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National Conference on Constitutional Reforms

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The Constitutional Assembly Secretariat of Sri Lanka hosted a national conference on constitutional reforms on Wednesday the 28th of June 2017 at the BMICH. The full day Conference, which took place from 9:30am onwards, was aimed at bringing together a range of stakeholders from across diverse sectors in order to help promote the discourse surrounding the adoption of constitutional reforms for the people of Sri Lanka. The event was graced by the presence of the Hon. Prime Minister, Members of the Constitutional Assembly, foreign envoys, provincial government representatives, key officials from state institutions such as the Sri Lanka Police, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Legal Draftsman’s Department and the Human Rights Commission, representatives from NGOs, experts and members of academia.

The former Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa, His Excellency Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is visiting Sri Lanka, also participated in the event.

The agenda for the conference included addresses and technical presentations by key officials of the constitutional reform process of Sri Lanka. The inaugural address of the conference was delivered by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, and the Deputy Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly, Hon. Thilanga Sumathipala, who highlighted that the current constitutional reform process was aimed at fulfilling the needs and aspirations of all communities of Sri Lanka and was part of a progressive development agenda.

The Hon. Ranil Wickremasinghe, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, also delivered an informative speech touching on the process and current challenges encountered in the business of constitution making, with references to key issues of national interest such as the nature of the state, the electoral system, the system of devolution of power and the religion of the state. The Prime Minister spoke of a constitutional reform process that was different to the previous processes of 1972 and 1978.

The Prime Minister’s speech was succeeded by the address of the former Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa, who spoke on the topic of “Reaching a Consensus on the Constitution – the South African Experience.” Justice Moseneke, widely considered as one of South Africa’s top legal minds, served on the technical committee that drafted the South African interim constitution of 1993. In his address, he highlighted the myriad challenges during the drafting of the interim constitution for South Africa and how the South African people overcame these challenges to create for themselves a document that embodied common values of unity, diversity, reconciliation, democracy and consensus on fundamental rights and freedoms.

The address of Justice Moseneke was followed by the speech of the Additional Secretary to the Constitutional Assembly, Mrs. Yuresha Fernando, who dealt with the technicalities and stages of the current constitutional reform agenda and the work of the Constitutional Assembly Secretariat. Subsequently, the Chairman of the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms, Mr. Lal Wijenayake, also delivered an address on the public consultation process that was carried out in 2016 in order to seek feedback from the public in relation to constitutional reforms.

The afternoon session of the conference consisted of technical presentations on the six Sub-Committee Reports by the Panel of Experts appointed by the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly. The presentations of the six reports were carried out by the Panel of Experts to the Constitutional Assembly/ Steering Committee Professor Camena Gunaratne, Mr. Niran Anketell, Mr. Asoka Gunawardena, Professor Kapila Perera, Professor Navaratne Bandara and Mrs. Chamindri Saparamadu on the topics of Fundamental Rights, the Judiciary, Public Finance, Law and Order, the Public Service and Center-Periphery Relations respectively.

The final session of the Conference took place in the form of a Question and Answer session, moderated by the Co-Chairmen of the Management Committee of the Steering Committee, the Hon. (Dr.) Jayampathy Wickremaratne and the Hon. M. A. Sumanthiran. Questions relating to the Sub-Committee reports, key challenges and the nuts and bolts of the current constitutional reform process were extensively discussed by the participants of the conference. The former president of Sri Lanka, Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, also shared her views at the Q&A session on the pressing need for constitutional reforms in Sri Lanka and the multiple challenges that need to be overcome when creating a constitution that is the supreme law of the land. The conclusion of the Question and Answer session at 4:30pm signaled the end of the conference.

This was the inaugural national conference on constitutional reforms, organized by the Constitutional Assembly Secretariat, and it was hosted as part of the Secretariat’s outreach efforts in relation to the current Constitutional Reform process in Sri Lanka.