The Sunday Leader

Increase Members In Parliament, Or Lose Sight Of What Truly Matters!

By Lionel Guruge

The 20th Amendment has caused rifts in Parliament and become the central topic of discussion for the past few weeks. Members of the UNP and JVP have united with requests to hold a general election immediately as was promised to the people by the end of the 100-day program. However, the JHU and SLFP believe that what is important is not the timeline of the events, but delivering on the promises given to the people within those 100 days. They believe that important political decisions must be made meticulously and for that purpose, the 100-day deadline should not be the issue; instead the20th Amendment is what parliamentarians should focus on. They state that in standing true to this belief, elections should be postponed for another three months only after the finalised 20th Amendment is passed; an issue of deep contention for the members in the opposing camp.

It appears that President Sirisena is now being pressured from both sides on this issue, and this stagnation in Parliament will become increasingly difficult to overcome for the President as the days continue. The issue has been further compounded by no confidence motions being presented by certain members of the SLFP in hopes of dismantling the UNP government, while the UNP attempts to rush into an election as the odds are in their favour whilst the government is still in their control. The vacuum that has been created by disbanding pro-Mahinda supporters from the Pradeshiya Sabha levels has also added to the UNPs list of advantages. It is in the midst of all these inextricably entwined factors that the 20th Amendment struggles to find its way through to the finish line.

At the heart of this debate lies the contention over the number of MPs to be appointed in Parliament as dictated in the 20th Amendment. The President along with the minor parties initially deemed to keep the number at 255. The UNP staunchly barricaded the number rising to anything over 225. The most recent cabinet decision suggested up to 237 with the addition of 12 new members. The debate in Parliament continues over the need to increase this number furthermore. The Muslim Congress adds another spoke into the issue by threatening to gazette it and take legal action against this. In view of all these issues, it is no surprise that the 20th Amendment is being repeatedly delayed.

The initial decision to stick to 225 MPs owes its credibility to the 1978 Constitution under which Sri Lanka is governed today. However, it was not until the 1989 General Elections that Parliament saw 225 members occupy its seats. Since then, Sri Lankan politics has settled with this number. In the time period of 1978 to 1989, the only direct link the public had to national policies that affect them were through Members of Parliament. Since 1989 till now, we have even witnessed certain electorates not being represented by Ministers. By the addition of more members, the 20th Amendment attempts to rectify the void created by such events and thereby the lack of representation for citizens in certain areas in Sri Lanka.

Until R. Premadasa as Minister for Local Government brought in the Provincial Council Act in 1988, citizens were represented only by Municipal Council members and Parliamentarians. Due to this fact, increasing the members in Parliament at that time was validated. However, it is now over 20 years since that decision has been made, and social, and socio-economic dynamics have changed, and as the findings of the analysis given below indicate, representation of the public in the local authority level in a given Province is severely mismatched. For instance, in the North Western Province alone, the number of representatives at the local authority level (excluding Provincial Council) is 501, while the total number of People’s representatives in the North Western Province (including MPs, Local Authorities, and Provincial Council representatives) stands at 576. The same can be witnessed in Eastern Province, with the total local authority representatives standing at 444 whilst the total number of representatives amount to 497. (See Fig 1)

With the addition of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Sri Lankan politics ushered in the establishment of Provincial Councils. Since its inception and as indicated in the chart, the number of representatives at a Provincial Council level has also increased with time. Therefore, the clear observation that can be derived from the information given is that it is a pointless errand to swell Parliament with any more MPs that portray the role of representative of the people, when the people themselves have far too many representatives on a local authority and Provincial Council level already.

The prime reasons for this is two-fold; primarily, we must be reminded of the real reason local authority representatives have been elected, and that is to serve the public within their constituency. To that effect, if the scope of their control and capabilities were expanded in place of the expansion of Parliament members, the public will truly stand to benefit. Therefore, if the powers vested in the Concurrent List is supplied in full capacity to the local authority and Provincial Council members, these local government institutions will be capacitated to truly serve the public. What Parliamentary proceedings are trying to achieve at present is micro-management, but this is redundant as there are structures that are already in place to achieve this purpose.

