In an unprecedented turn of events, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance, has brought to light a violation of parliamentary privileges, which is a matter of grave concern for the integrity of our democratic institutions. Today, on October 6, 2023, Dr. Harsha de Silva made a special statement in Parliament addressing this issue.
Dr. Harsha de Silva lodged a complaint regarding the breach of privilege under the Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act, pertaining to a letter dated October 4, 2023. This letter, authored by Gayani Jayaratne, Secretary of the Sri Lanka Cosmetic Manufacturers Association, raised concerns about the handling of Extraordinary Gazette No. 2336/69, dated June 16, 2023.
In addition, this letter incorrectly mentioned that Gazette No. 2336/63, dated June 16, 2023, related to land rights, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Land Commissioner General’s office and is not relevant to our committee’s responsibilities.
Furthermore, this letter incorrectly cites number 2336/69, dated June 16, 2023, pertaining to the Extraordinary Gazette that concerns the Committee on Public Finance, regarding matters of state revenue. However, it should be noted that Gazette number 2336/72, dated June 16, 2023, which concerns the palm oil industry and the revision of tariff rates, is the relevant document I wish to draw attention to.
Gazette number 2336/72 pertains to changes in customs duties on palm oil fatty acids and tariff structure revisions, and it was presented to Parliament on September 19, 2023. On the same day, September 19, 2023, the Committee engaged with relevant ministries to discuss the contents of this Gazette. Due to insufficient information available at that time, the Committee recommended a detailed report from the Ministry of Industry, which was subsequently submitted on September 26, 2023. The Ministry of Finance was also asked to provide additional clarification.
In light of conflicting information with the government’s tax policy, the committee recommended a reconsideration of the Gazette on October 10, 2023, as conveyed to the concerned parties. It is important to note that such deliberations are collective decisions made by the Committee on Public Finance, as the Committee exercises its duty to thoroughly examine matters related to public finances.
The Committee on Public Finance is committed to upholding the principles of parliamentary democracy and operates independently. It does not merely serve as a rubber stamp for government initiatives, as it exercises its constitutional role to provide careful scrutiny and recommendations on matters of public finance, as part of checks and balances.
The allegations made in the aforementioned letter have not been referred to the Committee on Public Finance, and attempts to contact the association through the provided phone number and official website have been unsuccessful. Additionally, some media outlets have misinterpreted the situation, causing further misinformation.
According to the Constitution of Sri Lanka, the Parliament has full control over public finances, and therefore, it is the Parliament that makes appropriate recommendations in that regard, as set out in Standing Order 121. The Committee on Public Finance plays a vital role in this process. Accordingly, in order to maintain a protective and balanced condition, a member of the Opposition has been given its chairmanship. The Parliament decides on matters under consideration by the Parliamentary Affairs Committee, and thus, there is absolutely no influence on the proceedings of the Parliament from any outside group.
In this regard, one website has accused Harsha de Silva as follows: “Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance, Harsha de Silva, on behalf of multinational companies, has neglected his responsibilities…the loss to the government is Rs. 2000 million.” Copies of these accusations are submitted to this Honorable Assembly.
In light of these circumstances, Dr. Harsha de Silva, as Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance, formally notified the House that the privileges of Parliament and MPs have been violated. Dr. Harsha de Silva requests the Honorable Speaker to take the necessary actions to safeguard these privileges and maintain the integrity of our parliamentary system.