Saturday, 31 December 2016

Opportunities for Sri Lanka in 2017 After Recent Disappointments

I’m writing this at the end of 2016 looking at Sri Lankan issues from a political angle. I’ll start by mentioning recent disappointments from my perspective that happened in the last 3 months of 2016. I don’t intend to go into detail discussing or explaining them in this article. These recent disappointments include the President’s controversial speech at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, the recent emergence of racial crimes & hatred, issues regarding the Government & Police’s response to these incidents, the Inspector General of Police being caught on a phone call implying he’s protecting someone under investigation, the possibility of increased fines for traffic violations cancelled due to a strike by private bus companies, a strike at the Hambantota port, the Navy Commander assaulting a journalist at that strike etc.

I think it is important that the Sri Lankan Government resolve the problems arising from these issues. This Government really needs to deliver in 2017 in light of these issues, and as more needs to be done based on what they were voted in for. On the positive side, there are some events set to take place in 2017 that could bring real benefits to Sri Lanka. Firstly, the Cabinet recently approved a yearly event National Integration and Reconciliation Week beginning from the 8th to the 14th of January 2017. This event will be promoting national integration among school children, creating sensitisation and awareness in the media in all three languages, encouraging the private sector to be involved in integration programs, north south dialogue & inter-village exchange programs and a competition to promote national integration.

As expected in January, Sri Lanka will lease Hambantota port to a Chinese firm raising about USD 1.12 billion which should help Sri Lanka pay off the USD 8 billion owed to China for the development projects under the previous regime. I hope that the Chinese firm will be able to make the Hambantota port profitable to bring more benefits than just the money. In June 2016, the Right to Information (RTI) Bill was passed in Parliament. The RTI Act will come into effect on Independence Day, 4th February 2017. It is from that day onward when citizens can file RTI requests, making the Government more open to its citizens.

The Sri Lankan Cabinet passed the Open Government Partnership (OGP) plan in October 2016. The OGP plan gives a 12-commitment national policy plan and sets up a steering committee to monitor its implementation headed by both the President and the Prime Minister. This national policy plan has a schedule until June 2018. Member countries of OGP, in endorsing the OGP Declaration, show a commitment to “foster a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government.”

A promise of the 100 day program was a Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians, which still hasn’t been made law. There is some hope as the Code of Conduct was mentioned in the Sri Lankan media recently, and it was tabled and presented in Parliament on the 10th of December. This gives an indication that it will get passed in Parliament in the next 6 months, providing it gets enough votes. Sri Lanka is working on a new constitution right now and it’s possible that the new constitution will get completed or at least make real progress next year. The Megapolis project is in its early stages right now, and I hope to see much progress on it next year.  

So these are some of the opportunities for Sri Lanka based on events set to occur in 2017. I don’t have any idea how 2017 will play out for Sri Lanka, but if the Government is mostly successful in the opportunities I mentioned, as well as in other events, 2017 could be a good year for Sri Lanka, compared to 2016.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Ten Great Bob Seger Songs by Ten Different Piano Players

I am a Bob Seger fan and I like piano in rock music, so I decided to write a blog post choosing ten Bob Seger songs with great piano in them played by ten different piano players. Most of these songs are rock songs, but I am including some songs that probably wouldn’t be classified as rock here. For each song, I’ll give the name of the piano player and the year in the title, with my thoughts on the piano in the song. I did include three of his most popular songs “Old Time Rock & Roll”, “We’ve Got Tonight” and “Against The Wind”. Most of the songs are credited to Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, with there being one solo song as well as some songs credited with the Silver Bullet Band, but having no Silver Bullet Band members on it. Here’s my ten great Bob Seger songs given in sequential order. Hope you like it.

Piano Rock

Old Time Rock & Roll - Randy McCormick (1978)
This song was given to Bob as a demo that was written by George Jackson and Thomas Jones. Bob Seger rewrote most of the lyrics, but didn’t ask for credit. He tried recording it both with his Silver Bullet Band and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (a group of session musicians in Alabama that he recorded with in the 70s and 80s), but it wasn’t working. Thus, he decided to record his voice over the original demo that featured the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and removed the voice of the original singer. The piano is played by Randy McCormick. The song opens with the legendary piano intro that’s instantly recognisable. I use the piano intro as my phone ringtone. Silver Bullet Band member Alto Reed plays saxophone on the song that was recorded as an overdub. While the piano may not be the loudest instrument in the song, it’s played very well.

