By Dilrukshi Handunnetti Our Lobby
The legislature is a place where members
agree to disagree, but Sri Lanka does not
only boast of the world's largest cabinet
but also a legislature where only dissention
Now there is a government that is suddenly
over enthusiastic about the 13th Amendment
but stoically refusing to appoint the
Constitutional Council as per provisions of
the 17th Amendment and treading dangerous
The opposition UNP of course wants both the
13th and 17th Amendments to be implemented
to the letter. The JVP passionately opposes
the 13th and threatens drastic action over
the non-implementation of the 17th. The TNA
swears that the 13th Amendment was a
draconian piece of legislation that violated
Tamil rights then as it does now while the
JHU soft peddles both.
It is this mass of contradictions that
dominated last week's debate with parties
bitterly clashing on the Constitutional
Council issue. Guns fired early Tuesday with
JVP's Anura Dissanayake accusing the
government of adopting contradictory
"Minister Fernandopulle insists on a
difficulty in appointing Former Auditor
General, S. C. Mayadunne to the post while
the President swears by the Select Committee
to resolve the issue. Can you at least speak
in one voice," demanded Dissanayake.
The MP thundered that it was a sham and a
deliberate act by the government to prevent
the public institutions from being
depoliticised through the reconstitution of
the Constitutional Council.
Dissanayake was also adamant that the matter
was best resolved inside parliament and not
any other forum. "This is law and it already
exists. Now give expression to it," he
Adding to Anura Dissanayake's comments was
Opposition and UNP Leader, Ranil
Wickremesinghe. His position was that there
was a Supreme Court determination on the
17th Amendment and that gave parliament the
mandate to implement it. "There should not
be any delay, especially when an
overwhelming majority of the House had
supported it and civic groups and the public
demanded this piece of legislation,"
Violation of the constitution
Aiding the argument, UNP front liner, K. N.
Choksy argued that the non-implementation of
the amendment amounted to a serious
violation of the constitution. "It is part
of the law and it needs to be implemented.
All other arguments are secondary and a
violation of the constitution. A country's
supreme law has certain ramifications,"
noted the legal luminary.
But Leader of the House, Nimal Siripala de
Silva defended the government. There is no
end to this debate. The President has stated
his position clearly and that's that. We
will have to wait for the Select Committee
to come out with its recommendations," he
This activated UNP's Lakshman Kiriella who
jumped to his feet to accuse the government
of deliberately skirting the issue and
evading the appointment of the CC. "You do
this on purpose and if you must know, it is
nothing less than an impeachable offence.
The government is treading dangerous ground
with this one," he breathed.
Likewise, Wednesday's debate on the
extension of emergency had its volatile
moments. Making the traditional statement
after moving the motion to extend emergency
was Leader of the House, Nimal Siripala de
He said that the Mt. Lavinia bus bomb proved
that bombs do not discriminate and that they
simply kill. "People are now on the alert.
That's how the impact was minimised.
Civilians must play an active role," he
No use talking
The burly Minister said that the LTTE has
mastered the art of disrespecting places of
worship, and the latest was the attack on
St. Sebastian's Church in Jaffna. "They
don't respect anything that the civilised
world would hold dear. They conscript
children and use pregnant women as human
bombs. What talks with this lot?" he
demanded to know.
Next he read out the facts - often a
contentious issue when the monthly scores
are added up. According to the Minister,
during the month of February, 80 civilians
have been killed while 201 were injured.
Similarly, 104 military personnel were
killed and 822 injured during the same
He was firm that the LTTE had to be
militarily destroyed to allow civilians to
breathe freely. "It was portrayed as
'mission impossible.' But it is possible.
Now people know that this target would be
achieved. It's not too far off," he
UNP's regular, emergency debate opener,
Lakshman Seneviratne had a different
argument. He wanted to know why the
government that loves to promote the war and
pay lip service to honouring and watching
the interests of the armed forces was
penalising decorated officers.
"The ugly saga of a senior army officer
taking the Army Commander to court for
violating his fundamental rights is proof
that gallant officers are not only
disrespected but also forced to hand over
retirement papers. He is not alone, there
are others who receive equally bad treatment
and that's a new brand of Api Wenuwen Api,"
The MP, himself a former volunteer SLAF
pilot alleged that these were the heroic men
whose success was celebrated with fanfare
when Toppigala was captured. "Today they are
vilified and forced out. How is this
tolerated," he demanded.
