Sri Lanka is the first country in the world to provide opportunities for youth representatives to engage with Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committees.
– We are the ones who provided the change that the youth demanded
– Fulfill your duties today and talk about Sri Lanka with pride in another 25 years
The President requests the youth
President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that in 25 years when the country has reached the path of success, the youth could proudly claim that, “It was the step taken by us today that led to the system change which paved the way for the country’s success.”
He made this statement while addressing the orientation workshop for youth representatives of the Sectoral oversight Committees of Parliament held at Waters Edge Hotel, Battaramulla (13).
The President mentioned that the opportunity has been provided to the youth to contribute to the journey towards a developed Sri Lanka in 2048. He noted that providing the youth representatives the chance to participate in the Sectoral Oversight Committees of the Parliament is a novel approach and emphasized that it has not yet been done in any country in the world.
The President also expressed his confidence that this is the system change that the youth demanded and that they will take maximum advantage of this opportunity.
The Orientation workshop was organized by the Parliament of Sri Lanka with the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa also expressed their views during the occasion.
Following the publication of a newspaper advertisement, these youth representatives were chosen for the Sectoral Oversight Committees related to 17 subject areas established in the Parliament. Accordingly, among the applications received by the Secretary General of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, nearly 550 eligible youth representatives between 18-35 years were invited to this workshop.
These Sectoral Oversight Committees function with the participation of Parliamentarians representing all political parties in the Parliament. According to the provisions of the amended standing orders passed by the Parliament, the Chairperson of a Committee can call five youth representatives each to assist the Committees regarding the inquiries led by these Committees, so it is expected that the youth representatives will be selected in relation to each Committee.
Speaking further President Ranil Wickremesinghe said;
Today there are 535 youth Parliamentary representatives present on this occasion. Today you all come here to participate in the functions of the Parliament; not as an observer, but as young representatives in the Parliamentary Committees. I think this has happened for the first time in the world.
Only the MPs can participate in a Parliamentary Committee, a US Senate Committee, or a Congressional Committee. But under the standing orders made by our Prime Minister, Speaker and Leader of the Opposition, you have been given the opportunity to participate as youth representatives in the Parliamentary Committees.
As mentioned by the Prime Minister, apart from the report of the members of the Committee, you too get the opportunity to include your views in it. We only see debates and Q&A sessions inside the Parliamentary Chamber. But today the function of any Parliament is done through Committees. There are many Committees such as Oversight Committees and Finance Committees.
If we approve funds for certain work, there are Oversight Committees to look into the spending of those funds. There are Oversight Committees to look into the implementation of law and there are also a number of Committees like the Committee on Public Finance. Therefore, you get the opportunity to participate in all activities in the Parliament other than speaking, voting and attending the Chamber. This has happened for the first time in the world.
When we started this program, some said that this is useless and a waste of time. Some had a big question as to what this was. But a group of youth submitted their names fearlessly. We have selected the best 535 of them for this purpose.
After all of you participate in this program and make this program a success, we can select the others for the next program. Although selecting youth representatives was not a problem this time, it will become a big challenge in the future as we expect more applications for the next program. It is on these programs that we should focus our attention on.
You have got this opportunity today. Only a few people in history got this opportunity. I was lucky enough to get a Deputy Minister position in Parliament at the age of 28. Before that, as I came to the Parliament with then the Leader of Opposition Mr. Jayawardene, I was able to know how the Parliament functioned. But many do not get that opportunity. Today you have got that opportunity. So I would like to say to you, to get the full advantage of it.
How did this system come about? Last year there was a big confusion in this country. It was at that time that I discussed with the former Speaker Mr. Karu Jayasuriya as to how we could answer this issue.
There was no answer to confusions before this. All 225 members of the Parliament were asked to be thrown into the Diyawanna Lake. Doing so will only harm the environment. Anyway, other Party Secretaries will appoint another 225 here. So it is not really a solution. Burning houses or surrounding the Parliament and trying to capture it, are not solutions either.
There were issues then. Why did we go bankrupt? What happened to our economy? Those questions have to be answered. When I was a child, Sri Lanka was second only to Japan. But where are we today? These issues cannot be solved like this.
Accordingly, Mr. Karu Jayasuriya and I discussed together how we can change this system. He was the one who later called me and said that we will include youth representatives in the Oversight Committees and other Committees. I told him to give me a report about it and I gave it to the Speaker. Whether you take the party leaders or the Cabinet, now all of you are included in this. We should especially thank him for submitting this proposal.
