Statement regarding the Interim Report submitted by the steering committee of the constitutional assembly of Sri Lanka.
The steering committee submitted it’s report to the constitutional assembly on 21st September 2017. In this report the following alternative provision is recommended to replace Article 1 and 2 of the present constitution.
- Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is a free, sovereign and independent Republic which is an aekiya rajya/orumiththa nadu, consisting of the institutions of the Centre and of the provinces which shall exercise power as laid down in the constitution. In this Article aekiya rajya/orumiththa nadu means a State which is undivided and indivisible, and in which the power to amend the Constitution, or to repeal and replace the Constitution, shall remain with the Parliament and the People of Sri Lanka as provided in this Constitution.
Thus it appears that the steering committee is of the view that the term “unitary” should not be used even in the English version of the constitution. The government has repeatedly assured the people that it would continue to maintain the unitary character of the state. It is strange to remove the term “unitary” from the constitution when such an undertaking has been given, by the government. The term “unitary” is a well-known term used in legal and political literature and various authors have extensively analysed and explained the meaning of the term “unitary”. If it is the view of the government that Sri Lanka should remain a unitary state then there should be no reason to remove the term “Unitary” from the constitution.
The steering committee also suggests in the report that both the words “Eekiya and Orumiththa Nadu” should be used to describe the Unitary character of the state. However we note that the word “Orumiththa Nadu” is not the word used in the existing Tamil version of the constitution of 1978. In the 1978 constitution (Tamil Version) the word used in Article 2 is “Otriachchi”.
The meaning of the term “Orumiththa nadu” is “united” or “Federal”. Therefore it appears that there is a sinister motive in removing the term “Otriachchi” and replacing it with the words “Orumiththa Nadu”. In any event if the government is committed to a Unitary state to replace the word “Otriachchi” which has been in existence since the enactment of the constitution. Further the steering committee propose that the term “Eekiya Rajya” should mean “undivided” and “indivisible”. The term “unitary” has never been defined or treated to be synonymous with the term “indivisible”.
Whilst the steering committee or the government has a right to decide when amending the constitution a particular type of state it wishes to propose. It would be dishonest to mislead the public by saying that it is committed for a “Unitary” state and when it make provision to the contrary. We as practitioners of law wish to place our strongest opposition to any move to mislead the public. These proposals will inevitably be placed before the people at a referendum if it is to be enacted. Therefore it is the duty of the state, if they wish to convert Sri Lanka into a Federal state to do so in a transparent and honest manner. We therefore urge that the steering committee, if they are committed towards a unitary state, to desist from making proposals couched in the language which would have the effect to the contrary.
We also note that committee recommends to replace the words “Republic of Sri Lanka” with the word “Sri Lanka” in Article 3, 5 and 9. The omission of the term “Republic” can create a doubt as to whether there is an intention to change the meaning of the existing Article more particularly Article 3. The existing Article 3 states inter alia that “In the Republic of Sri Lanka Sovereignty is in the people…” This would mean that the sovereignty of the Republic of Sri Lanka as a whole is vested in the people of Sri Lanka collectively. The removal of the term “Republic” would take away this collective character and could convey the meaning that in Sri Lanka, although vested always in the people, it is not vested collectively in all the people of Sri Lanka. It could lead to an interpretation for instance that in Sri Lanka although Sovereignty is always vested in the people (when considered in the light of the wording given in the proposed Article 1 and 2 referred to above that Sri Lanka consists of Center and Provinces) that it would be enjoyed by people separately in their respective provinces. Thus the people of each province could enjoy sovereignty separately but not collectively.
This taken together with the confusion created by the terminology used to describe the unitary character of the state and the omission of the word “Unitary” in the English version of the constitution it could lead to an interpretation that the people never intended. This would be a fraud perpetrated on the people dishonestly.
Therefore it is important that the recommendations convey what it means as declared by the government. Unless these corrections are made forthwith, it is our considered view, that these proposals in the present form should not be proceeded with.