Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe plans to introduce a new committee system to strengthen Parliament’s financial powers, as well as a National Committee to make the President and Prime Minister answerable to Parliament. He made this announcement during a special statement on the 21st amendment to the Constitution and proposed political reforms.
He said that because Parliament was weakened by the 20th amendment to the Constitution and because the Executive obtained more powers, the parliamentary process has been crippled. “One of the main accusations today is that Parliament is not working to end this economic crisis. The powers vested with Parliament will increase through the 21st amendment to the Constitution; however we cannot be satisfied by that alone.”
He stated that there is also an allegation that under the current Westminster system, Cabinet Ministers control everything and due to the ruling party having a majority in the House, the affairs of Parliament were neglected. “We don’t always have to keep questioning what happened in the past. However, there needs to be a system to include Parliament in the governance of this country,” he said.
“At the same time, we need to have transparency. The MPs of all parties need to convene those committees and work according to their policies and programmes; that is the environment we are creating.”
He stated that existing laws need to be strengthened if Parliament is to be given powers to execute financial programmes. He also said that the government is preparing to pass a set of new financial regulations after taking a look at the existing laws.
Wickremesinghe stated that there are three committees related to the State’s financial affairs and that Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena has presented several proposals to further empower these committees.
He said that in addition to these measures, a proposal will also be put forward to establish two more finance-related committees, which include a “Committee on Ways and Means” and a “Committee on Banking and Financial Services”.
These five finance committees and ten oversight committees will be chaired by backbencher MPs, not Cabinet ministers.
He said they also need to pay attention to a crucial issue brought forward by the country’s youth, saying: “What the youth is saying is that the existing system needs to be changed, and they need to be aware of the current issues.”
Therefore, he proposed that four youth representatives be appointed to each of these 15 committees, with one of them from the Youth Parliament, while the other three are to be selected from the protesting groups and youth groups, as decided by these parties.
He said that in addition to this, specialists with expert knowledge are to be involved in this process, which is intended to provide the youth with the opportunity to become aware of the issues and to present their solutions.
The Prime Minister also proposed to establish a National Council comprising the Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and the leaders of major parties.
Speaking on the importance of this National Council, he said that it could discuss the country’s policies and the decisions of the Cabinet as well as discuss parliamentary reforms. It would be a political council with the authority to summon Cabinet and the committee chairs. “If there are any young representatives for this, those appointed separately, we can also consider that,” he said.
Wickremesinghe said that under this new system, the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, the committees, and the National Council need to be answerable to Parliament, and thereby complete power will be vested in the House. He said several organisations have presented similar proposals. “Let’s consider those proposals as well and come to an agreement as to how Parliament’s powers are implemented in the future.”
(By arrangement with www.themorning.lk)