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Mangala Samaraweera challenges the President and the Govt to explain and prove the constitutional authority they possess to authorize and incur public expenditure from April 30, 2020, until the date on which a new Parliament is summoned to meet consequent to the Parliamentary General Election.

(Text of a letter sent by former Finance minister Mangala Samaraweera to the Secretary to the President, Dr.PB Jayasundara)


05.05.2020

Dr. P.B. Jayasundara
Secretary to H.E. the President
Presidential Secretariat
Colombo 01

Dear Dr. Jayasundara,

Regarding your reply to my letter to HE the President on 28 April 2020.

It is regrettable to note that your reply to my letter addressed to H.E. the President on April 28, 2020, requesting that Parliament be re-convened conditionally to resolve the crises constitutionally and to approve public expenditure does not address the pertinent issues mentioned in the letter but instead, refers to some other external matters of no consequence. It is, in fact, unbecoming of a senior public official of your stature to send a political reply with no basis with the objective and intention of defaming the past government to conceal facts from the people and mislead the public.

The Constitution is the supreme law of the country. Elected leaders of the country and public officials publicly pledge to uphold and defend the Constitution, based on the admirable concept that there can be no democratic governance in a lawless country. It is the Constitution that is supreme and not an individual or political party. In fact, Governments come into being as stipulated by the Constitution.

At present, Sri Lanka faces a crisis that exceeds the Constitution. Although the President issued an extraordinary gazette notification declaring the dissolution of Parliament, it has not been possible to hold parliamentary elections on the date specified therein. Also, it is not possible to convene the new Parliament within three months of dissolution i.e., by June 02, 2020, as stated in the same gazette notification.

In this context, as stated in your letter and as per the opinion of Constitutional experts, the President shall be authorized to issue and spend money from the Consolidated Fund only for three months from the date on which the new Parliament is summoned to meet.

All these crises are attributed to the failure of the present government to present a budget for 2020 after assuming office in November 2019. In my letter dated April 28, 2020, addressed to the President, I elaborated comprehensively and emphasized that there is no Appropriation Bill or a Vote on Account duly passed by Parliament for public spending after April 30, 2020.

Accordingly, the President may override fiscal powers of Parliament and authorize expenditure from the Consolidated Fund only for a period of three months after the convening of a new Parliament consequent to a general election. Therefore, I challenge the President and the Government to explain and prove the constitutional authority they possess to authorize and incur public expenditure from April 30, 2020, until the date on which a new Parliament is summoned to meet consequent to the Parliamentary General Election.

However, under Article 150 (4) of the Constitution, the President is authorized to issue and spend from the Consolidated Fund for expenditure incurred in holding a General Election. Except for the above and the provisions of Article 150 (3), there is no other provision in the Constitution that allows the President to exercise his authority to withdraw and spend funds from the Consolidated Fund for public services.

Therefore, my letter to the President emphasized that only Parliament can lawfully authorize spending of public funds from April 30, 2020, up to the date on which Parliament is summoned to meet again. Although the Election Commission has announced that the general election will be held on June 20, 2020, the date on which the new Parliament shall be convened has not yet been declared officially.

I state here that Parliament has full control over public finances in terms of Article 148 of the Constitution.

More than five months have passed since this minority government was formed after the Presidential Election of November 16, 2019. So far it has failed to submit an Appropriation Bill or a Vote on Account.

I recall that the United National Party (UNP), which came to power in January 2015, was also a minority government for nine months. Nevertheless, we were able to muster support from all in the governing and opposition parties to submit a budget for the year 2015 in January 2015 and gain majority vote for approval in Parliament.

The current minority government which came to power after November 16, 2019, has consistently failed to present a Vote on Account or a budget that is acceptable to the majority in Parliament which is a breach of responsibility and also a sad state of affairs.

Parliament has not yet passed a legitimate budget or Vote on Account to be effective from April 30, 2020. This government has already violated the Vote on Account which was passed by the previous government and its term ended on April 30, 2020. According to the Vote on Account, the borrowings limit was Rs. 721 billion. However, this government has unlawfully obtained loans exceeding the limit approved by Parliament. This has pushed the fiscal situation of the country into a crisis and a future government will have to consider the legality of such loans. Such irresponsible action will also have serious long-term negative repercussions on Sri Lanka, internationally.

Therefore, considering the multiple crises faced by the country, I reiterate that Parliament is immediately reconvened with the support of all political parties represented in Parliament to approve all essential expenditures including salaries for the public service for the period from April 30, 2020, up to the date on which a new Parliament is summoned to meet after the general election.

Yours faithfully

Mangala Samaraweera
Former Minister of Finance