This Is The Best Time For A New Constitution – Hector Appuhamy
By Camelia Nathaniel
Following are excerpts of the interview:-
Q: If a new Constitution is to receive the approval of people, its provisions should be drafted after extensive debate and discussion in the country. A rigid time frame of six months or one year should not be a barrier to come up with the proper document. Drafting and adopting the right Constitution is vital even if it is going to take a longer period. What is the reason to try and rush a new Constitution?
A: The problem here is not that there is hurry but the point is that this is a consensual government and there are several parties sitting together in parliament and this is the best time to go for a new constitution when there is agreement with all these parties. If we fail to make use of this chance, we may not get another opportunity to agree on this issue. We as the UNP would like for this united governance to continue, but it’s hard to predict how long all parties will be in agreement. One of the main factors agreed upon my all were the abolition of the executive presidency and this is the main promise that we made to the people.
However we have still not determined how the new constitution needs to be drafted, so let’s wait and see. As for the time, I think that this is the best time and we need to take advantage of this opportunity.
Q. The discussion and debate that will ensue about a new Constitution for Sri Lanka is by itself not a bad thing. However why is this only discussion and debate that is being promoted by the current regime, and being done at the cost of having no discussion or debate on the economy of the country?
A: I don’t agree that the economy is weak or that this government has failed to address the economic issues. The last budget was formulated to uplift the economy of the country. No matter what people may say, this budget did not opt to fool the people by giving into popular demands, but instead it opted for a more long term proposals that would be beneficial for the country as a whole in the long run. For example, had we decided to give the farmers the fertiliser subsidy, it would have been a popular decision that would have been accepted by the people. However even though it was not a popular decision, we chose to refrain from giving the farmers the fertiliser subsidy, because it was doing them more harm than good. Our decision may have come under criticism, but it was done with the best interest of the farmers at heart. What we intended was to get the farmers to produce their own organic fertiliser which is better as a whole. Sometimes the right thing is not highlighted even by the media and as such people misunderstand even things that are done with good intentions.
Q: Some say that it is unlikely that political devolution as envisaged will be a solution to the ethnic conflict, and they claim that it will exacerbate the divisions between the communities and within communities. What is your take on this?
A: Still we have no idea as to how the new constitution will take shape or what clauses will be included or not. But I am on a different level and I believe that whether or not the executive presidency is abolished or not, I am against the changing of the electoral system. The reason is that I believe that the current preferential voting system is the most democratic voting system in the country. Therefore it is my view that if we change this electoral system, irrespective of who does it, would be a big mistake. This will also not benefit the country.
Now with this current system, the people have the power to elect who they want and send who they don’t want, home. The new system is unclear and perhaps the right people may not get into parliament and this could lead to issues within the country. I don’t believe that J.R. Jayewardene simply changed this system without proper consideration.
Q: Why are you against the new electoral system?
A. One of the main reasons for wanting this system changed is that some have the capacity to spend and others who can’t are at a disadvantage. But if this good governance can change so many things in the system, why can’t they change the way in which some spend on election campaigns and control it in a manner that is fair to all? There are stipulated election laws and if they insist that everyone follow the proper guidelines, then there is no room for anyone to use this system and spend unnecessarily and unfairly.
Most think that the new system will not allow for corruption but that is a mirage. The candidates or parties will have enough freedom to spend as much as they want for their electorates in order to win over the votes.
If we can devise a proper programme for the entire 14022 GS divisions then even we can work efficiently without any issues. It is my view that priority should be given to strengthening the parliament members properly. During the Rajapaksa regime the parliamentarians were given the freedom to rob as much as they wanted and these parliamentarians were well off. That was the political trend. But today there is no room for them to rob but the remuneration they receive is totally inadequate to support them. Hence I think that the proper facilities and benefits should be given to the MP’s and then get the maximum output from them.
Q. There are concerns that the proposed constitution is an Apartheid Constitution, which is against the interests of Sinhala natives just like the South African old Apartheid Constitution. What is your take on this?
A: The issue is that we always categorise ourselves according to our race or religion. We should all consider ourselves Sri Lankans irrespective of which race we belong to. The whole problem is that we have always had issues because we always looked at issues from a racial angle and this was the reason for even the war. If a Sri Lankan goes to America or Canada or any other country and becomes a citizen there, he is not referred to as a Sinhala American or Tamil Canadian, but they are all referred to as citizens of that country irrespective of their race. We should get used to this system and forget our petty issues and work as citizens of Sri Lanka.
Q: Do you support the proposed ‘Theravada Bhikkhu Dialogue’ Bill ?
A: The prominent Buddhist monks in the country are of the view that this is a good proposal.
This bill is not proposed by the current government, but this bill has been in the pipeline for many years and this is something that the Mahanayake’s wanted. Monks should not get on the streets and be allowed to behave like thugs. Therefore this bill will give the Chief Prelates the authority to have a better control. Politics and religion are two very different fields, and the clergy, be it Buddhist, catholic, Hindu or Muslim, should not get involved in the politics of the country. This has always been a problem when they try to interfere. Therefore I don’t think that this bill will be detrimental for the country.
Q: One of the main allegations against the previous regime was that they used the police and the military for their political purposes. However these police atrocities still continue. Why has this government failed to address this issue?
A: I am not a big fan of these police commissions etc. But in the government programme as there was a need for this commission I too agreed. However in the past the police did corporate with the politicians and do certain acts in support of these politicians. However I believe that the police should be controlled by the government and put in line when they fail to uphold the law.
Here the people want a commission and when the commission is established then they are unsatisfied with the commission. Therefore it is my opinion that there is no need for any police commissions but like in the past the police should enforce the laws of the country without the involvement of the politicians.
In the Embilipitiya incident the police had acted in a very degrading manner and they should be punished without political interference.