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Standing OrdersThe 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; Read the rest of this entry »

download (8)I had a bizarre experience recently when I had to attend what is termed Standing Committee B of Parliament, which deals with legislation. This was in connection with the Vasantha Senanayake Foundation (Incorporation) Bill which I had sponsored. The experience was rendered worse by the Minutes which I received subsequently, which bore no relation to what had actually taken place.

I presume that there is some formula for reporting the meetings of these Standing Committees, but it was certainly inappropriate in this case, given that I had raised some matters which I had asked to be recorded. The Minutes state that I moved several amendments to the original draft of the Bill I had presented. This was not the case. What happened was that we were told the legal advisers had gone through the draft and suggested amendments. I accepted these, but I asked the basis on which they had been made.

It turned out then that the representative from the Legal Draughtsman’s Department who was supposed to liaise with Parliament regarding the Bill had no idea of the reasons. After much discussion one bright lawyer from the Attorney General’s Department said that the changes were probably because the Bill as it stood seemed to be in conflict with the Constitution.

I gathered then that for years the Attorney General had advised against many charitable works by Foundations on the grounds that the Constitution, following the introduction of the 13th Amendment that introduced Provincial Councils, declares that ‘No Bill in respect of any matter set out in the Provincial Council List shall become law unless such Bill has been referred by the President…. to every Provincial Council’.

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Visual QR Code Picture QR CodeSpeech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

At the debate on the Second Report

Of the Committee on Public Enterprises

October 10th 2013

Hon Chair

The publication of this Second Report of the Committee on Public Enterprises is a momentous occasion, because it exemplifies how Parliamentary Standing Committees should conduct themselves in a manner that has not been apparent in Parliament for 30 years. All credit should go to the Chairman of COPE, and the three chairs of COPE Sub-Committees, a Minister, a Junior Minister and the most responsible and respected member of the main Opposition Party, for ensuring that we covered almost all institutions coming under the purview of COPE.

When, Hon Chair, as a new Member of Parliament, I expressed astonishment at the fact that previously COPE had only looked at a modicum of the institutions it had to consider, and suggested that we work through sub-committees, one of the more experienced Opposition members of COPE objected vehemently. But the Chairman upheld the suggestion, and I am happy to say that that Member acknowledged the benefit of that very simple idea.

Another area where I was able to innovate was in insisting that a deadline be given to institutions asked to provide reports. Previously, those institutions that were asked to respond but failed to do so were forgotten until the next time they were summoned, which was often years later. Fortunately we now follow up, though not as assiduously as I would wish.

This is a pity, but we must appreciate that the COPE office is badly staffed and, having got used to the lack of energy of the Committee in earlier incarnations, is hard pressed to satisfy our needs. However I must pay tribute to the staff who have managed as best possible under difficult circumstances, and produced this thorough report.

The manner in which COPE works is a tribute to the skill of the Chair in ensuring a spirit of collegiality. Government and Opposition members work well together, and are also much more polite to administrative officials, who have in turn expressed appreciation of the manner in which we question them, and try to advise rather than blame.  Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

January 2020
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