1.2 Parliamentary System and Public Sector
Democracy, accountability and popular participation will be the foundations on which we built our polices on. In this light it is crucial to have bipartisan parliamentary committees to investigate issues that matter to all Sri Lankans. For example, a Road Safety Investigatory Committee from time to time to investigate on road safety matters, a Drug and Alcohol investigatory committee to investigate on matters related to drug and alcohol usage in the country etc. These committees would need to get referrals either from the Government or Parliament to conduct inquiries into their subject matters. These enquiries will reflect the views of the stakeholders and average citizens who are affected by the issues being investigated. Everybody will be invited to provide written submissions and the committee will choose to invite some of them for verbal submissions at public hearings. Public hearings will be conducted in a number of publicly accessible places across Sri Lanka. People will be invited to observe the proceedings at these hearings.
These committees will be required to report on their findings and their recommendations will be presented to Parliament. If one or more members of an investigatory committee dissent on part or all of the findings and recommendations, they can incorporate a minority report in the body of the main report. All the reports, except those dealing with national security issues, will be made available to the public.
The government of the day will be required to respond to such a report within six months indicating which recommendations the government will take on board and which ones will be rejected and articulating their reasons for acceptance or rejection. This will be our model for drafting appropriate legislation and government decisions to reflect public aspirations.
A special investigatory committee will be set up in the national Parliament to identify and compile a list of ongoing projects that need to be funded. This committee can work with outside organisations such as philanthropic groups and non-resident Sri Lankan organisations to attract funding for the identified projects or make arrangements such as providing ownership of an appropriate project to a relevant group. A bureaucracy needs to be established to work with the parliamentary committee. The parliamentary committee should have members representing each province of the country.
It is important to set standards on parliamentary language and enhance the speaker’s role and empower him or her to take punitive action against the members of Parliament, who do not adhere to the appropriate ethical standard and parliamentary code of practice.
An Independent Budget Office (IBO) will be established in the Parliament. One of the roles of IBO will be to assess funding commitments of political parties in the lead up to an election and publicise a report for the public to know which commitments are deliverable and which are not. During this term, members of Parliament, especially opposition members can seek assistance of the IBO to cost government policy announcements and their own policies. In doing so, the IBO will help cut down in a big way the fake promises political parties make. The IBO will always report to the Parliament and not to the government.
Provincial Council Governors
Provincial Council Governors will have a fixed term and no person affiliated with a political party in the past ten years will be appointed as a Governor. It is preferable to appoint somebody apolitical, who has contributed to the society in some form or another, and against whom allegations of abuse of his/her authority have not been raised.
It would be important to set up a Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal (PRT) to review salaries, allowances and other perks currently enjoyed by members of Parliament, including Ministers and the Prime Minister. The members of the national Parliament will be compelled to have a full-time commitment to their role. When the Parliament is not sitting they should be involved with committee work and constituency work. The constituents should have access to their local member more often than they presently have and that can only be achieved if there is a full-time commitment by all the Members of Parliament.
Members of Parliament in any jurisdiction will not be entitled to a decentralised budget. Members of Parliament being elected by popular vote are beholden to the country as a whole. Therefore, they are not supposed to be masters of all aspects of life. For example, they will not be able to prioritise road projects provincially or nationally as it will not serve the best interests of the community or the country as a whole. They will need to only focus on issues under their remit.
Therefore, we will hand over those responsibilities to government agencies such as Roads Authority, Transport Authority etc. These agencies which are answerable to the corresponding minister, will collect statistics and other information needed to prioritise projects across their jurisdictions to serve the best interests of the country. Members of the Parliament will lobby the Minister and in turn through the minister’s office will get responses from the agencies as to how particular projects are progressing.
Public Service Recruitment Commission
A Public Service Recruitment Commission will be established to undertake all public-sector recruitment in conjunction with all departments and public institutions. Members of Parliament will be prohibited from influencing the recruitment process. Any evidence of influence will be brought to the attention of the IBAC and those who found guilty will be prosecuted.
