19th Amendment created an imbalance in Govt hierarchy - Prof. G. L. Peiris | Sunday Observer

19th Amendment created an imbalance in Govt hierarchy - Prof. G. L. Peiris

30 August, 2020

Based on a discussion with Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris

On August 5, the people of Sri Lanka, yet again ensured a resounding mandate for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to correct the wrongs committed by the previous government and usher in prosperity. At the parliamentary election, the people renewed the mandate he received in November with a two-thirds majority. The people have done their part and now it’s up to the Government to deliver the election promises.

First of all we need to clear our path to fulfil the task before us.

One of the biggest obstacles at present is the piece of legislation introduced to the Constitution under the 19th Amendment in 2015.

The 19th Amendment has created an imbalance in the government hierarchy by creating two separate power centres in the President and the Prime Minister. It has removed certain inalienable powers of the President in an ad-hoc manner and vested it with the Prime Minister.

Tug- of-war

It is common knowledge that the last government failed due to the tug- of-war between these top leaders, as a result of which the country and the people had to suffer.

In addition, a Constitutional Council - a supreme institution has been placed above the Executive.

Hence, no business of the government was smooth during the Yahapalana regime since the President and the Prime Minister were often busy trying to overpower each other on key fronts such as Defence and Economy while neither had power to take action against top officials who shirked or neglected their responsibility.

The case of IGP Pujith Jayasundera investigated for the Easter Sunday terror attacks is the latest example. The sitting IGP has been implicated but the Government cannot remove and appoint a new IGP.

After the investigators found he had failed in his responsibility to prevent the church attacks which killed over 250 in April 2019, former President Maithripala Sirisena called uponhim to resign but he refused. To date he remains the IGP.

The 19-A has handicapped the office of the President. Hence, the Police Department is functioning under an acting IGP for the past many months.


At the outset, decisions on all economic matters of the Yahapalana Government were taken at a Cabinet subcommittee which operated like a de-facto Cabinet. The Prime Minister’s confidantes were appointed to this subcommittee. President Sirisena noticed for some time what went on and later took steps to abolish this unit and appoint a National Economic Council. He appointed several persons who he can trust to this Council.

After three months, the former President declared that he was paying Rs.500,000 to the head of this Council who is not even in the country. He said he was sacking the officer. The fight for power and the uncertainty that resulted was not at all conducive for the much needed investments and the country’s economic prosperity.

About the Defence portfolio, the current President is responsible for security but he cannot hold the Defence Ministry or any portfolio for that matter, which meant he had responsibility without authority.

This conundrum was created under the 19-A which spelt out that the President cannot hold any portfolios during his tenure. President Sirisena who sanctioned the 19 -A however, retained the Environment and Defence portfolios. This particular provision came into full effect after his tenure which meant that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa cannot have the Defence portfolio under him. But he would be the Commander in Chief of the armed forces.

Before the 19th Amendment there was a provision in the Constitution to submit urgent Bills. When there is an unexpected threat to security, such as the Easter Sunday carnage the Government could bring in an urgent bill within seven days to address a shortcoming in the law. The 19th Amendment took away this crucial provision and that itself is a threat to national security and in a way a victory for the elements who would work to destabilise the country.

When it comes to the independent commissions also, there are underlying flaws. The behaviour of some members of these commissions clearly indicate that these were not independent intrinsically. For instance, Election Commission Member, Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole’s behaviour tarnished the image of the Election Commission and exposed their political biases, proving that these were nothing but political instruments.


Apart from that there is another flaw, the Commission membership was three and the quorum to convene a meeting was also three. If by any chance, one member cannot be present, the Commission cannot convene or hold elections. Before the parliamentary election - amid his outrageous attempts to postpone the election - we feared that Prof.Hoole might travel overseas and refuse to attend Commission meetings. This alone will be sufficient to delay the parliamentary election further. The Commission cannot convene with even one member absent. Despite his behaviour, there was nothing the President or anyone could do to replace Prof.Hoole unless he resigned.

Similarly, the former head of SL Human Rights Commission was on record welcoming the election defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015. Such actions show that they are not apolitical. That person was appointed to the SLHRC by the new government in 2015.

13th Amendment

With regard to the 13th Amendment, there is a strong voice to abrogate 13- A and abolish Provincial Councils (PC) but that is not an option considered by the Government yet. Manohara de Silva, Gunadasa Amarasekera, Gevindu Kumaratunga of the National Joint Committee and many others question the necessity of the PCs, since the Provincial Councils which are non-functioning for the past two years did not actively get involved in provincial administration. However, such decisions will always be guided by proper evaluation of views from all sides.

The Cabinet subcommittee consisting of Ministers Prof.G.L.Peiris, Dinesh Gunawardena, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Ali Sabri and Udaya Gammanpila, appointed to call for public views on constitutional reforms and the introduction of 20-A will look into all the possibilities and recommend what is aspired by the people.

The legal constraints on the time to abolish Parliament, which is four and a half years at present, will also be changed. But there will be a set minimum time. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to wait for nearly one year to appoint his government to get to work due to this constraint. It was a great injustice to the people who voted him into office expecting a change. The old government did nothing to help him but derail his forward march.

However, some of the good features of the 19-A will remain. The five- year term of office of the President, the number of times a person can be elected as Executive President which is two, and the Independent Audit Commission are some of the features that will be preserved under the 20-A.

We need to correct this constitutional flaw and unclip our wings to deliver the promises to the people so that President Rajapaksa is free to expeditiously implement his vision for prosperity within the next four to five years.