Amidst mounting critical backlash from Provincial Councils, coalition Government partners and the Opposition over the proposed Development (Special Provisions) Bill, the Government confirmed that the Bill would be amended based on the concerns raised.
The controversial draft bill which has been forwarded supposedly for the purpose of facilitating the formulation of a national policy on all subjects, including the accelerating of economic development, has especially come under heavy flak. Critics state that the bill is proposed for the purported creation of a super minister upon whom excessive powers would be centralized. The charge has since been vehemently denied by Government stalwarts.
The Government reasons the Bill, through the establishment of a new institution, will help attract foreign direct investment, promote tourism and revitalize the industrial sector. It has been reported that the Cabinet meeting in October at which the Bill had been approved had been chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena.
Previously Western Province Chief Minister Isura Devapriya had stated that Provincial Councils with a Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) stronghold (seven Councils in total) would defeat the Bill. The Uva Provincial Council has already defeated the Bill.
Deputy Minister of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media and Member of the United National Party, Karunarathna Paranawithana acknowledged the Bill would be amended as there were questions regarding its impact on the Constitution, the 13th Amendment in particular.
If certain sections of the Bill threaten the powers afforded to and vested with the periphery, the Provincial Councils, those will be amended, he further explained.
Paranawithana noted that the Government would accept suggestions for reform put forward in this regard by Provincial Councils (especially Chief Ministers), coalition Government partner – the SLFP and parties in the Opposition such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in order to achieve a definite consensus, and also the Supreme Court, in a manner akin to the process followed with regard to the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
When queried as to whether the amendments proffered once incorporated in to the Bill would fundamentally alter the nature of the Bill and thereby defeat the intent of the architects of the Bill, he expressed confidence that such would definitely not take place as the Bill was for the development of the entire country and not solely for a particular area.
“With regard to the alleged super minister, there is nothing like that at all in this Bill. Even with the RTI Act, we did not tell the Provincial Councils that they must agree with what we proposed. We acknowledged and accepted their suggestions. The same goes with regard to the Supreme Court. We will act accordingly. It will be done. We will reach an amicable settlement,” Paranawithana emphasized. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was scheduled to meet with the Chief Ministers of the Provinces on Friday 23 to discuss the matter.