Action for a Peoples’ Constitution

A new constitution is a historic opportunity for democratisation and sharing of power and sovereignty amongst all peoples of Sri Lanka for a just peace with political and economic equality. We are facing widening economic inequality and precariousness, sharpening regional imbalances, weakening of public health, education and social welfare, and loss of natural resources.This will deepen poverty, deprivation and exclusion and undermine our well-being, democracy and peace. The new constitution must empower us to create an economy for people not capital and further economic and social justice.

Therefore, in keeping with the many submissions on economic justice made to the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms, including by many organisations and individuals supporting this action, and its own recommendations, we call for a constitution that:

  • Imposes a duty on the state to end poverty, promote equality, and, create and distribute economic opportunities and wealth fairly amongst all regions and peoples. This must include special measures for war-affected regions and people,historically disadvantaged groups such as Up-country Tamils, and areas with entrenched poverty such as in Monaragala or Puttalam;
  • Ensures economic policy-making protects the interests and participation of women and others marginalized because of their class, caste, racial, ethnic, age, religious, linguistic, or gender/sexual identities, or mental and physical disability;
  • Recognises the fundamental rights to: peoples’ participation in governance, education, health, food, water, adequate housing, social security, a living and equal wage for women and men, decent and safe work, freedom from forced evictions, and a safe, clean and healthy environment;
  • Ensures governance of the country’s land, waters, forests and other natural resources is sustainable and participatory with a special emphasis of safeguarding rights and interests of local communities;
  • Provides recourse to citizens to claim and enforce fundamental rights through courts, independent commissions, ombuds bodies and other meansincluding strengthened legal aid;
  • Ensures equitable sharing and appropriate use of national wealth, especially through:
    – Maximum and effective sharing of revenues with provincial and local authorities
    – Transparent, participatory and gender-sensitive budget processes at all levels
    – An independent and empowered Finance Commission and Auditor General’s office
  • Places more effective checks and balances on executive power to contract foreign debt and sign international financial and trade agreements, including with global institutions or corporations.

We also call for greater transparency and sharing of information regarding the constitutional reform process and a Constitutional Assembly discussion on the PRC report.

Background Statement to 20th September 2016 Action

The Action for a Peoples’ Constitution supports the initiative to reform the constitution. It is indeed a historic opportunity to address the ethnic conflict and move towards peace with full political and economic justice and equality for all peoples of Sri Lanka. Constitutional reform also provides an opportunity to institutionalise genuine and meaningful sharing of power and peoples’ sovereignty so that the majoritarian character of the state and polity is transformed to enable peace with dignity and political, social and economic justice and equality for all, especially minorities, within a united and secular Sri Lanka.

Even while we hope for such a constitutional solution, this Action stresses the importance of economic justice and equality because decades of neo-liberal economic policies, also being pursued by the present government, has widened economic inequality and precariousness, sharpened regional imbalances, weakened public health, education and social welfare, and lead to loss of natural resources. This will deepen poverty, deprivation and exclusion and will undermine our well-being, democracy and peace. Moreover, economic justice and equality is central to ensuring that the exercise of power and shared sovereignty is not limited to elite and dominant sections of society.

Since the planning for this Action began we have received reports that the Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee has recommended the recognition of a range of economic and social rights. Nevertheless we also stress that economic justice cannot rest merely on recognition of economic and social rights in the Bill of Rights or Fundamental Rights chapter but must permeate all aspects of the constitution, as underlined in the PRC report and indeed in many other constitutions. It is in this context that this Action is being convened. Please turn the page to see our specific expectations of the new constitution.

More about the Action for a Peoples’ Constitution

The report of the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reforms (PRC) unequivocally stressed the importance of economic and social justice and rights, including as justiciable fundamental rights. Many of the organisations and individuals supporting this Action had made or supported representations to the PRC in this regard. However, the PRC report has not been formally tabled and discussed by the Constitutional Assembly (CA). At the same time the post-PRC process of constitutional reform has been wanting in transparency and sharing of information, contrary to the provisions in the Parliamentary resolution establishing the CA.

This coupled with the observations and views of those closely involved in the drafting and discussions raised significant concerns concerning the possible marginalisation of provisions relating to economic justice and social and economic rights from the new draft constitution. This led to a number of organisations and individuals coming together and deciding to submit an Open Letter highlighting the centrality of economic justice and rights in the constitution. The Letter has since been signed by almost 100 organisations and many individuals from around the country and was released on 9th September. Discussions in the course of securing support for the Open Letter, led to a meeting on 2nd September in Colombo at which a decision was taken to undertake this collective public action as the ‘Action for a Peoples’ Constitution’, a loose collective of organisations and individuals.