We’ve Got Tonight - Barry Beckett (1978)
This song is a ballad credited with the Silver Bullet Band, but was recorded with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and has Barry Beckett playing the piano & organ. It opens with the great piano intro that’s played over and over during most of the song. In the bridge, the piano playing changes where it is played faster. The song has a good section where the chorus is played three times at the end, first as usual with the band, then a slow version just with piano & Bob’s voice that’s joined by the other instruments at the end which is followed by the last chorus with the band again that works very well.

Brave Strangers - Doug Riley (1978)
This song recorded with the Silver Bullet Band opens with the great melodic piano riff played by Canadian session musician Doug Riley and the song is then joined by the organ, acoustic guitar, bass and drums. Just before the bridge, Doug does good movements on the piano. Then the bridge takes the melody in a different direction featuring great piano work by Doug before going back to the piano riff and previous melodies. I consider this to be a rock song with a soul influence which goes on for an epic six minutes and twenty seconds.

Against The Wind - Paul Harris (1980)
This song is slower as it’s a ballad and has a country influence. It’s a Silver Bullet Band song with the piano and organ played by Paul Harris. Paul delivers a good country sounding piano solo which goes back and forth with him and original Silver Bullet Band guitarist Drew Abbott. The piano provides most of the song’s melody. This is also a long song that goes on for five minutes and thirty four seconds.

Love’s The Last To Know - Bill Payne (1982)
This song is again a ballad recorded with the Silver Bullet Band featuring Bill Payne on piano. It starts with just piano, which is joined by the organ about fifty seconds in and then the remaining instruments at about the one and a half minute mark, but with the drums playing softly until about two and a half minutes into the song where the drums are played hard which results in the piano played more stronger. This song holds a special significance to me as the acoustic guitar is played by Davey Johnstone (Elton John’s guitarist) with Bob Seger and Elton John being my two favourite singers.

The Ring - Craig Frost (1986)
This Silver Bullet Band song features the piano played by Silver Bullet Band keyboardist Craig Frost. I consider it a pop rock song featuring the signature Bob Seger piano sound. The piano seems to go up and down throughout the slow and fast sections of the song. There is this great melody on the piano that’s played throughout the song. The piano has a lot a room as the guitars here are acoustic ones. This epic long song goes on for five minutes and thirty five seconds.

The Fire Inside - Roy Bittan (1991)
This is another of Bob’s epic long songs which rocks really well being led by the incredible inspired piano playing by Roy Bittan. It’s credited with the Silver Bullet Band, but recorded entirely with session musicians. The guitar featured is an acoustic guitar played by session guitarist Steve Lukather of Toto fame giving the piano more room to rock. There are two amazing piano solos, one in the middle and the other at the end of the song. I consider the piano playing to be of the signature Bob Seger piano sound that’s also in the previous song, but with more energy and rocks better. Near the end of the song there is a brief moment where the piano notes go back and forth between high and low ones. The song goes on for five minutes and fifty six seconds.

She Can’t Do Anything Wrong - Walt Richmond (1991)
This song recorded with the Silver Bullet Band was written by Bill Davis & Walt Richmond and it is Walt who is playing the piano. Like the previous song, there are two piano solos, one in the middle of the song and one in the end, but this song seems to have a southern rock or rock & roll feel unlike the previous one with another difference being this song’s use of electric guitars. Bob sings throughout the piano solo at the end.

I Can’t Save You Angelene - Bob Seger (1995)
In this song, it’s interesting as Bob Seger himself is playing the piano. I wish Bob Seger would play piano more, especially on rock songs. This is probably the best piano playing he’s ever done, delivering a great performance. This song isn’t rock, as it’s an upbeat blues song. His playing is melodic and opens with the great piano riff that goes up the scale to the high notes that is played throughout the song. He even solos in the last minute of the song, where he also does a bit of singing.

What I love about this song is that it sounds so much like Elton John, being a fan of both singers. One Elton John song it sounds like is his hit “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”. The Elton similarities are the fact that Bob is also playing the piano, the melody sounds Elton like, the piano playing sounds like Elton and lastly Bob’s singing resembles Elton. I love Elton John’s voice post late 80s as I find that voice has a lot of depth. Bob’s vocals are great here, where he sings with depth similar to Elton, and in the last minute of the song sings a “yeah, yeah” that Elton has sung. I would love it if Elton John and Bob Seger would do a duet, and then Elton would become another musician that’s played great piano on a Bob Seger song.

