The government’s effort to introduce a special piece of legislation—Development (Special Provisions) Act has been heavily criticized by Joint Opposition MPs as well as by some of the SLFP members in the government. Already the draft bill has been defeated by the Uva Provincial Council with the possibility of several more PCs following suit.
The main allegation has been that the proposed law will confer too much power to the Prime Minister and to another minister who is directly involved in management of the economy. Provincial Councils are opposing it on the basis it encroaches upon the powers already devolved to them.
Whether such a law would confer draconian powers to the said individuals or not is a matter that has to be decided by the two main political parties in the joint government. If one side proposes too much power, it is up to the other party to propose suitable amendments. This has been the normal style of the Yahapalana government, the best example being the recent budget.
The important issue here is whether the country needs a special legal arrangement which gives sufficient power to the ministers dealing with economic development and investment to take decisions that are needed for speedy development of the country.
It goes without saying that development process already delayed by the thirt-year-conflict has to be expedited if we are to get out of the current debt burdens and move forward along with other fast developing nations in the region. With pathetically slow process of approvals and obstacles placed by various agencies both at central and provincial level and possibility of law suits, it is difficult to have any rapid development without the backing of some special legislation.
These obstacles were minimized under the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa administration as he had almost dictatorial powers backed by two thirds majority in parliament which he had gathered later by getting people to crossover. Military victory over the LTTE also placed him in an unquestionable position and all that helped him to place economic development ministry under his brother Basil Rajapaksa and the system could work without any special legislative enactment to support the ministry.
However, now we have a different situation with people enjoying all sorts of democratic freedoms which often enable them to resort to protest campaigns or activate legal processes through the courts system that could delay large scale investment projects. As a democracy it is a healthy situation, but in practical terms such a situation makes it difficult for the government to implement large development projects expeditiously.
These reasons have necessitated the introduction of special legislation giving sufficient powers to those handling economic planning and development enabling them to achieve high economic growth within relatively a short period. Such a mechanism will minimize administrative delays and expedite the approval process of foreign direct investments into the country removing obstacles that have affected country’s economic development for long.
Despite disagreement on the proposed draft legislation both main political parties seem to agree on the need for some arrangement to expedite the development process.
Therefore, the best solution would be to work out some solution at the highest levels of the two parties and pass the legislation with suitable amendments in the interest of the country’s economy.