Didn’t we form ‘governments of politicians, by the politicians, for the politicians’ since 1970s?
Parliament is a key institution in our democracy. Didn’t we form ‘governments of politicians, by the politicians, for the politicians’ since 1970s? They had disregarded Constitutional obligations too, to achieve their selfish motives. They created a culture of impunity. They have done irreparable damage to the country and the social order. Making political space for all parties and building up good understanding between the two major parties in the country now is a
sine qua non.
f worked out professionally with care, the Government would be lucky to have a strong Parliament within a diffused
political system. Against this backdrop, could we now ensure that the Parliamentarians are compelled to play their roles constitutionally to ensure that the needs of the citizens are not only heard but also satisfactorily met through the delivery of well-designed Government programs and services.
The steps taken by the Prime Minister to change the Committee system is a prime requirement. These reforms would ensure holding the Government accountable to the citizens, which could then lead to a more efficient and effective Parliament. These issues had become worse due to institutional deficiencies, failure to abide by Standing Orders and the existing political culture in the country.
The PM is desperately trying to enhance the effectiveness of the Supreme Institution through institutional development. Shouldn’t we forget that sittings of Parliament are frequently disrupted by unruly members resulting in delays thereby causing immense wastage of public funds? Isn’t it most opportune to tell those unruly MPs that ‘there will be no pay for no work’.
PM is well aware that the Parliament could play a major role, in delivering good governance, which is a prerequisite for taking the country forward. Assuming economic, social and cultural development and ethnic harmony are the primary goals, creating an accountable State is essential to be responsive to the needs of the citizens. The Government should also make significant enhancements in social policies and programs to build and sustain an equitable society.
For this purpose, a strong Parliament is imperative to build up a robust Committee system. The country, therefore, needs dedicated, educated, principled, cultured and considerate leaders with professionalism capable of holding the Government to account. Could the elected representatives in the present Parliament play their role, effectively and independently to establish an improved system of governance?
We do not have clear and unambiguous benchmarks in Parliament, to assess the day to progress towards achieving the intentions of the PM. Consultative Committees (CC) in our Parliament have failed. The Prime Minster, has taken steps therefore to introduce Sectoral Oversight Committees (SOC) for increasing performance and accountability in Parliament to lead the country to normalcy and to win credibility of people.
The election of the new Government has brought fresh hopes for good governance and rule of law. Why should the Joint Opposition and some others sabotage the progressive proposals on the table? Could the reforms in Parliament become another fiasco?
Nevertheless, the introduction of SOCs, Committee on Public Finance (CoPF) and Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) are major steps in the right direction. The Committee of Selection too has already allocated the subjects, functions, departments and institutions assigned to the Ministries to the appropriate SOC, which are as follows:-
(1) Economic Development (2) International Relations (3) National Security (4) Sustainable Development and Environment and Natural Resources (5) Women and Gender (6) Education and Human Resource Development (7) Health and Human Welfare, Social Empowerment(8) Transport and Communication (9) Agriculture and Lands (10) Legal Affairs (anti-corruption) and Media (11) Youth, Sports, Arts and Heritage (12) Business and Commerce (13) Energy (14) Manufacturing and Services (15) Internal Administration and Public Management (16) Reconciliation and North and East Reconstruction
These SOCs have been given extensive powers and responsibilities to report to Parliament on all Bills, Resolutions, treaties, Reports and Matters within their jurisdiction. The SOCs are also tasked with the responsibility to assist Parliament by analysing, appraising and evaluating the application, administration, execution and effectiveness of legislation passed by Parliament and conditions and circumstances that may indicate the necessity or desirability of enacting new or additional legislation and its formulation, consideration and enactment of changes in laws and of such additional legislation as maybe necessary and appropriate. A large majority of our elected representatives do not like the change. They also carry their political bias with them always including when they scrutinize the actions of the executive. The relevant Cabinet Ministers too do not seem to be happy with these concepts. The public officers too are reluctant because it is an opposition member who is in the chair.
Some Chairmen too lack the capacity, ability, the experience and the knowledge to perform such onerous duties. Shouldn’t we remember we could achieve quality growth only if we were driven by innovation and improved productivity?
