Govt uses Joint Opposition theatrics to rush through Legislation

More and more people view the country’s Legislature with skepticism and that too, with good reason. This is mainly due to the lack of seriousness with which some of those elected to such high office, choose to conduct themselves, over and over again.

This week saw a repeat of some of the disruptive methods that the Joint Opposition (JO) group has now got accustomed to doing on a regular basis, to get their point across. This led to House proceedings winding up abruptly on two days.

But, what followed the sudden ending of sittings on Friday is what is more disturbing, than all the chaos that took place when the House was in session. JO members who remained in the Chamber, after Speaker Karu Jayasuriya adjourned the House, decided to conduct a mock session ridiculing the very institution they are members of. Mocking the Speaker and insulting the traditions on which the country’s Parliamentary democracy has been built upon. Among their rather juvenile actions were ringing the Quorum bell, occupying the Speaker’s chair, as well as the Chair reserved for the President.

While Opposition MPs have every right to be displeased with the Gazette issued, declaring work in the Petroleum sector an Essential Public Service, and the manner in which trade union workers were manhandled and detained by the Police, their actions to bring into disrepute the very institution of which they are elected members, cannot be excused. While all this can sound like lot of fun and games by such actions, Parliamentarians only pour scorn on themselves and make the public lose faith in them.

On the other hand, all disruptive activities in Parliament this week only deprived Opposition members of an opportunity to debate very important issues. On Wednesday, amidst chaotic scenes in the Chamber, the Govt rushed through seven Finance regulations and one Bill, in record time of less than 10 minutes, while on Friday, the Gazette notification on the Essential Services declaration too, was rushed through in a similar manner.

The end result was a lost opportunity to debate the economic situation in the country and more importantly, discuss the contentious Hambantota Port Agreement which was scheduled for debate on Friday. Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe tabled the Agreement in the House on Tuesday and a full day allocated to debate it on Friday, but it was not meant to be.

While it’s time for JO MPs, many of them senior Parliamentarians, to introspect, to see if their actions are actually helping the Govt escape scrutiny, the problems for the ruling side may just be starting.

For a Govt that’s taking a beating from all fronts, the evidence unravelling before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) looking into issues of Treasury Bonds couldn’t have come at a worse time. And, at the centreof the political storm is former Finance Minister, now Foreign Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake who, despite summons to appear before the CoI, sounded defiant in Parliament on Tuesday, when he told Speaker Karu Jayasuirya that his Parliamentary Privileges have been breached by the CoI, which had summoned him to appear before it on a day that the Legislature was in session.

“Everybody knows very well that I am a senior Cabinet member in the Govt and Cabinet meetings take place on Tuesdays. Furthermore, they also know it is a Parliament day” Minister Karunanayake said. And while the Speaker, in his usual congenial manner said he would look into it, it is hard to see how the Minister’s parliamentary privileges could have been breached by the CoI’s summons.

Under the Parliament (Powers & Privileges) Act, what constitutes a breach is the willful obstruction of any member coming to or, going from Parliament, but a summons by a CoI to appear before it can’t be construed as a “willful obstruction.”

He also took a dig at the former regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa, saying, those who “robbed the country for 11 years are going scot free”, and said he would appear before the CoI as soon as his parliamentary duties permit him to do. He is now slated to appear before the CoI next Wednesday.

What many in the Govt must understand is that, two wrongs don’t make a right and, however corrupt those in the former regime were, that will in no way absolve this Govt from its wrongdoings.

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