PM Ranil Wickremesinghe outlines proposals to strengthen Parliament in Special Statement;says reintroduction of 19A and abolition of Executive Presidency are two main political issues; methodology to abolish Executive Presidency must be decided by party leaders

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday proposed several measures to strengthen Parliament which include the setting up of several new committees as well as an all-party National Council.

In a special televised address, the Prime Minister said that main issues in the country are not limited to the economic sphere but there are two major issues in the political sphere which include the reintroduction of the 19th Amendment as well as the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

“The functioning of the Parliament has been paralysed due to the weakening of the parliamentary powers by the 20th Amendment. The Executive has been given more powers. The main allegation today is that the Parliament has not acted to prevent the economic crisis,” Wickremesinghe said.

The Prime Minister said that party leaders are now preparing the 21st Amendment to reintroduce the 19th Amendment while the timing and methodology towards the abolition of the Executive Presidency must also be decided by the party leaders.

He said before the independence of Sri Lanka, there was a State Council from 1931 to 1947 which functioned following the committee system.

“Each subject was divided into seven committees. The Chairmen of the Committees became Ministers. The seven Ministers had formed a Cabinet. In addition, there were three officials appointed by the Governor. In addition, there was an Accounts Committee to control public money. At that time, we had the opportunity to carry out this methodology successfully.”

He said the structure of Parliament must be changed to create a new system by combining the existing system of Parliament or the Westminster system and the system of State Councils so that Parliament can participate in governing the country.

He said first the existing laws need to be strengthened in order to give those powers to Parliament in the exercise of monetary powers and following the example of countries such as the UK, New Zealand and India, the Government is proposing a stronger and more powerful law.

He said the Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena has made several proposals to strengthen the powers of the three Committees on Government Finance, namely the Public Finance Committee, the Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Enterprises.

In addition to these, the Prime Minister said they are working to establish two new Committees on Monetary Affairs and will appoint a Legal and Methodological Committee to look into the matter.

Wickremesinghe said the main problem the country faces is the financial condition of the banks and financial institutions.

He said the Government has proposed the appointment of 10 oversight committees which will report to Parliament on policies with the chairpersons of these five Finance Committees and the 10 Supervisory Committees being appointed by backbenchers and not by Ministers.

“Therefore, we have the opportunity to work out a methodology that is independent of the Cabinet of Ministers and works with both the Minister and the Parliament,” he said.

Wickremesinghe said the youth are calling for a change in the existing system and to facilitate this, he proposed the appointment of four youth representatives to each of these 15 committees. “One of them will be appointed by the Youth Parliament. The other three will be from the protesting groups and other activist groups. The methodology used to choose these individuals can be decided by the youth organisations themselves,” he said.

In addition, the Prime Minister said they hope to involve people with expertise in specific fields in this work. “Through this work, young people will be able to learn about problems and provide solutions to them on their own. They will be able to contest elections if they wish to do so.”

In addition to this, he also proposed the setting up of a National Council which will consist of the Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the major parties.

“It should be said that the National Council is very important. The National Council can talk about the policies of the country. It can also talk about the decisions of the Cabinet. It can also talk about the reorganisation of the Parliament of this country. If so, it can be called a political body,” he said.

The National Council , he said, will have the right to summon the Cabinet of Ministers and the Chairmen of Committees.

“According to the new system we have proposed, the President and the Cabinet of Ministers will be held accountable to the Parliament. The National Council is also accountable to Parliament. 15 Committees and Oversight Committees are accountable to Parliament.”

Wickremesinghe added that there is a system in place to control the Government through the Cabinet, to examine the work of the President, to oversee the work of the political affairs through the National Council and to oversee the financial affairs and other matters of the other 15 committees.

He said articles have been prepared on this matter and appreciated that a number of other organisations have made similar proposals.

Courtesy: Daily FT