20th AMENDMENT – IS IT A STORM IN A TEA CUP?
Posted on October 2nd, 2020

Janaki Chandraratna

I like to thank Mr. C. A. Chandraperuma for his article ‘Closure Scrutiny of Criticisms Against 20A’, Sunday Island, 20th Sept. 2020, for clarifying some of the controversies relating to 20th Amendment. In fact much of the unwanted speculation and criticisms could have been avoided if the Govt., had informed at least the Cabinet, let alone the constituents, the reasons underpinning 20th Amendment at a much earlier date, as the right to information and sovereignty of the people are fundamental to any democracy.

Governments are generally formed and un-formed at the will of the people and the will of the people is largely dependent on the information at their disposal. Misinformation and non-information can ruin the fortunes of many a government. The Govt. needs to respect the cliché that ‘Information is Power’ and take necessary steps to provide relevant information to the public in a timely manner except for national security reasons. Needless to say that Sri Lankans have vivid memories of 2015 experience where the govt. in power was defeated, in part, due to the slow reaction to possible alleged misinformation pertaining to fraud and corruption against the previous govt. ranks.

Currently the govt. is fortunate to have a near 2/3 majority in parliament, after an extraordinary campaign by patriots including religious leaders, who believed in the security and sovereignty of the country. It is important that the Govt. retains this confidence and not lull into a false sense of security and allow conjecture and speculation rule the day, as it had done in the last few weeks for not responding to the criticisms on 20th Amendment. I hope the fears of the public would be allayed during the respective parliamentary debate.

In terms of the opinions expressed by Mr. Chandraperuma, in the said article, I wish to differ on the questions of appointment of auditors to govt. owned companies by the Minister and the provision of dual citizens to contest parliamentary elections for the following reasons.

Financial or management auditing of a govt. department or a govt. enterprise needs to be an independent function without any intervention by management. The appointment of Audit firms and Auditors need to be under the control of the Auditor General. As a Manager of a State public enterprise in Australia, I am fully aware of the widespread ligation and class actions against private sector audit firms, including the Big 4 firms with regard to private sector enterprises and corporations. The appointment of independent Audit service within the govt. sector is mainly to avoid the potential for conflicts of interest and lack of independence needed for the function. For example, Mr. Chandraperuma writes, Both before and after the 19th Amendment, the Minister in charge of the subject may appoint an audit firm to audit the accounts of a government owned company. In doing so, s/he is required to obtain the concurrence of the Minister of finance, and to consult the Auditor General. After an audit company has been appointed to audit the accounts of a mostly government owned company, the Auditor General can write to that audit company and make them perform their duties under the direction of the Auditor General. Nothing has changed in this regard before and after the 19th Amendment”.

The fact that there is management intervention in the appointment of Auditors compromises the authority of the Auditor General, to have an independent control over the audit function, even-though the audit has to be conducted under his direction. The audit sample testing undertaken and the conclusions drawn can be biased in favour of the enterprise at least to retain future contracts, even if there were no fraudulent intentions. The fact that this provision is in the 19th amendment does not recompense for the independence of the audit function. The audit function should therefore needs be under the control of the Auditor General.

The argument as of dual citizens is equally compelling as citizenship in an adopted country is generally conditional on an allegiance to that country. Many countries like Australia have banned dual citizens entering their respective parliaments as well as the public service. The provision for dual citizens to be elected as parliamentarians has the potential risk for conflicts of interest as interested parties in adopted countries can influence them to be supportive of their respective agendas in times of need. This indeed is a risk that needs to be avoided, when taking into consideration the extent of foreign interference Sri Lanka has had in its internal politics during the yahapalana regime.

Janaki Chandraratna

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