Legitimising Parliamentary Process – A top priority!
Parliament, in a representative democracy, according to John Stuart Mill (1862) acts as the eyes, ears and the voice of the people. The elected representatives are expected to watch and control the government. They should throw light on the duties they perform as elected representatives and censure them if found unsuitable.
The legislature secretariat therefore has an immense responsibility to lend legitimacy to the Parliamentary process and thereby contribute to the stability of the total democratic political structure in the country.
Is this happening? Certainly not!
At a meeting-convened by the President and held at the Presidential Secretariat recently, where the Prime Minister, Cabinet, State and Deputy Ministers including Parliamentarians of the Unity Government were present-the President had expressed his downright displeasure with regard to the manner in which they attended to Parliamentary businesses even when important debates were in progress.
The President had also pointed out that the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Senior Cabinet Ministers had also not been present in Parliament at crucial times.
Do you think this happens due to conflict of interests? If so, why don’t leaders enforce laws found in developed countries here as well?
Instead, they want to offer more incentives even without considering the difficulties country’s economy is facing. Don’t they think that people have suffered long enough? People want the country to prosper now.
Former Secretary-General of Parliament the late Sam Wijesinha was a shining example, who guided the Parliament Secretariat to great success. He had mastered the art of unequalled management skills –planning, organising, leading, and controlling of human and other resources to achieve organisational goals effectively and efficiently. He was an administrator par excellence.
Nihal Seneviratne, who succeeded Wijesinha, in an interview, after Seneviratne’s retirement, had stated a SG should be: “Totally, totally independent, completely apolitical and not have even a whisper of any political affiliations”.
He had added “We are not servants of a Government. We are servants of Parliament. Our staff is very special in the sense that the Secretary-General is appointed by the President, now on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, and cannot be removed like any other Secretary. It can only be done by a vote of the House. This helps to preserve the Secretary-General’s independence and integrity”.
According to him “We are not like the average public servants, in whose case the Minister could say, I do not like your face, please go home”.
Seneviratne had also said “I worked with a fair degree of independence, …. We judged all the issues that came before Parliament, for which we had to advise the Speaker on the material before us. There are points of order and there are rulings that have to be given by the Speaker and some are very controversial”.
“Naturally, in a Parliament like ours, when an issue arises, the Government takes one view and the Opposition takes another. So, we have had to study each subject dispassionately and objectively and give our advice to the Speaker, who will make a ruling”.
“It was always a case of members and how to deal with them in a courteous manner but yet maintain firmness. ..ever since independence, all the Secretaries-General, starting with Ralph Deraniyagala, under whom I worked originally, have maintained that sense of independence,” he had stressed.
The duty of the legislature is to transact the business of law making, voting of the budget and discuss numerous issues raised by individual MPs on the floor of the House.
Do you think they cannot competently do their duties? It is an art, which requires wisdom. This country couldn’t produce Statesmen. Didn’t we therefore fail to plan for the benefit of the next generation?
Secretaries-General too did not attempt in the recent past to avoid mediocrity in the relevant field. Were they nervous to take appropriate steps to improve Parliament?
They disregarded taking disciplinary action and it was done on a selective basis. Managing the Parliament Secretariat is therefore a challenging task.
The Secretary-General is nevertheless a constitutionally protected official. His foremost function is to advise the Speaker on how to run Parliament well. He is now assisted by a Deputy Secretary-General (Who is also the Chief of Staff according to a recent Cabinet approval) and two Assistant Secretaries-General.
The Overseas Development Institute (ODA) had mentioned in a report that the duties and obligations of the elected representatives were hardly performed with efficiency and effectiveness in developing countries.
Does this mean that our MPs act in more favourable terms towards the political party they represent instead of the country? Shouldn’t they work towards the greater benefit of the countrymen?
Do you know what happened in England after Parliamentary authorities were compelled to release all information pertaining to ‘expenses claims’ of MPs?
Several MPs finally were charged for criminal offences for false accounting and were prosecuted and jailed.
Could it happen under the YAHAPALANA government? The Independent Parliamentary Standards Agency (IPSA) was created thereafter as an independent body to determine the level of payment of salaries, and allowances.
