Parliament approves expansion of Cabinet from 30 to 48

by Saman Indrajith

A resolution moved by the government seeking the approval of the House to increase the number of ministers from 30 to 48 was passed in Parliament with a majority of 127 votes.

The resolution moved by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said: "Whereas the United National Party which obtained the highest number of seats in Parliament has formed a national government, Parliament determines in terms of Article 46(4) of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka that the number of Ministers in the Cabinet of Ministers shall not exceed 48 and the number of Ministers who are not cabinet ministers and the number of deputy ministers shall not exceed 45."

The resolution received 143 votes in favour and 16 votes against while 63 MPs were absent. The TNA refrained from voting.

UNP and other parties of the government and section of MPs of the UPFA voted for the resolution. The JVP and a section of the UPFA voted against the Bill.

When the resolution was moved several Opposition parties opposed it on several grounds. JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, raising a point of order, said that the resolution moved by the Prime Minister was unconstitutional.

He said that according to the provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution a national government meant an administration comprising all parties in parliament. Just because couple of parties entered into an agreement to form a government it could not be called a national government, he said.

Prime Minister: The resolution is in accordance with the Constitution. You cannot take selected sections of the Constitution and interpret its provisions you have to take the entire chapter as a whole. There are three parties who have given consent for a national government.

MP Dissanayake: This amendment was brought by the Prime Minister himself in last Parliament and he himself is violating it today. According to the 19th Amendment, the national government should consist of the party that obtained highest number of seats and other parties and independent groups in Parliament. This Parliament is represented by six parties. The highest number obtained by the UNP. According to the Constitution rest of the five parties should join the government. There is no such situation. If we want to debate and get this passed then we would have to amend the Constitution or seek Supreme Court interpretation.

MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena: Prime Minister says the SLFP has entered into an agreement for a national government. But, the SLFP is not represented in this Parliament. What we have is the UPFA. Therefore, the Speaker should give ruling on this matter.

Nimal Siripala de Silva: The Constitution does not demand that all parties in parliament should join a national government.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe: We could take Parliament of England as an example. They have set precedence where there is no need for all parties in Parliament to join a national government.

UNP MP Jayampathy Wickremaratne: You can check the Hansards if you want. The Hansard on the debate when the 19th Amendment was passed does not specify the need for all parties coming together for a national government.

NFF Leader Wimal Weerawansa: It also does not say that several parties could form a national government. The rule is obvious here. It is our opinion that this resolution could not be moved and debated.

Opposition Leader R Sampanthan: A national government is not a one comprising all parties. There is no such mentioning here in the Constitution.

MP Wijayadasa Rajapakshe: According to the Constitution a national government could be formed by the party with the highest number of seats with one or more other parties.

JVP leader Dissanayake: We respect the Constitution. The word ‘all’ is not mentioned here in the Constitution to refer to all other parties. But, in the meantime it does not use the word ‘certain’ number of parties or ‘some’ parties could join the party with highest number of seats.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe: We must decide whether we form the national government or not, now.

DLF Leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara: The UPFA has not entered into an agreement with the UNP. Thus the resolution before us has no value.

UPFA MP Chandrasiri Gajadeera: The resolution says that the UNP has formed a national government. There is no national government yet.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya suspended the sittings of parliament for 10 minutes and promised to deliver his ruling on the matter. Accordingly, the House sittings were suspended around 11.09 am.

When the House resumed sittings around 11.25 am, Speaker Jayasuriya said: "After listening to all observations I have studied the matter in depth. According to the provisions of the 19th Amendment the party which obtains the highest number of votes could form a national government with other parties. The resolution moved by the Prime Minister is consistent with the Constitution and could be taken for debate.

At the end of debate, JVP leader Dissanayake called for a division by name. Accordingly the quorum bell was rung by Speaker Jayasuriya and the vote was taken.

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