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Sunday, 14 August 2016

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High drama in well of House

Yet another drama acted by the Joint Opposition (JO) in the well of the House protesting against the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Bill enabled the Government to pass the Bill with certain amendments amid the shouting and chanting of various slogans by JO MPs, disrupting the proceedings of the House. Despite the consensus reached at the Party Leaders' meeting to have a two days' debate on the Bill, the JO members showed deliberate attempts to sabotage the passage of the Bill, citing various reasons which they should have taken up during the debate if they were concerned about the content of the Bill. The Government legislators said, Parliamentarians who opposed the OMP Bill were those who had plans to make people disappear, and they may be thinking of bringing back the white van ghost, to everybody's horror.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera who addressed a press briefing soon after the Bill was ratified, said, the attempts of the JO to sabotage the Bill exposed their political opportunism and showed they were willing to swim in the tears of the victims' loved ones for mere political mileage. Minister Samaraweera hailed the passage of the OMP Bill and described it as 'historic' and accused the JO Parliamentarians as, 'opportunistic thugs'. The Minister said the new law would give relief to the loved ones of thousands from the North and South who had disappeared, and added that it is the first step towards rectifying the mistakes of the past 68 years.

Following the Foreign Minister's press briefing, the JO which also held a press briefing at the Parliamentary complex said, it would not accept the Bill as a legitimate piece of legislation. The Joint Opposition MPs attended the press conference, wearing black arm bands and shawls, as a sign of protest against the Government undermining parliamentary process. JO Leader Dinesh Gunawardena said, though the Government announced that the Bill was passed, it was against the Standing Orders of Parliament. He made the point that only a bill passed in accordance with the Standing Orders of Parliament could be accepted as a proper piece of legislation.

The following day, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said, the incidents during the debate on the OMP Bill in the well of the House on Thursday ( August 11) had caused a big damage to the dignity and decorum of Parliament, and both, Government and Opposition lawmakers should be ashamed of it. The Speaker told the House, JO MPs are entitled to stage protests but they had to be mindful of when and where they do so. "Politicians may be rebellious when staging protests, but such protests should be held at appropriate places such as the Lipton's Circus and Hyde Park, and not in the well of the House. Citing an example the Speaker said "The MPs should not use the dining room to do what they are supposed to do in a lavatory".

When the Leader of the House and Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella moved the OMP Bill for Second Reading, Joint Opposition Leader Dinesh Gunawardena told the House, the JO would not agree to the Government's changing the session plan, which was to hold the debate for two days and have the vote on Friday evening (August 12), and instead to advance the voting to 11 am on Friday. Gunawardena alleged that shortening the time of debate would deprive the time allocated for Opposition MPs to speak in Parliament which is a deprivation of their privileges. Following the MP's statement, the JO members invaded the well of Parliament and acted another episode of the drama, wearing black armbands as a sign of protest against the Bill. Some JO front liners such as, Wimal Weerawansa were seen wearing a black sataka and shouting slogans against the Government for betraying the nation.

As the JO members continuously disrupted the proceedings, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya suspended sittings around 12.19 pm on Thursday (August 11) and called for a special Party Leaders' meeting. Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan said, his party had agreed to continue the debate till 9.30 pm on Thursday because the OMP Bill was important. However, JO MPs Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa opposed the Opposition Leader's suggestion and demanded that JO MPs need more time to air their views. MP Nanayakkara was of the view that the Government had proposed 17 amendments to the Bill and those amendments should be presented to the Oversight Committee before being taken up in the House.

Minister Kiriella told the House the Government was willing to extend the time of the debate and invited Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera to commence the debate. However , the JO MPs invaded the well for the second , disrupting the proceedings. Amid the uproar on the floor of the House, Minister Samaraweera introduced the B__ill which was seconded by TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran. JVP Parliamentarian Bimal Ratnayake also spoke, while JO MPs remained in the well shouting slogans. As they didn't participate in the debate, or occupy their seats, the Government read out the amendments to the Bill while the JO MPs were shouting slogans. This led the Government to pass the Bill with amendments and the entire process took place within less than two hours.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya told Parliament that the Supreme Court had determined that the Value Added Tax (Amendment) Bill is inconsistent as it had failed to adhere to the due process a financial bill should follow. Making a special announcement the Speaker said, the court has determined that the provisions contained in Article 152 of the Constitution and Standing Order 133 are imperative in character and the failure to follow them render the subsequent proceedings a nullity. JO Leader Dinesh Gunwardena told the House that the VAT Bill brought up by Finance Minister was null and void. He said, there is some responsibility on the part of the Minister when a bill is presented in Parliament and added that the Bill had not received the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers. If there is no document, it is for the Secretary General of Parliament to inform the Minister or Secretary to the Ministry that the certificate of Cabinet of Ministers' approval is missing. Without that certificate of approval, a draft bill could not be included in the Order Book or the Order Paper of Parliament. Had those who opposed the Economic and Technical Corporation Agreement ( ETCA) were present when Arhat Mahinda brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka, they surely would have opposed him coming and propagating the message of the Buddha in this country, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in Parliament yesterday.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe responding to a question raised by UFPA Kalutara District MP Jayantha Samaraweera said, there was no need for Sri Lankans to harbor fears of ETCA which would help promote economic development of Sri Lanka. The Prime Minister said, there was no need for a Hanuman Bridge linking India, and Sri Lanka."We do not need bridges. It was those who made commissions and profited themselves who think of building bridges. If someone promises 30 percent commission from a single bridge they would have started building, not one but dozens of bridges," Wickremesinghe said.

Prime Minister said that Indian Commerce Minister would visit Sri Lanka in the future to sign the ETCA pact. The objective of the ETCA was to obtain a market for the Lankan products.He said that Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement would be presented to Parliament before it would be signed with India. He said the ETCA would help hundreds of thousands of Lankan youth to find job opportunities.He said, Lankans should not have fears of foreigners coming to Sri Lanka for jobs and recalled how Chinese, Indian, Bangladesh and Nepali nationals had been permitted to work in Sri Lanka during the times of the previous regime.

"Do not create a picture of a devil out of this issue. These people portray Indians as invaders. What would have happened had these people been present when Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka? Surely they would have mounted protests against Mihindu Thera because he was an Indian.

 

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