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Super minister, Development Bill and the second economic revolution


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 11 January 2017 00:00


dft-15-6Those who oppose this Bill, provincial councils and the parties which govern those provincial councils, should keep in mind that they do not have any moral authority to oppose further devolution of power to the provinces under the new constitution

The proposed new constitution will come into the limelight in near future. The main components of it would be the changes proposed to the presidential system and the changes proposed in respect of devolution of power.

In the meantime, the Development (Special Provisions) Bill came into the limelight. It was proposed that two specific ministers would get special powers in the areas of development and international trade. The reason given was the need of a rapid economic development.

The United Front Government which came into power in 1970 decided to abolish the Senate to fast-track the legislation proposed by the Government and it created a political authority, to fast-track the decisions taken by the Government, through which the authority of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service was undermined. 

The UNP Government which came into power in 1977 introduced a new Constitution in 1978 to implement the economic reforms through establishing open economy which was the first economic revolution of the country. There was a strong opposition to open economy from the cultural and political ideologies prevalent at that time. Sri Lanka Freedom Party which opposed to the open economy continued to maintain the same with variations of open economy with human face and open economy with nationalistic face.

The only solution to the ethnic problem, as a result of which the country faced 30-year-long bloody war, was the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution. The basis of this amendment was the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, which was signed by using executive power of the president irrespective of the fact that the accord was opposed by virtually the whole country including the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Security of the United National Party.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party which opposed the Provincial Councils and boycotted the Provincial Council elections now holds power in all the provincial councils other than the councils of the north and east.76

Executive powers

J.R Jayewardene, R. Premadasa, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa used the executive powers for the development of the country and also against the accepted democratic norms. These misuses came to the zenith during the tenure of former President Rajapaksa. He came into power not only once but twice promising to abolish the executive presidency but quite contrary to his promises during his second term he strengthened it by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This disgraceful act became quite prominent because of the behaviour of the incumbent President who worked tirelessly to abolish his own powers which is unprecedented by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

Therefore there was a dire necessity to arrest the misuse of power. Through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution the power of the president to appoint personnel to key commissions such as Elections Commission, Public Service Commission and National Police Commission are now vested with the Constitutional Council. Hence the independence of those commissions is now established. That was the public expectation. However by curtailing the power of the political authority the efficiency of the Public Service also could be affected. 

We have gone a full circle and came back to the situation before the establishment of the political authority in 1970. In other words we now face the full-scale bureaucracy which came into light in the background of strengthening of democratic structures. 

Economic development

On the other hand there are proposals to abolish the executive presidency in the new constitution. An open economy is now well established in the country. War is over and peace is on the way. Hence the country needs to have a leap forward in the economic front. This is going to be the second economic revolution of the country. Development (Special Provisions) Bill should be considered in this background. 

This Act is needed for a focused agenda for a rapid economic development. Those who criticise the Bill bring forward two issues. One is to assign the powers of the provincial councils to a super minister and the other is to assign the power of the president and certain other ministers to this super minister.

By operation of this Act it was proposed that there should be two agencies for development and international trade and an office for policy development. 

The Policy Development Office should develop national policy and national policy framework on any subject including economic development in consultation with the Regional Development Boards and the Board on Rural Modernisation which will be described later in this article. The minister should get the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers for those policies.

Among the objectives of the Development Agency, there are important matters in economic development such as modernising the economy, enabling Sri Lankan goods to enter the global value chain and compete in the global market, enhancing the competitiveness of Sri Lankan goods and services, generating employment and improving the balance of trade. This agency would be under the purview of the Minister of Economic Affairs.

Mode of operation

The Development Agency would operate as a private sector company under the General Affairs Council which would be responsible for the management and administration of the affairs of the Agency. In addition to that there would be a managing director who would be the chief executive officer. The Minister of Economic Affairs has the authority to appoint them.

Development Agency has the authority to give directions to several Government institutions, namely Board of Investment, Sri Lanka Export Development Board, Information and Communication Technology Agency, Civil Aviation Authority, Sri Lanka Ports Authority, National Water Supply and Drainage Board and Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.

When the Minister of Economic Affairs intends to carry out any development activity in an area coming under a Provincial Council, he may consult the relevant Chief Minister. It would be more appropriate if it is mandatory in the part of the Minister. 

Where the Minister of Economic Affairs gives any direction in any relevant matter, the subject of which has been assigned to another minister, the Minister of Economic Affairs shall do so in consultation with such other Minister.

In addition to that the island was divided into five areas of Southern, Wayamba, Central, Eastern and Northern and created five Regional Development Boards. The Western Province was excluded since it came under the Megapolis development.

The administration and management of the affairs of the Agency for International Trade is vested in a Board consisting of high officials such as Director General of Commerce, The Controller of Imports and Exports and the Chairman of Export Development Board. The private sector is represented only by the Joint Apparel Exporters Federation and Joint Apparel Exporters Association. No other export association is represented there, which is a drawback. 

The objectives of this agency include to promote and develop international trade in Sri Lanka and to facilitate the growth of exports of Sri Lankan products and services. Therefore, more participation of private sector representatives is essential. This Board is coming under the purview of the Minister of International Trade.

The Board on Rural Modernisation comprises the President, Prime Minister, several subject ministers, chief ministers and several others. This board is above the Ministers of Economic Affairs and International Trade, agencies and the boards described above. This board is having the authority to give guidelines to the Agency for Development in respect of the coordination of agency and the Government and provincial administration. 

A three-year term is specified for all affairs other than for the Policy Development Office. No action or prosecution shall be initiated against the agencies, boards, other institutions under the Act and any member or official of such agencies, boards or institutions. This is a breach of checks and balances operate under the constitution.

W.A. Wijewardena has written an article to Daily FT (http://www.ft.lk/article/588569/Formalising-economic-management-through-Development-Bill--Another-communication-failure-by-the-Unity-Government-) describing the mechanism of the Development (Special Provisions) Bill. He pointed out that even now there is a similar mechanism in operation under the Prime Minister which makes him a so-called super minister.

At present ministries and the institutions under those ministries operates in silos. There is no proper coordination among those ministries and institutions. By this Bill which is proposed to operate for three years, there is a mechanism introduced for the Government and the Provincial councils to work together for the economic development of the country and a mechanism introduced for coordination of several ministries and the institutions coming under those ministries for the economic development and promoting international trade. Also, there is an efficient administrative structure like in the private sector to implement the same. 

The power vested with the minister/s is for a specific task and for a specific period. This power is not like the power of the president which can be imposed on every one until his term ends. In the first economic revolution, presidential power was used. Now on the eve of the proposed abolition of the executive presidency the country needs this type of Act to implement the second economic revolution.

Criticism

This Bill was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers. However, some ministers who were silent at the Cabinet meeting now criticise this Bill. Also, all the Provincial Councils rejected this Bill. It is understood when the Northern Provincial Council disapproves this Bill since it wants more power devolved to the periphery. Other than the north and east, in all other provincial councils the Sri Lanka Freedom Party has the power. Their stance in devolving power is not clear. In the Report of the Sub-Committee on Centre – Periphery Relations of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly proposed that the power of the governors should be reduced and the elected representatives should be more empowered.

Those who oppose this Bill, provincial councils and the parties which govern those provincial councils, should clearly keep in their minds that they do not have any moral authority to oppose further devolution of power to the provinces under the new constitution. Also, it would be more appropriate if six provincial councils, including the Western Provincial Council, can be created in line with the districts allocated to Regional Development Boards.

(The writer can be reached via harsha.gunasena@gmail.com.)


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