Rs. 12 million comedy of errors
EPDP vehicle with a message to the SLMM (left) and a
Norwegian embassy official surrounded by the police speaks
to EPDP members outside the embassy in Colombo (right)
The Sunday Leader parliament desk:
Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Shezna Shums and Amantha Perera
to rough estimates on parliamentary expenditure, the daily running
cost of the House exceeds Rs. 1.5 million, quite a sizeable chunk
of money that is spent on the maintenance of an institution that
has fallen way below standards and public expectations.
the eight days that sessions have been held since the April
election, the bill is Rs 12 million.
House's performance has been dismal, particularly since the new
government took over three months ago with the legislature often
resembling a boxing ring. So much so that it has become a cause
for celebration if a session falls short of being ugly or violent.
The 13th Parliament for the first time had a complete session of
sittings - of four days last week - which was praiseworthy for
that fact alone, but the pertinent query is as to what the House
actually came up with after four days of extensive discussion and
the sittings that preceded, the public was repeatedly treated to
unholy spectacles and Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara taking no
chances, simply ordered the public galleries shut in case it
further infuriates and injures the sentiments of an already
disgusted populace having to maintain an institution that produces
very little in terms of legislative productivity, but much in
terms of fisticuffs and unholy conduct.
with the government concentrating fully on how to show a majority
in the House than on legislating, the week's agenda proved
pathetic. The week witnessed three adjournment motions with Friday
being private members' day.
Friday, the House concluded monthly sittings in pursuance of the
best traditions of democracy, having ensured much baloney, trading
of charges and little else. All at the cost of well over Rs. 6
million - just the daily maintenance cost of the hallowed talk
shop's for days of sittings where not a single bill was tabled yet
alone debated and passed.
parliamentarians made their exits while six others entered. W. P.
S. Pushpakumara, Ismail Mohomed Kuddus of the Sri Lanka Muslim
Congress (SLMC), Reginald Cooray, Mahipala Herath and Philip
Kumarasinghe Sri Liyanage of the Freedom Alliance and Ali Zahir
Moulana bowed out.
Alliance members who were denied the opportunity to become members
during the June 8 stormy sessions that witnessed the spectacle of
the monk assault, H. R. Mithrapala, Nirmala Kothalawela and
Mohomed Javid Muzamil took their oaths as members. From the SLMC,
Basheer Segu Dawood and Shyabdeen Nijamudeen along with UNP's M.
M. Mustapha made their collective entry.
one of the most unproductive weeks, three adjournment motions were
debated. Two opposition motions - one on the recent conduct of
mass media which turned into a heavy exercise of trading charges
and the other on the spreading of the dengue epidemic were
discussed. This led Galle member Hemakumara Nanayakkara to
haughtily declare at a press meet that it was the opposition that
ensured debates and thereby regular parliamentary sittings while
the government simply lacked planned business. The UPFA too moved
a self-congratulatory motion to endorse its own socio-economic
programme and the progress achieved so far.
entire debate nevertheless lacked focus with the UNP keen to palm
off blame to the UPFA for economic downturn and the government in
turn condemning the UNP for snuffing the life out of 70% of the
population - the very poor - through its imprudent and servile
economic policies that saw its quick ouster. The only silver
lining was Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama's account which
outlines the UPFA's economic thrust in what he called a "pro
growth, pro poor" policy. He said that the UNP's biggest faux
pas was in believing that being poor friendly would amount to
being anti growth. "It could be balanced, despite the
subsidies," asserted Amunugama claiming that the government
has achieved several key objectives already.
motion was moved by Mervyn Silva who invited the opposition to
tour the country together with government members to ascertain
whether the quality of life has improved since the UPFA came into
office. The opposition chorus of "Rata perata-ala kilowa
asoowata" fell on the government's deaf ears.
and five star meals
their speeches a reflection of their regional requirements were
the two women legislators of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK).
Pathmini Sithamparanathan, the first ever woman legislator to have
represented the Jaffna District made an impressive speech in which
she illustrated how the economically significant places were
destroyed during the war. "We were engulfed in complete
darkness when even the limited power supply we had was denied with
the bombing of the Chunnakkam power plant. We still use kerosene
oil largely and we have failed to dispel the darkness that
descended upon this nation since we resorted to war," she
was ably backed by her Batticaloa counterpart, Thangeshwari
Kadirgamar who noted with concern that the county was inching
towards war once more.
debates, largely academic exercises to fill the pages of the
Hansard as proof of having raised significant issues, though no
decisions are based on them or legislation created, cannot be the
cumulative work of weeklong sessions.
some critical electronic and print media reports on the costly
exercise of maintaining a parliament that holds no debates, but
has burly members who partake five star quality meals at a
fraction of the cost had Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle irked. He
raised a matter of privilege concerning a television programme
telecast on Swarnavahini on the gastronomic delights of the
members merely for Rs. 5. Having waxed eloquent, he wished to have
the matter referred to the privileges committee for inquiry and
urged the meal prices be substantially increased to reflect
regular prices, a suggestion hailed by both Chief Opposition Whip
Mahinda Samarasinghe and Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobhitha Thero.
