LIRNEasia is a regional ICT policy and regulation think tank active across the Asia Pacific

Pratap Bhanu Mehta on constitutionalizing socio-economic rights

A good friend of LIRNEasia, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, delivered a public lecture relevant to the ongoing discussions on a new Constitution for Sri Lanka. He also interacted with key actors in the process and gave interviews to the media. The event was organized by Advocata Institute, Sri Lanka’s newest think tank. LIRNEasia connections were many. Former Lead Consultant Economist, now Deputy Minister, Harsha de Silva participated in the panel discussion, which I moderated.

The seeds of this discussion go back to this exchange on Internet as a fundamental right.

The discourse on economic rights in developing countries emerges from a history of state failure,” Mehta says.

“We want to go to court because legislature does not give us these rights.

“Paradoxically if we live in a country where the legislature does not deliver these rights in the course of normal give and take of representative politics, it is highly unlikely to even if constitutionalised it is unlikely to have the effective institutions to deliver these rights.”

In many countries, and also in Sri Lanka healthcare and education is provided through normal legislation. Mehta says this is the right way to do it as requirements may change over time.

Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva says in Sri Lanka education and healthcare has reached a large number of people using ordinary legislative procedures. He said more improvements are planned.

Both publicly supported education and healthcare started under British rule and has been progressively expanded.

Rohan Samarajiva, head of LirneAsia, a regional think tank, says he was once asked whether internet should not be made a basic right.

But a few decades ago, people may have said a sewing machine was a basic right, when internet was unknown, he pointed out.

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