MPs should earn their reverence: All propaganda are based on mere assumptions - Speaker Jayasuriya | Sunday Observer

MPs should earn their reverence: All propaganda are based on mere assumptions - Speaker Jayasuriya

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said, once again the opportunity has come to draft a new constitution as the two major political parties have joined together in governance. Also, we have a mature Opposition Leader who has the country at heart, and is prepared to cooperate on national policies. So this is the ideal time to talk about a new constitution. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Speaker said, he feels sad as all propaganda are based on mere assumptions, which the Government has categorically denied. He said, some people talk about “selling the country” and various other things. We too love our country as others do. But of course, we don’t advertise ourselves as heroes or patriots, neither do we carry badges to that effect. The Speaker appealed to everybody to let there be a debate on the pros and cons of the constitution making process and let the 225 Members of Parliament decide, as they represent the people.

Q: Has there been a decline in the discipline and conduct of the Members of Parliament?

A: There was a time when the conduct of Parliamentarians was very unsatisfactory. Now however, I am happy that we have been able to maintain unity, understanding and trust of each other, give due recognition to everybody and treat all equally. There has been a tremendous improvement in the general conduct of Parliamentary business. But, there has been a few incidents in the past, which I wish would never happen again. Once you realise and gain maturity, people understand the situation.

Now, we have introduced new rules, Standing Orders and a new Code of Ethics which is to be ratified by Parliament, soon. In addition, live Parliament telecast is going on, so that MPs are aware that their conduct is watched by the public. If they misbehave, it would damage their dignity. So, I would say there is a significant improvement. I suppose when the Code of Ethics and Standing Orders are brought in, we will be able to maintain an honourable and respectable Parliament, as well as a model Parliament.

Q: Does the proposed new Code of Conduct have any effect on the conduct of MPs ?

A: The Code of Conduct was prepared last year as promised. Parliamentarians have endorsed it. But, we have not passed it yet, and are hoping to do so shortly. We discussed with the Members of Parliament on Thursday (January 26), the introduction of the Standing Orders.

All such measures are introduced for the better functioning of Parliament. The attendance of Parliamentarians is important, they should be present in the House to ask questions, and Ministers should be available to answer such questions. These are the Standing Orders we wish to introduce, and which would definitely strengthen Parliament.

In the new Parliament, there are innovative features, such as, Oversight Committees and Prime Minister’s Question Time. This definitely entails a revision of Standing Orders. The last revision apparently has been done about 20 to 30 years back. There had been many attempts in the past which never saw the light of day. Now, thanks to the dedication and commitment of the members of the committees and Parliamentary staff, we have been able to prepare two documents which would shortly be legally endorsed by Parliament.

Q: You have told the MPs that the entire country can observe their conduct on television, except for a few incidents. In this context, has television coverage helped at least to maintain a minimum standard of dignity and decorum desired in Parliament?

A: The live broadcasts have helped to a great extent. Once these rules and regulations are incorporated, there will definitely be a better performance by all MPs.

Q: There has been requests and suggestions for you to take a decision on the bond scam investigation. Do you have the power to take a decision in this regard?

A: The Speaker is not a dictator. He has to play a balanced role. So, my duty as the Speaker is to ensure that all Parliamentarians are treated alike. As far as the bond issue is concerned, this is the first time that a member of the Opposition is chairing the COPE. When we were Opposition members, we have been agitating for this chairmanship, but it was never given.

The idea of giving the chairmanship to an Opposition member ensures that the Government doesn’t bulldoze their decisions. I must say, both, COPE and the Public Accounts Committee have been acting extremely well. I believe, their performance during the current Parliament sessions is very much appreciated. In my capacity as Speaker, I would like to thank the Chairman and all members for their commitment.

They have been working hard, and been able to clear a lot of past arrears. When the COPE made a submission to Parliament to have a debate, I allowed it. I conveyed my views to the President, Prime Ministers and Leader of the Opposition. With their consent, I was able to send the report to the Attorney General. I also discussed with the Attorney General, COPE Chairman, Auditor General and Governor of the Central Bank. I am told this is the first time that a COPE report has been transmitted to the Attorney General by Parliament. What we wish to ensure most is, that there is transparency.

Q: There is much speculation about the constitution making process, and a lot of misinformation as well. What is the true status of the constitution making process?

A: I feel sad about the arguments and debates taking place on this issue. No documents have been presented as yet. There have been proposals. If you talk about these proposals based on assumptions, it could mislead the people. There have been setbacks and deficiencies in the past constitutions. There was an attempt in 2000 to bring in a new constitution. I think, apart from a very few clauses, it should have been accepted. But, there was some distrust and grey areas, so that we lost the opportunity. Once again, the opportunity has arisen, as the two major political parties have joined together; and we have an Opposition Leader who is mature, has the welfare of the country at heart and is prepared to cooperate. So, this is the ideal time to talk about a new constitution. I regret that all the propaganda are merely assumptions, which the Government has categorically denied. Some people talk about selling the country, and so on. We too love our country. But, we don’t advertise ourselves as heroes or patriots. We don’t carry badges to show we are patriots, nevertheless, we love our country.

