Mar 09

It is with a sense of relief and satisfaction that we have learnt from recent newspaper reports that President Rajapakse observes the Acourtesy of kings by respecting the value of other people’s time.  He has reinstated the virtue of punctuality.  We trust that his excellent example will be followed by those at all levels of the state machinery.  Not limiting himself to this laudable start, the President needs to extend his leadership into three other important areas as well.

What all good citizens would like to have is a President who upholds the Constitution and fosters respect for the rule of law.  In this context, CIMOGG and many others have urged the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition not to persist in their violation of the provisions of the 17th Amendment, which was passed in 2001 by a near-unanimous Parliament.  The two excuses offered over the past four months for the protracted desecration of the Constitution are (a) that the 17th Amendment requires to be improved, and (b) that, although six non-office-bearing members have been identified for appointment, there is disagreement on which party in Parliament is to have the prerogative of nominating the seventh.  As regards the first excuse, not only CIMOGG but the OPA and some others have insisted, and continue to insist, that the 17th Amendment should be implemented as it stands, without any further delay, so that the present egregious violation of the Constitution by the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition is brought to an end.  The numerous conflicting views on the why and how of improving the 17th Amendment should thereafter be opened out for national debate, all suggestions put forward carefully examined, and a well-balanced proposal adopted.  Meanwhile, if one looks at the wording of the 17th Amendment, there is nothing there to state that the Constitutional Council cannot function in the absence of one member, whatever the reason for such absence.  Indeed, the three office-bearing members and the six non-office-bearing members would represent 90 % of the full Constitutional Council.  Common sense and natural law indicate that three office-bearing and three non-office-bearing members would constitute a sufficient quorum.  If one wishes to be more conservative, the quorum could be raised to three office-bearing and four non-office-bearing members, representing over two-thirds of the total membership.  Thus, there is no reason why the President should wait for the tenth member to be nominated.  He should appoint forthwith the six already nominated non-office-bearing members, and give the JHU, the JVP and the TNA all the time in the world to decide on a mutually acceptable nominee.  By so acting, President Rajapakse will be able to help substantiate his claim that he puts the country before other interests.  We would go even further and ask him to persuade these parliamentary groups, all of whom claim not to be motivated by racist considerations, to appoint one mutually-acceptable person of eminence and integrity from among the Burgher, Malay, Sindhi, Parsi, Bohra or other small community, who have no serious voice elsewhere in national affairs.

We next turn to the question of the Judicial Services Commission.  The resignation of the two most senior Supreme Court judges on a Amatter of conscience has been a source of anxiety to all right-thinking people both here and even abroad.  CIMOGG and numerous other organisations and individuals have expressed grave concern regarding these resignations.  Equally disturbing have been the abandonment of the principle of seniority, and the highly adverse and offensive comments made about the capabilities and qualifications of the judges who have resigned.  The public is entitled to know what were the acts the two judges were being urged to do against their conscience, who was responsible for so urging them, and how to prevent a recurrence of this kind of highly damaging situation in the supreme echelons of the judiciary.

It is understood that the two judges who resigned have, in the interests of judicial propriety, indicated that they would not wish to expatiate further on this subject unless they are required to do so before a Select Committee of Parliament.  We, therefore, call upon the President to forget about the personalities involved and request him to press the Speaker to take urgent steps to appoint a Select Committee to get at the truth.  Such a proactive step by the President will reinforce the picture of the President as a leader who is determined to prevent the judiciary from losing its credibility.

In this connection, CIMOGG has more than once exhorted the BASL, directly and through the printed media, to press government to bring in legislation to make the judiciary adopt THE BANGALORE PRINCIPLES OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT, which were drawn up a few years ago by an international panel of Chief Justices from thirty or so countries from all around the globe.  President Rajapakse should now, in his role as the ultimate guardian of the rule of law, elected by the country as a whole, take the initiative in this matter and have the Minister of Justice move rapidly to get the relevant legislation passed so that every member of the judiciary has a clear set of guidelines to which his official and private actions must conform.

How well President Rajapakse deals with these three immensely important issues will decide whether he is going to be respected as a great President or treated as just another politician.



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