I wrote last week about the need to have a Parliament in which members could fulfil their legislative role more effectively. But, in addition to changes in the electoral system, we need for this purpose to ensure that Parliamentarians have a better understanding of that role.

Essentially Parliament has two principal functions. One is with regard to laws, inasmuch as it is Parliament that formulates and passed laws. But, since laws pertain to particular functions, which are fulfilled by the Executive Branch, it is necessary for Parliamentarians to understand what those functions are.

Sadly the principal contact that Parliamentary practice in Sri Lanka now provides is used to discuss particular issues relating to constituencies, and to request resources for constituency purposes. There is hardly any discussion of policy. In any case the manner in which Parliamentarians are allocated to Committees, and the large numbers involved (many of whom do not attend, as I have found in waiting for a quorum to be made up), mean that policy discussions are rare.

The large number of Ministries we have – some of which have hardly held Consultative Committee meetings – mean that policy making is complicated, since so many different agencies are involved. The absurdity of pretending that Parliament can actually monitor the work of so many Ministries has been made manifest by the manner in which this year, twice the number of Ministries as last year have been put into a job lot for Committee Stage discussion during the Budget debate.

I will look at financial accountability later, and the role of Standing Committees of Parliament. I am the more worried about this, having recently attended meetings on two days of the Committee on Public Enterprises, where, with the exception of brief appearances of one colleague one morning, and another one afternoon, I was the only member present except for the Chairman. That too I believe requires radical measures, but some of the suggestions here may help in that regard too.

The following changes are therefore suggested so as to

  • Promote consultation of Parliamentarians on policy issues
  • Ensure transparency of executive action and accountability to Parliament
  • Prevent concentration on individual concerns in Parliament but provide space for resolution of individual constituency related problems within the Ministry

The idea is that, as in other countries where membership of particular committees is considered an important responsibility, the Consultative Committees shall consist of a few individuals of different parties who will work together  on policy issues while holding officials to account for their work.

The number of areas for discussion will be reduced, to allow more concentrated discussion of a few areas rather than energies being dissipated in dozens of such Committees.

I propose therefore that

Parliament shall have Standing Consultative Committees in the following areas, to discuss policy issues and general administration, and the effectiveness and efficiency of the Ministry concerned. Ministers should allocate one day a week, in their offices, for addressing constituency issues which Parliamentarians wish to bring up.

  1. Defence
  2. External Affairs
  3. Home Affairs
  4. Economic Development
  5. Public Administration
  6. Justice
  7. Finance
  8. Aviation and Shipping
  9. Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Resources
  10. Archaeology and National Heritage
  11. Media
  12. Posts and Telecommunications
  13. Human Resource Development
  14. Health
  15. Agriculture and Irrigation
  16. Fisheries and Livestock Development
  17. Disaster Management
  18. Industries
  19. Labour
  20. Human Rights and Reconciliation
  21. Transport and Highways
  22. Trade and Cooperatives
  23. Environment
  24. Land and Urban Development