25th July, 2004  Volume 11, Issue 2

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From the Mouths of Babes

Inside parliament

"If we're misusing state media, so be it. The entire private media is against us. The former general secretary of the UNP was on the Maharajah's director board, TNL is definitely tilted and Swarnavahini is showing an acute bias towards the UNP. The less said about The Sunday Leader the better - there has never been such a rag sheet run by a half baked lunatic and it carried undiluted bullshit! We wouldn't want state media to be independent forever and allow The Sunday Leader and Sirasa to play hell. We're doing it for the people who voted for this government and for the President and I speak on her behalf when I say this."  - UPFA MP, Anura Bandaranaike, speaking at the adjournment debate about independent media in parliament on Monday, July 19.

 "Before coming into power, Minister Lalkantha said that they would give public servants a Rs. 6500 salary hike. But with the problems the people are having now, he will have to make that Rs. 12,500 instead. And I would like to ask the government to which quarry exactly the UNP supplied stones from Sigiriya to? It is interesting to note that it was during the tenure of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's People's Alliance government that the Sigiriya proposal was first drafted and the UNF in fact watered it down and turned it into just a sound and light show instead. Should I be going to each quarry to ask if they bought stones from Sigiriya? This government has a real ratacaju management style!"  - UNF MP, Kabir Hashim speaking at the adjournment debate on the government's economic policy in parliament on Wednesday, July 21.

 

"Whenever the UNP is in power, 'duppathatama wei amaruwa' (It is the poor who feel it the most).  - Finance Minister, Sarath Amunugama speaking at the adjournment debate about the government's economic policy in parliament on Wednesday, July 21.

Media denied access  

When the House met on July 20 after a long lapse, it was the media personnel who were actually in for a rude shock. The public galleries were closed on Tuesday, but the 'good conduct' of the parliamentarians made Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara reverse the order just the following day.

While the public had their right restored, the media personnel had theirs denied. They were dismayed to discover that the entrance to the press galley was closed denying them much needed access to the Hansard Department, press gallery telephone or to get about easily. For everything, they are now compelled to take a long and circuitous route and switch lifts to reach places within the complex which impedes their professional work.

 

Aloof Premier and more prohibitions 

The media really were made to truly suffer last week. It was not just the entrance to the press galley that was sealed off, but access to the first floor was also limited by last Thursday.

Parliamentary sources confirm that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse has objected to media personnel hovering around the said floor. No, it had noting to do with security concerns, according to the source, but the Premier who had just returned after a successful tour of India evoked such interest that he has been inundated with questions by a group of media personnel on Wednesday as he was proceeding towards the members' dining area to have lunch.

The "Peoples' Premier" who has remained a friend of the media for decades has been so irked by the hounding, he has allegedly requested that scribes be allowed only limited access to the first floor. Ironically, the Premier hosted the media among others for a banquet the very same week. May be the prime ministerial preference is to meet selected scribes in cushy environs.

A couple of years ago, the UNP government had the settees removed from the same lobby. A popular meeting place and a venue where much repartee and exchange of political news takes place, now the area can be limitedly accessed, but hanging around the place is strictly prohibited.

 

Azwer sorely missed 

The main opposition UNP is still in disarray after its stinging electoral defeat. While the government fumbles about, so does the UNP with party committees headed by men of great ilk but of prehistoric age.

Thus, there are too many hiccups during debates. There are times when members listed to speak fail to turn up on time as there is hardly anyone to co-ordinate such matters. One such was last Tuesday when UNP's National Organiser, S. B. Dissanayake who was billed to speak went missing. No amount of canvassing could get some of the younger members to make an impromptu speech in his absence - that too on the media, a subject all opposition members love to delve on.

The incident nevertheless made some seniors to wistfully recall the great services rendered by the ebullient former Parliamentary Affairs Minister A. H. M. Azwer, who always stepped into save the party in a moment of such crisis. He used to streamline things efficiently, ensured the presence of those billed to speak and if all failed would make the speech himself, they mused with regret!

 

Man of contradictions 

Minister Anura Bandaranaike is a man of living contradictions. He waxed eloquent during an adjournment debate on the role of the media on Tuesday and he had much to say about the private media institutions and to declare that if the government uses the state media for propagandist work, he was most comfortable with it and defended the abusive practice without batting an eyelid.

He certainly could not avoid his pet hate The Sunday Leader and its editor as he claimed that the less said about the rag, the better. Doing one better, he further declared the leading scribe of the newspaper as "a half-baked maniac."

If Bandaranaike wished to condemn, he didn't complete the task with great aplomb. In common parlance, half-baked would mean "incomplete" and thus if the man is supposed to be a half maniac, at his maniacal best, he would still be half ok. And that's according to the most eloquent Bandaranaike's own words! And some amused legislators were heard saying that his heart must be as big as his considerable bulk!

 

Dengue debate 

It is not always that our legislators possess first hand experience when they speak on subjects. But UPFA's first timer and Galle District parliamentarian Gunaratne Weerakoon definitely knew what he was talking about when he spoke about the dreaded Dengue that has so far claimed over 60 lives and recorded some 9,000 patients in the island.

Having recently suffered from dengue, he certainly had first hand knowledge and knew what he was talking about as he laboriously discussed not just the spreading epidemic, but of the appalling conditions of the hospitals in paradise isle. Incidentally, it was also the first time in Sri Lankan parliamentary history that a debate was held on the spreading of an epidemic.

  

JHU bill on unethical conversions 

Vice President, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobitha Thero presented a private member's bill seeking to ban unethical conversions last Wednesday. The UPFA and the JHU at one point were competing with each other, both parties having their own draft bills seeking the same objective.

As the government began to backtrack on the promise, the scholastic monk who once went on a fast unto death demanding such preventive legislation be enacted presented the draft bill in parliament in a backdrop of several evangelists and individuals petitioning the Supreme Court.

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