Editorial- island.lk

October 11, 2017 at 11:44 pm

NAB: Akka or Nangi?

The National Audit Bill (NAB) is reported to have passed muster with the Cabinet at long last; it is expected to be presented to Parliament shortly. We hope this is not another instance of nangi pennala akka deema or ‘showing a young man an attractive woman and getting him to marry her not-so-pretty elder sister’. The government is quite adept at playing this trick on the electorate. The recent passage of the provincial council polls bill is a case in point. What was finally ratified was vastly different from the one the House saw initially.

One of the main election promises of the present administration was to usher in good governance. It has to make good on that pledge. There is no universally accepted definition of good governance, but the general consensus is that it entails legitimacy, derived from the consent of the governed, accountability, transparency, competence and respect for the rule of law and human rights. No government which lacks these key attributes can claim to practise yahapalanaya or good governance.

 

Meaningful and inclusive political participation is the cornerstone of good governance. Therefore, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration ought not to deprive the people, in whom sovereignty resides, of their right to exercise their franchise and have a say in lawmaking. They must be able to seek judicial review of any Bill or even legislation passed by Parliament.

 

Those ensconced in power at present were critical of the so-called urgent bills while they were in the Opposition. They raked the Rajapaksa government over the coals for moving such bills. They were right in raising objections because urgent bills foreclose judicial review of proposed laws. But, unfortunately, they have adopted the despicable method of smuggling in draconian provisions into seemingly innocent Bills at committee stages and securing their passage. The original Bill the government manipulated to circumvent a Supreme Court decision and postpone PC polls a few weeks ago was a very progressive one seeking to safeguard the rights of women through increased female participation at the provincial council level. What the government unflinchingly did to it for expediency in the end can be likened to brainwashing an innocent woman and turning her into a suicide bomber to blow up a courthouse.

 

It behoves the government to ensure that there will be adequate time and space for a substantive public debate on the NAB and to be amenable to amendments thereto without steamrollering it through Parliament. The NAB must not be a fait accompli.

 

The NAB was heavily amended at first so much so that it looked like what is called a Christmas tree bill, which has more amendments than the original text. What is expected to be presented to Parliament is said to be a further watered down version of the amended NAB. The Bill, in its current form, is said to be without any provision for the Auditor General to impose personal financial responsibility or surcharges on individuals who cause financial losses to state entities through fraud, direct willful negligence, misappropriation or corruption. This power is currently vested in secretaries to ministries and the government claims it has decided to do away with that provision due to pressure from bureaucrats. The truth is otherwise. The yahapalana leaders are wary of granting the Auditor General that power as the present incumbent is fiercely independent and is sure to exercise it in dealing with those who have caused losses to the state under the present regime. The government may not mind bureaucrats wielding that power as most of them are malleable and are at the beck and call of the ruling party politicians.

 

The ratification of the NAB is a prerequisite for making the National Audit Commission (NAC) work. Therefore, it has to be a solid piece of legislation. The need for cranking up pressure on the government to ensure that the laws to be made through the NAB will be robust enough to help battle corruption and other such malpractices the public sector is plagued with cannot be overemphasised. But, sadly, the problem is that the kept Opposition toes the government line and the Joint Opposition strikes deals with the powers that be.

 

All signs are that the NAC will end up being another toothless outfit and people will have to depend on intrepid individuals like the current Auditor General instead of institutional safeguards to protect their interests. Such public officials are rare. There’s the rub.