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Last week saw yet another example of the slow erosion of systems that makes justice so alien a concept for our people. In Parliament we received yet another Bill cointaining amendments to a previous Bill.  It will be taken up only later, so I was not surprised that the original Bill was not available, since anyone interested could look it up in the interim in the Parliament Library. But once again I found that the notes at the side of the document, which are supposed to sum up the content of each clause, simply noted that the clauses were amendments to previous clauses.

The summing up, I should note, had been included at the beginning of the Bill. This does not happen always, so one should be thankful that this time at least anyone looking at the Bill could find out at a glance what was happening where. But I fail to understand why a custom designed for convenience, to allow anyone looking at the Bill to see immediately the impact of each clause, is now ignored. The only place where it still prevails is in the last two clauses of the Bill, where a note on the side tells us exactly what is in the Bill itself. One notable piece of information thus highlighted is that, where versions of the Bill in different languages are different, the Sinhala text shall prevail.

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I wrote last week about the need to amend the Standing Orders of Parliament so that they provide clearcut guidelines about how Parliament should proceed. This is particularly important with regard to Consultative Committees, which now do very little of consequence.

Most Parliamentarians think they are a place to raise problems related to their electorates. Thus in the Education Committee questions are raised about Principals of schools, in the Justice Committee questions about whether there is a functioning lift in a particular Court, in the Cultural Affairs Committee whether Cultural Centres have been set up in particular places. Rarely are there discussions about policy.

It seems that no one has bothered to explain, either to Members of Parliament, or to the Ministers who function as Chairmen of these Committees their actual function. According to the Standing Orders, ‘The duty of a Consultative Committee shall be to inquire into and report upon such matters as are referred to it by the chairman or by Parliament, including any Bill, proposals for legislation, supplementary or other estimates, statements of expenditure, annual reports or papers.’

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2020
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