1 November 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and its Executive Director challenged the provisions of the Appropriation Bill for the financial year 2014 which was placed on the order paper of Parliament on the 22nd of October 2013.
In its Petition CPA challenged the constitutionality of Clause 5, 6, 7 and 2(1) b of the Bill. Clause 5 and 6 of the Bill permits the Secretary to the Treasury or any authorised officer to reallocate funds between heads/programmes without prior permission or subsequent ratification by Parliament. Furthermore Clause 7 permits the Finance Minister, with the approval of the ‘Government’- as opposed to Parliament- to withdraw monies allocated to a particular purpose, if he thinks such monies are not required. Clause 2(1)(b) of the Bill grants blanket authorisation to the Executive to raise foreign or local loans up to Rs.1100 billion (in the next financial year) without any requirement for Parliament to scrutinize and approve the terms related to the raising of each of such loans.
CPA in its Petition contended that the Bill amounts to a clear violation of the Constitution which mandates that Parliament shall have full control over Public Finance. Sovereignty, which includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise, is in the People and is inalienable. The removal of specific public funds from within the control of Parliament is directly inconsistent with the Constitution and amounts to a grave violation of the inalienable sovereignty of the People. The matters and concerns emphasised in the case include the reality that the Sovereignty of the People, the Rule of Law and the Supremacy of the Constitution would be imperilled through the provisions of the said Bill that are inconsistent with and / or in contravention of the provisions of the Constitution, and thus ought not be permitted to pass validly into law through a simple majority in Parliament alone.
CPA has on several occasions in the past challenged Bills- including the Appropriation Bill for the financial year 2013- which had a direct impact on Parliaments full control over public finance. The said same provisions were challenged by CPA and its Executive Director in 2012 and subsequent to the determination by the Supreme Court the budget had to be passed by a majority of two-thirds of the whole number of Members of Parliament voting in favour of it.
CPA is concerned that the proposed Bill is part of a continued effort to denude Parliamentary oversight over public finance which is essential to promote accountability and transparency in the manner in which tax payer money is utilised. The resulting position would be that Parliament would be rendered impotent to curb the excesses of the Executive arm of government, and thereby consolidate Executive control over the other arms of government.
This matter (SC SD 19/2013) will be heard by a divisional bench of the Supreme Court on the 4th of November 2013.