Rituals of a budget

7 March 2019 12:59 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The Appropriation Bill 2019, which is generally called the government budget was presented in Parliament on March 5. The budget speech was the 72nd since independence 1948. In a Parliamentary democracy, the total responsibility of handling and controlling of financial affairs is vested in Parliament. This feature is particularly visible in Commonwealth countries.   

In Parliament, it is the Minister of Finance who acts as the foremost authority in this process. The proposals, in a Bill presented in Parliament for its approval of the ways and means of financial expenditure and control as well as a collection of income, for the particular year are called budget proposals.   

What is generally known as a budget speech is the one made in Parliament by the Minister of Finance at the second reading of the Appropriation Bill.   

There are three stages in the process of passing any bill in Parliament, the first reading, second reading and the third reading.   

The introduction of a proposed bill in Parliament by the subject Minister for its approval is known as first reading “Nothing about the Bill as about its contents will be explained at this stage, except that the Secretary-General of Parliament will read the long title of the Bill to the House. This process was done on February 5, 2019.   
The Speaker then puts the question:   

The budget speech is an analytical lecture on the national economic structure 

“When will be the second reading” - to the relevant Minister and he gives the traditional reply “Tomorrow”.   

But that “tomorrow” will not be real tomorrow. Necessarily it has to be according to the Standing Orders of Parliament should come after seven days.   

The subject minister presenting the Bill to Parliament for its consideration on the day appointed for that purpose will address Parliament giving a detailed description of the proposed bill.   

Then after speeches of members praising and criticizing the bill of members from both Government and Opposition sides of Parliament - the vote will be taken at the appointed time and date.   

At the vote, the bill could be passed by a majority or by unanimity. The Parliament then turns itself into Committee Stage.   

The amendments to the Bill if there are any, will be discussed at this stage. Parliament becomes the Committee.   

The Speaker leaves the chair and the mace will be lowered by the Serjeant-at-arms. This means that though it is the same Parliament, it will not be as a Parliament.   

Later when the Sergeant-at-Arms lifts the mace on the higher stand and the Speaker returns to the Chair, Parliament resumes.   

Then only the third reading of the relevant Bill will be permitted.   

The Bill, after being passed at this stage becomes an Act of Parliament, and there ends the main process of passing the Bill.   

The Appropriation Bill also submitted and passed in this, same way.

Though it is submitted just like any other bill it is called the Appropriation Bill for it contains details of financial expenditure for the projects of different ministries and departments under different heads.   

The process of passing the Appropriation Bill in Parliament, this time started with the first reading of the Bill by the Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera on February 5.   

The Secretary-General of the Parliament read the title of the bill according to the tradition.

Though in Sri Lanka, it has been the tradition up to 1970 to consider the period from October 1st to September 30th, the next as the financial year, Dr N. M. Perera in his time as Finance Minister changed it to be from January 01st to December 31st. 

It is the custom in the United Kingdom to start the financial year from March 1st. In about 1751, the tradition in Britain was to end the financial year by September 30th.   

Though other bills are presented to the Cabinet for its approval it is the accepted custom that the Appropriation Bill will not be submitted for Cabinet approval.   

The Minister of Finance presented his budget proposals always in the afternoon.   

A custom was for the Governor General to give a luncheon party to the Minister of Finance on this day before the 1970 period of the old era.   

The ulterior motive of this had been to find an opportunity to pump the Minister for budget secrets.   

Nowadays it is not practised and there is no Governor-General as nominal Head of the State.   

The Minister of Finance, who comes to Parliament from the Queen’s House after the luncheon just passes his time in the lobby till Parliament finishes it normal work for the day.   

When the Speaker gives way to the main item of the day, that is the presentation of budget proposals, the Minister of Finance enters the House to the applause of the members and begins the presentation of the Bill. This is termed as the second reading.

On this occasion, the Serjeant-at-Arms and his assistant attend to their duties in the House attired in a special uniform and the ceremonial sword. This dress becomes a necessity only when the Budget proposals are being presented.   

The public gallery will be reserved only for the invited guests. Foreign diplomats, spouses of the ministers and other distinguished guests would be accommodated in the Speaker’s gallery.   


  • What was presented on March 5, 2019 is the 72nd since 1948
  • Dr N. M. Perera again imposed a special tax system for the Sri numbered vehicles by his budget proposals  
  • Mr Ronnie de Mel took 5 1/2 hours for his first budget, speech in 1977 and that is recorded as the longest  
  • The honour of having made the first Sinhala budget speech in Parliament goes to the late Mr T. B. Illangaratne. He made that speech on August 1, 1963

Generally, the custom is to give an analytical speech on the economic structure of the country for about two hours. The special changes in the development process due to economic changes that took place in the previous years are also explained.

After that, the house adjourns for tea and it is an old tradition for the members to attend the tea party given by the Minister of Finance. All members of Parliament without party differences attend this party. There is a separate table for four.   

