The Standing Order Committee finally met today, and we had what seemed a very productive session. I hope we are on our way now to fulfilling one of the first commitments in the manifesto, to amend Standing Orders so as to strengthen Parliament.
Needless to say there was nobody there from the UNP. Their total neglect of Standing Orders in the last few years was I think due more to ignorance rather than a lack of principle, which is why the Prime Minister should have nominated someone with a greater grasp of political concepts. But it was still John Amaratunga who was supposed to attend, and of course he did not come.
But we had Mr Sumanthiran, who had been the other moving spirit behind the swift way in which we worked in the first few months of this Parliament, before the Speaker stopped summoning the Committee. Dinesh Gunawardena also came, which I much appreciated, because he had done his best, which no one else in the Parliamentary Business Committee did, to get the Speaker to move on the Amendments I had proposed way back in 2013. Ajith Kumara was also there, and the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chairman of Committees, as also the Secretary General (who has a very good grasp of political principles), along with his Deputy.
We did not reach any decision on Consultative Committees, since it seems the Prime Minister has suggested we should have something called Sectoral Committees. I am delighted that he has at last thought about something he should have been thinking of for the last 37 years, but I suppose one should be glad that at last he has realized the importance of structures that enhance the power of Parliament. I have still to see his suggestions, which have been circulated to other Party Leaders, but will be content to hope for the best and return to this area later.
Meanwhile we have reached agreement on seven other areas as to which I had proposed reforms. Many intelligent suggestions were made on the rest, and we finally agreed on the following;
- To ensure answers to Parliamentary Questions
Answers to questions must be provided by Ministers when they are on the Order Paper. If the answer is not provided on the due date, the Minister may request a postponement of upto a month. If no answer is forthcoming on the second occasion on which the question is raised, Mr Speaker shall convey this information in writing to President.
- Ensuring more discussion about Bills, including Urgent bills which can only be taken up ‘two days from the date on which it was presented’
Provided that no Bill shall be taken up for consideration unless any text to be discussed is available to Members in all three languages in which the Business of Parliament is conducted. It shall be the duty of the Secretary General to ensure that this is done, and he shall report accordingly to Mr Speaker before the Bill is taken up.
Every Bill shall be accompanied by a statement of legal effect.
A Bill (not being the Appropriation Bill) having been read for the first time shall be referred to the relevant Consultative Committee for report within a specified time.
3.Ensuring a date for Standing and Select Committees to report on matters assigned to them
In Clause 53, add at the end the words ‘The Committee may be mandated to report on a specified date provided that at least two days are given for consideration of the Bill in Committee. The Third Reading of a Bill shall take place only after such consideration.
4.Vitally, ensuring a judicial inquiry in the case of impeachments, for the Judiciary and other officials whose independence must be carefully guarded
Where a resolution referred to in paragraph (1) of this Order is placed on the Order Paper of Parliament, the Speaker shall appoint a Select Committee of Parliament consisting of not less than seven members to institute an investigation and report to Parliament on the allegations of misbehaviour or incapacity set out in such resolution. Such an investigation shall be conducted by a tribunal set up by law consisting of one or more retired judges. The Select Committee may appoint an individual to present the case and evidence before such tribunal. Not less than half the members of the Select Committee shall constitute a quorum….
At the conclusion of the inquiry the tribunal shall report on its findings to the Select Committee, which shall deliberate on such findings and present a report to Parliament with its recommendation within one month from the commencement of the sittings, together with the minutes of evidence taken and may make a special report of any matters which it may think fit to bring to the notice of Parliament;
Provided however, if the select Committee is unable to report to Parliament within the time limit stipulated herein, the Select Committee shall seek permission of Parliament for an extension of a further specified period of time giving reason therefor, and Parliament may grant such extension of time as it may consider necessary.
Following consideration of the report of the tribunal and the recommendation of the Select Committee, Parliament may vote on the resolution for the presentation of an address to the President for the removal …. on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity, and if such resolution is passed by Parliament, the Speaker shall present such address to the President on behalf of Parliament.
- Ensuring that Finance Oversight Committees are chaired by the Opposition, and that the Executive branch either carries out their recommendations, or else gives reasons why they cannot carry them out and suggests alternatives to resolve any problems.
(For both the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Enterprises)
There shall be a Chairman selected by the Committee who shall be from the Opposition
The Committee (s) shall submit an annual report which may carry recommendations on;
(a) changes to policy
(b) changes to institutional or management procedures
(c) discontinuance of projects and programmes
(d) fixing of responsibility on officers
(e) imposition of disciplinary proceedings
(f) reference to relevant authorities in the event of criminal liability being disclosed
The report shall be laid before Parliament and sent to the Minister in charge of the subject of Finance who shall within one month respond to the Report and indicate which recommendations may be accepted with a time frame for implementation. Explanations will be provided with regard to recommendations which cannot be implemented with a description of what remedial action will be taken instead to deal with issues raised.
Following such a response, the Report shall be discussed by Parliament, and after amendments if appropriate shall be approved, whereupon the recommendations in such report shall be deemed to be recommendations to the Government which shall be responsible for implementing the same and reporting back to Parliament within a period of six months. The Speaker will ensure that such reports are furnished on time, and will raise any delays with the Head of the Executive.’
- We tried to give the Committee on Public Petitions more teeth
The Report, after adoption by Parliament, shall be sent to each Minister who shall report back within three months on action taken with regard to matters raised in the report relevant to his Ministry, and the measures to be taken to ensure that any shortcomings noted in the report will not be repeated.
I was sorry we could not discuss the more detailed suggestions sent by Thalatha Athukorale, again someone else who cares deeply about the need for Parliament to be more effective, but it was decided to call her before the Committee to expand on her suggestions. I tried to fix a date for the next meeting, and was not successful, but it was promised that it would be held in the next Parliamentary sitting week.
7 And with regard to the Committee on High Posts
Examinations must take place within a month of the nomination, and before any assumption of duties.
The Committee shall report each quarter to Parliament with a record of those examined and the recommendation made by the Committee. The report shall be adopted following an opportunity for questions to be asked regarding the decisions of the Committee.