Parliament’s Supremacy Challenged

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“It shall be the duty of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) to examine – the collection of revenue under Article 148 of the Constitution, payment from the Consolidated Fund, the utilisation of public funds for specific purposes by law, the application of public funds, implementation of the Appropriation Act for the current year, public debt and debt service and reports and statements under the Fiscal Management (Responsibility) Act, No. 3 of 2003.” (Excerpts from the Parliament of Sri Lanka website)

“The Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka shall, in addition to determining the policies or measures authorised to be adopted or taken under this Act, be vested with the powers, duties and functions of the CBSL under this Act and be generally responsible for the management, operation and administration of the Bank:

 CBSL may make direct provisional advances to the Government to finance expenditures authorised to be incurred out of the Consolidated Fund. “(Excerpts from the Monetary Law Act). 

On Friday, this newspaper carried an article under the heading, “CBSL officials skipping meetings an insult to Parliament – COPF”

To quote excerpts, it said, “CBSL and Monetary Board members repeatedly failing to appear before COPF is an insult to the House (Parliament), which holds the monetary power of Sri Lanka according to the Constitution, COPF stressed on 24 March.

COPF has decided that it would be suitable to make a complaint to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena with regard to CBSL’s conduct.

CBSL Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Monetary Board members S.R. Attygalle, Sanjeewa Jayawardena (PC), Dr Rani Jayamaha and Samantha Kumarasinghe were summoned before COPF to inquire about the country’s economic situation. 

However, they sent a letter to COPF claiming since Attygalle had a meeting with World Bank (WB) officials, the rest of the officials too could not attend the meeting.

COPF meeting with CBSL officials was initially scheduled for 21 March. But the meeting was postponed following a request.”

During the debate on the VAT (Amendment) Bill, Dr Harsha de Silva, a COPF member, slammed the Government over CBSL officials’ failure to appear before Parliament. “Cabraal and the Monetary Board were initially supposed to appear before COPF on Monday (21 March). Then they asked to postpone the meeting to Thursday. However, they didn’t show up and sent a fax at 10.45 a.m. saying they are not coming,” he said.”

COPF members are MPs Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara, Vidura Wickramanayaka, Kanchana Wijesekara, Indika Anuruddha, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Vijitha Herath, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Dilan Perera, Kumara Welgama, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Manusha Nanayakkara, M.A. Sumanthiran, Dr. Kavinda Jayawardena, Mujibur Rahuman, Premitha Bandara Tennakoon, Isuru Dodangoda, Anupa Pasquel, Nalin Fernando, Prof. Ranjith Bandara and Dr. Suren Raghavan. 

Parliament or the Legislature is one of the three independent and separate arms of Government. The other two are the Executive and the Judiciary. COPF is a spinoff from the Legislature, which members are all lawmakers. Lawmakers are elected by the people for the people and are of the people.

People are supreme and by an extension, Parliament and its agents such as COPF, who collectively represent the 22 million people of this country and who are their voice in the Legislature, are also supreme. Therefore, an Order made by Parliament or by its agents is as good as an Order made by the people of Sri Lanka.

As such, it’s the bounden duty of public servants, including those of the MB to be present when summoned by COPF. Therefore, their Thursday’s absence, the second in the space of three days, raises four questions. Those are: 1) When the COPF meeting was re-fixed for Thursday at the MB’s behest, did not the Treasury Secretary know that it was clashing with the WB meeting? 2) If the WB meeting was ‘sudden’, nonetheless, why didn’t the Treasury Secretary ask for a postponement of the WB meeting on the grounds that a meeting with Parliament/COPF was supreme? 3) Couldn’t the Deputy Treasury Secretary deputise for the Treasury Secretary either at the WB or at the COPF meeting? 4) If not, why not?