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Tue, 28 April 2015 12:46:56
Sri Lanka parliament has little control over finances: legislator
22 Oct, 2012 09:42:31
Oct 22, 2012 (LBO) - Sri Lanka's parliament has no real control over public finances with the arm of the government not even having a budget committee, though the country's constitution says otherwise, a legislator said.
"When I first went into parliament, I was surprised that there was no budget committee in parliament," Eran Wickremaratne, an appointed legislator representing the country's opposition told the annual sessions of the Sri Lanka Economics Association.

"There is no budget office in parliament. We only get a budget speech like you get. And then from those numbers we get we begin a plenary debate, not a committee debate."

"And then at the end of the plenary debate, the majority carries, and it is carried through."

A committee stage debate allows for changes in a proposed law to represent a wider view of citizens representatives, and not just that of the ruling administration.

Sri Lanka has a British-style parliament where most laws come from the ruling administration and the concept of 'parliamentary sovereignty' is bandied about by the elected rulers, both in power and in the opposition.

Such a process has given good results in countries like the UK where liberal thought mostly evolved and gained a foothold and the parliament was devised as an instrument to restrain the sovereign and the state.

But in countries where liberal thought is not valued, and where nationalism and interventionism prevails, parliamentary sovereignty can lead to a type of 'anything goes' absolutism, where even constitutions are changed at will.

In such countries the 'sovereignty' of the state and rulers can override that of the citizen.

Analysts say that under fully fledged National Socialism in Eastern Europe, the gazette and 'enabling law' eventually replaced what remained of Western European style parliaments.

In the United States, where its founding fathers fought for self-determination from the British, the concept of the sovereignty of the individual is more developed, going beyond a Cromwellian status of parliamentary sovereignty.

In countries where citizens have greater freedom from the rulers and the state, courts can strike down legislation that are unjust or infringes on the absolute guarantees of equality and freedoms set in the constitution.

Even in the UK, parliamentary sovereignty has now been tempered by European Union requirements and human rights legislation.

In the US, parliamentary majority absolutism is also tempered by a Senate, which has two representatives per state, regardless of its population, giving more freedoms to its citizens.

Both the Congress and Senate can devise and pass laws (legislate) independent of the ruling administration, again tempering populist majority absolutism. Any of the houses can have a majority independent of the ruling popularly elected administration.

In Sri Lanka even the passing of a 'private member's bill' or even debating one is almost unheard of.

The US also has a Congressional Budget Office which goes into budget expenses in detail and makes forecasts.

Sri Lanka has two committees which have of late become more active; the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA).

"What parliament has in terms of oversight is really, really surprising," says Wickremaratne. "We only look at expenditure post facto. So the COPA, the committee on public accounts is a post facto committee and the COPE is also a post facto committee."

"Though the constitution says the parliament is supreme in terms of finance it is not supreme in terms of finance."

"So there is no interaction. We do not summon experts. If there was a committee we could summon experts, we could have got views, when we were discussing the budget, but there is no such thing."

"The consultative committee structure is terribly weakened."

He said the executive was creeping into consultative committees which are chaired by ministers instead of backbenchers who were "auditing themselves."

"So there is a dilution going on," Wickremaratne said.

In the past decade a new twist was introduced into the budgeting process. A large contingency reserve was built into the budget to give extra money to spending agencies without going to parliament for approval though 'supplementary estimates' or disclosure.

Though a citizen went to court to stop the process, courts allowed it provided parliament was informed after the fact, in a shoot first ask question later style of fiscal operations.

Since the early 2000 state enterprises have also mushroomed under the companies law being set up overnight instead of being incorporated under a act of parliament, giving an opportunity for public debate and transparency.

Update II

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3. Wadda Podda Oct 23
@Banda and Sripala.
Pls don't argue about such trivial matters. When the Wonder of Asia has such professional and capable people like EXPAT and WAW armed with all the statistics you have nothing to fear.

I put my entire trust in people like them. Fortunately I am not Sri Lankan citizen, I was born and bred in another country. Only my parents come from the Wonder of Asia. All 'Sri Lankans'(be it Singhalese or Tamil) born and bred in my country have the same to say, They so glad that their parents or grandparents left that Wonder of Asia

2. Banda Oct 22
I was reading the comments by Mr. Siripala. If the politicians are no good he should run for office and correct this situation. What does the opposition doing? It will join the verious parties to ask for higher wages and benefits as if they can continue to give them when they are in power. Main culprits are the opposition for feeding subversive elements to ruin the economy.
1. Siripala Oct 22
SL is in serious trouble. All the experts know it. But the govt. won't do a thing about it because they know it will require drastic cuts, job losses and tax rises from every one. PA govt. don't dare make these changes because it will sign their death warrant at next election.

Politicians are the biggest criminals, irresponsible and bankrupts the country.