In the spirit of the 1978 Constitution—which unfortunately today is more like a cheque book than a process of checks and balances—the executive power of the sovereign people is exercised by the President and the legislative power by Parliament.
During the past 35 years the legislative power of the sovereign people, exercised through their elected representatives in Parliament, has been gradually devalued or degraded. One such instance is the revelation made in Parliament on Tuesday. In response to a question raised by JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake—who is gaining a good reputation for exposing corruption and misuse of public funds—as much as Rs 270 million had been spent for the work of 17 Presidential Commissions of Inquires between 2005 and 2013. House Leader and Senior Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, the main spokesman for the ruling UPFA, revealed these figures but defended the President when opposition leaders said the reports of most Commissions and their accounts had not been disclosed to Parliament. He agreed that Parliament’s powers had been infringed by the 1978 Constitution and he was happy that the JVP leader had highlighted this. Yet the House Leader, after consulting constitutional expert and Minister G. L. Peiris, insisted the Executive was not bound to give these reports or give accounts to Parliament which since independence has had full control over public funds. Mr. Gunawardena’s explanation or excuses provoked comments from the Opposition as to what had happened to the son of the ‘Boralugoda Lion’ - a reference to Philip Gunawardena who is widely regarded as one of the roaring giants in Sri Lanka’s political scene.
It was revealed that the Executive President had spent Rs.95 million for the Commission that investigated cases of serious human rights violations, Rs.18 million for the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), Rs.25 million on the Commission that looked into the financial institutions declared bankrupt, Rs.12 million on the Commission probing military purchases from 2000 to 2005 while the Commission inquiring into the Matale mass grave was allocated Rs.7 million and Rs.1 million was spent on the Commission that investigated the assassination of TNA Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham.
Parliament’s approval was not sought for any of these expenses and no accounts were given. As for reports only the LLRC report was printed and disclosed to the people but what happened to the reports of most of the Commissions borders on a grave act of omission.
Instead of this colossal waste of time and the people’s money, most independent analysts say it would have been far more effective and far less expensive if the 17th Amendment was reactivated. Then we would have an independent National Police Commission, an independent Judicial Services Commission, an independent Elections Commission and an independent Public Services Commission—all appointed by an all-party Constitutional Council in consultation with the Executive President. If that had been done we would not be in the crisis or calamity we are in today with the breakdown of the Rule of Law, the police being seen largely as a branch of the ruling alliance and the judicial service also being seriously undermined by political interference or threats. Overall this has brought about Sri Lanka’s worst-ever culture of impunity where criminals ranging from multi-million Rupee heroin smugglers to timber racketeers operating under political protection or patronage. As a result we face the danger of a younger generation addicted to heroin while millions of people in fourteen districts are suffering without water because of one of the worst-ever droughts.