It is believed IPSA has played a very useful role in upgrading the image of Parliamentarians among the citizens of the United Kingdom. Shouldn’t we follow the steps of our mother Parliament, in that regard?
It is my view that most political leaders are ill-equipped to carry out their Parliamentary duties.
Do you agree that during the last several decades they did not understand what accountable governance was?
In practice, the Speaker must listen to good advice given by the Secretary-General in regard to matters of procedure and precedent. The Secretary-General must also ensure that Standing Orders are strictly enforced in the House. Why do they fail to give good advice now?
In addition, shouldn’t the Secretary-General impress upon the Speaker that Parliament by all means should adhere to moral law – all requirements for good conduct of individual MPs and for the benefit of the country?
Dalai Lama had said “A disciplined mind leads to happiness, and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering”.
Aren’t we suffering endlessly?
The House is currently in disarray due to indiscipline and lack of commitment and respect to observe Standing Orders.
Do you remember the MPs spent one whole night in the Chamber? What was the SO applicable for them to preach Bana, and sing-song on the floor of the House? Sam Wijesinha or Nihal Seneviratne and the Speakers during former times would never have permitted all that, including subsidised dinners for such delinquents at STATE EXPENSE?
Furthermore, for the first time, a proposal forwarded by a Committee of Senior Parliamentarians comprising R. Sampanthan, Leader of the Opposition, Chamal Rajapaksa, former Speaker, Rauff Hakeem, Minister of City Planning and Water Supply and Wijayadasa Rajapakshe, Minister of Justice having reviewed the chaotic behaviour of decadent Parliamentarians, had recommended that they should be provided with overseas training for “skills development”.
Do you remember two members were previously suspended for one week?
Are these Committee Members teasing the voters? What a muddle have they created in this country!
The Buddha had preached that you have to bear the burden of your own sins. Shouldn’t the present Secretary-General take meaningful steps to clean up and overcome the mess in the Parliament House in consultation with the President, PM and the Speaker?
Shouldn’t they do the needful to introduce overall development? As good individuals shouldn’t all of them support reorganisations for the greater benefit of the people and the country as a top priority matter?
Institutions mainly fail when the leadership is weak. The leadership must necessarily conform to the moral law. Leaders should not be self-centred. They should pursue a course of conduct that leads to the welfare and happiness of the people in the country.
The Parliament for the first time during the Speakership of Lokubandara period started disbursing government funds to hold various functions at the Speaker’s residence namely, Wesak, Poson, Ramazan, Christmas. Previous Secretaries-General used government funds efficiently, economically, effectively by avoiding waste and extravagance. They refused to make payments if they were outside legal powers and incompatible with the authorised budgets.
Are the Parliament Staff happily doing all the other duties except for their legitimate functions as stipulated in the Constitution? During the past two decades the Parliament Secretariat had become the talking point for abuse of government funds as well.
A leading newspaper carried a banner headline – “Parliament to throw big bash at taxpayers’ expense”. Parliamentarians too raised issues of alleged corruption on numerous instances in the House. Isn’t the Parliament Secretariat presently under pressure to improve their performance?
Why haven’t they considered best practices in the delivery of their services in a cost-effective manner?
Shouldn’t they realise that the image of the institution has been destroyed and needs to be improved? How is that, such a lovely institution, ultimately had been denigrated?
Shouldn’t they think that good management is what ultimately creates and help the leadership to take the institutions forward? Shouldn’t the government therefore initiate early action to carry out necessary improvements meaningfully in the Parliament Secretariat with candour. If the government is genuine about good governance, I have no doubt turning Parliament upside down is a priority matter. At a time of diminished resources, the seniors must not act selfishly. All the past Speakers kept their eyes closed when the seniors travelled overseas almost every week. Was it because they followed “You scratch my back and I scratch yours”. How can they do improvements when they are more out than in? Most of them do not bother about institutional goals.
Strengthening Parliament is an integral requirement in order to ensure accountable, responsive, efficient and effective governance. Parliament’s role is crucial for good governance. Shouldn’t we adopt continuous modifications through necessary changes to improve efficiency to achieve higher growth and sustainable development?
“Out of the experience of extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be borne a society of which all humanity will be proud” - Nelson Mandela