The DECLARATION OF ASSETS AND LIABILITIES LAW was passed in August 1975. It was amended subsequently by the DECLARATION OF ASSETS AND LIABILITIES (AMENDMENT) ACT No. 74 OF 1988. The scope of this Law is such that it applies to a vast range of persons of whom Members of Parliament are mentioned first. In this connection, CIMOGG recalls that it wrote to the Secretary-General of Parliament, the Speaker and the Commissioner of Elections over a period of time to ascertain how many MPs had failed to declare their assets and liabilities, either at the time of nomination or later. There was no danger of a breach of secrecy because we did not ask to look at the declarations themselves but only wished to have the names of those who had failed to conform to this statutory requirement. The Secretary-General directed us to write to the Speaker, who, however, did not favor us with a reply. The Commissioner of Elections, on the contrary, promptly gave us the names of the MPs who had furnished their declarations at the time they submitted their nomination papers. There were only seven in his list!
Now, Section 3 of the aforesaid Law states that A… a person to whom this Law applies referred to in paragraph (dc) of sub-section (1) of Section 2 shall be deemed to have complied with the provisions of this sub-section if he makes a declaration of his assets and liabilities as at the date of his nomination as a candidate for election under any of the Acts referred to in that paragraph on the date of such nomination or before he functions, or sits or votes, as President, a Member of Parliament …@. Notwithstanding the clear intention of the words which have been italicized in this excerpt, CIMOGG believes that there is a high probability that there are at least a few MPs who would have functioned, sat or voted before they submitted their declarations, if they did indeed eventually comply with this Law. Thus all their functioning, sitting and voting until such time as they finally submitted their declarations would have been illegal acts. These MPs may still be in breach of the Law but, in the light of the current Speaker=s silence, we may have to wait awhile to learn the truth.
The two paragraphs above (now extracted and edited for brevity) appeared in early April 2006 in both the ISLAND and the DAILY MIRROR in an article titled THE DECLARATION OF ASSETS AND LIABILITIES LAW. The Speaker at the time was Hon W.J.M.Lokubandara.
On 4 August 2010 we wrote (by registered post) to the present Speaker, Hon Chamal Rajapakse, as follows: “The members of the Executive Committee and Advisory Council of CIMOGG have been greatly heartened to observe the laudable efforts made by you to get MPs to act with dignity and restraint in keeping with the status of Parliament as the body empowered to exercise the Legislative powers of the People. We are also gratified to note the importance that you attach to the need for Ministers to answer questions in a serious and timely manner, without indulging in insubstantial, offensive or trivial banter. There has been a promising improvement in the tone of Parliamentary proceedings since you assumed the office of Speaker and we hope that the President, the Cabinet and Parliament will support you in your endeavors to improve further the quality of Parliamentary output. …… As far as we are aware, the law relating to the Declaration of Assets & Liabilities specifies that no one who is required to make such a declaration can act in the office to which he/she has been elected or appointed until he/she submits the stipulated declaration to the relevant person appointed to receive it. In other words, if an MP had not submitted his/her declaration to the Commissioner of Elections at the time of filing his/her nomination or to the Speaker thereafter, he/she would not be entitled to sit in Parliament and participate in its affairs. At this particular point of time, we are not interested in ascertaining which MPs have submitted their declarations and what they contain. We are concerned only to know how many MPs have failed to submit their declarations within the stipulated 3 months but have “functioned” as MPs unlawfully, and whether you would be taking steps to examine the need to expunge their contributions, void the votes cast by them, and recover all remuneration or other payments made to them during the hiatus. ……. We look forward to your kind and early reply.”
A reminder was sent (also by registered post) on 17 August 2010 but we have had neither a reply nor even a pro forma acknowledgment yet.
In the light of the lack of reply from both Speakers, the present and the immediate past, we conclude, not unreasonably, that there must be so many MPs who have not submitted their Declarations of Assets & Liabilities that the Speakers have been too embarrassed to disclose the truth. If the number of Government MPs who have thus disqualified themselves from sitting or voting in Parliament exceeds 10 or so, the it (the Government) will not have a lawful two-thirds majority in Parliament on 8 September 2010 to get the 18th Amendment passed.
Now we need to examine another aspect of this subject. On 12 October 2007, THE ISLAND published a CIMOGG article titled BILLS AND URGENT BILLS. The first few lines of that article state: “Looking back at the passing of so-called ‘urgent Bills’ and other less urgent ones by Parliament over the past three decades, we find it difficult to think of a single Bill which was genuinely in need of rapid processing. Virtually all past Bills have dealt with matters which had been known for years and years, and obviously did not become urgent all of a sudden”. In the third paragraph, we pointed out that “ … haste could be tolerated where the situation demands immediate emergency action, such a declaration of war or a totally unforeseen major catastrophe”.
The government and, in particular, the President and Minister G.L.Peiris, both of whom voted for the 17th Amendment in 2001, claim that it has flaws. They would certainly have discovered these defects at the latest by 2005 because the violation of the 17th Amendment by President Chandrika Kumaratunga previously was greatly extended in scope soon after the election of President Rajapakse for his first term. How is it then that the government found it necessary to keep secret for so long their proposals for doing away with the 17th Amendment? Would it not have been the responsible thing to do to have prepared a White Paper at least a year ago setting out the government’s proposals and opening them out immediately for the widest possible public discussion? In any event, as it has taken the President and Minister Peiris over 5 years to study the 17th Amendment and come out with an alternative, they were morally bound to give Parliament and the public at least 6 months to look into the flaws in the present proposals, without classifying them as “urgent”?
Minister Peiris’s recent statement on the subject seems to indicate that he had been aware, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Year 2001 observations, that the 17th Amendment was conceptually flawed? If so, why did he vote for it in 2001? What is there to convince us that he has does not have similar reservations about the 18th Amendment, which, we presume, he will make known to us only 8 years from now?
The most laughable part of the government’s claim of urgency arises from the fact that President Rajapakse’s second term will only end 2016. What therefore is the unholy urgency now, in 2010 itself, to fix his right to a third or fourth or fifth term without giving the People, say, 6 months’ time to study the relevant provisions?
We have pointed out before that, although no legal rights or obligations are conferred or imposed by Chapter VI of the Constitution (namely, the Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties), its Article 27(4) states that Athe State shall strengthen and broaden the democratic structure of government and the democratic rights of the People … by affording all possible opportunities to the People to participate at every level in … government@. There is, therefore, at least a powerful moral obligation on our legislators to allow a reasonable opportunity to the People, who are the ultimate repositories of national sovereignty, to have their say on legislation which might well affect them adversely rather than stampede them into supporting, by default, an ignoble political agenda. Minister Peiris would undoubtedly have expounded at length on this subject to his students before 1994 when he, sadly, seems to have lost sight of the straight and narrow path that we all thought he would tread in politics, considering the high regard in which he was held before then in academia.