This is meant for the Speaker, the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the Minister of Finance only. This custom is followed in the United Kingdom too and it is the tradition to give and an indication to the distinguished personalities about the budget secrets which are to be disclosed in the House a few minutes after this party.   

The Parliament then sits after tea and starts reading the rest of the Budget speech immediately revealing the proposals for diverse taxes to bridge the Budget gap salary increases price increases and other proposals.

The debate on the budgetary proposals will go on for several days. The tradition is that the government members will praise the proposals and the supposition will criticize them. The budget proposals will be put to a vote at the end of the debate.   

In Sri Lanka since independence there had never been an occasion where an appropriation bill had been defeated on the vote. After the passage of the bill at this point there comes the committee stage.

There, the Speaker descends to the lower chair and the Serjeant-at-Arms lowers the mace.   

At this stage the bill could be discussed only when amendments are submitted, traditionally and the Spproposes a cut of Rs. 10 from the head under discussion for the day and criticizes the activities of the relevant ministry. If there is no cut there is no debate.   

Though this tradition of proposing which was started in about 1948 it is still in practice. It’s value has not been increased. The separate heads of finance of different ministries will be discussed separately. The committee adjourns and the Parliament resumes.   

The speaker will officially inform Parliament of the passage of budgetary heads by the committee.   

At this stage, the Secretary-General and the Serjeant-at-Arms also have to perform some special duties.   

So Parliament then continues the third reading debate for about 6 weeks and at the end of that the vote will be taken after the third reading after a long vacation and also it is the tradition and also it is the tradition to give two days leave for the Parliament staff.   

Since the day we gained independence in 1948, there have been 71 budget speeches presented to Parliament.   

What is presented on March 5, 2019 is the 72nd.

Mr Ronnei de Mel, Mrs Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa have presented the most number of budgets and Mr Ronnie de Mel took 5 1/2 hours for his first budget, speech in 1977 and that is recorded as the longest.   

The honour of having made the first Sinhala budget speech in Parliament goes to the late Mr T. B. Illangaratne. He made that speech on August 1, 1963, and it is clear that he had striven very hard to make this budget speech, the only one he made in Sinhala.   

He had taken a lot of trouble converting Sinhala terms of English economical jargon.   

People, as well as members of Parliament, can oppose the Appropriation Bill, like any other Bill. Mr Dinesh Gunawardena, MP opposed the Budget saying that was against the Constitution and he made Standing Orders of Parliament as well in 1992.

Although the speaker did not accept this challenge, when L. O. H. Wanigasekara of Badulla submitted a petition challenging the Budget Appropriation Bill of 1986 to the Supreme Court, the Court commended him. The petitioner said that under section 7 of the Appropriation Bill, the Minister according to the will of the government could change limits of the advance payment to Public Officers, But it must get the approval of the Parliament for that.   

Since 1968 as Mr Wanigasekera had pointed out Section 7 of the Appropriation Bill, the Minister according to the will of the government could change limits of the advance payment to Public Officers. But it must get the approval of the Parliament for that.   

In 1975, Mr Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike chose the date as November 5 for his budget speech. That was his birthday.

The budget speech had been printed in advance and was distributed among the members of Parliament at the time when the speech was delivered.   

There were several instances, where budget proposals had created chaos. Price increase of consumer foods, cigarettes, liquor and sugar and other proposals pertaining to salary rises are a common feature. In 1952 Mr J. R. Jayewardene, the then Finance Minister had to resign due to the price increase on a measure of rice and cutting the subsidy.   

In 1962 through the Parliament approved the proposal at the end of the debate Minister of Finance resigned from his post. Dr N. M. Perera in his budget proposals for 1970 had demonetised Rs. 100 and Rs. 50 notes which proposal enabled him to get back the black money which was stacked away from circulation to the National Economy.   

It was like a revolution created in a single night. Dr N. M. Perera again imposed a special tax system for the Sri numbered vehicles by his budget proposals. This was worked as follows.

1) Sri Rs. 100, 2) Sri Rs. 200, 3) Sri Rs. 300, 4) Sri Rs. 400 This was popularly known later as “Sri Tax”. The Finance minister in presenting his budget does indicate the income and expenditure of the government and presents pro proposals to bridge the gap between income and expenditure. These are mostly tax proposals and also what draws the interest of the people.   

The budget deficit in 1948 was Rs. 4.3 million and in 1952 Rs. 35m, 1957 Rs. 150m, 1961 Rs. 363.8m, 1965 Rs. 569m, 1970 Rs. 604m, 1978 Rs. 1429m, 1982 Rs. 21160m, 1993 Rs. 9060m and today 2019 deficit of the budget not in millions but billions that is 2154 billion. The budget speech is an analytical lecture on the national economic structure.

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