PARLIAMENT

The government has prioritised the Uda Gammana Model Village programme, fulfilling the task of providing lands and houses to the families who are without permanent shelter; Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa said in Parliament, last Saturday.

“During the past four years, we have commenced construction work on 1,925 model villages. Our intention is to reach the target of 2,500 model villages by the end of September, this year. Our long term plan is to provide shelter for all by 2025,” he said.

Joining the Committee Stage debate on his Ministry, last Saturday, Minister Premadasa said the government has commenced a massive ‘housing revolution’ covering the country. “The government has made a massive financial allocation to expedite the ongoing housing development projects. During the period from 2015 to 2019, Rs.29 billion had been allocated to sort out the housing problems of 356,540 families, compared to Rs.5.6 billion reserved from 2010 to 2014 to construct houses for 105,000 families.”

The minister noted that under the second stage of ‘shelter for all’ programme, 5,000 houses will be constructed; while 10,000 and 2,500 houses will be constructed respectively under its third and fourth stages. “We would construct 20,000 model villages by 2025 to sort out the country’s housing problem. When the second, third, and fourth stages of the housing program are implemented, steps will also be taken to construct condominiums in these model villages,” the minister said.

Minister Premadasa pointed out that the ministry, under the Visiri housing loan scheme, has provided credit facilities to over 137,000 families. “In the Northern Province alone, the construction work on 479 model villages are now in progress and it would provide housing to 12,800 families. We would provide houses to all 5,000 families who were displaced due to the recent floods in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu areas, at a cost of Rs.3.7 billion.”

Minister Premadasa said houses are being constructed for 1,000 families at a cost of Rs.871 million in Bogaswewa, Vavuniya, which was identified as a border village during the war. In addition, Rs.4.4 billion has been set aside to construct model villages in the Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts for the benefit of 5,000 families. Another 18 model villages are under construction in Welioya for 1,000 families who were displaced due to the war.

The ministry has also commenced construction of model houses for 4,500 families with acute kidney disease, due to the use of substandard fertiliser and agrochemicals. The ministry has set aside Rs.1.095 billion for this housing programme. Under the Viru Sumithuru housing programme, model houses are being constructed for the families of 1,000 war heroes, at a cost of Rs.438 million.

Financial assistance has also been provided to over 3,000 low-income families. Under the Sonduru Piyasa housing loan scheme, loans have been provided to 8,623 families at a low-interest rate of 6.75 percent, the minister added.

Allegations that 24 MPs use cocaine

Lawmakers urge for formal inquiry

Government and Opposition lawmakers requested the Speaker to conduct a formal inquiry into State Minister Ranjan Ramanayake’s allegation that 24 MPs and ministers use cocaine, as this issue has come up again and tarnishes the reputation of all the 225 parliamentarians.

Raising a Point Order in Parliament, on Saturday, Matara United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Parliamentarian Dullas Alahapperuma said both print and electronic media had once more reported State Minister Ramanayake’s claim that certain parliamentarians use cocaine. According to media reports, State Minister Ramanayake had also requested to set up a medical clinic in Parliament to conduct blood tests for MPs.

MP Alahapperuma said irrespective of personal political ideologies, State Minister Ramanayake’s allegation has brought disrepute to the political careers of all the MPs. He requested the Speaker to reveal the list of names alleged by MP Ramanayake to be using cocaine, in the event this list is with the Speaker; in order to safeguard the dignity of all parliamentarians. Otherwise, the Speaker should direct the police to conduct an investigation into the allegation, he said.

According to MP Alahapperuma, their intention was not to insult State Minister Ramanayake. However, when he alleged that 24 MPs and ministers use cocaine, it was a serious allegation and gave a wrong impression of the country’s parliamentarians.

Responding to both government and Opposition lawmakers, the Speaker informed the Parliament that he had not received any list from State Minister Ramanayake. He said he also advised Ramanayake to submit facts with solid evidence. “Several days ago, the State Minister said that he had given the list of names to the police. Hence, I too direct the IGP to conduct an investigation in this regard,” he added. The Speaker said he was not in a position to direct all MPs to undergo blood tests to determine if they use cocaine. He also requested the media to report on this incident in a responsible manner.

Meanwhile, Ratnapura United National Party (UNP) MP Hesha Vithanage said it was a bad state of affairs: “This is a media show carried out by the State Minister as a part of his political strategy. Therefore, immediate steps should be taken to prevent such situations.”

“Badulla UNP MP Chaminda Wijesiri said Ranjan Ramanayake is also acting like Namal Kumara. He makes various contradictory statements from time to time. The Speaker should take action to stop this mudslinging campaign by State Minister Ramanayake,” he noted.

However, Chief Opposition Whip MP Mahinda Amaraweera, while admitting the seriousness of the allegations, did not reject it. “If State Minister Ramanayake makes an allegation, he should have solid evidence to prove it. Otherwise, it is not fair to make this allegation to all the 225 MPs. When an allegation is made that some MPs use cocaine, it gives bad precedence to students as well,” he said.

