Transparency with regard to Law
importance of recent legislation to change the electoral system for
Local Government elections was such that it clearly made sense on all
sides to refrain from trying to improve the content of the Bill, but
instead to concentrate on making it law. The government has after all
agreed to further amendments by mutual consent later on, including
increasing the proportion of those to be elected on a list basis to 40
Though the whole country wanted change in the perverse system of
preferences that J R Jayewardene introduced, the only people who had
benefited from it, namely legislators elected under that system, were
those who had to make the changes, and one cannot expect modern day
turkeys, unlike those in the 1977 Parliament who allowed Jayewardene to
destroy the power of Parliament, to vote for Christmas.
An obvious lunacy is the system of ensuring that no one can readily
understand laws, least of all the legislators who have to vote them into
existence. This is done by only introducing amendments to laws,
including to laws that have already been amended. As I said in the Note
I prepared for the minister who asked about errors in the Bill -
Confusion - amending with no clarity as to what is being amended
We must stop the practice of continuing to have texts that simply
mention amendments. This became a habit in the days of typewriters. With
computers, we should simply repeal the old Bill and introduce the new
one. A schedule could be provided to indicate changes.
The present practice is very confusing, and makes a mockery of
legislators, since they cannot be expected to understand easily what
they are voting for. It also introduces ambiguities, and will provide a
field day for lawyers to argue, when the laws of the land should be
clear and understandable by all.
As I noted 18 months ago when the Local Authorities Elections Bill
first came up, I wrote then that ‘in addition to other problems, the
draft amendments….. confused the date of nominations with the date on
which nominations had been called.
The Inland Revenue (Amendment) Act was even more confusing. I gave up
trying to understand it when I came to Clause 13, which was intended to
amend Section 23 of the 2006 Act, This Section, as amended by Act No 9
of 2008, was to be ‘further amended by the substitution in subsection
(1), for the words “the first investment, an associate company.”, of the
following words and figures:-“The first investment, an associate
Casting the vote. File photo
Provided further that “Where any venture capital company had not made
any investment prior to April 1, 2011 for the purchase of ordinary
shares in any project referred to in paragraph (a), (b), or (c) of
subsection (1), such company shall not be entitled to any tax exemption
under this section.”.
I went through both the 2006 Act and the 2008 Amendments, and nowhere
could I find in Section 23 the words ‘first investment’ or ‘an associate
company’. It is possible that I was singularly dense, but no one else I
consulted could find these either.
The problem was further compounded when we were given Amendments to
be moved at the Committee Stage of the Bill. An Amendment was proposed
with regard to Clause 13 of the Amendments in the Bill before us, to
‘delete lines from 7 to 11 (both inclusive) and substitute the
by Act No 9 of 2008, is hereby further amended in subsection (1) of
that section by the substitution in the further proviso of that
subsection, for the words “be three years.”, of the following:-
“be three years:”.
I think this meant that a full stop was to be changed to a colon. It
struck me as bizarre that so much energy should have been spent on this,
but more seriously, even if that change was essential, the effect of
working through an amendment to an amendment was to leave the section I
have highlighted on its own, without the clause to which the original
proposed amendment had attached it.
I have requested that the Legal Draughtsman’s Department be asked
what precisely was intended (but this was not done.) …… The solution to
all this is very simple, but I suspect we will be told that tradition
forbids change. The fact that laws should be easily understood, both by
those who pass them, and those who have to use them, will count for
little, in comparison with the commitment to an archaic tradition of
those who live by interpreting the law.