Constitution


The Myanmar Constitution is a highly centralizing document. For example, tourism, a subject that is given over to sub-national units to administer in many countries, is assigned solely to the union or central government. But it goes beyond that, assigning authority over hotels and lodging houses solely to the union government. Therefore, there should be no surprise that telecommunications is a union subject according to the Myanmar Constitution. In all countries, with the limited exception of the United States, telecommunications is the responsibility of the highest level of government.
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.
After two decades of sporadic efforts, Sri Lanka’s Parliament unanimously passed the Right to Information Act in June 2016. LIRNEasia responded to a call for comments on the draft Bill and offered comments on various versions of the Bill through the media as the law was being shaped, many of which were accepted. Overall, it was a successful research-to-policy intervention. But in one area, we failed. That was in convincing the drafting committee to address costs of compliance to small organizations.
Consultations are underway for devising a new Constitution for Sri Lanka. One of the contributions to the discussion, published under the heading of “A new Constitution: What’s in it for young people?” had this section: According to the latest statistics there are over 2.8 million internet users in Sri Lanka. The Internet should not belong to only 2.
I’ve been putting a significant amount of my time in the past three months into Constitutional reforms because an unusual “policy window” or Constitutional Moment opened up as a result of the outcome of the Sri Lankan Presidential election of January 8th. The Common Candidate of the opposition included in his manifesto a series of good governance measures that had been promoted by civil society activists for a long time but with little take up. When he won, these proposals, including rebalancing the relationship between the President and Parliament, electoral reform and the Right to Information, were suddenly the highest priority items of the new government’s agenda. The catch was that everything had to be done within 100 days, because the newly elected President did not have ironclad support from the largest party in Parliament and his manifesto also included a commitment to call a General Election after 100 days, which is around now. Considering it a citizenship duty, several of us got involved in what we considered the hardest problem, changing the electoral system.