Committee on Standing Orders hasn’t met for four years

Failing to amend Standing Orders inexcusable-Prof Wijesinha



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Prof. Wijesinha

By Shamindra Ferdinando


Failure on the part of Parliament to amend Standing Orders to ensure the smooth functioning of the House was inexcusable, UPFA National List MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha said yesterday.


Prof. Wijesinha alleged that for want of remedial measures the situation continued to deteriorate much to the disappointment of those who still believed in restoring the supremacy of parliament.


Referring to a recent interview given to The Island by UPFA Gampaha District MP Vasantha Senanayake, Prof. Wijesinha said he couldn’t comprehend the inordinate delay in amending the Standing Orders, particularly in the wake of the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. Responding to a question, Prof. Wijesinha that many issues, including the impeachment of the Chief Justice could have been handled properly but for a lacuna in the Standing Orders.


Asked whether he as an MP had at least raised the issue in parliament, Prof. Wijesinha said that he had requested Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa to take remedial action.  


"In fact, after having examined the existing Standing Orders, I proposed a series of amendments to restore the supremacy of Parliament with regard to legislation and oversight. The 1978 Constitution weakened Parliament. Hence the need for revision of Standing Orders."


The MP said that he had written to Speaker Rajapaksa after having given notice to Secretary General of Parliament of the motion moved under Standing Order 134 seeking far reaching amendments to Standing Orders.


"Although I expected the Committee on Standing Orders to take up my motion, it is yet to meet. My efforts to reconvene the Committee failed. In fact, it hadn’t met since 2011."


Prof. Wijesinha said that the Committee on Standing Orders had met a couple of times during early part of 2010. The Opposition, too, was responsible for what he called the sorry state of affairs in Parliament. Responding to another query, the MP said that he had discussed the issue with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga (UNP representative in the Committee on Standing Orders), Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena as well as Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara. Prof. Wijesinha said that Minister Nanayakkara had raised the issue at the party leaders’ meeting though the Committee was never reconvened.


In his letter to Speaker Rajapaksa, Prof. Wijesinha said that he was ready to discuss amendments to the motion which proposed specific changes to existing Standing Orders.


The Parliamentarian said that the Amendment No 1 was designed to ensure questions raised in Parliament were answered promptly. Amendments 2 to 4 were meant to give Consultative Committees to peruse Bills before presentation and to ensure the Bills were available in all three languages.


Prof. Wijesinha said that a recent statement attributed to former director administration of parliament, Lacille de Silva highlighted what was happening in parliament.


The MP warned that the government’s failure to rectify shortcomings was advantageous to the Opposition. Opposition lawmakers believed in creating chaos in parliament to help their strategy, the MP said.


The following are the remaining amendments proposed by Prof. Wijesinha:


"Amendments 5 and 6 meant to introduce a judicial aspect into impeachment procedures, by providing for investigation by an external body, which shall allow for the laying out of charges and defence as is the case in other Parliaments which have impeachment powers. Amendment 7 is to strengthen the role of Consultative Committees.


Amendments 8 to 15 are to strengthen the role of the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Enterprises.


Amendment 16 is to strengthen accountability with regard to the Committee on high Posts and also the Parliamentary Council, where the current practice of the Opposition of avoiding their responsibilities must be overcome."


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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