13 July, 2020

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Possible Breakdown Of Government Services: We Should Not Experiment With The Constitution At This Moment

By Prasanna Perera

Prof Prasanna Perera

Given the current state of affairs in our country, it is timely to discuss whether there will be a breakdown in public services in the near future. At this juncture, it is expected that there will be a shutdown of some of the government services from the 5th of June 2020, if the parliament is not reconvened and/or general election is not held. 

It is important to discuss the above notion of a possible government shutdown, by drawing attention to the experience of other countries such the United States. In the United States, a government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to provide the government with the funding for its next fiscal year. In such a situation, non-essential public servants are granted leave without pay due to inadequate funding.  It usually takes some time for Congress to pass a budget. During this period, the government has to work through existing reserves.

In the past, the United States has experienced government shutdowns on several occasions. The 35-day government shutdown from midnight of December 21, 2018 to January 25, 2019, is the longest period of shutdown in the United States, when President Donald Trump and Congress were unable to reach an agreement on the Budget 2019. 

In discussing the situation in our country, His Excellency the President dissolved Parliament with the publication of a Special Gazette Notification on March 2, 2020 (No: 2165/8-2020). The Pre-Election Budget Position Report 2020 issued in March 2020 (Visit Treasury Web, under other publications) and the Article 150/03 of the Constitution specifies that the validity period for expenditure from the consolidated fund is for the next three months, commencing from 6 March 2020 to 5 June 2020. Therein, a total provision for government expenditure as Rs. 1229 billion, 715 billion of recurrent expenditure and Rs. 150 billion of capital expenditure has been provided. The amount allocated for repayment of loans is Rs.360 billion. The total amount of expenditure for the period under review is Rs. 420 billion.

Below is page 12, an excerpt from the Pre-Election Budgetary Position Report 2020.

The Secretary to the Treasury has issued the circular, BD/CBP/01/01/04, to all Secretaries of Ministries, Chief Secretaries of Provincial Councils and Heads of Departments (part of the Sinhala letter is given below) authorizing the utilization of money for the period of March 2020 to the end of May 2020 from the Consolidated Fund as per the provisions in Section 03 of the Article 150 of the Constitution.

The Pre Budgetary Report by the Secretary to the Treasury categorically states that there is a provision under Section 3 of Article 150 of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to provide funds from the Consolidated Fund for the expenditure related to the continuation of government services and development activities for a period of three months commencing from March 6, 2020 to June 5, 2020. 

He has stated that His Excellency the President has authorized this. The Secretary to the Treasury, Mr. Artigala, has absorbed the remaining provisions of the 2020 Vote on Account and has given the power to allocate funds to each of the Ministries for the next three months. He has further stated that Article 150 (03) of the Constitution should be cited as the relevant authority for payments, vouchers and other documents during the said period.

The following is an excerpt from paragraph 3 of the circular BD/CBP/01/01/04 – 2020:

However, this creates a problem with the circular issued by the Secretary to the Treasury. That is, it becomes unclear how the expenditure for government services are going to be authorized and managed from the 5th of June 2020 until the next general election. In this context, those who are running the country should resolve this to prevent a crisis and maintain the availability of essential government services.

The Secretary to the Treasury may ask for the Attorney General’s advice in this regard. We do not know what the Attorney General will say. Some government Ministers have stated to the media that according to the constitution, His Excellency the President has the power to approve expenditure for another three months, even after the new parliament has been summoned. However, this position contradicts with the Pre Budgetary Report 2020 and the above circular issued by the Secretary to the Treasury. Thus, it is a debatable whether His Excellency can do anything once more, after the three months period has lapsed, according to the Constitution. Nevertheless, as this is happening for the first time in our lives, Sri Lanka cannot resolve this by looking at how the US and neighboring India have addressed such a crisis.  Furthermore, one should keep in mind that those countries are Federal States and Sri Lanka is a democratic Unitary State. 

It should be understood that the cost of a government shutdown is much higher than that of expenses related to reconvening the parliament. In the United States, the closure of the government for 35 days from midnight December 21, 2018 to January 25, 2019 has resulted in a net loss of US $ 3 billion to the economy.  In this background of economic downturn, Sri Lanka is now vulnerable to being downgraded by rating agencies. Pitch has already downgraded Sri Lanka’s credit rating to a negative outlook. This will undermine investor confidence in Sri Lanka. Moreover, it will set a bad precedent.

The government should accurately assess the above situation and be flexible on decisions already made by recognizing what is suitable and unsuitable for this type of crisis situation. This must be done with intelligence and with the heart. There is a timely need to understand the pressures faced by the society in light of the new coronavirus and make decisions that will not adversely affect the country’s prosperity and the livelihood of the people.

