Life after Parliament prorogation | Sunday Observer

Life after Parliament prorogation

Shortly before President Maithripala Sirisena left for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, on April 12 he issued an order proroguing Parliament, ensuring that the 225-member national legislature could not sit or conduct business until its new session recommences on May 8.

Reasons for the order to suspend Parliament sittings were never provided by the Presidential Media Division, but aides said, the move was aimed at preventing major political manoeuvering in the House while President Sirisena was overseas, after 16 SLFP Ministers quit the Government after voting in favour of the No Confidence Motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on April 4. The SLFP 16 have threatened to sit in Opposition and collaborate with the Mahinda Rajapaksa led Joint Opposition going forward. The move makes the SLFP position in the Government tenuous, with only 25 out of the 41 members who decided to back President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe’s National Unity coalition remaining within the administration. In any event, only two sittings of Parliament were scheduled for the remainder of the month following the New Year holidays, on the 19 and 23 of April.

When Parliament reconvenes on May 8, President Maithripala Sirisena is expected to make the Government’s Policy Statement or Throne Speech.

During a prorogation, no motions or questions can be tabled in Parliament and the order by the President brings all parliamentary business to a halt. The prorogation means all existing Parliament committees will lapse and new committees will have to be appointed when Parliament is reconvened. The prorogation of the Parliament came as a surprise, as only hours earlier the President had sworn-in four Cabinet Ministers to fill vacancies created by the defection of 16 SLFP Parliamentarians to the Opposition, including six Cabinet Ministers besides State and Deputy Ministers. A full Cabinet reshuffle is expected to be carried out on April 23. Chief of Staff and Deputy Secretary General of Parliament, Neil Iddawala told the Sunday Observer that according to the past practice and convention in Parliament a prorogation is a temporary recess of Parliament.

However, a prorogation should not extend to a period of more than two months and is done by Presidential Proclamation, Iddawela said. According to the Deputy Secretary General of Parliament, even though there are no sittings of the House, the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, the Deputy Chairman of Committees and the Members of Parliament retain their Parliamentary Membership though they do not attend meetings.

“But, all current Business before the House and all proceedings pending at the time of prorogation are quashed except impeachments, if any, as an effect of the prorogation,” he explained. Iddawala further said a prorogation does not put an end to pending business. Therefore, a pending matter may be proceeded with from that stage onwards after the commencement of the new session. Similarly, any business pending before a Committee could continue during the new session. At the beginning of a new session, all items of business in the Order Paper need to be introduced if it is desired to continue with them. Therefore, all Bills need to be reintroduced.

The total discretionary power of the President to prorogue Parliament at any time was challenged by the Speaker in his ruling of November 3, 2003 where it is stated that Parliament should not be prorogued against its will and the Presidential power should not be abused for partisan political purposes.

Iddawela added that at the beginning of a new session, Consultative Committees and the Select Committees would need to be reconstituted. The Committee on High Posts could continue to function even during a prorogation. He said, in terms of Article 70(4) of the Constitution, all matters brought before Parliament that have not been dealt with at the time of prorogation of Parliament may proceed during the next Session.