Oversight Committees
Posted on February 26th, 2016

Courtesy The Island

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya announced in Parliament on Thursday the names of the MPs appointed to four out of 16 Sectoral Oversight Committees besides the Committee on Public Finance. Among them are a considerable number of Opposition parliamentarians.

The UNP-led coalition, while trolling for votes prior to the last general election, pledged to turn the entire Parliament into a government as it were. We objected to that political project which would have sounded the death knell for a key organ of democracy––the Opposition. Our position has been that there should be a robust Opposition as a vital counterbalance to the party/coalition in power. A government sans a formidable countervailing force is like a runaway fuel train. But, blindly opposing everything that the ruling party does ought not to be the Opposition’s raison d’etre; it should oppose and support government moves rationally.

The government should be commended for its far-sighted decision to give each and every MP the opportunity to shoulder parliamentary responsibilities through the oversight committees. In handling vociferous Opposition MPs given to mischief, the government seems to have learnt from schoolteachers who get troublemakers in their classes to act responsibly by appointing them monitors!

Regrettably, about 140 out of 225 members in the last Parliament had failed the GCE A/L examination and another 90 of them the GCE O/L. Most of those members have been re-elected and, therefore, it can be presumed that the present situation is more or less the same. So, one should not be faulted for doubting the ability of such legislators to carry out their fiduciary duties and legislative responsibilities properly.

The much-maligned framers of the present Constitution apparently realized the need for having, in Parliament, experts in various fields. Most people abhor electoral contests characterised by colossal expenditure, mudslinging, violence and numerous unethical practices. The JRJ government introduced the National List (NL) which, if properly used, can enable eminent persons to become MPs without hassle and make available their services to the country. Unfortunately, this mechanism continues to be blatantly abused to catapult defeated candidates to Parliament against the people’s will.

The JVP’s decision to appoint former Auditor General S. C. Mayadunne to Parliament via the NL warmed the cockles of many a heart. We thought it had set an example to other political parties and Parliament would gain from his appointment. Alas, no sooner had he been sworn in than he resigned to enable a defeated JVP heavyweight to enter Parliament. Many benefits would have accrued to the legislature from Mayadunne’s expertise and experience if he had remained an MP. Moreover, his presence would have helped Parliament shore up its crumbling image and restore its dignity to some extent.

If the political parties stop abusing the NL, appoint only eminent persons as MPs through it and allow them to act according to their conscience both Parliament and the country will gain tremendously. Imagine what an asset Mayadunne would have been to the country as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, Committee on the Public Enterprises and the Committee on Public Finance. There are a handful of experts who have entered Parliament via the NL, but the need is for all appointed MPs to be eminent persons.

The newly set up Sectoral Oversight Committees are said to have the authority to examine all bills, resolutions, treaties, reports etc before they are considered by Parliament. It is hoped that they will have the independence to handle the matters presented to them without being railroaded into rubber-stamping decisions by the powers that be. Proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.

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