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Intimidatory posters in Colombo against Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu over Divinaguma bill

Posters appeared Colombo  and its suburbs this morning against Dr. P. Saravanamuttu, the executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a civil society think tank. The poster says: Lets us save the Divinaguma bill, which will build 1.5 million law income families form the Paikiasothy gang who are encouraging the division of the country. 

CPA filed a fundamental rights case  against the Bill at the Supreme Court and SC decided that bill needs that approval of all provincial councils as it violate the 13th Amendment. See below for the case details and editroral comment by Ceylon Today on the bill.

Civil society frowns on ‘Divineguma Bill’ in House

18th Aug 2912

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) yesterday expressed concern over the tabling of the “Divineguma Bill” in Parliament which, if enacted, will have serious implications for democracy, devolution and good governance in Sri Lanka. CPA and its Executive Director filed a petition on Friday in the Supreme Court (SC SD 3/2012) challenging the constitutionality of the Bill, according to a media statement.

CPA is concerned with both the process by which the Bill was introduced and its substantive provisions. Whilst the Bill has a wide reach, CPA highlights the two most important issues. The Bill, if enacted, provides wide powers to the Minister in charge of Economic Development to regulate and decide on a wide range of issues including subjects within the purview of the Provincial Councils, with limited checks and balances, it said.

“The Bill contains several clauses providing for the take-over of subjects provided in the Provincial Council list in the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, raising serious concerns not merely of centralisation and the consolidation of power, but also of the political will of the Government in terms of its pledges to implement to the full existing provisions in the Constitution on devolution”, the statement noted.

 Furthermore, the Bill if enacted will take away the ambit of oversight mechanisms, especially in the area of financial control and accountability. The Bill also contains provision for officers and servants of the Department established through the Bill to sign a declaration pledging secrecy related to work of the said Department, raising questions as to why such a provision should be included in respect of a Department that is meant to serve and be accountable to the people, it said.

“CPA holds that any Government institution including departments must be accountable to the legislature and be transparent in their functions especially in the area of finance. Thus, it is essential that all entities receiving and dealing with State funds adhere to the standards set in terms of Chapter XVII of the Constitution”.

 In addition to the range of substantive issues that are problematic, there are concerns about process. The lack of discussion and transparency prior to the tabling of the Bill and of any known consultation among communities and others who will be affected is extremely troubling. This is a general problem related to the law making process and particularly so in this case, given the implications of such a Bill. CPA hopes that the challenging of the Bill will raise public awareness and generate discussion and debate on it –processes that are paramount in a functioning democracy, the statement said.

Divinaguma bill: Misstep in governance

editorial, Ceylon Today

Date:2012-09-28 12:11:00
The government’s attempt to usurp the powers already devolved to the provinces was checkmated by the Supreme Court.  The Divi Neguma Bill envisages the consolidation of three entities – the Samurdhi Authority, the Udarata Development Authority and the Southern Development Authority – into one gigantic Government Department, controlled by hand-picked bureaucrats of the Minister who presently  happens to be Basil Rajapaksa, the President’s younger brother.

Public funds amounting to Rs 80 billion will come under the purview of the proposed Divi Neguma Department. That is an enormous amount of national treasure, and given the measures that the government has employed in order to secure electoral victories by way of cajoling the susceptible voter, it would be a logical tool to be employed in ensuring future election victories against a hapless Opposition.

In accordance with the Provincial Council Act of 1988, powers so vested in the Provincial Councils (PCs) cannot be divested without the express consent of the PCs. A fundamental misstep has been taken and the government once again has been proven incompetent in the conduct of basic affairs of governance.

The haste with which this Bill was listed in the Order Paper, could not escape the vigilance of the petitioners, Chamara Madduma Kaluge, General Secretary of the Samurdhi Development Officers’ Union and Wijitha Nanayakkara of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA). And ironically, the case for the CPA was argued by none other than Sumanthiran, the lawyer who is a TNA Parliamentarian. Sumanthiran is not only a brilliant parliamentary debater in the present Parliament; he is also undoubtedly one of the leading attorneys today.

The government to be challenged by, of all people, the General Secretary of the Union of the most pivotal entity that the Bill envisages to bring into its fold, is quite a serious scenario; his challenge must certainly be a topic of discussion at the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) strategy rooms.

At a time when more devolution of powers to the provinces should be the order, especially in the context of the thorny issue of the Tamils in the North, the government’s attempt to reverse the very process, is extremely dispiriting and even perplexing. It will be interesting to know how the government plans to reconcile this stance with the promises made to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission at international fora, including the Geneva Human Rights Council.

The government must stop this blatant practice of professional hoodwinking, and the Supreme Court must be commended for its impartial verdict on one of the very fundamental principles on which the devolution of powers to the provinces was founded on.

However, the withdrawal of the Bill from the Order Paper in Parliament might not spell finality to this irrational approach of the regime to governance. They will come again, after some arm-twisting of the Members of all Provincial Councils, except in the North where there is no Provincial Council established and in the East where the government might find a majority of the Council voting against such a Bill in light of the vehement stance adopted by the rank and file members of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. The authenticity of the SLMC’s clamour for devolution of power will be tested in the Eastern Provincial Council when the Divi Neguma Bill is presented in the Province. 

One is invariably reminded of the flaw in the ‘Death Penalty Bill’ that the then government presented in the aftermath of assassination of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. The Privy Council let Buddharakkhitha and Jayewardene off the hangman’s noose, as the government of the day, in their hurry to present the Bill, had overlooked the imposition of the capital punishment for those found guilty of conspiracy to murder.   

The government certainly would try its best to get the Divi Neguma Bill passed in Parliament. They will certainly leave no stone unturned. However, a vigilant public backed by an independent judiciary, might, in spite of an impotent Opposition, help to shape the coming events.

One can learn from history but those who fail to do so, will be condemned to relive it.


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