As mentioned above, this is the first time our country is facing a crisis of this proportion and it is quite unique. As it is a new experience for our country, it is my understanding that there should be no unnecessary risks or experimenting at this time. Statesmen should not experiment with the Constitution at this moment when the entire community is affected by the new Coronavirus. I would like to point out that the Government must give immediate attention to the potential crisis and avoid any discontinuity in public services, after the 5th of June 2020. 

*Professor Prasanna Perera, Department of Economics and Statistics, University of Peradeniya. 

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Latest comments

  • 4
    0

    Professor Prasanna Perera,
    A very reasonable request. However, the problem is that the President, Cabinet and his advisors do not have the mentality to consider the path of Judiciary to resolve this matter and they are not much bothered about the constitution. They only look for how they can get two third majority using this Coronavirus. I am sure the opposition will give support to deal with Corona as long as the President do not use this for election propaganda.

    • 4
      0

      Constitution is very clear that the people are superior to the president. People gave a mandate the parliament elected in 2015 is for a five year period, ending either on the day of the election or on the day the parliament sat for the first time. But the president using provisions in the constitution dissolved the parliament in four and a half years. Now there is a crisis due to the inability to hold the elections to put in place a new parliament within approved date. By proclamation in the constitution, the decree of the people is supreme over the decree of the president. Therefore the decree of the people authorizing the parliament to function for the full five year period supersedes the decree of president to dissolve parliament prematurely, though legally done. The logical course arising from this is to reinstate the dissolved legislature.

  • 3
    0

    That whatever is being attempted is against all ethics and morals as understood by us is clear. It is we, the people of Sri Lanka, whose rights are being trampled who ought to be concerned.
    .
    There is little point in today’s government blaming those who were in Office earlier. We didn’t approve of all their doings, either.
    .
    I will not try to write anything profound or impressive. What is being attempted is plain simple wrong.

  • 0
    0

    In Atomic reactor, if one want more power, they push in more power rods. If they want less power they pull out few rods. If more rods are pushed in then atomic reaction gets higher, more heating released, more steam comes out. Aanduwa thinks same thing with curfew. It seems to believe if more hours are controlled, less Corona-19 and if less hours then more Corona -19. Reality is not like that. If people are avoiding interaction and wearing protective gear, then between 14 to 21 days the first cycle of infection can be get rid. But Aanduwa just blindly imposing curfew and then when it starting to think about election just removing it. Without following a medically meaningful cycle, Aanduwa not going to eradicate Corona-19.

  • 3
    0

    Possible Breakdown Of Government Services: We Should Not Experiment With The Constitution At This Moment
    Proff:
    With all due respect it is all your making. As you sow so you reap.
    1) The Secretary to the Treasury may ask for the Attorney General’s advice in this regard. We do not know what the Attorney General will say. Some government Ministers have stated to the media that according to the constitution, His Excellency the President has the power to approve expenditure for another three months, even after the new parliament has been summoned.
    *** This is a President ( it is laughable when you call him His Excellency ) who has no respect for Constitution which is evident when he lied his way to the Presidency. The Attorney General is a stooge just like the Judges who ruled him fit to run for Presidency.
    2) Thus, it is a debatable whether His Excellency can do anything once more, after the three months period has lapsed, according to the Constitution.
    *** He can do anything he wants and that is why he has the army surrounding the Parliament.

  • 3
    0

    Proff:
    With all due respect it is all your making. As you sow so you reap.
    1) The Secretary to the Treasury may ask for the Attorney General’s advice in this regard. We do not know what the Attorney General will say. Some government Ministers have stated to the media that according to the constitution, His Excellency the President has the power to approve expenditure for another three months, even after the new parliament has been summoned.
    *** This is a President ( it is laughable when you call him His Excellency ) who has no respect for Constitution which is evident when he lied his way to the Presidency. The Attorney General is a stooge just like the Judges who ruled him fit to run for Presidency.
    2) Thus, it is a debatable whether His Excellency can do anything once more, after the three months period has lapsed, according to the Constitution.
    *** He can do anything he wants and that is why he has the army surrounding the Parliament.

  • 0
    1

    Power failed at 2.00 am.
    .
    I telephoned the Bandarawela number that I have at 8.00 am. They gave me a Badulla number that I didn’t have.
    .
    Rang Badulla. No delay. They said that they were unaware. Next question amazed me. Was my name Edirisinhe?
    .
    Long ago, Diyatalawa had asked me to submit a number in case of emergency. CEB must be commended for efficiency.
    .
    That is possible only if all play FAIR.
    .
    Today’s captcha seems easy. Will submit NOW. Phone down to 23 per cent. I’ve told myself I will persist upto 20%. Got the moral?
    .
    Don’t abuse system to maximum.

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