House with greater responsibilities
Parliament itself should be based on an electoral
system that encourages greater responsibility, with mechanisms
apart from the electoral system to encourage ties between
members and the constituencies they represent.
A distinguished political analyst and an expert on constitutional
affairs Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP was interviewed by the Sunday
Observer on the hotly debated topic - constitutional reforms.He says 'we
would do the best under a modified Executive Presidency based on the
doctrine of the separation of powers but there should also be much more
accountability for the President, and the Executive in general.' He
voiced that the 17th amendments is a hasty and impractical bit of
legislation, but agreed that there must be systems to prevent arbitrary
Q: The UPFA and the UNP leaders last week initiated a dialogue
on constitutional changes. There had been positive comments from both
sides on the topic since then. What is your take on this latest
A: I think it is very important to keep dialogues going, and I
hope both sides will exchange their views in a positive spirit. I have
seen some comments on the reforms made by the opposition, which suggest
a desire to make political capital out of the discussions. That would be
a mistake, since I think there needs to be full confidence on either
side that both are looking for solutions, not their own benefit.
Q: There was a move by the Government to extend the two-term
tenure of the Executive Presidency by another term. Is this still on the
A: I do not know what was decided in the discussions, but it
is clear that this is no longer seen as a priority. That was obviously
not something on which consensus was going to be readily achieved.
Q: The main Opposition and the Government agreed to replace
the Executive Presidency by an Executive Prime Minister that will be
accountable to Parliament. How do you view this?
A: I have never understood what was meant by an Executive
Prime Minister, and the term seems redundant for the simple reason that,
if you have a President, or a Head of State, who does not have executive
authority, the Prime Minister is obviously the executive head of the
This is what you find in India or the United Kingdom or Japan or
Germany - though in that last place, a Prime Minister elected on the
basis of a Parliamentary election is called Chancellor. Adding a
redundant title does not make much sense.
Q: How many terms will this Executive PM have? Can the former
Presidents be re-elected under the new constitution?
A: Obviously, if we are going back to a Westminster type model
based on Parliamentary elections to decide on both the legislature and
the executive, then there are no term limits. Equally, there can be no
bars to those who have previously been the executive head of a
government under another system maintaining that position under a new
system which does not have term limits.
Q: The political observers say with the existing electoral
system and an opposition as uncompromising as the UNP or the JVP, the
country cannot do without an Executive President. Your comments?
A: I would not want to comment on the Opposition being
intransigent, because such things change. However, I do believe that a
system of proportional representation is essential, though obviously not
the present system which is possibly the worst innovation introduced by
President Jayewardene in an altogether perverse constitution. If you
have a Parliament with constituencies, as I believe is essential, but
with the constitution of Parliament finally reflecting proportionately
the views of the electorate as a whole (this is what the German system
provides), then I think you will need the Executive Presidency to
My own view is that we should continue with the Executive
Presidential system, but with modifications that make it more
accountable to Parliament. I think we should also work towards a greater
separation of powers, with the Cabinet being outside Parliament - though
as in the French system people in Parliament could be selected - while
the role of Members of Parliament, particularly those elected from
constituencies, should be strengthened, with them having a creative role
with regard to development in their constituencies.
Q: What will happen to the 13th and 17th amendments and the
proposal to establish a Senate?
A: The proposal to establish a Senate based on provincial
representation seems to me a reform that would help to resolve a lot of
problems, and I certainly hope that will go through quickly. I believe
that represents the most important part of what the President has said,
and which most people and parties want, which is 13 plus.
I think there should be other adjustments made, so that devolution is
based on the principle of subsidiarity. This means having effective
layers of government at the appropriate level, without unnecessary
duplication, but with the capacity to respond swiftly to people's needs
as well as problems. Obviously we need to affirm the principle that any
constitution promoting devolution contains, namely that national
security should be the responsibility of the Centre. Equally we must
make sure that neither the Centre, nor even the Province, hangs on to
powers that prevent swift resolution of administrative issues, provided
local decisions are made in accordance with principles agreed at the
appropriate levels for policy-making and necessary coordination.
With regard to the 17th amendment, I have always felt that that was a
hasty and impractical bit of legislation. However, I absolutely agree
that there must be a system of preventing arbitrary appointments - that
is even more essential in Sri Lanka, because many people ask for favours,
and it is not easy to say no to friends when they know that you have
However, if they know that your choices are subject to ratification,
they will be less pressing.
However, anybody that ratifies the decisions of the elected executive
branch must have a distinct status. Under the Westminster system, it is
a Head of State who has the authority derived from tradition, as in
Britain or Japan, or else through having been elected by bodies
representing the people as in India or Japan. Conversely, in America,
which has a well thought out Executive Presidential system, it is the
Senate, which represents the whole country. I would suggest therefore
that such a Senate would be the best body to ratify or otherwise
appointments made by an Executive President.
Q: The JVP says the constitutional proposals should be put
forward for a public debate?
A: I am not sure what they mean by a public debate, because it
is all too easy for a few people with extreme views to hijack such
debates. However I agree that there must be transparency and time for
open discussion about what is proposed. As you know, the Westminster
system, to which for some strange reason all leftist parties in this
country are devoted, does not encourage public debates but leaves much
to the elected representatives of the people - though they are elected
on a constituency basis, in which of course the party nominates the
Q: Do the Government and the Opposition have a road map to
ensure the talks will not be a flop?
A: Again, I have no idea about that.
Q: In your opinion what is the best constitutional model for
A: As mentioned previously, I now feel we would do the best
under a modified Executive Presidency based on the doctrine of the
separation of powers, with an elected President able to select the heads
of government ministries and agencies from amongst all suitable people.
This should of course be subject to ratification - with the power
however to make temporary appointments to prevent arbitrary refusals to
ratify, if such a situation arises. There should also be much more
accountability for the President, and the Executive in general.
Parliament itself should be based on an electoral system that
encourages greater responsibility, with mechanisms apart from the
electoral system to encourage ties between members and the
constituencies they represent. National List members should be involved
in Committees on the lines of the Donoughmore Constitution committees,
with encouragement also of consultations in the regions for such
committees, instead of just in Colombo.
Devolution should be based on the principle of subsidiarity, and we
should distinguish between administrative decision-making, which must be
done as close as possible to the people such decisions affect, and
policy outlines which need to come from higher levels.
We must also, in enhancing the role of the judiciary, ensure greater
accountability, through insisting on performance assessments and limits
as to the time that can be taken, and the increasing cost of justice.
For this purpose, as well as improvement of our public service, we must
ensure better training, and constant updating of both skills and
Finally, we should enshrine both accountability and choice in our
constitution, by emphasising both individual rights and concomitant
These should be based not only on justiciability, but on remedial
mechanisms that include arbitration and mediation.