It is abundantly clear the Parliament is inherently a political institution. Legislative process improvement therefore should necessarily be political and not purely a technical process. We need to consider an Agenda too with the necessary benchmarks etc. in order to achieve these goals set by the Prime Minister. We also must take a look at the kind of politics, history and broader social practices prevalent in society for this purpose including the electoral system, selection criteria applicable for giving nominations and our own Standing Orders in Parliament.
PM intends SOCs to play a vital role in establishing good governance and rule of law. According to the PM, Opposition members too have an important role in SOCs for the Parliament to work far better with increased efficiency and effectiveness. The new system has given status, and added recognition to Opposition members. The PM wants parliamentarians in SOCs to promote dialogue rather than conflict. Shouldn’t they always make an effort to avert violence and playing petty politics.
However, due to the current electoral system, may I say, most of them have no capacity, ability or the experience to chair SOC meetings. They have nevertheless cleverly formed political alliances to become partners of power-sharing for their personal benefit. They should instead think of re-building bridges among all communities in Parliament through SOCs for the benefit of the constituents.
PM intends to ensure greater representation, oversight and consensus having introduced the new SOCs. It leads to improved performance of the Parliament by engaging the elected representatives to play their representative role meaningfully. It would also improve the legislative role and hold the executive to account through the SOCs. Nevertheless, could we achieve desired goals by introducing technical solutions alone.
"Speaker Karu Jayasuriya should be entrusted with the responsibility of supervision of the “Role of Parliament in the implementation of the NDP”
Let me add that similar reform exercises in the past had barely scratched the surface. Legislators could not be changed even after repeated training seminars locally and even abroad. Shouldn’t we think of a NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN (NDP)? Shouldn’t we commit ourselves to align future strategic improvements and programmes of Parliament accordingly on a planned basis?
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya should be entrusted with the responsibility of supervision of the “Role of Parliament in the implementation of the NDP”. We must remember Parliament consists of elected representatives coming from different backgrounds. I do not therefore think they could all speak in one voice. Don’t you think the JO may be happy because they benefit due to numerous inadequacies in a poorly functioning legislature. Legislative reforms are not easy. The Secretary-General of Parliament too would resist reforms, which was the case in the past too. They would think reforms could create more ‘losers’ than ‘winners’. Reforms very often are not going to be easy due to lack of interest of most of the key players.
It also must not be forgotten that the MPs and parliamentary officials give priority to themselves. They in fact do not want to improve the legislature. They above all want to do whatever they can to ensure that they remain in their seats and get re-elected at the next poll. Owing to these reasons, there is a serious mismatch between what citizens expect from their representatives, state officers and their output. Politics has always been a ‘dirty game’. The reformists therefore should always bear in mind to attend to the necessary consultation and co-ordination with everyone concerned appropriately on a timely basis to push through reforms successfully in order to create more winners than losers.
"Strong Parliament is imperative to build up a robust Committee system. The country, therefore, needs dedicated, educated, principled, cultured and considerate leaders with professionalism capable of holding the Government to account. Could the elected representatives in the present Parliament play their role, effectively and independently to establish an improved system of governance? "
Parliament of Sri Lanka has been a neglected institution. Parliament Secretariat is even worse. There is a perception that the standards of elected representatives and Parliamentary Secretariat have also come down drastically. This raises doubts whether they have the ability and the desire to restore the trust and confidence to safeguard democracy and promote better governance. As a result, Parliament is under severe pressure to transform itself to respond to the needs of the countrymen. Can the Secretary-General of Parliament and his staff bring about increased efficiency and deliver improved services at a minimum cost, assure value for money while being inconsistent with the public interest.
Haven’t they been trained to define and implement administrative means to achieve desired goals? Their professional legitimacy and technical competence should be complementary enough to make the Parliament Secretariat efficient and competently managed.
If so why are they lagging behind? The country at this juncture requires high quality leadership both in politics and in the administrative service to change the direction. For us to ensure this change, we need new thinking, new designs, new capacities, and new measures of performance for establishing not only the necessary checks and balances but also developing norms and standards for institutions and governance.