Triumph for Democracy: Supreme Court Safeguards Constitutional Integrity in Public Finance Management Bill

By Jihan Hameed
The Attorney General's role in presenting bills to Parliament is crucial as it represents the first line of filtering potential constitutional inconsistencies. The fact that these issues were identified and challenged in court is a testament to the vigilance required to prevent dangerous legislative enactments. Had the public not challenged these provisions, the Bill could have been enacted without addressing these critical issues, posing serious risks to the constitutional framework and public interest.

In a landmark decision that underscores the judiciary's role in upholding the Constitution, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has delivered a significant verdict on the Public Finance Management Bill, striking down several provisions for their inconsistency with the Constitution. This ruling is a clear victory for the people of Sri Lanka, affirming the necessity for legislative scrutiny and adherence to constitutional principles.

Nationalists and vigilant citizens have once again demonstrated their crucial role in safeguarding the nation's legislative integrity. Their scrutiny and proactive stance against suspicious bills ensure that government actions remain transparent and accountable. This challenge to the Public Finance Management Bill is a prime example of the essential role public vigilance plays in a healthy democracy.

Key elements of the Court's judgment are summarized as follows:

1. *Exclusion of Financial Institutions*:

   The exclusion of financial institutions, including insurance and lending companies, from the Bill's provisions was deemed arbitrary and inconsistent with Articles 12(1) and 148 of the Constitution. The Court mandated that the definition of 'State-Owned Enterprises' in Clause 71 must be amended for the Bill to pass with a special majority.

2. *Judicial Service Definition*:

   Clause 3(2)(b)(iv) and the definition of 'members of the judicial service' were found to be inconsistent with Articles 4(c), 3, 12(1), and 108. Amendments were required to rectify these inconsistencies.

3. *Clause 5(2)(f)*:

   This clause violated Articles 12(1), 43(1), and 52(2). The Court stipulated that it could only be passed with a special majority, subject to necessary amendments.

4. *National Procurement Commission Guidelines*:

   Clauses 32(3) and 32(4) were found to be inconsistent with various constitutional articles. The Court required these clauses to be amended to allow the National Procurement Commission to publish specific guidelines as necessary.

5. *Treasury Single Account*:

   Clause 34(2) was inconsistent with Article 149. It needed to be amended to establish a treasury single account for consolidated management of public funds.

6. *Supervision of Statutory Funds*:

   Clause 39(1) was inconsistent with Article 12(1) and required amendments to clarify the Treasury Secretary's supervisory role over statutory funds.

7. *Cadre Management Responsibilities*:

   Clause 63 violated multiple constitutional articles. Amendments were necessary to align cadre management responsibilities with constitutional provisions.

8. *Treasury Directives*:

   Clause 68 was inconsistent with Article 12(1) and required amendments to clarify the Treasury Secretary's directive authority.

9. *Overall Constitutionality*:

   Clause 69 and the definition of 'State-Owned Enterprise' were inconsistent with several constitutional articles. These provisions required significant amendments for the Bill to pass with a special majority and potentially a Referendum.

This victory is a testament to the importance of judicial oversight and public vigilance. Special appreciation is extended to the petitioners' legal counsel, Dharshana Weraduwage, who played a pivotal role in challenging the Bill. Their efforts have ensured that the Bill aligns with constitutional principles, safeguarding the rights and interests of the Sri Lankan people.

This decision not only reinforces the importance of constitutional compliance in legislative processes but also highlights the critical role of public participation in upholding democratic values. The vigilant nationalist spirit has once again proven to be the guardian of our democracy, ensuring that suspicious bills are thoroughly examined and challenged for the greater good of the nation.


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