From a Bill to an Act


by Shenali Boteju


Kofi Annan stated that ‘Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family’. This is where I tell you that being ignorant is no excuse and it’s always good to keep tabs on what might be brewing in the world beyond the confines of your bedroom.

By now, we’ve all heard about the Port City Project that is underway. But I would wager there are only a few who could tell me about the wheels that spin in order to bring the project to life.

It all starts with a ‘Bill.’

What is a Bill, you may ask? For all you laymen out there, a Bill is the inception of how every single law in this country, or any other country for that matter, comes into existence. Think of it this way; a Bill is similar to a draft in which all the rules of a new game have been scribbled on. Some of these rules might not be fair and every player wants to have a say on how they perceive these rules or on any changes or additional rules to be incorporated.

Who are the players? The people of the country are. However, considering that there are many Bills that are being drafted and because not all of us are equipped with knowledge on how the law and administration works, it would be extremely impractical and impossible to have every single individual of a country deliver their say on the rules of the ‘game’.

This is where the Parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers come into play. Whenever there is a necessity for a new law to be enacted, the Parliament is presented with a draft Bill. However, just because a Bill is presented in Parliament it doesn’t mean it’s automatically approved.

At the first stage, there will be a ‘First Reading’ at the Parliament where the title of the Bill is read for the first time by the Secretary-General.[1] Following this, there will be a ‘Second Reading’ of the Bill after a week. Within the week, if there is anything questionable about the proposed clauses in the Bill, a citizen can file a ‘Petition’ in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.[2] This entails the Judiciary reviewing the Bill to ensure that there are no clauses in the Bill which might be inconsistent with the Constitution of Sri Lanka that hinder or violate the sovereignty or fundamental rights of the people. Once the Bill is in review, the Second Reading of the Bill will not take place until the Supreme Court arrives at its decision. If the Supreme Court decides for any amendments to be made, they would direct the Parliament to either pass the Bill through special majority, a referendum, or to make the necessary changes.

At the Second Reading, a debate will take place between the Cabinet of Ministers which covers the general merits and principles of the Bill.[3] At the end of the Second Reading, the Bill will be passed by a vote. There can also be a committee stage reading which is also considered as a ‘Third Reading’.

At the final stage, a Bill will be approved and be passed as an Act upon the Speaker of the Parliament signing the Bill.

Hopefully, this might shed a little light on how the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill (or any other Bill for that matter) is morphed into an Act.

[1] Standing Order 50(2)

[2] Article 121 of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

[3] Standing Order 56