over 9 years ago by Manthri.lk - Research Team under in Analysis

According to the manifesto timetable of President Sirisena’s 100-day government, 20 January 2015 will witness the amending of the Standing Orders of Parliament.


Based on provisional documents* seen by Manthri.lk, here are 5 key points to bear in mind:


1.    The Standing Orders are rarely amended


The Standing Orders are the cornerstone of parliamentary practice. Its provisions range from stating that members “shall not smoke” during a debate to providing the grounds for the impeachment of a Chief Justice. With the evolution of parliamentary practice, the standing orders have remained largely unchanged. In practice MPs have chosen to suspend standing orders, rather than engage in wholesale reforms. The current amendments are the first to take place in over 20 years. 


2.    Consultative Committees will refocus on legislative duties


Consultative Committees of Parliament are primarily tasked with inquiring into and reporting on legislation concerning their respective ministry. This system envisages feedback through recommendations, which in turn will enrich legislation. However short-sighted, narrow issues have hijacked committees, with no proper oversight or policy level inquiries being exercised. The spirit of the current amendments seek to refocus the committees onto matters of consultation and financial oversight, and state that narrower constituent issues should be brought up at allocated times in respective ministries, thereby maximising the legislative capacity and efficiency of consultative committee meetings. 


3.    Written Question responses will become "timelier" 


The system of written questions in Parliament is the most effective method of holding a minister to account, with the questioner having the opportunity to raise three additional undisclosed supplementary questions. A Manthri.lk analysis piece has highlighted the flaws within the system, allowing for the flooding of the question system by a handful of MPs. Based on the documents seen, this issue is not being addressed. The current amendments are framed to ensure that questions are answered on a timelier basis. However, given the prospect of a minister getting a one-month postponement to answer a question, this is unlikely to meet an everyday person's definition of a timely response - yet it provides a stark improvement on current practices.


4.    COPE recommendations will not fall on deaf ears


One of the most effective oversight committees of Parliament is the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE). However a common complaint has been that COPE provides detailed recommendations, but government often remain unresponsive. The current amendments will ensure that COPE, within a month of publishing its annual report, will receive a detailed response from the Finance Minister to all recommendations stating the method of implementation or reasons for non-compliance with a recommendation.  


5.    The Committee on High Posts will be given greater visibility 


The Committee on High Posts will be obliged to report on a quarterly basis, with a record of those examined and the recommendations of the committee published. This will ensure that any cabinet appointment to a post e.g. a political appointee as an Ambassador, will continue to be open to investigation concerning their suitability, but furthermore, the obligation to report will provide greater visibility. This in turn will incentivise the proper functioning of the committee and will provide the opposition an opportunity to record and report their displeasure with any appointments.


In line with the past success of Manthri.lk in ensuring publicly available monthly consultative committee reports of Parliament (through the efforts of Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena MP), it is essential that Parliament adopt an approach to maximise dissemination of parliamentary reports and materials on a timely basis. This will highlight the key contributions made by legislators, whilst also improving the tools available to observers of Parliament.


*The information above is based on the recommendations submitted by Hon. State Minister Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP, the principal architect of the current amendments to the standing orders.