Day 1: One-third of Constitutional Assembly missing

At least 75 members of the Constitutional Assembly (CA) tasked with formulating a draft Constitution were absent during the first session on Monday. The CA is having a three-day debate on the interim report presented by its Steering Committee.

Parliament meets as the Constitutional Assembly on all three days. Sources said the attendance had been extremely low in spite of the best efforts made by political party leaderships to ensure their members’ participation.

The interim report has dealt with six vital subjects, the nature of the state, the executive, parliamentary elections, principles of devolution, religion and state land.

Sources said the parliament maintained records pertaining to members attendance.

Among those who were absent on the first day were former President and Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa and Kandy District MP Lohan Ratwatte. They have been in India attending the international Buddhist festival at Aurangabad organised by the Dhammayana Educational and Charitable Trust. They are expected to be in Parliament on the final day.

Sources said a member was marked present even if he or she entered the chamber just to hand over a letter to a colleague. Responding to a query, sources acknowledged that they lacked a system to record members’s early departures.

In the run-up to the debate, five-member National Freedom Front (NFF) announced it would boycott the Constitutional Assembly. Sources said that they expected much higher participation against the backdrop of simmering dispute over the proposed new Constitution.

JO spokesman Bandula Gunawardena, MP, told the media on Sunday that there wouldn’t be a vote following the debate on the interim report.

In addition to the interim report, Parliament has received reports submitted by the six sub committees that dealt with fundamental rights, judiciary, law and order, public finance, public service and centre–periphery relations.

Sources said yesterday, the second day of the debate, the participation was perhaps a little better though there were many empty seats during the debate. Sources said that usually only about 150 members were present in the HOuse. However, the number of speakers billed to address the Constitutional Assembly was much higher on the second day. About 20 addressed the Constitutional Assembly on the first day.

Recently, Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha claimed that fewer then 50 members actively participated in parliament sessions.Parliament meets eight days a month.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya told some time ago that one sitting cost the taxpayer as much as Rs. 4.6 mn.

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