NFF members) and the six sub committees in the constitutional making process.

The Constitutional Assembly was tasked with formulating a draft that could secure a two-thirds majority, Dr. Wickramaratne said, acknowledging that the constitutional requirement was to have the draft approved by parliament and the Cabinet to be placed before the people at a referendum.

Dr. Wickramaratne stressed that the reports submitted by the six sub committees that dealt with fundamental rights, judiciary, law and order, public finance, public service and centre– periphery relations would be subjected to discussions. Similarly, the Steering Committee’s interim report that dealt with six vital subjects, nature of the state, executive, parliamentary elections, principles of devolution, religion and state land had made its recommendations available.

The recommendations made by the six sub committees and the Steering Committee weren’t the final. In respect of critical matters alternative proposals had been made. Referring to the Steering Committee’s interim report, Dr. Wickramaratne said it contained the dominant view in addition to proposals made by members.

Commenting on the raging controversy over Chapter on Buddhism, Dr. Wickramaratne said the Steering Committee had proposed one alternative in addition to the existing Chapter that dealt with Buddhism.

MP Marasinghe said the existing Chapter could be retained if there were objections to the alternative. Dr. Wickramaratne said that at the onset of the process, there had been several alternative proposals in respect of the status of Buddhism. Now, there was only one alternative, the National List MP said, expressing confidence issues could be settled through discussions among political parties.

Dr. Wickramaratne said that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had declared that the Constitutional assembly would take up proposals over a three-day period beginning Oct 30. Finalisation of the process would depend on the outcome of three day talks, Dr. Wickramaratne said, explaining measures proposed to further strengthen the unitary character of the country.

However, the proposals were meant to ensure maximum possible devolution without undermining unitary status, the constitutional expert said.

The government spokesman also explained the US and Indian constitutions vis-a-vis Sri Lanka’s constitution as well as constitutional proposals. The proposals would lead to a far better constitution and stronger safeguards to protect Centre’s interests. However, there would also be measures to prevent the President from abusing the right to intervene in a particular province.

Pointing out that powers in respect of Provincial Councils would be placed in the hands of the President, Dr. Wickramaratne said that dissolution of a PC, too, would be within the powers assigned to the President.

Referring to a ruling given by former CJ Sarath Nanda Silva, PC, Dr Wickramaratne underscored the fact that the CJ declared Sri Lanka as a secular state. Dr. Wickramaratne also quoted JHU leader Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka as having made representations to Steering Committee to the effect Sri Lanka was a secular state and the 9 Chapter of the current constitution was nothing but a decoration.

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