National Policies and Economic Affairs State Minister Niroshan Perera said the Prime Minister took the responsibility of conducting an investigation into this allegation. “The Premier appointed a committee chaired by Minister Lakshman Kiriella. State Minister Ramanayake was summoned before it, but he didn’t have substantial evidence to prove his allegation. The Speaker should take steps to conduct an investigation based on the findings of this committee report,” he added.

Meanwhile, the four-member committee appointed by the UNP to investigate the allegations of cocaine use made by State Minister Ramanayake, had concluded that they were not satisfied with the accuracy of Ramanayake’s testimony given before them. Therefore, it was said that the committee had recommended that MP Ramanayake’s allegations should be directed to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) for investigation, immediately.

Country’s temples, pirivenas require better attention: MP

Despite the fact that Buddhism is accorded prime status in our society and constitution, and is a topic that is highlighted when plans are under way to amend the Constitution, it has only been a case of all talk and no action.

There is no purpose in talking of Buddhism if measures are not taken to preserve it, Kalutara Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa said while participating in the third reading stage of the Budget debate, under the expenditure heads of the Ministries of Buddha Sasana and Cultural Affairs.

“For thousands of years, Buddhism has received state patronage, while around 40 years since its acceptance constitutionally as the main religion in the country. There have been many ministers holding the portfolios of Buddha Sasana in successive governments and all presidents in the past and present have portrayed themselves as guardians of Buddhism,” he said.

“There are around 18,000 temples in this country. Ironically, though, around 30 percent have no proper sanitary facilities and 50 percent have no water supply facilities. Apart from the asapuwa and ashrams in the city frequented by rich devotees, I am referring to the temples in villages. It is the bhikkhus in those temples who tend to needy villagers. Those temples are poor and their devotees are as well. They continue without any support from the ministry or government,” he added.

Dr. Jayatissa said, “Any government cannot talk of promoting Buddhism without promoting the Pirivena education system, which has a very long history in the country. Yet, the majority of pirivenas do not have lecture halls and they are forced to use preaching halls to teach students.”

“There is a severe scarcity of books and teaching materials for Pirivena education. Moreover, the salary problem of Pirivena teachers has so far not been addressed and rectified. They are counted as public servants, but are not entitled to benefits provided to other public servants. They are not even entitled to railway permits,” the parliamentarian added.

He pointed out that the government was not focussing on bhikkhus gaining proficiency in other languages in order to promote the religion more effectively. They should be trained to be proficient in other languages. They should be taught English, French, German and other foreign languages so that they could propagate dhamma all around the world.

“The governments recently boasted about transforming the country into a leaning hub for Theravada Buddhism. “We could never become a teaching centre for Theravada Buddhism without establishing a proper research centre which could impart knowledge and provide research facilities to foreigners who come for that purpose. An international Buddhist research centre should be set up to enable not only foreign bhikkhus, but also laymen who come to learn Buddhism in any language,” the MP added.

He said that unfortunately, hundreds of young bhikkhus disrobe annually owing to economic problems. “The government should take measures to prevent young monks leaving the Sasana because of economic hardships, instead of blaming the chief incumbents and dayaka sabhas,” the MP said.

Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa thanked MP Dr. Jayatissa for highlighting the plight of the Buddha Sasana.

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NFC incapable of developing film industry: MP

The government had four ministers for the film industry during its three and half years in office. Ironically, though, none of those ministers have succeeded in finding solutions to the issues plaguing the film industry, charged Kalutara District JVP MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa.

Dr. Jayatissa; participating in the third reading stage of the Budget debate, under the expenditure heads of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, on Saturday; said that the National Film Corporation (NFC) was set up in 1972, but even after 47 years, it could not find answers for the problems of the stakeholders in the cinema industry.

“The NFC is not capable of developing or regulating the industry. Some are claiming that the NFC Act of 1972 is not powerful enough. We could amend it so that the NFC could work for the betterment of the industry. Many artistes have left the industry in disgruntlement because of the faults of the successive governments,” Dr. Jayatissa said.

Renowned cinematologist Lester James Peries, soon after his first film Rekhawa in 1958, pointed out the need for the government’s involvement to set up an institute for the purpose of conserving films. It is said that some had ridiculed him for talking of the need for conserving movies after making only a single movie. However, that request was not heeded and even at his deathbed, the veteran artiste had to reiterate his call for an institute for conserving movies, he added.

“The NFC has a unit for conserving movies; there are around 1,300 movies lying there in it. It is reported that around 350 movies there have already been destroyed. When conserving these movies, it is irrelevant if they are commercial or artistic films. We should conserve them for our future generations,” Dr. Jayatissa said.

