ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 42
Financial Times  

Are they competent?

Parliamentary committees now doing judicial reviews

The Parliamentary Select Committee process in Sri Lanka appears to have arrogated to itself the power of extra judicial reviews extending far beyond the normal scope assumed in other countries, and may soon cover the operations of private sector and even private citizen behaviours.

The terms of reference of the Select Committee of Parliament for the investigations of the operations of non-government organizations and their impact, is a good example of the unusual process now activated by members of Parliament. These terms of reference read “Whereas the awareness of government of the operations of Non Governmental Organizations is limited despite the existence of a large number of such foreign funded NGOs in Sri Lanka; And whereas the allegations have been leveled by numerous citizens to the effect that some such organizations are engaged in activities which are inimical to the sovereignty and integrity of Sri Lanka; And whereas it has been reported that the activities of some of those NGOs have adversely affected national security as well; This house resolves that a Select Committee of Parliament be appointed to investigate…….”

It was recently reported that using the above terms of reference the Parliamentary Select Committee has even begun a process of enquiry into allegations in articles published in newspapers. What judicial expertise or training and what expertise in investigation and forensic analysis do these parliamentarians have? They have merely been preferred amongst a list published by their party at an election, where the party was the primary focus of the citizens’ choice.

Will these enquiries soon be classified as “Kangaroo Courts” defined in the “Wikipedia” as “A kangaroo court or kangaroo trial, also known as drumhead court-martial or Drumhead trial, is a sham legal proceeding or court. Kangaroo courts are judicial proceedings that deny proper procedure in the name of expediency. The outcome of such a trial is essentially made in advance, usually for the purpose of providing a conviction, either by going through the motions of manipulated procedure or by allowing no defense at all.”

A review of the Internet of areas of intervention by the Select Committees in Britain (Houses of Commons and Lords and Jointly by them), clearly reflects that they have restricted the reviews to government policy, policy implementation and direct and indirect affairs of the state and associated regulatory or statutory authorities and have not strayed in to areas of private operational domain. In fact there has been much debate in Britain, on the need even to retain the power of judicial reviews by Select Committees.

In Sri Lanka the Parliament which makes rules vesting for its members and other elected representatives, increased salaries, pensions and perks, without any enquiry of assessed cost benefits, financial implications and long term costs and thereafter even denies the fundamental rights of other servants of government for an independent judicial review of the actions, is now taking on the role of investigating the operations of NGOs.

“Public accountability: Effectiveness, equity, ethics” an article by Wayne Cameron, the Victorian Auditor-General, appearing in Australian Journal of Public Administration (Volume 63 Issue 4 Page 59 - December 2004) that “tests a wide range of government activities against requirements for public accountability and explores the incentives for ethical behaviour by public officials; the need for more outcome focused performance indicators, tensions between parliamentary and managerial accountability; the standards of accountability applied to public providers of services; the utility of spelling out service requirements in advance; the impact on accountability of the convergence of the public and private sectors; the need, where responsibility for programs is collaborative, for a clear governance framework, tensions between representative and participative democracy, and trends towards more participative and collaborative leadership” must be made compulsory reading by these legislators.

The “Public accountability: Effectiveness, equity, ethics” and associated assurance of transparency, good governance and corruption free status of large value spends (say over Rs 100 million of public funds) on public services, government infrastructure, government administration, other government spends (both revenue and capital in nature), and development aid, government policy and regulatory processes on economic and social progress must be the priority focus of these Parliamentary Committees.

These legislators appear to have blinded themselves to their responsibility to look inward arising from recent reports of COPE, Auditor General, Allegations filed before the Bribery Commission, investigations pending before the Police, appeals lodged with the Human Rights Council and regular “exposes” in the newspapers concerning members of the Executive, Legislator, and Government Administration.

It is timely for leaders of business chambers and civil society to examine the emerging trends and canvass their position publicly, expressing views specifically on the need for limitation of scope and target focus of such reviews.

Leaders of business and civil society must in unison and in a loud voice say “Physician Heal Thy Self First” and remind these individuals, covering all their sins of character by a white cloak named “Parliamentary Privileges” that Mahatma Gandhi left a valuable guideline for them “You must be the change; you want to see in the world”.



Top to the page

Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.