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An Opposition offensive in the House


Ranil, Wimal and Jeyaraj

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti Our Lobby Correspondent

Policies change, people die and history tends to repeat itself. All of the above apply to the Sri Lankan legislature like everywhere else but deaths are more regular while policy shifts are frequent. Last week was no different.

A quiet week dedicated to passing a series of tax bills and expressing the House' collective grief over the passing away of two legislators, Ameer Ismail and Thyagarajah Maheswaran, the week's moot point was the non appointment of the Constitutional Council with the UNP and the JVP breathing fire, demanding its immediate reconstitution.

The plight of the CC went beyond academic interest or as a good governance concern with Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe alleging 'foul play' in a fiery outburst last Thursday (21).

Breach of right

Wickremesinghe accused that the Constitutional Council issue had gone far beyond a need to depoliticise public institutions with top public officials being transferred out by the President creating havoc.

"There is so much of drama today that our right to appoint representatives to the CC has been severely breached. When delays are caused, those of us who have nominated our representatives have our rights violated and the spirit in which the CC was created is forgotten," he said.

Now to top it all, he observed, Director General, Permanent Commission Investigating Allegations of Bribery and Corruption, Piyasena Ranasinghe has also been transferred.

"This is incredible. He was chief investigating officer looking into the controversial MiG deal and the COPE report forwarded by parliament. A month ago, the OIC of the Assets Investigation Branch of the Commission, C.A. Premashantha was also transferred," he charged.

Wickremesinghe's attack did not end there. He accused the government of willfully delaying the reconstitution of the CC. Besides the sudden transfers, another controversy was the ongoing debate about Former Auditor General S.C. Mayadunne's willingness to be appointed to the CC. "This impinges upon our right to have nominees appointed. So I called him and asked whether he was reluctant to be appointed to the CC. He said no," Wickremesinghe told the House.

Foul move

Before he could sit down, up jumped UNP senior John Amaratunga. Arms flaying, he thundered that under Section 60(A) of the Bribery Act, the President was empowered only to appoint the Bribery Commissioner and not to transfer or dismiss him. "Whoever gave him powers to do politics like this?  Naturally, we assume that the transfer was effected due to this government's fear of its corruption coming out when the good officer completes the MiG investigation. If you have nothing to fear, why the sudden transfer just as he begins to investigate the tainted deal?" thundered Amaratunga.

The CC issue was uppermost on the minds of the legislators it appeared, with the JVP's Wimal Weerawansa following the UNPers to take up the same cause.

The JVP Group Leader fired further salvos calling the transfer of the Bribery Commissioner  a 'deed most foul.' "We understand the political desperation. We realise your haste to appoint favourites to the Constitutional Council and through that, to wield control over the independent commissions. These are desperate and ugly tactics of an unpopular government with much to hide. We understand all that," he sniped.

Weerawansa thundered that the government should not for a moment think that it was free to make public service appointments the way it wished. "This government has sought a mandate to defeat terrorism. To do that, democratic institutions must function. We won't allow this kind of terror to prevail upon us. This is an ugly game to politicise the public service and further ruin it and we shall do our best to defeat such dictatorial and politically driven efforts," breathed he.

Special statement

It was in similar vein that Weerawansa made an exhaustive special statement on Tuesday (19) morning when he simply threatened to take the battle to the streets if the government fought shy of constituting the CC and sought to divert attention by entering a huge debate on the suitability of S.C. Mayadunne to be appointed to the same as nominee of the minority parties.

He promised not to allow a dictatorship to blossom by crushing democratic institutions to ground using the present situation.

"What we need is strengthening of democratic institutions to prevent paving the way for a dictatorship. The President had used the non-functional state of the Constitutional Council to make appointments according to his whims and fancies. The need is to depoliticise public institutions but look at the ugly drama that is unfolding. We pioneered the 17th Amendment through the 'probationary government' and we won't let it die," he vowed.

He said: "The President has unabashedly used the non existence of the CC to make ad hoc appointments. Now hairs are being split over Mayadunne's nomination. If he is unsuitable, then let the courts decide. Not the House and not someone else," he said.

Govt. on the defensive

 This little speech put the government on the defensive with Chief Government Whip, often batting round the wicket for the government's sake, this time slipping into the role of defence counsel and wielding a defensive bat.

His argument was that Mayadunne's nomination did not find favour due to his engagement as a consultant to the two parliamentary watchdog committees, COPE and COPA.

What is more, the Treasury was paying him an allowance, he said, only to have the entire opposition joining forces to throatily accuse the government of trying to prevent the distinguished public servant from being appointed.

"It is unnecessary to debate Mayadunne's suitability. If he has a guarantee of being appointed, then he will relinquish the present post. If there is difficulty in quitting fast, we can collectively provide for him to do so within a period of time without causing the work he has undertaken to get affected," proposed Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Ask and find out

Minister Fernandopulle's position was that as a consultant to the two parliamentary committees, Mayadunne did not wish to resign his post, and did not appear to accept both Weerawansa's and Wickremesinghe's assurances that the nominee was in agreement to quit his present post when appointed to the CC.

At this point, JVP's Wimal Weerawansa intervened to add that such arguments would only complicate matters. "The matter can be easily settled if the President were to summon Mr. Mayadunne and ask him whether he is willing to given up his consultancy or not. All this is based on a presumption that he is unwilling to let go of the current post whereas he has told me that he would quit," he added.

 It was TNA Parliamentary Group Leader, R. Sampanthan who pointed out that all this battling only achieved one purpose- - delaying the CC from being appointed.  "We seem to be losing the real argument. The need is not to debate but to make the CC functional," said he, with quiet emphasis.

JVP's India bashing

The JVP's duplicitous stance on neighbouring India often defies logic and reason. Not because we love India so much but because the JVP has indeed benefited from India, particularly when its current Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe was fleeing for dear life in the height of the '89 insurgency. In that sense, the JVP sure owes the neighbour one big thank you.

The recent India bashing by none other than JVP Leader Somawansa Amarasinghe at two public meetings came under attack on Thursday afternoon by the UNP when several finance bills were being taken up for debate.

Amidst the economic jargon, there was UNP's Ravi Karunanayake rapping JVP's knuckles, pledging the Marxists would not be allowed to take the country down the precipice again by whipping up anti Indian sentiments and to campaign a boycott on Indian goods.

"You did this once and ruined this country. You destroyed our opportunity to annihilate the LTTE with the help of the IPKF. You insulted the friendly forces as 'monkey troops.' The present UNP has maintained good links with India and does not wish Sri Lanka to experience any erosion in relations with the neighbour. We will do our utmost to prevent that," breathed Karunanayake, promising any anti Indian campaign by the JVP would be simply nipped in the bud.


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