“I see the hurry with which the 20th Amendment is sought to be passed in Parliament as an attempt to cloth the powers that be with authority to barricade, block and bar with an iron fist the democratic corridor still available to the minorities especially the Tamil speaking to demonstrate against the discouraging anti minority activities now taking place in the North and East and elsewhere, silence them and stultify their attempts to bring the truth of what is taking place in the North and East to the world outside, specially before March next year”. Justice C.V. WIgneswaran, Jaffna MP and former Northern Province Chief Minister said during the two-day debate on the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution commenced in the Parliament today.
Wigneswaran also told that those who are working hard today to bring this 20th Amendment and all those who support it today will surely take to the streets tomorrow to fight for the abolition of the same amendment. And he warned in his speech that “this amendment you bring today will have a boomerang effect on you, your children, and the future generations of your family. Please do not prick your eyes with your own fingers. My dear colleagues from both sides! Please do not allow this 20th Amendment to be passed with 2/3rd majority tomorrow.”
His full speech is available below:
I thank you for giving me this opportunity to participate in this debate.
It has been unfortunate that every Party which had come to power in the Centre in this Island has been generally legislating to further the self interests of that Party, its members and supporters forgetting their duty towards all people and the Country as a whole. Those who aspire to become a Lee Kwan Yu should shed their partisan predilections if they are to progress. Lee Kwan Yu did not pursue a Chinese Buddhist path. He loved every Singaporean of whatever hue he or she was. Branding the Minorities as Terrorists might bring vote from the majority but it would not help to take the country forward. There would certainly be Geo – Political and International reaction. It is in furtherance of their attitude of self interest that those in power are today bringing in this 20th Amendment to clothe a single individual with enormous powers. This would for sure strike the death knell to Democracy and Human Rights in this Country.
The world civilization in its onward march searches for ways and means to improve democratic principles and work towards Human Rights, equality and reconciliation among contending factions locally and internationally At this juncture it is funny that we in Sri Lanka want to denigrate democracy and desecrate the decent dimensions in a democratic way of life.
I do not view the paradigm shift taking place, or about to take place from democracy to dictatorship as the outcome merely of tanha (greed) for office. I view it as the preparation for more sinister political activities in the future. For example, I see the hurry with which the 20th Amendment is sought to be passed in Parliament as an attempt to cloth the powers that be with authority to barricade, block and bar with an iron fist the democratic corridor still available to the minorities especially the Tamil speaking to demonstrate against the discouraging anti minority activities now taking place in the North and East and elsewhere, silence them and stultify their attempts to bring the truth of what is taking place in the North and East to the world outside, specially before March next year.
Under the pretext of Presidential Task Forces lands of the Minorities are plundered by Departments. Under the pretext of Security, over a lakh of members of the Military have been asked to keep the Tamil speaking under control not allowing them to articulate their legitimate feelings and aspirations. Peoples’ lands are forfeited by Departments such as the Forest Department. Resources from the North and East are expropriated by illegal adventures with surreptitious official sanctions. Colonization under the Mahaweli Scheme brings lots of denizens from other Provinces in to our Provinces while our Northern Province is not provided with a drop of Mahaweli water. Indeed our Engineers say no water from Mahaweli will ever come to the North. This has been a sham to bring outsiders and colonise in the traditional Tamil speaking areas. This is the present state in the North and East.
For over 20 years we have been talking of bringing in a Constitution which would reconcile the ethnic differences among communities and lead the country forward. For over quarter of a century we have been promising to abolish the Executive Presidency. Nothing has been done so far in those regard. But this Government is making the April 21st Easter bombings as a convenient excuse for them to bring this 20th Amendment. They are trying to make out it was the lowering of Presidential powers by the 19th Amendment which gave rise to the April 21st tragedy.
Hence they say President must have unfettered powers. It certainly sounds humorous to say a criminal or thief could only be caught or arrested if the President is clothed with extra ordinary powers?
The real causes for the April 21st incident was the carelessness and indifference of the security arm of the Law which has been politicised in recent times. If the Judiciary, Police and Public Service had been allowed to function independently we would not have witnessed the April 21st tragedy.
Most countries in the world do not have an Executive Presidential system. Do those countries always have security lapses? Or do countries who have this system never have had security lapses? Therefore it is time we thought prudently and pragmatically and got rid of the Executive Presidential system and make the Rule of Law supreme.
It is the duty of those in the Government and the Opposition who love this country, to strengthen the Police and the Judiciary and the Public Service to make them act independently and fearlessly. Allowing both to come under the overlordship of the single Executive Presidentship would affect the Sri Lankan body polity seriously in the future.
