One of the worst-ever crises between the Rajapaksa government and the judiciary has been compounded by a dispute over the controversial Divi Neguma Bill.
A Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice Shiranee Bandaranayake ruled recently that some of the provisions of this bill came within the jurisdiction of provincial councils, and the bill could be passed by parliament only after all the PCs approved it by a simple majority. The Government complied with the ruling and acted fast in getting eight of the nine PCs to approve it, though there were some problems in the North Central and Eastern PCs. However, the crisis arose over the Northern Province where elections to the demerged PC have not been held, and according to the President will not be held till September next year.
With no elected council in the North, the Government obtained the approval of the Northern Province’s unelected Governor who is essentially a representative of the President and not the people. The President informed Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa on Tuesday that the bill had been approved by all nine provincial councils, and it was tabled in parliament. But the Supreme Court is still considering two petitions challenging the validity or legality of the approval given by the Northern Province’s non-elected Governor.
Amid this crisis of conflicting opinions, a dispute has also arisen over the Supreme Court sending its ruling on the Bill to the Secretary General of Parliament and not to the Speaker. When Parliament met last Tuesday, the Speaker made a special statement claiming the Supreme Court had made a bona fide error by sending the ruling to the Secretary General instead of to him. The Speaker’s statement was carefully worded with some analysts claiming it borders on suggesting that the Constitution had been violated. Whatever the situation, we hope the Government will wait for the ruling of the Supreme Court on the new petitions.
As for the Divi Neguma Bill itself, the new department to be set up under the Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa appears to be a giant if not a monstrosity. It will have a huge initial capital of at least 80 billion rupees, and will not be accountable to the Treasury or the Central Bank. More fearfully, the Bill has a secrecy clause prohibiting any official of the Department from giving any information pertaining to the financial transactions of this super-minister’s super-department. All this is likely to cause more damage to democracy or what remains of it, and it would be advisable for the Government to reconsider this Bill if it is interested in saving democracy. Instead, we would like to see a bill to scrap the executive presidency along with the Eighteenth Amendment, and to introduce a new constitution