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Economic effects of the national government

17 September 2015 03:22 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The constitution of Sri Lanka is the supreme law of the country that gives powers to the government of the day and limiting its powers to the constitutional boundaries. 
In terms of the Article 3 of the constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka, the sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of the government and franchise. 
Peoples’ sovereignty is a fundamental right guaranteed under the constitution. The constitution is not only the source that derives this power but also limits or regulates that power by imposing checks and balances on government. This mechanism is there to prevent abuse of power.



National government or coalition?
During the recently concluded parliamentary election campaign, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has categorically stated that they would not join with any party to form a national government. Their manifesto also was silent on supporting a national government. Therefore, there seems to be no mandate given by the people for the UPFA elected members to support the national government. 
Quote. “…The members of Parliament hold a mandate and are agents of the people”. These are the extracts of the judgement delivered in 1987 on the 13th amendment to the Constitution by Justice Wanasundera. However a section of the UPFA elected members (including those who come through the national list) from the constituent party of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has joined the “national” government. 
The process of forming the national government was undertaken with a decision enforced on the Central Committee of the SLFP by the Chairman, who happened to be the President of Sri Lanka. A MOU between the two parties, namely the United National Party (UNP) and SLFP has been entered into. 
In my view, the SLFP is not a recognised political party in parliament in terms of the article 46(4) of the 19th Amendment.  It was earlier reported that this proposal would be ratified at the Executive Committee of the UPFA consisting of a number of other constituent political parties including some recognised political parties such as Mahajana Eksatha Peramuna (MEP), National Freedom Front, and Communist Party etc.  It is now reported that Dinesh Gunewardena, Wimal Weerawansha, Udaya Gammanpila and Vasudeva Nanayakkara who contested and got elected under UPFA have categorically stated that they have opposed any move to form a national government. It seems that no formal approval has been granted at any executive committee meeting of the UPFA to that effect.



Economic effects 
The major political parties have appointed 11 defeated members to parliament out of a total of 29 positions allocated under national lists. These national lists have previously been gazetted immediately after the closing of nominations for the benefit of the voters. The voters are aware of the identity of the candidates who are to be elected as national list members before exercising their franchise. The defeated candidates’ names were not there in the gazette. UPFA has not only nominated seven defeated candidates to parliament but ignored the views of the other constituent party leaders. Therefore, this act of appointing defeated candidates could be construed as “going against the will of the people” and the mandate given by the voters at the elections just concluded.
Now that the Supreme Court has decided to hear the fundamental rights application submitted by former Minister D.E.W Gunasekera, one time Chairman of COPE on the constitutionality of appointing defeated candidates from the national list, we need to figure out the implications of forming the national government on the overall economy.
It is regret to note that the government departments and other state institutions coming under the respective ministries have not yet been gazetted even though one month has already lapsed after the parliamentary elections. The “national” government has only enabled the elected MPs and even defeated candidates to carve out portfolios and privileges in parliament, thus wasting valuable tax payers’ money. The innocent citizens continue to pay direct and indirect taxes to the general treasury to maintain a large Cabinet of ministers and non- Cabinet and deputy ministers. 
The overall impact on consumers, employers and public finances is hard to pin down .As for the GDP, or economic output, it would increase demand for goods and services as some 92 Ministers together with their family members would start spending money. Spending should fuel growth, at least in the near-term, boosting the economy. The effect on jobs isn’t clearer. 
The overhaul could create ministry security related-personal staff related jobs, presumably mostly in the ministries and government departments. The government budget deficit as well as the negative balance in the current account will probably rise, as the MPs will go after vehicle imports by using the duty free permits allocated to them. The external value of the rupee will further go up, meaning depreciating the rupee beyond Rs.142 against the US dollar. In terms of the Article 27(7) of the Constitution, the State shall eliminate economic and social privileges and disparity and the exploitation of man by man or by the State. 
Some 42 UPFA elected members of parliament consisting of SLFP and MPs from other constituent political parties of UPFA intend sitting as opposition members in the Parliament. However, SLFP members stand to lose the party membership as the SLFP has taken a decision at the Central Committee to join the national government. The party is now in total control of the President, Maithripala Sirisena who happened to be the leader of the UPFA as well. 
There appears to be a procedural flaw in obtaining the required approval at the Executive Committee of the UPFA. It seems that due process of law has not been followed in forming the national government. There is no mandate given by the people for the UPFA elected members to support this move. Therefore, in my view, neither the SLFP nor the UPFA can be included as a party in the so called national government formed in terms of article 46(4). SLFP/UPFA leadership cannot eat the cake and have it too. 
In short, the leaders of SLFP/UPFA, who control the two parties have abused their offices by resorting to this undemocratic process. They have used their power to form the “national” government by dragging the real opposition parties (UPFA/SLFP) to the government side and simultaneously making two of the TNA and JVP members who have been very supportive of their government from January 8 till the parliamentary election as the Leader of Opposition and the Chief Opposition Whip, respectively. 
This may be construed as contempt of parliament, unheard in Sri Lankan parliamentary proceedings and traditions. In Indian Council of States (the Rajya Sabha) as a rule, contempt of parliament means any act or omission which obstructs or impedes any member such as; trying to influence parliamentarians’ votes, opinions, assessments or action by fraud, threats or intimidation; the aim is to protect the proceedings of the assembly against any kind of interference, primarily by the Executive. For rule of law to be adhered to, there should be a separation between the law makers and law enforcement.  



Fundamental rights violation?
The concept of sovereignty of the people as per the 1978 Constitution means the authority of the government is created by the consent of the people. 
As mentioned above, sovereignty includes franchise. The government is granted with the people’s power ‘sovereignty’, on trust, in order to serve the public. This is the reason why in most democratic countries, governments are known to be ‘by the people for the people.’ We speak about a limited government under unlimited sovereignty. 
What we bind to the law is the government and not the sovereignty. Sovereignty remains unrestricted but institutions executive, legislature, and judiciary will have to observe its limitations. Even if the President of Sri Lanka, the ‘executive’ violates the constitution on a serious breach, an impeachment against the president could be brought up by the ‘sovereign’ the citizens of Sri Lanka. 
Article 17 of Chapter III provided for specific remedies entitled to by the citizens of Sri Lanka whose fundamental rights are infringed. “Every Person shall be entitled to apply to the Supreme Court, as provided by Article 125 &126, in respect of the infringement, by executive or administrative action, of a fundamental right to which such person is entitled under the provisions of this chapter.
A pertinent question would be whether the citizens’ fundamental rights have been violated by not considering the group of SLFP/UPFA parliamentarians to act as an independent opposition group? Isn’t it a violation of the freedom of speech of an elected member (UPFA) although they are bound by alliance/party rules and regulations? Isn’t it unethical and bad in law to increase the number of cabinet Ministers beyond the stipulated maximum of 30 under the 19th Amendment of the Constitution?It is the power of the people that is exercised by Parliament.
The peoples’ unlimited power, meaning ‘sovereignty’ can at any time make the government of the day null & void for not observing those constitutional limitations.

(Jayampathi Molligoda is a Fellow Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka and holds a FMIC Masters of Business Administration from the Post Graduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayawardhanapura. He is currently the CEO of Bogawantalawa Tea Estates PLC and can be contacted through jayampathy@bpl.lk)
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