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was
next, and he also launched a severe
criticism on the LTTE.
He lauded the armed forces and predicted
that soon the time would come to transfer
political power to the people in the
northeast. 'The coming weeks are going to
be important in this regard. The
international community understands that Sri
Lanka is making some vital changes that
would change the destiny of the country. The
process has begun, and the Batticaloa
elections are all about that - an effort to
empower the people of the northeast to
manage their own affairs," he said.
Bogollagama noted that the March 10
electoral outcome would be a significant
step in this direction. "It is a first step
in a journey to democratise an area that was
terrorised by the LTTE. The Provincial
Council elections will be held shortly. The
international community keeps a trained eye
on these developments," he added.
But TNA's K. N. Srikantha took the debate
back to the 13th Amendment and claimed that
it was a travesty of justice given the
clamouring of Tamils for political
He deftly argued that the 20 year old
constitutional amendment was dredged up by a
desperate government to appease the
international community to some measure.
"The government is under pressure and needs
to win the sympathy of the international
community. But this is a futile exercise and
time will yet again prove it," he opined.
Srikantha had a preposition though. He
suggested that if the President is truly
courageous and willing to put the country's
interest before political survival, he
should ask the LTTE to come for talks.
"If the President can call the LTTE for
talks, the TNA as a responsible political
force is willing to exert political pressure
on the LTTE to attend talks. If the
government has courage it can do that. If it
has courage and commitment, it can put
forward a set of credible proposals for
discussion," he said.
But a real verbal duel of sorts overshadowed
all of this when traditional rivals met to
oppose and support India.
JVP front liner, K. D. Lalkantha made the
JVP's traditional suspicion and dislike
official when he accused India of trying to
become a super power by interfering with
neighbouring states and dictating terms.
Full of anti Indian sentiment, Lalkantha
breathed that India was behind the
government's sudden move to fall back on the
13th Amendment. "Already India has crept
into many a sector. It has a monopoly on the
energy sector. They have millions of
business concerns in Sri Lanka, and at this
rate they will take over Sri Lanka's premier
businesses. The country's identity will
simply be lost," he warned, reminding the
house of the JVP's famous five
indoctrination lessons, the last one being
on Indian Expansionism.
A kind of traditional rivalry between the
JVP and the JVP bashing Minister, Dilan
Perera, led to Lalkantha's paranoia about
India being torn to shreds. The fiery SLFP
MP accused the JVP of wanting to put India
and Sri Lanka on a collision course. "It is
a conspiracy and mistake," Perera said.
Next, he accused the JVP of promoting a
boycott of Indian goods. "It is hilarious.
India has a tremendous market and would lose
nothing if we stop buying their products.
But Sri Lankans would be denied products at
an affordable price if this happens and in
that case, the JVP wants the country to
lose," argued he.
On the same topic of boycotting goods from
countries that seek to play some role in Sri
Lanka, Dilan Perera wanted to know why the
JVP did not call for a boycott of Japanese
and Norwegian products as well.
Moving to the national issue, he admitted
that the 13th Amendment falls short of
meeting Tamil aspirations, but noted, the
full implementation of it was meant to be
only a starting point. "Let's move ahead
from there," he invited, claiming that a
military agenda alone would not lead the
country towards a solution.
Media freedom redefined
Issues of media freedom often make news and
Wednesday's media related story was somewhat
It related to the take over of Rivira
Publications by two Rajapakse confidants
having purchased 49% of the shares in a bid
to take over the newspaper's burgeoning
debts. Rivira publishes The Nation, The
Bottom Line, and Rivira newspapers.
UNP legislator Lakshman Kiriella felt that
the latest media suppression tactic was not
just to threaten, abduct or kill
journalists, carry out arson attacks or wave
criminal defamation laws before them but to
purchase principle shares of newspaper
companies so that slanted government opinion
making can take place in organisations other
than those under strict government control.
"This is the icing on the cake. One Nilanka
Rajapakse, a real estate broker from London
has purchased 49% of shares and the cheque
was deposited to the Rivira Media
Corporation account at the National
Development Bank (NDB) for a thumping Rs.
100 million. The Seylan Millennium Branch
issued the cheque bearing No: 574484 under
the signature of Sujith Rajapakse for the
said amount, sealing the deal. "It is indeed
an interesting way to gain control over
independent media institutions," Kiriella
noted, adding that under the Rajapakse
administration, media freedom and coercion
tactics needed to be redefined.