the MPs appear to be embarrassed by the media placing their food
under the microscope, that is not the singular waste the House
a few speeches like that of Sithamparanathan's, Kadirgamar's and
Amunugama's would be remembered for their content after a week
long session - or Minister Anura Bandaranaike's for his sugar
coated barbs, downright insults and shameless admission of the
government's right to abuse the state media. And that's the sum
total of a house that accounts for a considerable chunk of the
country's expenditure - more entertaining than a theatre showing a
third rate comedy. All at a cool sum of Rs. 1.5 million per day -
the poor tax payer's hard earned money.
search of a majority
to achieve a majority by the UPFA continued well into last
week. The task on behalf of the government fell on Minister
Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and JVP Propaganda Secretary Wimal
Weerawansa. The two have been lobbying CWC Leader Arumugam
Thondaman to support the government. Weeks of cajoling and
three days of continuous efforts paid off last week when
they were able to secure Thondaman's attendance to a meeting
with President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
8.30 on Thursday night, Thondaman met with the President at
President's House in the company of the two MPs. The CWC was
offered two ministries, Education and Health. Both of which
were rejected by Thondaman who said that he did not know any
thing about health or education and that what he would
consider would be the ministries of plantation,
infrastructure development and airport and aviation. The
government remained noncommittal.
is the second time these portfolios were offered to the CWC.
The first offer was made over the telephone some three weeks
also said that the CWC would not support any moves to oust
Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara or to amend the constitution.
The meeting concluded without any decision. Thondaman was
due to leave the country on Friday night.
poor result has not meant that efforts have been given up.
With one Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) member Gajen
Ponnambalam making a speech last week that has been largely
condemned as being "totally insulting" to the Sri
Lankan Army, the government is latching on to the JHU hoping
that the bhikku members would help them show - majority in
the UPFA and the JHU were quick to denounce the ITAK MP's
controversial speech in parliament. Desperate to show 113
signatures on any piece of paper, the UPFA resorted to
canvassing the monks in earnest to issue a joint statement
condemning the MP's speech. "It is one sure way to even
temporarily destroy the so called joint opposition,"
said a deputy minister who is lobbying for support and was
also instrumental in solemnising the PA-JVP marriage.
enthusiasm died a natural death when the MP concerned
tendered an apology in the House.
greets the Norwegians
EPDP on Friday took its grievances literally to the doorstep
of the Norwegians when they took the body of murdered
Alayadivenbu Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman, Velauthan Raveendran
alias Kamalan, to the Norwegian Embassy at Ward Place,
Colombo. EPDP supporters almost took the coffin into the
embassy compound when police stopped them at the gate.
brought to Colombo last Thursday night from Batticaloa. The
body was again taken back to Batticaloa last Friday
evening to bury Kamalan at his birthplace in Akkaraipattu.
It was his wish to be buried at his birth place.
members who accompanied the body to Colombo also went to the
wife, Sunitha Raveendran, his mother, father, three sisters
and one brother were there, while his three-year-old
daughter Virgini did not make the trip to the embassy.
body was kept at a house down Park Road last Friday for
people to pay their respects and by 11 that morning
supporters clad in black bandana's and black armbands and
carrying black flags got into around 20 vehicles including
buses and vans and accompanied the coffin to the Norwegian
the embassy wreathes including one sent by the EPRLF were
set up against the higher part of the embassy's wall whilst
the coffin was also carried to the entrance of the embassy
and kept there for a while.
placards as well as the wreathes were left by the supporters
to be taken down by the police. The supporters were shouting
'Prabakana means terrorist' and another stated 'Save the
Tamil people from the LTTE'. Another said 'SLMM open your
the embassy, Spokesperson, EPDP, V. Thavarajah handed over a
letter where the violations committed by the government as
well as the LTTE were listed, including this recent murder
and that of the previous chairman Marimuthu Rasalingam's.
letter said that the facilitators should do everything
possible to put an end to the "endless terrorism of the
LTTE." And that the time has come for the Tamil people
of Sri Lanka to be saved from the scourge that is the LTTE.
This letter was signed by Secretary General and Member of
Parliament K. N. Douglas Devananda.
V. Thavarajah told The Sunday Leader at the funeral that
"there is no doubt that it is the LTTE, which has
carried out this gruesome murder. Because this is not the
first attempt of the LTTE."
that this is the second Pradeshiya Sabha chairman they have
lost within two years he said that in Jaffna a number of
members have been killed.
protest outside the Norwegian embassy lasted around an hour
and once the coffin was taken away the protestors too got
into the vehicles and retuned to Park Road, where that
evening the body was taken to Kamalan's birthplace.
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