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Sunday, 28 February 2016

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Joint Opposition suspends agitation campaign

The Joint Opposition on Wednesday (February 24) decided to suspend its agitation campaign as the Speaker and the Government had agreed to resolve nearly 95 percent of its grievances. When the SLFP dissidents made a big hue and cry in the House over the past couple of weeks demanding separate recognition, the remarks by the SLFP stalwarts in President Maithripala Sirisena's camp was a clear testimony that the party hierarchy would not allow them to function as a separate entity as they are also part and parcel of the SLFP led UPFA coalition.

When the House resumed sittings on Tuesday (February 23), UPFA Colombo District Parliamentarian Dinesh Gunawardena once again demanded to know whether they would be recognised as an independent group in Parliament and also queried whether they would be granted permission to make special statements under the provisions of the Standing Order 23(2).

Leader of the House and Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella said under the Standing Order 23(2) special statements can only be made by the Leader of the Opposition or five recognised Party Leaders. Who is the leader of the Joint Opposition, Minister Kiriella asked. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said there can't be a party within a party.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the UPFA dissidents in lighter vein that if they so wish, that any of them can join the UNP and the membership applications are with the UNP General Secretary. He also told the UPFA rebel MPs that this matter could be resolved through negotiation and added that the UNP could not do anything regarding this. The matter should be discussed with the UPFA Parliamentary Group Leader Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and UPFA Leader President Maithripala Sirisena as all these UPFA dissidents belong to the UPFA, he said.

Hot topic

The recent death threats against Speaker Karu Jayasuriya turned into a hot topic in the House following a query raised by UPFA Ratnapura District MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara who said the government has suspended investigations on death threats against the Speaker as the probe on phone details had revealed the name of a henchman of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. Issuing death threats to the Speaker of Parliament is a national issue which should be probed immediately. The investigators working on details of where the phone call originated had found that it was from a phone belonging to Ruwan Ferdinandez, an ally of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and thereafter the investigations had been suspended, MP Nanayakkara said.

Raising a point of order MP Nanayakkara urged the Speaker to hold

an immediate investigation on the anonymous telephone call received by the Speaker and added that it was a crucial matter that affects the supremacy of Parliament. The Speaker received telephone calls after the Joint Opposition staged a protest demanding that it be recognised as an Independent Group. The MP said that many suspected that the caller was some one from the Joint Opposition.

MP Nanayakkara requested the Speaker to trace the anonymous caller using the new technology and inform the House of the final outcome. The MP also told the House that they wished to know how far the investigations had progressed because the Speaker had reportedly said that he had pardoned them. At this point, the Speaker told the MP that he did not mention anything about pardoning and added that the investigations would continue.

Framework agreement

Amidst speculation and concerns raised by the Opposition members, the Premier on Tuesday, February 23 gave a detailed response to the much-debated issue of the Indo-Lanka Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA). He told the House that ETCA would be inked by mid-2016 and a special Indian delegation would arrive in the country on March 4 to discuss the agreement and added that the final draft of the Agreement would be prepared after the discussions. The Premier said he would not let anyone instigate people against the ETCA. Referring to the ETCA, the Premier said we promised to give birth to a child whose horoscope has a Raja Yoga. So do not worry to check the horoscope of a child yet to be born and find fault with the ETCA. He told the Opposition MPs who make a mountain of a molehill on ETCA that public roads are not the place to debate the Agreement and added that dragging the matter is unfair and also an insult to the Agreement as it can be will debated in Parliament.

However, responding to the Premier's remarks, Chief Opposition Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake told the House that the public fears were not unfounded as the subject Minister had said that the agreement would open the IT and marine sectors to Indians. The Framework Agreement would be signed this month so that the concerns they raise in Parliament will have a strong basis.

The absence of government Ministers during the question hour to respond to the queries by the Opposition MPs was once again highlighted in the House on Friday (February 26) when the Chief Opposition Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake told the Speaker that Law and Order and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayake was not in the Chamber to answer his question on the promotions of junior Police officers.

When he raised a similar question the previous day too, the relevant Minister was not in the Chamber, he said. The Speaker told the MP that he would complain to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe against the Ministers who failed to be present in the House during the question hour to answer queries by the Opposition MPs.

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