Satisfied - Steve Nathan (2003)
This is another upbeat blues song so it sounds similar to the previous one. It’s a solo song featuring piano and organ by Steve Nathan. There is a great piano solo in the middle of the song, as well as another great piano solo at the end where Bob sings along which of course resembles the end of the previous song.

So this was my list of ten great Bob Seger songs by ten different piano players. I think these songs would make a great album with the time totalling forty six minutes. I hope you enjoyed this list and would like to hear your thoughts on it.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Showcasing Sri Lanka from Google Street View

Sri Lanka - Google Street View

In March this year, Google released coverage of Sri Lanka in their Google Street View service. I’m so glad that it finally arrived as I’ve been wanting there to be Google Street View coverage of Sri Lanka ever since I first heard of the service. I heard that the images of Sri Lankan roads were recorded from December 2014 to March 2016, with those in Colombo being mainly recorded in November and December 2015. I’ll be embedding the areas from Google Street View that I refer to which the user can explore in this blog as well as make it full screen with the icon on the right hand side or open it in a new window in a larger size via the “View on Google Maps” button and explore the roads from that point. If any of the embedded areas do not load, you’ll be able to see them through the “View on Google Maps” button. As I’m from Colombo, it is the region given the most coverage, but I’ll be featuring many areas all over Sri Lanka. I will give some thoughts on Sri Lanka as seen here and making some comparisons to when I was last in Sri Lanka, which was in January 2014.

A good thing I’ve noticed is that Sri Lanka looks cleaner, especially Galle Road. When I was last there it was difficult to walk across Galle Road due to the road rebuilding that was taking place. The road rebuilding that was taking place appears to be complete and the centre of parts of the road has plants which makes it look nicer as well as reducing the number of people crossing the road. With regard to people crossing the road, I see on Galle Road as well as other areas in Sri Lanka, yellow crossings have been built. Going back to the earlier plant issue, that would reduce the number of people crossing the road, which would speed up traffic. Here’s Galle Road in the Colombo suburb I’m from (Wellawatte).

The roundabout near Liberty Plaza looks updated as I don’t remember seeing it like that and this part of the road looks so clean. I like it how the roundabout has fountains.

It’s good to see that construction is continuing just like when I was last in Sri Lanka.

This new building that I haven’t yet seen in Sri Lanka looks good.

Here’s an image of the centre of Colombo. The pavement looks nice and clean and I don’t think that the ledge was there when I was last in Sri Lanka.

I’m now going to be focussing on areas outside Colombo. I’ll give a sentence describing it with the place being below it.

Here are some of the roads in Galle.

Here’s Kandy by the lake.

This is Kalladi Bridge in Batticaloa.

Here’s Point Pedro by the sea.

This is near Wasgamuwa National Park.

The first two are from Mullaitivu and the following three and from Mannar Island. I’m grouping them together as I think they look similar to California.

This is in the Sabaragamuwa Province near the Sinharaja Rainforest.

This is in the Southern Province not too far from the previous image.

A Sri Lankan mountain by the Victoria Randenigala Rantembe Sanctuary.

On the Thanamalvila Road with the first scene being by the Uda Walawe Reservoir.

Here’s a road on the Uva Province.

The next scene is in Ja-Ela with the following two being near Ja-Ela.

A road in Negombo.

As seen in the above Negombo image, that is another of those Yellow crossings. It looks as if these Yellow crossings have been appearing all over Sri Lanka in the last few years. Regarding the cleaner appearance, it’s possible that Google captured many images from the same location and chose the best ones. I wonder if in some places, they edited the image to make it look cleaner. Irrespective of the differences in this and the real thing, Sri Lanka being cleaner is a good sign. There are still a small number of roads in Sri Lanka not covered in Google Street View and I hope that all of Sri Lankan roads will get covered before the end of the decade. This is one of the amazing features of modern technology, allowing those outside Sri Lanka to see what Sri Lankan roads are like. I hope you’ve enjoyed what I shared of Sri Lanka. Feel free to comment giving your thoughts.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Film Review: Star Trek Beyond

The latest Star Trek film Star Trek Beyond was released in most of the world in late July and I’d like to share my thoughts on the film. I am aware that many fans like or love this film and I respect that. This is simply my opinion of it. I wanted to like this film, but didn’t end up doing so as I had a mixed reaction. Regarding the new films I’ll say that I have some issues with this alternate universe that these films are set in (officially known as the Kelvin Timeline), but ultimately I liked the 2009 Star Trek film and disliked its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). I went into more detail about my thoughts on the first two films in my very first blog post here. I’ll begin with the positive issues of this film.