I appeal to everybody to let there be a debate on the pros and cons on the constitution making, and to let the 225 MPs decide, as they represent the people. Our country’s location is ideal, geographically and climate-wise. So we have tremendous potential for development. Given the right economic climate, attitude and approach, we could be a very prosperous nation.

In post independence Sri Lanka, the difference in income between Sri Lanka and Japan was only one Dollar. What is the position today? We have had all types of unnecessary conflicts. I wish we will be able to bring about a constitution acceptable to all parties to ensure prosperity and that the beneficiary will be the people of the country.

Q: Leader of the House, Minister Lakshman Kiriella said, about 40 COPE reports were swept under the carpet during the previous regime, but that the incumbent Government is investigating the COPE report on the bond scam. How can we have a mechanism to ensure that the Government investigates all COPE reports in the future?

A: Immediately after the debate was over, I had a word with the COPE Chairman and some members of COPE, and it was agreed that they will look at all previous matters as well. They have already started it. Not only the Treasury bond issue, but many others, such as, the Greek Bond and Hedging deal. Now, we have a dynamic COPE committee and Public Accounts Committee. They have given superb reports to be debated. It is our responsibility, as people’s representatives.

Q: On many days, we have seen empty benches in Parliament. How can we improve the attendance of MPs in Parliament, since their attendance allowance has also been increased?

A: There is some improvement in attendance, now. Today, technology is so advanced that our parliamentary debates can be watched by anybody in any part of the world, live, through mobile applications, in any language. We have simultaneous interpretations in all three languages. Only a very few Parliaments have this facility.

Q:There was a controversy over the higher allowances paid to MPs. What is your view on this matter?

A: When the Government decided to pay the allowances to the MPs, they studied the running rates in other countries, including the SAARC. Previously, Parliament salaries were based on the judges’ salaries. The last revision was made several years ago, after which there were no revisions, though the judiciary salaries were increased. I know that Sri Lanka has the lowest salaries and perks.

Q: It is a new experience to have a National Unity Government. What has this experience taught you and the MPs from both sides, about working together for the sake of the country?

A: Prior to the defeat of the last Government, there was unity among the Opposition parties and civil society groups, seeking a transparent and democratic Government. The entire Opposition went before the people and asked for a mandate for hundred days to clean up the system and bring about democratic reforms. The people gave that mandate. It took more than hundred days to hold elections. But, the 19th Amendment was not fully amended as it was a minority Government. For example, in place of five members to the Constitutional Council (CC), they wanted only MPs in the CC, a politicised idea. Therefore, we compromised for three members.

The draft new constitution will go back to five members in view of its function to select key positions, such as, Supreme Court judges, the Chief Justice and the IGP. It should be a body that selects people on suitability and merit, sans any political affiliation. On major issues, we have been able to unite, especially, in framing national policies. There should be a broader consensus on national policies. Unfortunately, what happens in this country is that the policies too change when Governments, Ministers and Secretaries change. We are advocating a national policy aimed at building the country. We are moving in that direction slowly, but steadily. We have been able to bring the Right to Information Act which is supposed to be the third best Bill.

All nine independent commissions are functioning efficiently. The public servants have been given their due recognition and Police officers have been able to carry out their duties while maintaining their self respect and the dignity of their uniform. These are new developments that have taken place. It has been possible because there is unity among the two major political parties.

In Germany, the two main political parties are together. Both, in post war Germany and Japan, there were no political controversies. They all worked together in a national government, or a government of national reconciliation. If we want to build the country under the National Unity Government, we have to be together. Our dream is to work together. Actually, this unity is for a limited period and will not be forever.

These two main political parties should exist like in UK and US. When the country is placed on the right footing, we can fight or indulge in politics. Unfortunately, politics in this country has become hostile. Even in families they fight each other. You can have your policy differences but you must respect each others’ policy. But, I see that trend moving out slowly. I think the next generation will look at more on principles. Even the former Government was defeated due to the floating vote. We will have different political ideologies within the next ten or twenty years where they look at people and their policies, more than party loyalty or brand loyalty.

Q: Should there be a minimum education level to be nominated to contest Parliamentary elections?

A: Personally, I don’t think it is necessary. We have seen people with very high qualifications misbehaving and sometimes involved in murders. We have also seen people with very low qualifications doing respectable jobs. So it is up to the people to decide. Whenever I am on the selection board, I look at the basic education level, because one should have a basic education, experience and be able to command respect.

At the end of the day, MPs should be able to be addressed as honourable members. One can’t demand it. The people without hesitation, should be able to address them as Hon. Member or Minister.

That is the Parliament that we are aiming at. I am sure, with the steps we have taken and with the blessings of the entire Parliament, we will be able to fashion a model Parliament in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Parliament is one of the oldest in Asia, and is becoming a model for other countries.