Official Vehicles for Senior Public Servants
The issue of vehicle permits should be scrapped, instead government vehicles should be allocated to all members of Parliament and also to all appropriate public servants. In chauffeur driven situations, it will be the responsibility of the chauffeur to maintain logbooks even when private travel is permitted.
The Constitution will enshrine that the government shall have not more than 25 members of the cabinet and a maximum of 25 parliamentary secretaries.
Public Service Code
The senior public service should be apolitical, and involvement in any political activity in any shape or form would be a disqualification. All senior public servants should be loyal to the government of the day. Disloyalty will be made a serious offence by legislation. However, public servants are in their rights to complain to IBAC, if parliamentarians exert any undue influence on them.
Separation of Powers
The separation of powers is an important principle underpinning all democracies. According to this principle, the three main institutions of government: the legislature, executive and judiciary, are maintained as separate entities in order to provide effective checks and balances, thus preventing power from becoming centralised in any one entity.
Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, in the recent past there has been executive creep into the judiciary, setting a dangerous precedence. It is important to restore the complete independence of the judiciary and legislature from the executive arm of the government. Legislation needs to be passed to make executive interference in the judiciary in any way shape or form an offence punishable by law.
The Sri Lankan Parliament or any Parliament should not be subject to control or direction by the Executive. The Executive should not determine the level of funding and how money is allocated to Parliament, parliamentary committees or its independent statutory institutions like the Office of the Auditor general, Budget Office, Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) and any other statutory bodies directly reporting to the Parliament.
To ensure good governance, a separate parliamentary service model such as a Parliamentary Corporate Body (PCB) will be established. The Parliament should be the controller and determiner of its own funding through the above body and thus would be initiating its own money bills through its presiding officers. PCB Membership will reflect the aggregate membership of the house.
The Executive of the Parliamentary Corporate Body (PCB), chaired by the Speaker of the house could be set up as follows:
Prime Minister (or nominee and Leader of the Opposition (or nominee);
The clerk of the Parliament and the Secretary, Department of Parliamentary Services;
Requesting the Cabinet to provide forward estimates of government revenue (as to be reported in Budget Papers) before the PCB makes its recommendations;
PCB membership can make recommendations to the PCB executive at any time;
Reporting its recommendations to the house on budget day;
Providing budget bids for parliamentary appropriation under a separate appropriation bill which the house can amend; and
This appropriation should include funding for the Legislative Assembly, Department of Parliamentary Services, Independent Officers of Parliament and the Office of the Opposition.
Judicial appointments, their tenure and remuneration will be handled independently of the executive governments. Appointments ought to be based on merit and be exercised in cooperation or consultation with the judiciary. Similarly, any processes for promotion must be solely based on the individual’s merits and appropriateness to hold judicial office.
Tenure of the appointed judged will be guaranteed by law either for life or a specified statutory age of retirement, or for a substantial fixed term, depending on what is more appropriate at the time.
The process for disciplining or removing judges from office should be limited to cases of serious misconduct or incapacity to discharge the duties of the office. A decision to remove a judge on these grounds should be made by an independent body, which has some experience in handling judicial matters.
Judicial salaries and pensions should be adequate and commensurate with the dignity of the office and should not be decreased during a judge’s tenure. These should also be established by law, and not subject to arbitrary interference from the executive.
The daily operational processes and procedures of courts require freedom from executive.
Court funding is also a key issue affecting the operational independence of the courts. It is our understanding that levels of court funding are set by the executive, as appropriation bills are initiated by the government of the day.
Introducing a judicial council should be an alternative model. Essentially, a judicial council is established by legislation, comprised of representatives from a number of courts and tribunals. The executive will determine an amount of funding which is paid to the judicial council, which then has autonomous powers to administer and fund the courts which are part of the scheme.