Mangala asks President to re- summon Parliament to approve public expenditure

FM-Mangala

Apr 29, 2020 (LBO) – Former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera in a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has urged him to exercise his powers as the Head of State at this critical time and to summon the Parliament as soon as possible with the support of all parties represented in Parliament. 

He said that this was imperative to have the essential expenditure, including the payment of salaries to the public service after 30th April 2020 approved legally and constitutionally so that Sri Lanka acts responsibly, respecting the Constitution in relation to public finances.

Samaraweera also said that the President, Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers and the Members of Parliament, as well as all public officials, including the Secretary to the Treasury, have pledged to uphold and defend the Constitution of the Republic. Any person who acts in contravention of the provisions on conviction by the Court of Appeal shall be subject to:-

  • Civic disability for such period not exceeding seven years and
  • Forfeit his movable and immovable property other than such property as is determined as being necessary for the sustenance of such person and his family.

Failure to do so, especially at a time of a pandemic is bound to have serious repercussions for the short and long-term economic well-being of our people especially in light of international obligations and the nature of the interconnected global financial and economic system.

The full text of the letter with copies to PM, and all Party Leaders represented in Parliament is given below …..

His Excellency Gotabaya Rajapaksa

President of Sri Lanka

Presidential Secretariat

Colombo 01

Dear President

Request for the re-summoning of Parliament to constitutionally resolve

crises and to approve public expenditure

I am writing this letter to you as the former Minister of Finance, who presented the Vote on Account for the state expenditure of Sri Lanka up to 30th April, 2020.

2. In the years when a presidential election is forthcoming, successive governments have refrained from passing a budget leaving an opportunity for the winning President to submit his own Budget.

3. As the Presidential election was scheduled to be held on 16th November 2017, the then government was of the view that presenting an Appropriation Bill would not be appropriate. Accordingly, the then Government presented a Vote on Account to Parliament for a period of four months from 1st January 2020 to 30th April 2020 and adopted it on 23rd October 2019 leaving an opportunity for the would be elected President to present  his own Budget.

4. But on the contrary, the finance minister appointed by you did not present a budget for 2020 until you issued a Gazette dissolving Parliament on 2nd March in spite of the fact that you assumed office in November 2019, over three months prior to the dissolution of Parliament.  As you would recall, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa who also held the portfolio of Finance did not present the Budget for 2015 since the Presidential Election was scheduled in November 2014 for 8th January 2015. Therefore, I would like to remind you that the good governance government that won the Presidential election on 08th January 2015 presented a budget for the financial year 2015 within 21 days of its election.

5. Instead of presenting an Appropriation Bill for the year 2020, prior to dissolution of the Parliament on 2nd March 2020, a proposal was brought by your government to amend the Vote on Account which had already been passed by the yahapalana government.  Thereafter your government withdrew it after the opposition in Parliament pointed out that there was no provision in the Standing Orders for such an amendment. Now, as a result of the failure to present the budget due to reasons known only to your government, and the sudden emergence of the coronavirus (Covid-19), the country is afflicted with a pandemic in addition to legislative and economic  crises.

6. Considering the serious risk of the spread of Covid-19  in the country, the Election Commission announced on the 20th of April  that the General Election scheduled for 25th April will be held on 20th June 25, 2020. However, the date to summon the new parliament to meet upon the conclusion of the proposed General Election scheduled for 20th June 2020 which is a must according to the Constitution has not been officially announced.

7. I urge that by virtue of the Vote on Account passed on 23rd October 2019, the Constitution clearly states that the Government of Sri Lanka has no legal right to bear public expenditure after 30th  April 2020.  As Parliament shall have full control over public finance, no sum shall be withdrawn except under the authority of a warrant under the hand of the minister in charge of the subject of Finance. No such grant can be issued by the Minister of Finance without such approval and it is unlawful for the Secretary to the Treasury to spend public money for any purpose without the approval of the Minister of Finance.

8. Article 150 (3) of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka provides for the incurring of Government expenditure in the event of the dissolution of Parliament and in the context of an Appropriation Bill not being passed in Parliament.

150 (3) of the Constitution reads as:  Where the President dissolves Parliament before the Appropriation Bill for the financial year has passed in to law, he may, unless Parliament shall have already made provisions, authorize the issue from the Consolidated Fund and the expenditure of such sums as he may consider necessary for the public services until the expiry of a period of three months from the date on which the new Parliament is summoned to meet.

The President shall be authorized to issue and spend money from the Consolidated Fund in terms of the provisions provided in the said Constitution only until the expiry of three months from the date on which the new Parliament is summoned to meet. But the due date for the new Parliament to meet has not yet been officially announced by the President.

9. As you are well aware, the President, Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers and the Members of Parliament, as well as all public officials, including the Secretary to the Treasury, have pledged to uphold and defend the Constitution of the Republic. Any person who acts in contravention of the provisions on conviction by the Court of Appeal shall be subject to:-

  • Civic disability for such period not exceeding seven years and
  • Forfeit his movable and immovable property other than such property as is determined as being necessary for the sustenance of such person and his family.

10. Therefore, I kindly request you to exercise your powers as the Head of State at this critical time to summon the Parliament as soon as possible with the support of all parties represented in Parliament and to have the essential expenditure, including the payment of salaries to the public service after 30th April 2020 approved legally and constitutionally so that Sri Lanka acts responsibly, respecting the Constitution in relation to public finances. Failure to do so, especially at a time of a pandemic is bound to have serious repercussions for the short and long-term economic well-being of our people especially in light of international obligations and the nature of the interconnected global financial and economic system.  

Yours sincerely,

Mangala Samaraweera