This government says it intends bringing a new constitution in 6 months. Then what is the great hurry to pass this 20th Amendment? It shows that there are hidden agendas working from behind.
Let me point out an example. This government says the 20th Amendment, as amended by the proposed committee stage amendments, seeks to amend the powers of the Auditor General by removing the Constitutional requirement that the Auditor General should audit companies in which the Government or a Public Corporation own more than 50% of the shares.
There is a lingering question as to why the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Secretary to the Prime Minister were taken out of the purview of the Auditor General in the Bill and why they are brought back in through Committee Stage amendments. Nevertheless the most important question in any event is why are government-owned companies taken out of the Auditor General’s constitutionally mandated audit?
This question takes special significance, when one looks at the argument put forward by the State in the Supreme Court. I quote from page 59 of the Document SCSD No: 1 – 39/2020 handed over to us yesterday.
“The Attorney-General submitted that the mere absence of reference to any class of institutions in Article 154 per se does not preclude the Auditor General exercising his powers and carrying out the audit of such institutions. He contended that section 55 of the National Audit Act, No. 19 of 2018 defines what an “auditee entity” is and any entity listed therein does fall within the purview of the Auditor General.”
The Attorney General then goes on to explain that companies in which Government or a Public Corporation own 50% or more of the shares as well as the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Secretary to the Prime Minister are caught up under the National Audit Act and therefore needs no mention in the Constitution.
If the Government’s position is that Government owned companies are caught up under the National Audit Act and as such it is not necessary to have the requirement in the Constitution, then why did the Government bring back the auditing of the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Secretary through Committee Stage Amendments? They could have added the Companies to the list. But they did not.
In fact, if that is the argument of the State then why have any institution subject to audit listed in the Constitution at all? Why not remove all the institutions listed in the Constitution? After all the National Audit Act would apply in any case.
One may ask why not remove the Auditor General himself from the Constitution altogether? After all or so the Government argument goes, we have the National Audit Act? Auditing will for sure take place.
I find it inconceivable that the Honourable Members of the Government with a long history as legislators fail to see the merit in elevating the obligations of the Auditor General to a Constitutional level.
To me, it is obvious that this is being done with the insidious motive of repealing the National Audit Act after the 20th Amendment is passed. The National Audit Act also provides for the Audit Service Commission – which too is to be abolished under the 20th Amendment. Thus, the 20th Amendment paves the way for the abolishing of the National Audit Act in toto thus emasculating the position of the Auditor General. What the Honourable Members of the Government should remember is that this amounts to the emasculation of the Parliament itself.
The control over Public Finance is an integral and one could say, most fundamental power of Parliament and it is shameful that that very institution is seeking to undermine its most sacred obligation. Why are Government owned companies being targeted first? The answer is simple – these are the commercial establishments of the State – this is where lucre dwells and is therefore lucrative. No reason has been adduced by the Government to remove the audit of Government owned companies. In fact no argument can be advanced in view of the Attorney General’s submissions before the Supreme Court. To now say that there is in fact a reason to remove Government owned Companies would directly contradict the rationale advanced by the Attorney General.
One must remember that the role of the private sector auditor is a very limited one. Issues such as waste, inefficiency and unlawful largesse are not the province of private sector audits. It is only the Auditor General who will be willing to probe those areas.
The tragedy is not that the Executive is seeking to empower itself – it is that Parliament is willingly ceding its control over the Executive. Elder brother wants to clothe his younger brother with enormous powers!
There are those who advocate for a stronger Executive on the grounds of expediency. My having first hand been tasked with acting as the bulwark against Executive excesses for several decades, the solution to maintain a balance of power is having accountability and checks and balances. Let us assume that efficiency requires the Executive being clothed with all manner of powers. Audit, by definition, occurs after the act. Audit does not fetter or impede Executive acts – it merely allows the stakeholders to evaluate the acts that had already taken place. So why this unholy hurry to divorce the Auditor General? Or jettison him altogether?
Let us remember and I say so with responsibility, that those who are working hard today to bring this 20th Amendment and all those who support it today will surely take to the streets tomorrow to fight for the abolition of the same amendment. This amendment you bring today will have a boomerang effect on you, your children, and the future generations of your family. Please do not prick your eyes with your own fingers. My dear colleagues from both sides! Please do not allow this 20th Amendment to be passed with 2/3rd majority tomorrow.
Let all of us who value human rights, democracy, good governance and peace forget our Party differences and personal obligations and prevent the passing of the 20th Amendment. I thank your Honour!