The purpose of Parliament members is to tackle issues that affect Sri Lanka and its public on a national level, and leave the issues that plague the general public in their daily lives to their respective representatives. Some have put forth the argument that the population has increased since 1988 and therefore the representation on a national level must also increase. However, if statistically analysed, the ratio of people to representatives in all three tiers of governance is exponentially greater than it should be. What we must be mindful of is this; Sri Lanka is a small island, with a population far too small to require representation of such proportions. What it needs in fact, is a systematic mechanism of governance. To this effect, the argument for the swelling of Parliament and the debates surrounding it are baseless. What should actually take its place are discussions surrounding topics such as;

 

1)       The Finance Commission – although mandated in the 19th Amendment and categorized as an independent commission, the validity of its independence is nullified when it falls under the patronage of the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry. At a political and socio-economical juncture as this, the importance of the Finance Commission is crucial, yet understated. The duties of the Finance Commission are likened to that of a mother; maternal instinct dictates that all her children must be treated equally and fairly. As such, the Finance Commission should have the prerogative to analyse the areas or Provinces that need more financial nourishment and appropriate its monies in a manner that will see that Province rise to the same standard of stability as its fellow Provinces. Unfortunately, this commission has not been allowed to reach its true potential and capacity as it is steered in directions most conducive and beneficial to its drivers that mostly take the form of politicians with decadent motives, and stakeholders with greater influence. It’s baffling to this writer that no discussion has occurred about this topic at any discourse, as this is one of the most influential drivers of change in Sri Lanka.

 

2)       Civil Collectives at a Grama Niladhari Level – instead of increasing representatives in Parliament and on local authority levels, would it not instead be sound to allow for collectives within the public itself to overlook practices of good governance? Civil society collectives should be mandated by law and established at a Grama Niladhari level to monitor the functioning of the local government institutions in their District, and to contribute when possible to decisions that affect them all. For example, when budgets for local government institutions and pradeshiya sabas are being drafted, these civil collectives can be called upon to provide some input (after discussion with the people in that area or village) in terms of what must be considered when allocating resources for certain areas. By ensuring that the people themselves have a stake in their own governance, not only will it allow for more effective policies, but will also pave the way for an incorrupt governance mechanism devoid of irregularities. These collectives must also be given the right to inspect and monitor the progress of any development scheme in their village or District. By doing so, the governance of this country can truly be democratic, as it will include a synchronized effort by the public sphere, local authorities, and Parliamentarians. There must be an immediate shift from the current status quo of central government ministers that finalise plans and arrive at decisions with minimal intervention from other stakeholders, so that independent contractors may take home the lions’ share of the appropriated sums and leave the general public worse off. It is worth mentioning that during the time it’s taking to finalise and pass the 20th Amendment, if the Right to Information bill and the Audit Act was discussed, finalised, and passed, the process of establishing these civil collectives would have been much easier. The benefits gained by the people by passing the Right to Information bill and the Audit Act are greatly understated. Therefore this can be considered a reminder of the long and arduous journey the government has yet to embark on.

 

When considering all that has been overlooked or neglected, it almost seems like the current government does not stray too far from its predecessors, and if so then this must be a serious concern to us all. It has been the case for the past two decades at least, that the government itself is motivated not by the public it serves, but by a few of those with enough influence to dictate its course. When a revolutionary event occurs, the public is galvanized in astounding ways and elects a government that promises a stark departure from the prevailing status, and these promises are backed by a congregation of public followers in consensus.

Then the dust settles, the cries of triumph soften, and the government gets pushed from a position of service to the public to a position of service to a chosen few, who rein the government in within their borders of interest. It was observed in the two governments before this, and it is a fervent hope that this government or the one to be elected soon will not follow suit.

Although the 19th Amendment and the NMDRA bill (or ‘the Medicinal Bill’) was passed in Parliament, its progress and implementation is at snail’s pace. Some believe that the Executive Council does not need civil society representation when establishing independent commissions; however this is countered with equal fervour by another section of society. Some are in the belief that upon agreement within Parliament, if the commissions constitute 5 members then it can proceed with quorum votes. The only observation that can be made upon listening to this myriad of suggestions is that the gusto that political parties and the public media possessed to pass this amendment has waned during its implementation. Instead there must be greater passion to ensure the rightful implementation of any act or amendment that passes in Parliament.

Sri Lanka is a nation with a population of around 20 million, and yet it feels the need to have more than 5,000 representatives in governance. It takes only a mere glance at the figures above to conclude whether this number should exceed or not. Is flooding the Parliament with more members at a time like this the most appropriate step forward?

1 Comment for “Increase Members In Parliament, Or Lose Sight Of What Truly Matters!”

  1. raj

    Why does Sri Lanka need to increase number of MPs? Who will pay to these increased MPs? Sri Lanka is a small country, and it has parliament, provincial government, and local council. Instead of increasing, Sri Lanka should decrease the number of MPs, and decentralize the power so the provincial government and local government can function effectively. Sri Lanka is not a rich country. There are many people are under poverty. Politics have become a business and it only benefits politicians and not the average citizens.

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