The film looked good visually. It’s uniforms, ship designs, sets, layout of the planet and the planet designs were very faithful to Star Trek. Parts of the planet seem reminiscent of a planet visited by the crew in Star Trek: The Original Series. It’s good how this film dealt with exploration in a way that the previous two films didn’t, as this film didn’t have any scenes taking place on earth. It was nice to see quite a few alien species in this film. While there are some qualities of this alternate version of Captain Kirk I’m not into, I do like it how in this film Captain Kirk was more mature than before. I didn’t like it how in Star Trek Into Darkness, Captain Kirk and Spock didn’t seem to get along well when that story began, so am pleased that they didn’t get into an argument in this film, though they did not spend a lot of screen time together in this film.

I’ll now go into some negative issues of the film. I found the film’s story to be weak, and an over-focus on action scenes. I thought the film lacked energy and soul. There were some jokes in the film that I didn’t enjoy. I wasn’t fond of the usage of a few rap songs in the film.

When Director Justin Lin spoke of the villain Krall, he spoke of Krall having a valid point of view and exploring the theme of some alien cultures disliking the Federation. Krall to me was just a tough violent character without much depth. When they finally revealed the full details of Krall, it seemed to contradict the message Justin had been saying. Yes, the film did speak of unity when working against Krall, but to me there wasn’t any discussion about the Federation through his character. I won’t reveal what Krall’s true identity is, but his true identity and background ended up being what I find to be a character type overdone in Star Trek.

It’s disappointing to me, as Star Trek: The Original Series is the Star Trek series I like the most, I want these films to give me similar feelings I get when watching the original characters and I didn’t get that with this film.

The film wasn’t bad, it’s just that I had too many issues with it to consider it to be a good film. I found it better than the previous film Star Trek Into Darkness that I didn’t like which is a positive. It had good moments throughout, some related to Star Trek but the film as a whole didn’t work together. Some elements of this film such the exploring theme and Captain Kirk’s performance improved upon the 2009 film, but the issues I mentioned resulted in my lowered opinion of it. I thought it was half a Star Trek film, half a generic Sci-Fi Action film. I also think Justin Lin’s directing style doesn’t appeal to me as the way he edited it, paced it and the tone wasn’t one I enjoyed.

I hope that for the next Star Trek film, which was was announced just before Star Trek Beyond opened, they will find a Director who is not famous for directing action, but for story and intelligence as I feel those two factors are needed the most in these new films. While I am aware that the new films will have action, I dislike the overemphasis on action as displayed in the last two films. I know the sequel to this film is unlikely to have good storytelling and intelligence, so what’s most important for me is for the film to feel like Star Trek, have more depth & substance, a stronger villain, be paced better and be a good entertaining film which I unfortunately didn’t find this one to be.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

News of Bob Seger's Upcoming Album I Knew You When

In a November 2015 Billboard magazine interview with Bob Seger, the introductory paragraph said “in 2016, the Lincoln Park, Mich., native will mark his 50th year in the music business with I Knew You When, an album of unreleased songs that he has updated”. So it looked as if Bob Seger would be releasing an album consisting of re-recordings of unreleased songs this year. Also, the title track is reported to come from the late 1990s. However in February this year, the Detroit radio station WOMC had a short article titled “Bob Seger: Back In the Studio” which started off by saying “Bob Seger is in the studio working on his 18th album. It will be all new songs, but seeing as how Bob likes to take his time, there’s no word on when it will be out.” This seemed to imply that his next album would not consist of unreleased songs, but completely new songs contradicting what was reported previously in Billboard. This week Bob was interviewed for “In The Garage with Jim O’Brien” on the Detroit radio station WCSX, and did give a little bit of information on his upcoming album. I’ll give some quotes from that interview relating to the upcoming album, mention some songs that appear to be on the album as well as my theory on what is taking place.

