Dhammika Kitulgoda

Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP to felicitate Mr Dhammika Kitulgoda on his retirement as Secretary General of Parliament

Mr Speaker, I am honoured to be able to speak today on behalf of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka to felicitate Mr Dhammika Kitulgoda on his retirement as Secretary General of Parliament, and to thank him for his contribution. As you may be aware, I have a great respect for the office he occupied, a respect that dates back nearly half a century to when it was known simply as the position of Clerk to the House of Representatives. That was in the days of the old dignified Chamber, before we had to cope with this grandiose tinsel structure, but simplicity in those days masked great influence and authority.

Despite that lowly title, I was convinced at the time that the Clerk to the House was the most important position in the House, save only that of the Speaker, and of course the Deputy Speaker, a position held then by the Hon Member for Beliatta. That was in the days before the grandiose but pernicious concept of representing a whole District was imposed on us, with a corresponding lack of effectiveness. I should add that, seeing Mr Kitulgoda in action, while now being a Member of Parliament instead of just a spectator in the Gallery, I feel again that the Secretary General is indeed the second most person in Parliament, a far more respectable and respected individual than the rest of us.

Others have spoken of his extremely distinguished career, in the judiciary, where he was the youngest person to be appointed a Magistrate, and then in his administrative roles as Secretary to the Judicial Service Commission, the Constitutional Council and Parliament as its Secretary General. He actually occupied the latter position twice, succeeding and being succeeded by individuals already in service in Parliament. He was therefore unique in coming in from outside, which should not be a regular practice, but which can be a healthy corrective when a service becomes too insular.

The responsibilities of the Secretary General are manifold, and I gather that, in several other dispensations, these are now divided amongst two or more persons. The Secretary General has to run the administration of Parliament, ranging from the official functions of the Bills and Committee and Record Offices, to more mundane areas such as food and security. Unlike in the old days, he now also has dozens of Ministers requiring offices on the premises, and large security details, to deal with.

In addition, the Secretary General is supposed to advise the Speaker on procedures and constitutional requirements. Sadly this is an area in which, following on the usurpation of several Parliamentary functions when the constitution became an illogical hybrid, combining the Westminster cabinet system and an Executive Presidency, some of these functions became blurred, and the authority of the Speaker, and the importance therefore of the advice he received from the Secretary-General, became less significant. This however does not necessarily have to be the case, and I hope Mr Speaker, that as you strive to restore the dignity of this House, so too the contribution of Parliament as a decisive element in the Constitution can be revitalized.

A good Speaker needs constantly to refer to the Secretary-General for advice on law, on the constitution and on precedence. Similarly, a good Secretary-General stays in the background and ensures the absolute authority of the Speaker in the House. I believe we saw such a relationship in the last nearly two years, and I am glad I was privileged to serve on the Committee on Standing Orders, which made such swift progress under your guidance, with the support of the Secretary General, before other considerations led to a pause. I believe it imperative that we revive this process, and update Standing Orders and make them effective, to ensure a more productive role for Parliament and its Committees, which no longer achieve as much as they are expected to do, an expectation they were able to fulfil in former times.

Mr Speaker, in thanking Mr Kitulgoda for his contribution, I must also pay tribute to his unfailing courtesy when dealing with staff as well as Parliamentarians, and his cheerful and helpful approach to all of us. In this regard his staff have also been admirable, and I look forward to a similar sympathetic and effective contribution from his successor. Once again, I am privileged to have known Mr Dissanayake and his family for over half a century, and I recall his father’s contribution as a Secretary to a Ministry, a position that initially was considered more important than that of Secretary-General of Parliament. That concept changed some years back, and I am delighted therefore to see the son in the present exalted position – which I continue to believe is much more important than that of the Parliamentarians I know he will serve with dignity and affection as his predecessor did before him.

Daily News 27 Feb 2012http://www.dailynews.lk/2012/02/27/fea04.asp