A political expert contacted for an explanation on how the Bill to establish a private sector Employees’ Pension Scheme could go through parliament so urgently. He insisted no “Urgent Bill” could be brought up for debate in parliament without first being presented in the Supreme Courts. This insistence took our mind back to an anecdote quite popular among LSSP “old timers”. It goes that Comrade Colvin, approached by a party worker, to have his legal assistance to make a statement at a police station, had been told, the police have no legal right to assault any person.
He should therefore go make the statement, Colvin had said, while the party worker kept saying, it would not happen that way. With Colvin insisting, the man walked into the police station, only to be assaulted first before the statement was recorded.
“The Pensions Scheme Bill, sneaked into parliament” said some media reports, last Sunday, implying it had not gone through the due constitutional process. It had not, despite the law. The Bill was presented by the Prime Minister on Friday, April 8 afternoon, neither as an “urgent bill” nor as one listed in the “Order Paper”, informed sources say. But the bumpkins in opposition (not the TNA in this), did not know, or wasn’t concerned how bills could be taken up for business in parliament that way. Thus they did not object to the Bill being presented in parliament, which now allows the Rajapaksa regime to write it into law, on April 27th next.
The bumpkins they are, they were not concerned how law is made in this country. There is parliamentary procedure defined by the constitution on how a bill could be brought to parliament. That is one way in safeguarding citizens and their rights. Parliament is allowed to take up any bill for discussion with “urgency” on national interest, but that has a different constitutional procedure. This is basic knowledge any candidate should acquire before they decide to contest elections or at least immediately after they are elected to parliament, whatever the political shade.
Article 78 (1) of the Constitution says, [quote] “Every Bill shall be published in the Gazette at least seven days before it is placed on the Order Paper of Parliament.” [unquote] This gives the public, including MPs, an opportunity to check the proposed bill if it contravenes or infringes on any rights, or has any adverse public impact. If it does, any citizen could go to courts for remedial action, before it is presented in parliament. The court has 21 working days, within which it should deliver its determination(s) to the Speaker. If within 21 days, the Speaker hears nothing from the courts, he could assume there is no court restrictions or recommendations and proceed to have the bill debated in parliament.
This Pension Scheme Bill presented was not gazetted on any day before April 1, which is one week as required, before April 8. Any ordinary bill gazetted, gets prior consent from all political party leaders to go into the Order Paper. With no such gazetting and no party leaders’ consent, it could not have been in the Order Paper that day. Also, the UNP and the JVP should have known what the Order Paper was for April 8, at least when they sat in the House. The Bill had been printed in a rush at the Government Printing Press the previous evening, to be presented in parliament the next afternoon.
This news, the UNP and the JVP should have had, if they are into politics, seriously. If they are committed, they could have objected, when the Bill was presented in parliament by the PM. They proved they are not.
It is also public knowledge, the Bill was not sent to the Supreme Court as an “urgent” bill. There is a constitutional requirement for the SC to entertain a bill, as an urgent bill. Its not that any bill could be sent to the Supreme Court as “urgent”, for parliament to take it up at their comfort. Thus Article 122 (1) of the Constitution lays down that [quote] “In the case of a Bill which is, in the view of the Cabinet of Ministers, urgent in the national interest, and bears an endorsement to that effect under the hand of the Secretary to the Cabinet – (a) the provisions of Article 78 (1) and of Article 121, shall subject to the provisions of paragraph (2) of this Article, have no application ; (b) the President shall by a written reference addressed to the Chief Justice, require the special determination of the Supreme Court as to whether the Bill or any provision thereof is inconsistent with the Constitution. A copy of such reference shall at the same time be delivered to the Speaker ; (c) the Supreme Court shall make its determination within twenty-four hours (or such longer period not exceeding three days as the President may specify) of the assembling of the Court, and shall communicate its determination only to the President and the Speaker.” [unquote]
That incidentally was the constitutional path the Rajapaksa regime adopted for the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Opposition to this Amendment the government foresaw, was allowed only 24 hours to make their reservations in the SC. That is some democracy, though.
When neither happens, but the Bill is brought to parliament while the whole Opposition simply stays deaf, dumb and blind, what people’s sovereignty there could be, in this parliament ? The right of the people to be represented in parliament only gathers meaning, when they are represented by honest and committed MPs. It is an uncompromising right of all MPs to safeguard people’s rights from being axed by obnoxious laws brought to parliament. That is more the responsibility of the Opposition MPs and that is also how a democratic society earns its due respect and meaning.
It was that responsibility the Opposition MPs forfeited completely on April 8. Its not that they had not forfeited that responsibility before. The UNP did it differently when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was brought to parliament, by running away. It was then the TNA that stood its ground to analyse the Amendment for public interest and to explain what the Rajapaksa regime was in fact going to have for themselves. This private sector Employees’ Pension Scheme Bill faced no less a let down by the Opposition in the South. It is a Bill that drastically affects at least two million active accounts in the Central Bank administered EPF that has 12.7 million employee accounts, with a fund of over Rs.752 billion. And that’s no chicken feed, for a regime that plunders and loots. It is a Bill that completely ignored the Labour Department and was formulated and presented through the Finance Ministry under the President, who is the Finance Minister.
It goes beyond the cabinet approval that said it is a pension scheme, only for those who wish to become members. The bill is mandatory for all employees in the EPF. It provides no legal right to the spouse and only 60 per cent to children under 18 years or, are disabled. It is a Bill that would throw out over 400,000 young women from employment in the FTZ and BOI approved projects with no right to any post service compensation, for most leave their jobs after six or seven years. This Bill has it that no questioning of its management and administration costs are allowed, with a clause that says no legal interventions could be made on any issue related to this Bill once it is enforced, other than with the written consent of the Labour Commissioner.
It is a “daylight robbery” Bill, the Opposition did not care to take any notice of. Does the Opposition know what damage they have already done to at least two million employees and their families ? These MPs would walk in on April 27 at the last minute to say “no” or walk away to “abstain” from voting. They would then go to “No. 30” and the JVP to the Nippon Hotel to tell the media why they were so stupid.
For the public the issue remains, why each of them should be funded by a couple of million rupees each year with subsidised food, sitting allowances, fuel, free telephones, free stationary, paid staff, expenses on state security and then a pensionable salary. Should such opposition bumpkins be supported by public money, for them to squabble among each other for their party privileges that has little relevance if any, for the people? What does the public get in return, for footing these larger than life expenses?
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