SJB concerned about 20A reviving Urgent Bills, curtailing audit powers

Monday, 14 September 2020 02:31 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SJB Parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne

By Asiri Fernando

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) yesterday expressed concern regarding the provision for Urgent Bills in the proposed 20th Amendment, and the erosion of the public’s right to challenge the legality of upcoming legislation. 

The party also said that the proposed 20th Amendment has stripped away the power to audit Government agencies, and probe corruption and malpractice. 

SJB Parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne told the media yesterday that the provisions for Urgent Bills to be rushed through Parliament with little oversight and debate was undemocratic. 

He stated that it was one of the dangers of the proposed 20th Amendment which had received less attention, and called on all political parties and the public to be aware of its repercussions.  

“We want to inform the people of this hidden danger in the proposed 20th Amendment. In the proposed Amendment, ‘Urgent Bills’ can be brought to Parliament and voted on within one day, only the President has a right to seek the Supreme Court’s opinion on the ‘Urgent Bill’, and the Court is only given 24 hours to do so. How can this be right?” Wickramaratne questioned. 

The Opposition MP stated that at present, any citizen could take concerns regarding a proposed bill to the Supreme Court, as a there was a two-week period before a Bill was taken up in Parliament after it has been gazetted. Further time is permitted until Parliament has completed the first reading. 

“However, all of that will be done away with the 20th Amendment, the public will not be able to raise concerns about a ‘Urgent Bill’, and the Judiciary will be given only 24 hours to give their opinion on the matter.” he explained, pointing out that the possibility of a citizen to seek post-enactment judicial review will also be removed if the 20th Amendment is introduced.  

“Of course, under the 20A, the President can give more time for the Court to deliver a decision; nevertheless the 20A states it should be given in 24 hours. We all know the law is a complicated subject, if the draft Bill is sent to courts by 6pm today, the judges must gather, assess the legality of the Bill, and give their opinion by 6pm tomorrow. The Bill can be tabled in Parliament the next day, and voted on by that evening. Is this fair? And the public will not have a right to raise questions about the bill,” Wickramaratne argued. 

The former State Minister of Finance stressed the power to audit Government finances, funds, and public institutions should remain independent of the executive. “However, the National Audit Service Commission has been revoked by the proposed 20th Amendment. The independence the auditor has been stripped completely. 

“We know there won’t be a Constitutional Council under the 20A, all the power to appoint persons to all the Commissions, including the Auditor General, will be centralised with the President,” Wickramaratne said. He cautioned that it is not the character of the person who is in the seat of power that will ensure democracy, justice, and equality, but a robust system with check and balances.  

The SJB said they will continue to educate the public about their concerns on the proposed 20th Amendment, and called on all like-minded political parties and civil society groups to join them in resisting the Bill.