By Chandra Jayaratne –
The proposal made by Hon. Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs, to publish the Sri Lanka Sustainable Development Bill in a gazette and present the same in parliament for approval, which was prepared with the view of promoting and implementing the Sri Lanka’s national policy and strategy on sustainable development, establishment of the Sustainable Development Council and making other provisions on other matters, was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers” stated the government announcement regards decisions taken by the Cabinet on 12th July 2016.
Regrettably however, the public at large have no knowledge at this stage of the scope, contents and any consequential socio-political and economic impact of the Bill on the country and its citizens. This is despite, Right to Information being a fundamental right as per the Constitution and a specific Right to Information enactments having recently been legislated.
A few months ago, a discussion draft of a bill titled “Development (Special Provisions) Bill” was available in public hands. This draft bill had several provisions which gave rise to significant concern in the mind of Yahapalana activists. They were concerned that this bill could easily result in the Coalition Government, constantly at play at the edge of the marshy land and tossing Bond Scams, Imported High Cost Metal Housing for Displaced persons, Coal tenders, Highway contracts to entities owned by Ministers and controversial VAT impositions, in danger of a fall in to the bog and risk beginning to sink! Let us hope not; as what the Nation needs is a government committed to real Yahapalanaya, rule of law, justice, effective public communications, economic resurgence positively touching all segments in society and reconciliation amongst all citizens.
The aforesaid draft bill had a provision to appoint a panel of eminent persons to be consulted by the President and Prime Minister on formulation of National Policies. A Policy Development Office is established (there is such an office already in the Prime Minister’s Office?). The Minister (the Prime Minister as the Minister in Charge of National Policy and Economic Affairs) may make regulations in respect of all matters relating to policy development office, including the appointment of staff and Committees and the functioning under the Office.
The Policy Development Office (PDO) is to assist the Minister to plan, formulate and develop National Policies on all subjects having regard to the provisions of the Act; prepare the macro-economic Policy framework for economic development; set goals and targets to be achieved by every sector of the economy and by every government institution; co-ordinate the implementation of government policies approved.
The Minister is empowered to appoint Committees for PDO on
- Economic Policy Committee – to review economic policies and to analyze and interpret current economic development;
- Domestic Policy Committee – to coordinate domestic policies with a view to ensuring that they are consistent with the government stated goals;
- Global Affairs Committee – to review global economic, political, social and environmental developments and their impact on Sri Lanka
- Development Coordination and Monitoring Committee – to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the government policy (including proposals in the annual budget) and ensure that decisions and programmes of the Government are consistent with National Policies and to discharge other functions assigned by the Cabinet.
The PDO is required to assist the Cabinet Ministers by submitting reports on Policy Development/Review and Coordination and Implementation of Government Policy.
The Minister will submit the national policy formulated on a subject (or any subject in effect?) to the Cabinet and be placed before parliament for approval and on approval; such policy shall be the National Policy as per the Reserved List of the Constitution
The bill sets the objective of economic development to be “to promote the emergence of a highly competitive social market economy” and empowers the Minister with approval of Cabinet to present to Parliament a Policy Framework for Economic Development to achieve the aforesaid objective. Upon approval of the framework, it becomes the National Policy on Economic Development of the Reserve List of the Constitution. All plans, programmes and schemes for economic development of the Government and Boards of Ministers of the Provinces have to conform with the Policy framework ; and its strategies;and the Minister is empowered to issue such strategic directions in order to seek such compliance. Minister is required to present an Annual Report in March each year on Economic Development of the Country during the preceding year
Where a statute passed by a Provincial Council is inconsistent with the Policy framework the Secretary to the Ministry is to make an application to the Supreme Court to make a declaration on the validity of such statute.
The Minister is empowered by a Gazette notice to declare any area, which can be developed for economic activities of manufacturing, tourism, science and technology, finance services, logistics, business and services, and modern fisheries/ agriculture or agro business and the order will in addition specify objectives to be achieved and government institutions required to undertake such activities. Every economic development area dedicated to development of modern agriculture and agro business shall be of such scale to ensure the cultivation, production, manufacture, storage and distribution of agricultural products. Similar empowerments apply to modern fisheries being in scale enabling the planning and implementation of coastal fisheries and fish farming, off shore and the construction of ports for deep sea fisheries, infrastructure for value addition manufacture, storage and distribution.
