The Guest Column by Victor Ivon

29th October 2000

Mr. Speaker, Sir - FYI and NA please

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After the creation of the executive presidential system state power which had been concentrated in parliament has been diluted and a substantial part has been vested in an executive president who is directly elected by the people, thereby effectively separating powers between the president and parliament. Parliament may still be considered the supreme political institution in the country. It is the legislature elected by the people that functions as the main legislative body which determines the policies required by the country and makes laws. 

It is at a time when that political institution, viz. parliament, is in rapid decline that Mr. Anura Bandaranaike, who is an M.P. represents the opposition, is elected to the post of Speaker with the support of the government party. If there has been a deterioration in the dignity of parliament, the new Speaker has the responsibility of restoring that dignity. That will be the test of the new Speaker. 

Parliament is the main political institution consisting of representatives elected by the people. However, if some of them have been elected not through the genuine votes of the people but through a system of violent plunder, then such an institution consisting of plunderers rather than of genuine representatives elected by the people cannot be supreme or dignified. 

It is absolutely necessary to evolve a method by which such persons who bring parliament into disrepute can be expelled. It is not possible by merely conducting the affairs of parliament well to restore to parliament the honour it has lost. 

That can be done only if the new Speaker is able to find an appropriate solution to the above problem which has had a decisive effect on parliament's honour. 

For that purpose a parliamentary select committee or a commission consisting of group of persons trusted and respected by the people outside parliament can be set up in order to find out what serious malpractices have occurred in the last parliamentary election and the persons responsible for them. All those who are found guilty by the inquiry can be expelled from parliament. 

At the same time the Speaker can emphasize to parliament the necessity of setting up by law an elections commission with wide powers like the independent elections commission that exists in India to prevent the recurrence of such malpractices that bring parliament into disrepute, at any elections that will be held in the future. 

The Speaker can take the lead in the process of creating such an elections commission. Even in the case of the MPs who are genuinely elected by the people there is the need to bring them to a position where they are trusted and respected by the people. That too is a fundamental problem relating to parliament's honour. For this purpose it is possible to have a code of ethics which sets out the duties and obligations of the MPs. Parliament can create a mechanism through which it will be possible to submit complaints against those who commit offences in violation of that code and, the complaints can be inquired into and the offenders punished. 

It is also important to ensure transparency of the people's representatives who are elected to parliament. Although there is a law that require MPs to submit a statement of their assets and liabilities and of their wives and children to the commissioner of elections before or soon after taking oaths and thereafter before July 31 every year that too does not appear to be implemented with regard to MPs although refraining from making statements of assets and liabilities, or failure to divulge facts through those statements, is considered an offence serious enough to require the deprivation of civic rights of those concerned, neither the commissioner of elections nor the secretary general of parliament follow a policy of making complaints to courts against the MPs concerned. 

Although the authorities are required by law to make available to any interested citizen a copy of a statement of assets and liabilities by a person who is obliged by law to make a statement of assets and liabilities, that law too is not implemented. 

The new Speaker can take action to make a fundamental change in this state of affairs. He can order the secretary to parliament to obtain statements of assets and liabilities for each relevant year from all MPs who were in parliament, and from all the MPs who have now been elected. The Speaker can also order the secretary to parliament to create necessary facilities for any citizen to get photocopies of those statements at a price equivalent to the cost of making such a copy. 

In a democratic political system all activities of the legislature must be open to the public. For that purpose parliament must be totally open to the media. 

Today Sri Lanka's parliament is open at least to some extent to the print media only. Even then the discussions at committee level are not open even to the print media. Opening of activities in parliament not only to the print media but also to the electronic media is an essential condition for broadening democratic freedom. 

At the same time it is possible to open the gates of committee level discussions where matters relating to public life and state administration, leaving out committee meetings relating to the defence of the state, can be open to all mass media as is done in many other countries. 

Although the auditor general must submit to parliament annually an audit report giving the activity of all institutions related to government, for a fairly long period now what is submitted to parliament is not audit reports of all government institutions but those relating to certain government institutions only. There is hardly any auditing of funds like the president's fund. 

Although no funds relating to govt. are supposed to be outside the purview of the auditor general, even massive funds like the 'samurdhi' fund exist outside the auditor general's control. 

Programmes like the sale of state institutions to the private sector are implemented without a proper supervision on the part of parliament. The responsibility of the new speaker is to change this state of affairs immediately and bring the activity of every state institution ultimately answerable to parliament. It is essential to see that the audit report of every state institution is brought by the auditor general before parliament as required by law, and also to introduce an efficient system by which copies of those reports are made available to the public. 

By fulfilling these few conditions the new Speaker will be able to effect a revival of democratic freedom that are now in decay and turn parliament once again into an institution trusted and respected by people. 

If the new Speaker is able to fulfil this task, the name Anura Bandaranaike will certainly go into history as that of an illustrious figure who safeguarded democracy in Sri Lanka. 

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