The only remedy is strengthening devolution by devolving powers effectively. If so Parliament need not be fattened further. This is exactly what the newly elected President had wanted in the country.
ur Parliament is a unicameral 225 member legislature elected by universal suffrage and proportional representation.
196 members are elected on the basis of proportional representation system. There are 29 more seats from the “National List” and these seats are allocated to the political parties and independent groups contesting the general elections in proportion to the number of votes polled by them at the national level.
The composition, which had been increased gradually, in our legislature over a period of time, in the past are given below:
Legislative Council (1833 - 1931) 49 Members
State Council (1931 - 1947) 61 Members
House of Representatives (1947 - 1972) 101 Members
National State Assembly (1972 - 1978) 168 Members
The Parliament (1978 - 1988) 168 Members
(1988 – to date) 225 Members (14th Amendment to the Constitution)
The appointment of a Select Committee to – “Consider reforms to the current system of Parliamentary and Local Authority elections and other matters connected therewith and to make recommendations in respect of changes considered necessary to the Constitution of the DSR of Sri Lanka and the existing elections laws and to report together with their observations and recommendations on the amendments necessary to the said laws” had been passed on August 20, 2003 in Parliament.
Thereafter, 19 Members representing all parties had been nominated and approved by the Parliament on the August 22, 2003, with Parliamentarian Dinesh Gunawardena as Chairman. The Committee met for the first time on September 1, 2003.
"The Committee also agreed that there was no need at all to increase the composition of the number of members of Parliament."
The Committee had received over 300 representations. From about 51 registered political parties at the time, only 17 parties had submitted their recommendations. Parties such as UNP, SLFP, JVP, SLMC, CP, DUNF, MEP, and a few other parties such as CWC, Hela Urumaya and the CP had also submitted recommendations and gave oral evidence before the Committee.
The Commissioner of Elections, Commissioner of Registration of Persons, and many other government officials from certain key Ministries also gave evidence. The Attorney General too assisted the Committee in their deliberations.
A few of the key issues such as (i) Reforms to the present electoral system pertaining to Parliament, (ii) Number of Members of Parliament (iii) Introduction of the National Identity Card to the electoral process (iv ) Introduction of electronic voting machines (v) Annulment of Poll due to disturbances at polling stations, had been given due consideration and certain important recommendations were made in the relevant report.
The majority agreed that reforms in regard to the present system – a mixed system of a combination of First-Past-Post and Proportional Representation system be adopted, while guaranteeing equitable representation for minority parties and communities.
The Committee also agreed that there was no need at all to increase the composition of the number of members of Parliament.
This decision had been reached by the Committee after having considered the fact that on the November 14, 1987, the Parliament had passed the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution, subsequent to the Indo-Lanka Accord signed on July 29, 1987 by the then President J.R. Jayewardene and the then Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi.
"The majority agreed that reforms in regard to the present system – a mixed system of a combination of First-Past-Post and Proportional Representation system be adopted, while guaranteeing equitable representation for minority parties and communities."
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution came into effect on May 24, 1988. This amendment extended the immunity of the President, increased the composition to 225 members and provided for the national list members among many other things. The criticism was that having created the Provincial Councils, this was considered an unwise, unnecessary and step motherly move by the then government.
In addition, Provincial Councils, no doubt constitute an intermediate level, within the existing governmental hierarchy, national and local, which is an autonomous body, which has been legally established in keeping with the provisions under the Constitution and it derives all its powers through the Constitution and numerous acts of Parliament.
Provincial Councils cannot be reversed now at any cost. It should only be further strengthened and streamlined. This should be done with sincerity.
We are fully well aware that the Act No. 42 of 1987 was enacted for the purpose of giving necessary statutory powers in order to specify operational procedures and to relocate the specific powers and the authority to the provincial councils, which had hitherto been exercised by the centre.
It may be also noteworthy that there is severe criticism against the Act. No. 42 of 1987 that the entire devolution process spelt out in the 13th Amendment had been undermined due to powers vested with the Governor in the relevant Act. It is, therefore, necessary to improve the Provincial Council concept further.
The suggestion to increase the number of Members of Parliament at the centre is another distressing step similar to the 14th Amendment. The country is already in a crisis owing to senseless, unsustainable and inappropriate political slips.
U. B. Wijekoon, a former Minister, and a public servant previously, had written, I quote “Party politics has not spared the public service, has infiltrated the Judiciary. …. Our rulers have converted it to be a government of the party and for the benefit of the party supporters…..The time has come for all religious leaders, community leaders, intelligentsia, professionals, and all patriots to awaken and extirpate this curse of party politics and evolve a system under which people exercise their sovereignty with the objectives of achieving unity, harmony, peace, integration and progress,” in an article in a national newspaper.
Furthermore, an analysis of data by Sri Lanka BRIEF has showed that the burden of legislators on the population will climb to 19 times that of India, from the current 17, if the number of seats in Parliament is raised to 255 from the current 225 in a 20th amendment to the Constitution.
I give below the population and the global ranking for the information of the general public to help form your own opinion:
Rank Country Population Number of Members
1 China 1.362 billion - 2,987
2 India 1.283 billion 545
3 USA 323 million 435
4 Indonesia 256 million 560
07 Nigeria 184 million 360
10 Japan 126 million 480
55 Australia 23 million 150
56 Sri Lanka 22 million 225
The above statistics give us a clear indication of our neighbour – India - with a population of 1,281,516,057 (2015), which is equivalent to 17.5 percent of the total population of the whole world have only 545 Members in the Lokh Sabha since 1950 from the time their Constitution was promulgated.
It is a pity our composition had been increased twice from 101 to 168 in 1972 and from 168 to 225 in 1988, which was an increase of more than 300 percent within a very short period of 6 years.
Australia is an example of how they run such a big country better with 150 members in their Parliament. I must add in India too, considering the size and population, they have only 545 members. Country like ours cannot afford 255 at all. It is the considered opinion of the patriotic nationals that the devolution of power should be meaningfully done and coagulated in order to give strength to minorities and minority parties in running the provincial administration.
It is necessary to pave the way to involve the minorities from grass root level to run the country with greater efficiency and effectiveness. It has been pointed out that the Provincial Councils depend largely on the Central Government funding. It has also been argued that 90 per cent of the funding goes for recurrent expenditure like salaries and maintenance work, whereas only 10 per cent goes for development. I am told only 50 per cent is allocated by the government for the Western Province and the rest is taken care of by the Provincial Council itself.
Dinesh Gunawardena Committee in their report had also mentioned that there was no need to increase the membership in each Provincial Council “Your Committee unanimously agree, that there should be no increase in the membership of each Provincial Council and the number of members should be frozen at present.” Steps were, thereafter, taken by the Committee to recommend amending the Section 3 and 22 of the Provincial Councils Elections Act No. 2 of 1988 to provide for freezing of the membership of the Provincial Councils. If we increase the membership in Parliament, it is an additional burden on the people. Constitutionally, a Provincial Council could have only five ministerial posts. If we succeed in reducing the composition in Parliament, we may be able not only to save money but also to increase efficiency.
If so, we must introduce multi-party seats in Parliament as well, to do justice to minorities, as was in the past, prior to 1972. There is, therefore, an urgent need to strengthen human development (not politician) strategies further, beginning from grass root level, which no doubt, is for the purpose of creating an environment where our people, irrespective of their race, religion or caste can realise their true potential, have more choices open to them and live long, healthy and productive lives in this country.
The only remedy is strengthening devolution by devolving powers effectively. If so Parliament need not be fattened further. This is exactly what the newly elected President had wanted in the country. Let us whole heartedly support good governance.
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