He said, “MP Mahinda Rajapaksa opened a unit for film conservation at the Department of National Archives. There is another heap of 35-millimetre movies. There is no one with the knowledge or expertise to conserve movies in that unit. Recently, the incumbent government sent a team of employees of that department to India to learn film conservation. Now, there is a bureaucratic problem as to how the services of those persons could be used for the purpose of conserving movies, because they are attached to divisions other than film conserving and have been selected based on political affiliations.”

He said that as the Finance Minister, Ravi Karunanayake had allocated Rs.50 million to develop the film conserving unit at the NFC. But, now the question was whether that sum had been directed to the NFC or re-directed to the Treasury.

“Cinema artistes are exploited by politicians during elections to attract crowds to their political rallies. Sadly, though, after elections; a few of them are given some positions, but the rest of them are forgotten. This is the plight faced by the cinema artistes in the country today. In 1972, there had been 80 million cinema-goers, but today, it has reduced to seven to eight million,” Dr. Jayatissa said.

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‘Parliamentarians should set an example to voters’

Highways and Road Development State Minister Ranjan Ramanayake wanted all 225 MPs to voluntarily agree to test their blood for cocaine, in order to identify those who use and rule out those who don’t.

Participating in the third reading stage of the Budget debate, under the expenditure heads of the Ministries of Buddha Sasana and Cultural Affairs, the state minister said, “I raised the issue of MPs using cocaine in good faith. I believe that the parliamentarians should set an example to their voters and should lead clean lives. Some members of the Opposition recently tried to assault the Speaker. It is after that incident that I decided to reveal the names of those who use cocaine as they are at the forefront of violent incidents.”

“The former President wished me on my birthday and wished me a long life so that I could expose the names of cocaine users. There are four MPs who import cocaine into the country. We have one among our ranks in the government, and there are three in the Opposition ranks. There are three ethanol businessmen in the Opposition—that is Lakshman Wasantha Perera, Johnston Fernando, and Arundika Fernando. I do not wish to reveal the name of our member because my fellow parliamentarians do not wish me to do so,” he said.

State Minister Ramanayake volunteered to be tested first. “I am telling you to test me first for cocaine and then to check MP Thondaman. Some say that I raised this issue for publicity. I do not need cheap publicity. The people did not send these MPs to Parliament to be using cocaine, throwing chili powder, and breaking chairs.”

The state minister said that there were several other MPs who were willing to undergo a test to determine if they used cocaine or not. “I know that Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thera, Susil Premajayantha, and Sajith Premadasa are ready to have their tests done voluntarily. There are some who make a big noise regarding this issue. They should be checked first. Those who use cannabis need not worry, as the test for cocaine would not reveal their cannabis use. Cocaine is a dangerous narcotic and therefore, I appeal to all MPs to participate in having their blood tested,” the State Minister said.

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‘Government to safeguard country’s archaeological sites’

Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa assured that his government would not allow any misdeed to take place at any of the archaeological sites in the country.

The minister said so during the third reading stage debate on Budget proposals, under the expenditure heads of the Ministries of Buddha Sasana and Cultural Affairs in Parliament, last Saturday.

“Under our reconciliation drive, temples and kovils could be established. As Buddhists, we worship all Hindu gods. Furthermore, unity should come from the hearts of the Tamils and Sinhalese, not just in the Constitution. When that is done, we can win as a country,” he said.

“There is no point in shouting about it on political stages. I admit that there is no room for a federal system within a unitary system. But, within that unitary state, we must empower our people economically and socially. No community should feel that they are marginalised, no matter where they are from. It is when they feel that way that the need to stand against it arises,” the minister added.

“We will agree with a Constitution which would bring about reconciliation and communal harmony. Reconciliation is not federalism—it is not depriving Buddhism of its first and foremost place in the constitution. We are not against a new Constitution which would ensure reconciliation. No one will try to incorporate any clause in the Constitution that will jeopardise the prominence given to Buddhism,” Minister Premadasa added.

UPFA MP Udaya Gammanpila said that there had been a draft proposing to remove the Section in the Constitution giving the first and foremost place to Buddhism.

Minister Premadasa, in response, said, “Anyone could bring any proposal of any nature. This is a democratic society. You could bring a proposal, Douglas Devananda could bring another, but we allow the democratic process to decide what is best.”

He said the Opposition should not try to create issues by inculcating false fear in the minds of the people that Buddhism was at risk in the country.

“The opposition should not think that they have outright ownership of patriotism. We, too, are patriots. The President annulled the Gazette issued in 1818 and declared persons who had been named as traitors for leading and participating the 1818 Uva-Wellassa rebellion against the British colonial rule, as national heroes,” Minister Premadasa said.

“We also declared angam pora, which was previously banned by the British, as a national sport. We are also building 1,135 stupas and are helping 806 Sunday schools, which had so far been conducted under the shades of trees, to have proper buildings. Is it treachery or patriotism?” the minister asked the Opposition.

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