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As we have seen, Members of Parliament do not have much of a role to play in the initiation of legislation, which is largely left to the Executive. The same is true of the second principal responsibility of parliamentarians, namely the budget. Formulation of that too is left almost wholly to the Executive. In neither case can we say however that this is inappropriate, since on the whole laws and regulations and financial provision require an expertise that Members of Parliament not involved in departmental duties cannot possess.

In other countries however a distinct role remains in terms of private members’ bills, as well as questions and adjournment motions, through which the occasional significant contribution can be made to discussion of important issues and thus, one hopes, to national policy too. In Sri Lanka however none of these seem now to serve much general purpose.

With regard to private members bills, unfortunately we have an old tradition that such bills are taken up in the order in which they are proposed. Thus an enterprising member can stuff up the space for such bills by putting forward a dozen and more at the very inception of a parliamentary session.

When these bills are clearly intended to score debating points, with no real concern to promote reform, they end up being of no interest to anybody, except possibly the person who proposed them. Thus the first private bill before Parliament in the current session is one that criticizes the assumption by the President of particular portfolios. Since such an assumption is explicitly provided for in the current constitution, and since all previous Presidents have taken on various portfolios, it is apparent that the bill is not really serious. Even the opposition recognizes this, for the bill has hardly been debated, the Chief Opposition Whip working together with government members to ensure that there is no quorum when it is taken up.

So the Sri Lankan Parliament is in the sorry state of not having concluded even one private members bill as yet, almost a year after Parliament was convened. Sadly the same philosophy seems to be followed with the vast majority of Parliamentary questions, another tool that should be used to ensure accountability on the part of the Executive. A large number of questions do not address policy issues, but are used to draw attention to information of a parochial nature.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2011
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