Concerns on Legislation to Establish a Reconstruction and Development Authority
The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has raised concerns on the legislation to establish the Reconstruction and Development Authority (RADA), raising several legal and constitutional issues as well as impacting future reconstruction and development activities in Sri Lanka at a consultation held on the 16th of June. Following are several of the concerns raised.
A significant feature of the bill is that it vests broad powers with the President and RADA, including powers over land acquisition, controlling and monitoring foreign and local organization as well as designating areas to be classified as being affected by natural or man made disasters. As actions by the President carries with it presidential immunity in accordance with the Constitution, there are no checks and balances in place to ensure that the relevant actors do not abuse such broad powers. The bill at no point mentions the role of Parliament, and whether RADA will be answerable to Parliament or any other actor. It is of grave concern, as the bill is perceived to be increasing and strengthening the powers of the President, with no oversight mechanism in place and thereby raising questions of accountability and transparency.
A key feature of the bill is that it can create a precedent in relation to land acquisition as it will bypass existing legal provisions set under the Land Acquisition Act, and vest such powers with the President. Further, the President and RADA may decide to acquire land in the national interest but there is no definition as to what would fall under ‘national interest’. CPA is concerned with the ambiguity of the term ‘national interest’ as the President and RADA may arbitrarily decide what would be a ‘national interest’ and require any land or property to be acquired in the guise of ‘national interest’, resulting in unjustly taking away land and property belonging to people. Such blanket powers could be used in an arbitrary and prejudicial manner, targeting opponents of the administration or for personal gain and therefore such powers should be curtailed.
Additionally CPA raises concern with vesting vast powers with RADA in relation to foreign and local organizations, with powers to monitor and control the activities of such actors and issuing of licenses for the carrying out of activities. Measures must be in place to reduce the likelihood that there is no witch hunt against such actors and that there is no abuse of powers.
CPA wishes to also highlight the importance of appointing board members to RADA in a transparent and accountable manner, ensuring that the board is composed of persons who are knowledgeable and possess expertise in reconstruction and development activities. The bill provides vast powers to the President to appoint persons that he may deem fit creating space for appointments based not on merit but on personal favoritism and connections.
Further, concerns have been raised as to the modalities within which RADA will work with existing actors. CPA reiterates the importance of giving local actors a greater role in reconstruction and development efforts, involving them in the formulation of plans and giving greater responsibility in implementation of projects.
Dr. P. Saravanamuttu