PM Dinesh achieves Unity in Diversity in Parliament | Daily News

PM Dinesh achieves Unity in Diversity in Parliament

Participatory Democracy through a National Council

In a Parliament, in which some members look for areas of disagreement rather than commonality, there was a rare consensus on the proposed establishment of a National Council consisting of all the parties represented in parliament.

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena’s proposal to establish a ‘National Council’ was passed in Parliament on Wednesday (20) without a division. The National Council will be constituted to represent all the parties representing the Ninth Parliament from the recognized political parties of Sri Lanka.

The consensus was obtained at three rounds of discussions under the leadership of the Prime Minister held at the Parliament complex with the participation of all party representatives and after much deliberation, the agreement of all parties was obtained.

Presenting this proposal to Parliament, the Prime Minister explained the authority and general responsibilities of the National Council. Setting of common priorities in Parliament to guide short, medium, and long-term national policy-making is one of those responsibilities.

Another responsibility is to agree on short-term programmes related to economic stabilization.

The Prime Minister said that the National Council has the power to summon reports from Sectoral Oversight Committees, Committee on Government Finance, Committee on Public Accounts, Committee on Public Enterprises and any committee exercising control over Government finances.

Prime Minister
Dinesh Gunawardena

“In particular, we believe that this committee will be able to discuss and guide policy measures to secure and support the lives of the common people, which are the most serious national challenge in recent times, namely the economic crisis, the financial crisis, the debt payment crisis and the social issues,” he said.

Much of the work of the British House of Commons and the House of Lords - the pioneer of Westminster system -takes place in committees. These committees examine issues in detail, from government policy and proposed new laws, to wider topics like the economy.

In the largest democracy in the world, the Indian Lok Sabha, standing committee is a permanent and regular committee consisting of Members of Parliament. It is constituted from time to time according to the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business. The work done by the Indian Parliament is not only voluminous but also of a complex nature, hence a great deal of its work is carried out in these Parliamentary committees.

Despite the reservations about an All-Party Government, all the party leaders agreed that the proposed National Council would strengthen the August House of people’s representatives. They came up with several constructive proposals and positive ideas for the final draft, after studying the preliminary draft, which contained the government’s proposal regarding the establishment of Sectoral Monitoring Committees in the Parliament.

The committee system in Sri Lanka is as old as system of democratic elections. In 1931, under the Doonoughmore Constitution the State Council, was divided into executive committees, the chairmen of which collectively formed a board of ministers. This system was introduced to ensure that every legislator would get an opportunity to participate in policy formulation.

The Soulbury Constitution of 1947 and subsequent independence brought with them a more traditional form of Government based on the British model. However, in terms of conventions, functions and the procedures of Parliament, the bicameral Soulbury legislature closely followed those of Westminster. There were more changes later with the introduction of two republican constitutions in 1972 and 1978.

Under the new bill passed on Tuesday, the National Council will have the responsibility of organising activities for special meetings attended by the Cabinet of Ministers, Chairpersons of National Council and Special Committees and Youth Observers of Youth Organisations.

The National Council will be chaired by the Speaker and not more than 35 Members of Parliament representing the Ninth Parliament from the recognized political parties of Sri Lanka including the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House of Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Government whip will be the members to this council.

Prime Minister Gunawardena thanked the party leaders for their agreement to establish a National Council to assist the attempts to find solutions to the economic and social crisis in the country. The party leaders said the aim of the National Council should be to guide to take policy decisions by common consent of the parties in Parliament.

Some of the allegations are that Parliament is not working to end this economic crisis and under the current Westminster system, the Cabinet Ministers control everything, and due to the ruling party having a majority in the House, the affairs of Parliament were neglected.

Hence, there is an imperative need for expansion of the space for the MPs to participate in the governing process. The National Council and the committee system will ensure participatory democracy in the Parliament. The MPs of all parties need to participate in those committees and work according to their policies and programmes.

There are three committees related to the State’s financial affairs. In addition to these measures, a proposal will also be put forward to establish two more finance-related committees, which include a “Committee on Ways and Means” and a “Committee on Banking and Financial Services”. These five finance committees and ten oversight committees will be chaired by backbencher MPs, and not Cabinet Ministers.

Under the new system, the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, the committees, and the National Council will be answerable to Parliament, and thereby complete power will be vested in the House of people’s representatives.


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