Bob made reference to a track originally written in 1976 which will appear on the album when asked by Jim O’Brien if he ever re-wrote a song title saying “Well, there is one and it’s coming out on the next record. I completely re-wrote the song and the reason I want it on the next record is cause Charlie Martin’s playing drums on it. It’s a 40 year old track from 1976 and it’s of course Chris and it’s Alto and Charlie and I think we had then was Robyn Robbins on Piano. I re-wrote the song completely, you know because I just didn’t like what the subject matter was … I’m just excited for everybody to hear Charlie play drums 40 years later. It’s a Rocker too”. This seems to go with the “I Knew You When” project, of updating a song for the album.

Bob revealed in the WCSX interview that he goes out to drive and think about songs which helps the creative process. Jim then asked him if there was a song that he changed or revisited when driving. He said, “Well, on the new record which I don’t know exactly when it’s gonna come out, but there’s a song called ‘The Highway’ which makes sense, you know. “Headin for the highway” is like, the chorus.” Also, if you search Bob Seger in the U.S. Copyright Office you will find the song ‘Hannah’ registered last year, implying that song may be featured on the upcoming album. I heard that these 2 songs are outtakes from his last album “Ride Out”.

Jim asked Bob if he’s feeling good about the new album and he said “I really am. I’m still writing a little bit. One more and a little bit. ... I just wrote two songs in the last month so hopefully they’ll be on it too.”

Bob mentioned that he doesn’t know when the album will come out so it is disappointing to hear that there won’t be a new album this year in celebration of Bob Seger’s 50 years in music. However, it’s good to know that Bob is still working on the album. I suspect that Bob began the “I Knew You When” album, working on re-recording unreleased songs, some of which he re-wrote the lyrics. Assuming all these 4 songs will end up on the album, there are unreleased songs from the 1970s, 1990s, 2000s (The U.S. Copyright Office lists the song ‘Hannah’ as being from 2008) and 2010s with at least two songs having the lyrics re-written, one of which was completely re-written. It looks as if Bob then decided to start writing new songs as he mentioned that he’s still writing songs for it, thus resulting in an album that will have a mix of unreleased songs and new songs.

I hope that Bob won’t take a few years to finish this album as he tends to take a long time working on albums. I would love it if it would come out next year. The fact that he mentioned that he’s “still writing a little bit” could mean that he doesn’t have a lot more songwriting to do to finish the album. It’s unlikely, but I hope that more information about the album will come out soon. Feel free to comment giving your thoughts on Bob Seger’s next album. If you liked this article, you might also be interested in my previous article about Bob Seger titled “We Need a Bob Seger Biography”.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Impact of the 19th Amendment One Year On

Picture of the Sri Lankan Flag

This post is about the 19th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution which occurred a little over a year ago when it was passed on the 27th of April 2015. Before I mention the 19th Amendment, I will give some background to Sri Lankan Politics of the current decade that relates to it.

In 2010, Sri Lanka’s then President Mahinda Rajapaksa passed the 18th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution which made the President far too powerful and leading Sri Lanka towards dictatorship. The biggest problems of the 18th Amendment were its removal of the two-term limit for Presidents allowing him/her to contest indefinitely and bringing independent commissions under the President. Sri Lanka’s current Government led by President Maithripala Sirisena introduced and passed the 19th Amendment. Its changes include restoring the two-term limit & the power of independent commissions as well as further reducing presidential powers & increasing the power of the Prime Minister.

When Sri Lanka received independence from Britain in 1948, Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon had a Parliamentary system of Government with the Prime Minister being the Head of Government and the Queen as the Head of State. This changed in 1972 when Sri Lanka became a Republic with the President replacing the Queen as Head of State. The President’s role was a ceremonial one. This changed in 1978 when Prime Minister J.R. Jayewardene introduced a new constitution combining both the Head of Government and the Head of State in an Executive Presidency, which he then assumed. The Prime Minister’s power became significantly less, at times appearing to be a ceremonial role. The role of the Prime Minister since the Executive Presidency in Sri Lanka, especially relating to each of those Prime Ministers is a complicated issue deserving of an article of its own. However, what I am interested in is how the 19th Amendment changed the role of the President and the Prime Minister as well as its impact on the country.

The 19th Amendment was originally intended to abolish the Executive Presidency, but it seemed less likely that it would be carried out after the election of President Maithripala Sirisena. Prior to the 19th Amendment’s passing, there was a report that the 19th Amendment would create a dual executive system. Since the 19th Amendment reduced the powers of the President and increased the powers of the Prime Minister, there is a possibility that the 19th Amendment did in fact result in Sri Lanka having a dual executive system. I hope that this article will give information on this topic via people’s contributions on whether this is the case allowing us to make our own conclusions.

