17th August 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is concerned about the tabling of the “Divineguma Bill” in Parliament which if enacted will have serious implications for democracy, devolution and good governance in Sri Lanka. CPA and its Executive Director filed a Petition today in the Supreme Court (SC SD 3/2012) challenging the constitutionality of the Bill.
CPA is concerned with both the process by which the Bill was introduced and its substantive provisions. Whilst the Bill has a wide reach, CPA highlights the two most important issues. The Bill, if enacted, provides wide powers to the Minister in charge of Economic Development to regulate and decide on a wide range of issues including subjects within the purview of the Provincial Councils, with limited checks and balances. The Bill contains several clauses providing for the take over of subjects provided in the Provincial Council list in the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, raising serious concerns not merely of centralisation and the consolidation of power, but also of the political will of the Government in terms of its pledges to implement to the full existing provisions in the constitution on devolution.
Furthermore, the Bill if enacted will take away the ambit of oversight mechanisms, especially in the area of financial control and accountability. The Bill also contains provision for officers and servants of the Department established through the Bill to sign a declaration pledging secrecy related to work of the said Department, raising questions as to why such a provision should be included in respect of a Department that is meant to serve and be accountable to the people. CPA holds that any Government institution including departments must be accountable to the legislature and be transparent in their functions especially in the area of finance. Thus, it is essential that all entities receiving and dealing with State funds adhere to the standards set in terms of Chapter XVII of the Constitution.
In addition to the range of substantive issues that are problematic, there are concerns about process. The lack of discussion and transparency prior to the tabling of the Bill and of any known consultation among communities and others who will be affected is extremely troubling. This is a general problem related to the law making process and particularly so in this case, given the implications of such a Bill. CPA hopes that the challenging of the Bill will raise public awareness and generate discussion and debate on it –processes that are paramount in a functioning democracy.
The “Divineguma Bill” can be accessed here.