I don’t think anyone else will have the opportunity you have. When the economy had collapsed, the country had gone bankrupt and when everyone thinks that this system cannot be continued, a major restructuring is being carried out. Our economy is being restructured, costs are being cut, and new systems are on the way. Now the fuel is distributed based on price formulas. At the same time, many of our corporations have to be restructured. We are thinking of a new education system.
In particular, the Government has planned to bring 05 laws on climate change and several laws on women’s rights. There are many other new laws underway. Therefore you will get the opportunity to discuss these and express your views.
You will get to know how the money is spent, why the money is allocated to certain subjects and why money is not allocated to other subjects. There is currently a Research Department in Parliament to help you. In addition, we will establish a new office called the Parliamentary Budget Office. Support can be obtained from other Ministries. We have planned to convert the J. R. Jayawardene Centre into a political education institution. Then you will get the opportunity to take full advantage of this.
As members of the Parliament, as Chairpersons, we must do that work. We never turned this into a conflict of opinion in the Parliament Chamber. In some cases, there were conflicts between parties and MPs. The Chairpersons and Councilors of this Oversight Committees have a duty to hold those meetings, as well as participate in them and to discuss not only the daily affairs but important matters.
I suggest to the Speaker that these Committees should meet every month. If the Committee meetings are not held, the Chairperson should be inquired. If MPs do not attend the meetings, it should be looked into. If they fail to attend for two months, change them. Otherwise, the opportunities available to this group will be lost.
Take full advantage of this opportunity. This is a historic moment. For the first time, a Parliament appoints representatives like this. This has not happened anywhere. Our Parliament is also an old Parliament. Its history dates back to 1835. How many Parliaments are older than ours? They are the Parliaments in UK, USA, Denmark and Switzerland.
Various programs have been carried out in this Parliament. Today there is a new system. The Commonwealth Parliamentary group can also be informed about this initiative and they can also be invited to come. And I will also inform the International Parliamentary Union. We can get support from the UK Parliament and US Congress to continue this program. Those responsibilities have been entrusted to you.
Members of Parliament and youth representatives should join together and carry out this work. We will not end this work here.
How can we become a developed country? We cannot always remain to be a developing country. We want a better future. For that, there should be a good economy and the law should be implemented. Give your views on it.
In particular, Mr. Karu Jayasuriya is bringing the Jana Sabha Act to establish a Jana Sabha in every Grama Niladhari division. That would be another special opportunity for youth to participate. The selections for the youth Parliament have now become very limited. The National Youth Service Council is discussing with all the youth organizations at divisional secretariat levels about these selections.
There are a number of other new measures. This system should be changed. It can be done in accordance with the constitution. Instead of waiting for the next Parliament to be appointed, now is the opportunity to get together and do this work. So let’s accept this challenge. Let’s provide successful solutions. In another 25 years, all of you can say that Sri Lanka has become a developed country now, because of the steps we had taken today.
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena
As we enter a special phase in our country’s development, I am reminded of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s pledge to fulfil a task that we have now been able to implement. Today, more than 500 youth representatives are present for 17 Sectoral Oversight Committees, ushering in a new era of participatory democracy. It is both our responsibility to create a new political chapter through this approach.
Reflecting on the past, it’s been 60 years since the youth were given the right to vote. Before that, we did not have a voice in shaping our country’s future. Unfortunately, due to the improper utilization of our country’s resources, we’ve witnessed a huge wastage over the years.
Without proper supervision, our country’s resources were not being utilized effectively. This is where the contribution of educated and intelligent young people is critical, not only to discuss proposals but to implement them. If Parliament’s Standing Orders have necessary deficiencies, they should be open to discussion. Only then can this program be successful in establishing the country’s law, creating political stability, and moving the country forward with a new economy.
I see it as a national task to provide clear participation in building the future of Sri Lanka. The United Nations Development Program has been providing great support to our country, making it possible to bring the results of new participation. We have many challenges to overcome, but with enthusiasm, commitment, and determination, we can overcome them.
We need to embark on a new journey through creativity, not just focus on the challenges ahead. We must also think about the young generation who drop out of education and fail in general and advanced-level studies. We need to think about this problem anew. The President is taking steps to provide them with the necessary training and technical knowledge. Let’s shift from traditional thinking and make the opinions held by Oversight Committees and the suggestions of the youth a great strength for our country’s progress.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena
As I sit here in Parliament, I feel proud to be part of a turning point in our country’s political history. This is the first time that such a program has been implemented, and it’s an honor to be part of it. The President’s idea of using youth representation for this purpose is a testament to his belief that the ideas and suggestions of the youth are necessary for the governance of the country. He established the Youth Parliament and the National Youth Service Council in the distant past to further this belief. The General Secretary of the Parliament also played a key role in making these activities successful.