I decided to ask several notable people in Sri Lanka about this to get information on the subject and to present differing perspectives on the same issue. I thought that doing so would allow us to learn about the impact of the 19th Amendment, giving us the ability to think about this issue ourselves. I will be providing quotes from 6 Sri Lankans as well as from the paper “19th Amendment - The Wins, the Losses and the In-betweens” written 1 year ago in June 2015 by Nishan de Mel and Gehan Gunatilleke of Verité Research. The question I asked these 6 Sri Lankans is: "In the year since the 19th Amendment was passed, how do you think it changed the role of the President & Prime Minister and what impact do you think it had on Sri Lanka?"

On the issue of the current roles of the President and Prime Minister, Attorney at law and founder of the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) Elmore Perera says “Without seeking the total abolition of the Executive Presidency, the 19th Amendment sought an arrangement for the coexistence of an Executive President and a Prime Minister. In a welcome display of Judicial Independence, the Supreme Court held that several provisions in the proposed 19th Amendment required the approval of the people at a referendum. Without seeking such approval, all such amendments were dropped and a mere shadow of the original Bill was presented to Parliament.” Economist and former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka W.A Wijewardena says on the Presidency, “President is still the Executive President in the interim period and therefore there is no real feeling about the dilution of the powers of the President.” Jehan Perera, Director of the National Peace Council in his thoughts on the President’s role as well as that of the Prime Minister is more positive as he says “Prior to the 19th Amendment, the power of the President was overwhelming in relation to the Prime Minister, which is what prompted R Premadasa to say that when he was Prime Minister he was like a peon. Prior to the 19th Amendment the President had the power to appoint the Cabinet on his own, and also to dissolve Parliament at his will after one year. The 19th Amendment has permitted the President and Prime Minister to work together on a basis of equality. This has been helpful to the sustenance of the coalition Government in which the two main parties are working together.”

Journalist and Media Personality Savithri Rodrigo says on the President’s role that “while the 19th Amendment ensures the elimination of authoritarian dictatorships, there still remains almost a tacit power that the post of President implies. The general citizen is unaware that the President is not 'God' anymore, a sentiment that will take some time to dissipate.” Regarding the joint role of the President and the Prime Minister she adds “However, on the footing of practical governance, there's much more discussion and even a process of 'agreeing to disagree' in governance decisions as was seen in the recent appointment of the Central Bank Governor, which again is a refreshing change.” Dhananath Fernando, Chief Operating Officer of public policy think tank Advocata Institute says “The role of the President and Prime Minister I am not very convinced. But personally I feel at least PM is somewhat responsible for the Parliament compared to previous Government. The composition and the calibre of the Parliament comes secondary regardless of what political flags they host.”

The 19th Amendment did change the relationship between the President and the Prime Minister. Elmore Perera says “One year after the 19th Amendment was passed, one of the few things that is clear is that the President and Prime Minister cannot survive, one without the other.” As the President and Prime Minister come from different political parties with different ideologies A.C. Visvalingam, President of CIMOGG says “The "cooperative(?)" tug-of-war between the President and the PM is also something in the nature of a safety feature.” The Verité Research paper said the following on the President’s and Prime Minister's role in Cabinet appointments: “While the President is constitutionally bound to obtain the advice of the Prime Minister when appointing Cabinet Ministers, he may change the composition of Cabinet portfolios without any advice or consultation. Under Article 43(3), the President is free to make changes to the composition of Cabinet portfolios as he sees fit. For instance, it is possible for the President to remove a Cabinet Minister’s portfolio and reassign that particular portfolio to another Minister without consulting the Prime Minister. The President is, however, bound under Article 46(3)(a) to obtain the advice of the Prime Minister when removing any particular Minister from office.” (Nishan de Mel and Gehan Gunatilleke, “19th Amendment - The Wins, the Losses and the In-betweens”, Verité: 2015)

On positive issues of the 19th Amendment, W.A Wijewardena mentions the following “The independent commissions have been appointed and they have already started to show their colours. For instance, the HR Commission and Police Commission on a number of occasions have shown that they are really independent and stood by people through their action.” and “The leadership in COPE has been given to Opposition with 10 Opposition members as against 7 Government party members.” Jehan Perera says the following on the positive issues “Due to the 19th Amendment's restriction of the power of the Executive, and the setting up of independent commissions to overlook key state institutions, the abuse of power is less, and with it the polarisation in society is less.” A.C. Visvalingam says “There is no question in my mind that the election of President Sirisena, the abandonment of the monstrous provisions of the 18th Amendment, and the passing of a few important articles that constitute the 19th Amendment have given us a goodly quantum of freedom from the fear of terrible reprisals.”