Minister is also empowered with cabinet concurrence to make regulations to give effect to plans, programmes, strategies and schemes approved under the Act, make provision for eliminating delays and administrative barriers and facilitating investment approvals at a single point ; it will in addition specify, the procedure and authority for granting tax incentives. These regulations prevail over any other and will come in force on approval by parliament
Authorized officers of PDO are empowered to call for any such information as required from any person
The above provisions are those reflected only in Part 1 Chapters 1 and 2 of the Bill and it repeals the National Planning Council Act of 1956
Though other parts of the bill are time bound with a sunset clause, Part 1 referred to herein i s a permanent legal framework.
The critical questions and issues, requiring urgent clarification in the above context are;
1. Is the Sustainable Development Bill now approved derived from the earlier draft titled “Development Special Provisions Bill”?
2. Will the bill once gazette be placed before the public for review, critique, debate and negotiation and reaching a meeting of minds?
3. If the response to 1 above is in the affirmative, will the Prime Minister publicly clarify;
- What if any will the role of the President be, in connection with policies, decisions and regulations made by the Minister under the Act?
- How will the views of the eminent panel be acted upon; will these views be transparently communicated apprising the public; and where the advice of the panel is overlooked, will the Minister publicly provide justifications for such action?
- Will the eminent panel be consulted before the Minister makes regulations?
- Will the officers of the PDO be public officials or be recruited from outside the public service?
- What role and how, will the President and other Cabinet Ministers participate in making policies on all subject; setting goals and targets in all sectors and public institutions; in preparing the macro-economic framework; coordinate implementation of government policies; recognizing cross cutting issues impacting on subjects assigned to other Ministers?
- What is the role of the Secretary of the Ministry in the PDO or will PM’s handpicked resource persons run it?
- Could it be that the former Governor of the Central Bank will hold a prominent position in the PDO?
- With the Minister, PDO and Committees in place, what roles are left for Ministers and their Chief Accounting Officers?
- With the Development Coordination and Monitoring Committee in place, the PDO takes supreme accountability in governance and even marginalizes the Finance Minister (as budget proposals also come within the Committee oversight)
- Will the PDO assisting Ministers in policy development, policy review, coordination and implementation and submitting the National Policy on a subject result in Ministers and Ministries being made subordinate to the PDO?
- Will the powers of the Minister to set in place, with cabinet and parliamentary approval, “A policy Framework for Economic Development” binding the Government, Boards of Ministers of the Provinces; with additional powers to issue strategic directions to assure implementation; and also to have empowerment to compel the Supreme Court to rule on statutes passed by Provincial Councils inconsistent with such policy framework be Constitutional; will its enactment, require special majority and/or approval by a referendum; and will it dilute the genuineness in upholding the principles of subsidiarity?
- Will similar issues of Constitutionality arise in regard to the declaration of areas within the control of Provincial councils as Economic Development areas, where operations, scale and activities will be as directed by the Minister?
It will be hard to imagine the Coalition partners, who will find their position in government and cabinet so significantly undermined and power centralized in the Prime Minister, will accept this bill as worthy of support without amendment! The centralization now attempted by this bill may even go beyond the centralized power enjoyed collectively by the previous President( who was also the Finance Minister), the Secretary to the Treasury, Governor of the Central Bank and Minister of Economic Affairs.
Supreme Power of Centralized Governance is what the Prime Minister is hoping for to solve the development challenges of this nation?
This policy and power concentration thunder bolt from the Prime Minister comes at a time the Civil society activists’ are canvassing for Constitutional change to make way for the under noted Reform;
“Defining the Role, Responsibility and Accountability of Chief Accounting Officers
There is a need to define by way of a Constitutional amendment, the role, responsibilities and accountability division between the head of department (the chief accounting officer) and the political head (called the ‘executive authority’ being either the Minister or the Deputy Minister). The executive authority is responsible for policy choices and outcomes, while the chief accounting officer implements the policy and achieves the outcomes by taking responsibility for delivering the outputs defined in the departmental budget. In this way, the Act empowers accounting officers by unambiguously conferring on them a clear set of responsibilities. The accounting officer prepares the departmental budget (specified in terms of measurable objectives) for the Minister to approve and present to the legislature for voting. The accounting officer is then responsible for implementing and managing the budget.”
If the Prime Minister proceeds on the planned lines and are not cautioned and restrained by his coterie of friends and party wise persons, he may have a fall like the Humpty Dumpty! And if so what happens to those in civil society, who installed this Yahapalanya Government in power?
Julampitiya Amare / July 22, 2016
Chandra Jayaratne how about sending one of the white vans to check mate Ranil.Where were you during the Rajafucksa Regime and what concrete steps did you take at that time regarding Mattala Airport, Hambantota Harbour, Sooriyawewa Stadium,Airlanka losses etc etc. [Edited out]
Nuwan / July 22, 2016
Ha…It looks like PM is planning to take the same “Highway” with his “eminent panel”, just as MR did with his eminent brother. Looks like Honorable other Ministers will go back to being light poles.
