Colombo, May 29: The Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sunday proposed sweeping changes in the country’s governance system in a television address to the nation.
He proposed the re-adoption of the committee system of the 1930s and 40s to run ministries, with the chairmen of the committees becoming ministers. Wickremesinghe also proposed the abolition of the Executive Presidency and the adoption of the Westminster parliamentary system.
He suggested a system whereby parliament would be able to effectively control public finance, an aspect of an MP’s work which stands neglected because of the devaluation of parliament. He even had a proposal to include in governance, the youth, the protesters, and technical and subject experts.
Stressing the need for constitutional reform alongside finding solutions to the economic crisis, Wickremesinghe said: “ Today, the main issues in our country are not limited to the economic sphere. There are also two major issues in the political sphere. The re-introduction of the 19th Amendment is one of these issues. We, as party leaders, are now preparing the 21st Amendment in this regard. The second issue is to work towards the abolition of the Executive Presidency. The timing and methodology must be decided by the Party Leaders.”
He then went on to point out: “The functioning of the parliament has been paralyzed due to the weakening of parliamentary powers by the 20th Amendment. The Executive has been given more powers. The main allegation today is that the parliament has not acted to prevent the economic crisis. There is an allegation that even though the ruling party had a majority in parliament they neglected the work of parliament. Everything was systematically controlled by the Cabinet Ministers.”
“We do not always have to look at what happened in the past, but there are examples we can follow. Before the independence of Sri Lanka there was a State Council from 1931 to 1947. That State Council functioned following the committee system. Each subject was divided into seven committees. The Chairmen of the Committees became Ministers. The seven Ministers had formed a cabinet. In addition, there were three officials appointed by the Governor.”
“In addition, there was an Accounts Committee to control public money. At that time we had the opportunity to carry out this methodology successfully. Now we need to change the structure of parliament and create a new system by combining the existing system of parliament or the Westminster system and the system of State Councils. Parliament can participate in governing the country.”
“First of all, the existing laws need to be strengthened in order to give those powers to Parliament in the exercise of monetary powers. Following the example of countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and India, we are proposing a stronger and more powerful law.”
“At present there are three Committees on Government Finance. The three Committees are the Public Finance Committee, the Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Enterprises. The Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena has made several proposals to strengthen the powers of these three Committees.”
“We are working to establish two new Committees on Monetary Affairs. We will appoint a Legal and Methodological Committee to look into the matter.”
“The main problem we face is the financial condition of the banks and financial institutions. Under our Standing Order 111 we can appoint oversight committees. No oversight committees have been appointed before. Therefore, we propose to appoint ten oversight committees. They will report to parliament on policies. Parliament should act on that.”
“It should also be noted that the chairpersons of these five Finance Committees and the Ten Supervisory Committees are appointed by backbenchers. They are not appointed by Ministers. Therefore, we have the opportunity to work out a methodology that is independent of the Cabinet of Ministers and works with both the Minister and the Parliament.”
Youths’ Give a Role
In a revolutionary suggestion to involve the youth, including the protesting youth the Prime Minister said: “The youth are calling for a change in the existing system. Therefore, I propose to appoint four youth representatives to each of these 15 committees. One of them will be appointed by the Youth Parliament. The other three will be from the protesting groups and other activist groups. The methodology used to choose these individuals can be decided by the youth organizations themselves.”
Place for Experts
Calling for the involvement of experts in governance he said: “In addition, we hope to involve people with expertise in specific fields in this work. Through this work, young people will be able to learn about problems and provide solutions to them on their own. They will be able to contest elections if they wish to do so.”
National Party Leaders’ Council
We also propose a National Council. A committee consisting of the Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leaders of the major parties will be the National Council.
“It should be said that the National Council is very important. The National Council can talk about the policies of the country. It can also talk about the decisions of the Cabinet. It can also talk about the reorganization of the Parliament of this country. If so, it can be called a political body. The National Council has the right to summon the Cabinet of Ministers and the Chairmen of Committees.”
President to be Answerable to Parliament
On the powers and role of the President Wickremesinghe said: “According to the new system we have proposed, the President will be held accountable to parliament. The Cabinet of Ministers is also accountable to parliament. The National Council is also accountable to parliament. Fifteen Committees and Oversight Committees are accountable to parliament.”
“There is a system in place to control the government through the Cabinet, to examine the work of the President, to oversee the work of the political affairs through the National Council and to oversee the financial affairs and other matters of the other fifteen committees. There are articles prepared on this matter. I appreciate that a number of other organizations have made similar proposals,” the Prime Minister said.