Limit the Cabinet to 30 Ministers: A Private Member Bill from a Young Member of Parliament, Vasantha Senanayake

By  Dhanushka Jayakody

There is a new phenomenon of Private Member Bills and Motions in Parliament recently which have highlighted the need for constitutional and structural reforms. The least controversial initiative was by the Liberal Party which had a motion to amend Standing Orders. This was placed on the Order Paper, but has then been swallowed up in the usual Parliamentary lethargy, because, in violation of the existing Standing Orders, it has not been brought before the House.

More controversial was the JHU’s Private Member Bill calling for amendment of the 13th amendment to the Constitution. Following debate in Cabinet however, which revealed the strong negative feelings about the Billl, it too was not brought before the House.

Now a much younger member, the Hon Vasantha Senanayake, who has recently led groups of young parliamentarians on international visits, has brought forward a potentially more popular Bill. Being a member of the main government party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), and elected from the Gampaha District where he organizes Mirigama, he recently handed over a private member bill to the Secretary General of Parliament proposing another amendment to the Constitution.

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The Bill of Rights

The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

I was sorry last week to miss the Nandadasa Kodagoda Memorial Oration for two reasons. One was because of great assistance rendered by his son Yasantha Kodagoda to Dayan Jayatilleka and our Mission in Geneva at sessions of the Human Rights Council. He was a pillar of strength in dealing with the Working Group on Disappearances, when we decided, after I became Secretary of the Ministry of Human Rights, that we had to clear the backlog. Much of this related to the late eighties, and Yasantha had done much work on this in the mid-nineties when the Foreign Ministry had developed tried to respond systematically.

The importance of Training, Operational Directives and Reporting

At both the informal consultations on implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan held at the Reconciliation Office, and the official meetings conducted at the Ministry of Plantation Industries by the Task Force of the Inter-Ministerial Committee, three factors have been stressed by many participants. The first is better training, not only for the police but also for public servants in general.

The Action Plan asserts the need for this in many places, talking not only about internal programmes but also about outside training. The institution it mentions most prominently in this regard is the Human Rights Commission, but it was also noted that agencies such as the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration, and universities that conduct courses in Public Policy and Management should incorporate Human Rights awareness in their programmes.

An important distinction was made however in the course of discussion, that training of officials should be not so much in awareness of human rights as in awareness of duties that ensured that human rights were protected. Whilst there is also need, and the Action Plan notes this, to educate the public about their Rights, with regard to those whose activities impact through a power relationship on others, the vital point is that they should function with sensitivity about the rights of those they affect.

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