In fact, when JR came up with the idea of Exec presidency this is what he exactly provided for. Single source for swift policy decision making for matters that are important. I think this is not going to bog the government if anything, but speed up the projects now in limbo.
Dodo / July 24, 2016
Good one Chandra – keep it coming.. Mahendran needs to be investigated though the Fighting International Public Corruption The Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative was established in 2010 to curb high-level public corruption around the world.
Currently the US Attorney General is investigating the Malaysian PM. Sri Lanka should petition the Kleptocracy initiative to investigate Mahendran and the Jarapassa brothers.
Led by a team of Department of Justice prosecutors working in tandem with the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies, its mission is to forfeit the proceeds of corruption by foreign officials and, where appropriate, to use recovered assets to benefit the people who were harmed. Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption located in or laundered through the United States should contact federal law enforcement or send an e-mail to email@example.com. https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/us-seeks-to-recover-1-billion-in-largest-kleptocracy-case-to-date
Funlover / July 22, 2016
This comment is a blatant unwarranted destructive act of shooting the messenger. CT editor, when are you going to grow some grey matter?
ramona therese fernando / July 22, 2016
Hope these rules come to actualization, and civil society like will work unrelentingly towards these goals. Guess it’s not too late to put some control on ETCA, and to stop dead, the Tamil diaspora Port City deal.
ramona therese fernando / July 22, 2016
..civil society will work…*
Ranil Wijeyesekera / July 22, 2016
RW planning is good. Every one should have their appointees that will not sabotage. Among the SLFP in the cabinet there are saboteurs waiting to help MR and sabotage. RWs plans in his manifesto was copied by MR. Hard decisions must be made for development. Technology transfer and increase in productivity is the only answer for agriculture and industry and services. RW reads world event well. Do not be a cats paw for MR.
ramona therese fernando / July 23, 2016
Give us MR any day! RW’s reading of world events is superficial.
You say :”Technology transfer and increase in productivity is the only answer for agriculture and industry and services.”
That rhetoric belongs to the 1970’s. World is moving to a new order. RW is shamefully outdated.
Singapore is slickly attempting to convert our ancient forested land into their once-upon-a-time concrete mega-city. They have a new vision for themselves to merge cities with the greener pastures of the Malaysian peninsula.
Sri Lanka loses, yet again. It is the tenacity of Lankan patriots towards the motherland that will ensure our honorable survival.
Singaporean / July 23, 2016
Why? Are you in the Singapore planning team to know what they plan to do? You’re not even in the country and dont ever seem to have bothered to do anything for it so why don’t you keep your putrid opinions to yourself?
ramona therese fernando / July 23, 2016
Singapore is not sustainable per se. There are continually looking for avenues to survive. They will interlink with any country that is advantageous. But what is surprising is why they should build a port city in competition with their own.
thondamannay / July 22, 2016
Damn Julampitiya Amare…… This is Yahapalanaya, as such Mr. Chandra Jayaratne has every right to point out whatever necessary in the interest of the public that are not transparent.
I the public want him speak up as he has done to get a better insight to what Yahapalanaya is upto.
Rajafucsa time there was no Yahapalanaya. His mandate was not Yahapalanaya either.
Plato. / July 22, 2016
ramona therese fernando.
The Port City deal is by the Tamil diaspora eh?
You have also asked Young Chandra Jayaratne to move heaven and earth to put a stop to all these.
To do so he must play Rugger and not volleyball!
ramona therese fernando / July 22, 2016
It’s up to Sinhala civil society to take things on from now on, and they are a tenacious lot. Sri Lanka will retain her heritage in spite of the treachery. The only political person who can take this on is Rajapaksa, and he played Rugger.
gamini / July 23, 2016
There is a saying in Sinhalese that, “Pandithayata Eydande Yanda beha”. In governance certain decisions will have to be taken if the stock of life of the citizens are to be improved. If as Chandra Jayaratne says that RW should explain each and every detail to the masses, it will open up for debate and as we know the mindset of the saboteurs will definitely derail all plans. Chandra Jayaratne seems one such Pandithaya. As Julampitiye Amare has rightly questioned, where was he during MR’s time? Or is he eying any top post in the Govt? I remember Gamini Iriyagolle was a vociferous critic of the Mahaweli, but all fizzled out after he was absorbed to the Project. So was D L O S Mendis.
Jay / July 24, 2016
when the Bill is Gazetted , read it, then comment. Might be more useful then, instead of speculating !