Our country has faced some unfortunate eras, including two youth rebellions and a thirty-year war. We’ve experimented with various solutions to restore the affairs of the country, and recently, we faced a big crisis. Some people thought of fighting and burning houses as a solution, but it only led to more problems. It’s after such a difficult time that we’ve come to where we are today.
I have been appointed as a guest representative of the Sectoral Committees, which strictly supervise every act and law passed in the country. Deficiencies are discussed before being adopted in Parliament and it’s the responsibility of the youth to provide an intellectual dialogue based on their studies. It’s expected that the future program of the country will be prepared, corrected, and well-implemented based on these discussions.
The opinions of all these people are important for our country. We’ve faced rebellions and wars, and our economy has collapsed. But we have strength, we have a valuable environment, and we have intelligent people. We should not kneel before another country. It’s time for us to come together and work towards a better future for Sri Lanka.
Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa
It is often seen politics there is a huge gap between declaratory policy and action policy. Many are talking of ‘walk the talk’. I believe that today will be a turning point in our country if what has been announced is implemented, the beginning is optimistic, and if this is implemented in a cultured and an efficient manner.
As the opposition, we see this process in a positive aspect. As an opposition, even if the shortcomings of the Government are pointed out, in a cultured political system, when something correct, optimistic, substantive and positive happens, it is impossible to look away without praising it. One must have the guts to appreciate good as good.
This decision taken by the President and all of you is very optimistic. If something good happens to the country in the process of recovering the bankrupt Sri Lanka from that bankruptcy, it should be appreciated. The tripartite Governance of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary is recognized in the democratic system. There should be distribution of powers. Protection and balance between these three institutions is very important. Today, 530 youth representatives participate in 17 Sectoral Oversight Committees in this country to properly implement that protection and balance process.
If this action is taken as a ranking when comparing the steps taken today with other countries in the world, Sri Lanka is in the first place. This can be called the best process in the world that listens to the youth and gives the youth participation in the democratic process. It is a matter of great joy. There have been many youth riots in this country. Even if we don’t recall that unpleasant past, we should learn from it. The time has arrived to come together for the common duty of the country, even though we are on various contradictions on policies, theories and philosophies. It should add value to the country and not to share positions. Unconditional support is given to continue the optimal steps taken.
Ms. Azusa Kubota Resident Representative for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka
I’m pleased and deeply humbled to be part of the orientation program for youth representatives of the Sectoral Oversight Committees in more than 60 countries. UNDP supports parliamentary strengthening initiatives because we firmly believe in the important role played by the legislature in fostering democracy and promoting sustainable and inclusive development.
Our global collaboration with the parliaments around the world focuses on strengthening all core functions of the Parliament. These functions include lawmaking, oversight, representation and budget scrutiny. While doing so, we hope to further enhance the inclusivity and representation of the peoples. We promote a greater oversight of transparent governance processes and to improve the effectiveness of its functioning. The current program we have with the Parliament of Sri Lanka is one of such flagship partnerships in the Asia Pacific region.
For over a decade, UNDP has been supporting Sri Lanka’s parliament to strengthen responsiveness, inclusiveness and representation. Its lawmaking processes. For example, working together with our fellow parliamentary development partners. We have continued to strengthen its public relations and communication functions. One concrete result is inclusion of hearing impaired segments of the society in the Parliament process through the provision of real time sign language interpretation services.
In an ideal world, the look of the parliaments on the world should reflect the diversity of the society they represent. However, we know societal barriers and systemic factors often make equal and inclusive representation in its follower’s forms impractical or impossible in many countries. Attaining an equal representation of women in the parliament continues to face notable challenges. Here in Sri Lanka, it remains as a little over 5% of the seats represented by women.
Bringing about changes will require bold policies, such as the introduction of a quota and long term transformation in systems and norms. Therefore, innovative mechanisms such as the one being launched today are catalytic in fulfilling the existing gaps in representation and inclusivity, at least as a short term measure. We in UNDP greatly value the importance of youth representation and participation in the work of the Parliament.
All religious leaders led by the Maha Sangharatna and Ministers, Parliamentary Secretary General Dhammika Dasanayake, Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapakse, Deputy Chairman of the Committee MP Angajan Ramanathan, Chairman of the “Parliamentary Caucus for Youth” Hesha Withanage and a group of invited guests and youth representatives attended the event.