Regarding negative issues of the 19th Amendment, W.A Wijewardena says “The size of the Cabinet has swelled beyond imagination raising costs for the citizens.” A common criticism of this amendment I’ve heard is the issue of the Constitutional Council. Dr. A.C. Visvalingam says “Probably the worst feature of 19A is the composition of the Constitutional Council, which is packed with strong politicians and weak civilians.” Elmore Perera’s thoughts on this issue is “Rather than restoring the independence of the several nominally independent commissions, the stranglehold of the politicians was strengthened by increasing the number of Parliamentarians in the Constitutional Council from 3 to 7, whilst reducing the Civil Society representation from 7 to 3.” It seems that there is a risk of the 7 MPs on the Constitutional Council making politically motivated decisions which could lead to political appointments that are unsuitable.

On the amendment’s impact to the citizens of Sri Lanka, Dhananath Fernando says the “actual impact for the citizens is zero. The priority of the people was not this. It is true the 19th Amendment was a promise under 100 day programme and many more yet the impact is zero for a citizen. It does not mean 19th is a bad move. The real impact could have been made by making the independent commissions more dynamic.” Savithri Rodrigo’s thoughts on the citizen's impact are “the regular citizen is yet to understand, realise and acknowledge the cascading impact the 19th Amendment will have on the country's citizenry, eventually.”

It’s worth noting that the full effects of an amendment like this takes time. Dhananath Fernando says “It was a wise move undoubtably with a long term thinking. The benefits of such amendments cannot be seen over night. But dilution of Executive Powers and establishment of independent commissions are strengthening the individual freedom and it is an assurance for some extent that the rule and law is equal for everyone.” Savithri Rodrigo echoes a similar sentiment saying “One year on is yet too early for any tangible ramifications to permeate to the people, although the very fact that the 19th Amendment was passed with an overwhelming majority in Parliament was surely a relief and a sure sign that the Members of Parliament themselves had had enough of the misuse of power, which lay primarily in the Executive Presidency.” Dr. A.C. Visvalingam says “On the whole, there seems to be an improvement, but we shall have to wait for one or two more years to make a reliable judgment.”

I will give my thoughts on one of the issues discussed so far. Regarding W.A Wijewardena’s comment on the swelling of the Cabinet, I think that this is one of the problems of the 19th Amendment. The 19th Amendment did limit the size of the Cabinet Ministers to 30 and Deputy & State Ministers to 40, but included a clause allowing a larger number of Ministers in case a National Government is formed, which this Government used due to forming one. It’s possible that more Ministers might be needed for a National Government, but I do think there are definitely too many Ministers. It seems to me that this reflects a common weakness among successive Sri Lankan Governments of their wish to have more Ministers than necessary. The 19th Amendment intended to restrict the number of Ministers, but ended up being used to accommodate a larger number of Ministers which is doing the opposite of what it set out to do.

There is one issue that hasn’t been mentioned so far which is the 19th Amendment’s impact on the Right to Information Bill. The 19th Amendment acknowledged the Right to Information as a fundamental right in the constitution, and thus the Right to Information Bill was passed recently in June 2016.

So, we had a variety of views on this subject from people born in a diverse range of decades spanning the 1930s to the 1980s. A special thank you to W.A Wijewardena, Jehan Perera, A.C. Visvalingam, Elmore Perera, Dhananath Fernando, Savithri Rodrigo and to Nishan de Mel & Gehan Gunatilleke who were authors of the Verité Research paper for their contributions. It can be seen that the Prime Minister’s influence has been increased, but it seems to me that it was done without making significant changes to the roles of both the President and the Prime Minister. The 19th Amendment wasn’t the bill it was originally intended to be which included the plan to abolish the Executive Presidency. Admittedly, it has some weaknesses, but even with them this was a significant moment in Sri Lankan Politics as it not only reversed the damage done by the 18th Amendment, but further reduced Presidential Powers. It is a noteworthy achievement as it was the President himself who was campaigning for this bill to be passed.