Pandemonium erupted in the Well of the House on Tuesday (February 7) when Deputy Minister of Social Empowerment and Welfare Ranjan Ramanayake got up to respond to a query raised by UPFA Gampaha District MP Indika Anuruddha which led to a heated verbal exchange between the Government and the Opposition legislators. The drama enacted by the Government and the Opposition law makers paved the way for Speaker Karu Jaysuriya to expunge repeatedly several sections of speeches made by some MPs as their tirades contained unparliamentary expressions.
MP Indika Anuruddha had raised the question seeking a response from the Lands Minister on Government lands in Divulapitiya area. However, the issue came up when Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake got up to respond to the question on behalf of the Lands Minister. Deputy Minister Ramanayake was seen tabling the answer and then started to talk about soil excavation taking place in the Divulapitiya area.
At this point, Chief Opposition Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake drew the attention of the House that this particular question can be answered by the Land Minister or his Deputy and added that if both of them are not in the chamber either the Leader of the House or the Chief Government Whip is permitted to answer the questions. MP Dissanayake protested against the attempt by Deputy Minister Ramanayake who has no relevance whatsoever to respond to the subject matter and added this is totally against Parliamentary traditions.
However, Leader of the House and Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella queried MP Dissanayake as to why he is afraid of the response given by Deputy Minister Ramanayake. The Minister told the House when they do not respond, the Opposition MPs accuse them of not answering their questions, but when the Government answers the questions, the Opposition rejects that as well. Minister Kiriella maintained the view this is a timely issue so that the Deputy Minister could answer.
This paved the way for the drama to reach its climax and the Opposition MPs who turned down Minister Kiriella’s claim shouted against the Government and rejected Deputy Minister Ramanayake responding to the questions. But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe who stood up at that point drew the attention of the House as per the Standing Orders number 27, the subject Minister, his Deputy Minister or the Prime Minister could respond to a question raised by the Opposition. Premier said he gave the opportunity allocated for him to Deputy Minister Ramanayake. Opposition MPs shouted at the Prime Minister and said that he was setting a wrong precedent and demanded that the Speaker should not permit it because it was against tradition.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya who maintained a firm stance on the issue raised by both Government and the Opposition members stressed the importance of acting according to the Standing Orders. He added that they cannot violate Standing Orders and introduce new practices. Speaker further said that he cannot act against the tradition when sitting on this chair. Later Chief Government Whip and Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media Minister Gayantha Karunatilleka had to read out the response. Later, MP Indika Anuruddha attempted to enact another drama tabling a letter written by Deputy Minister Ramanayake seeking permission for his party supporters to operate a stone quarry in Divulapitiya to supply stones for the construction of the Colombo Port City. The MP posed a challenge that the Deputy Minister should resign from his post if the latter could prove that he had not sent such a letter. Deputy Minister Ramanayake got up and said that it was better for the MP to resign as the letter was a fake.
This once again led to a verbal blow as MP Anuruddha read out the letter to the House. The Deputy Minister told the House that he did not seek permission to operate a stone quarry for his supporters but only sought permission for the construction of an access road to the quarry. Power and Renewable Energy Deputy Minister Ajith P Perera who also joined the conservation said Parliamentarians should not make use of Parliament as a forum to make false allegations and added that a special investigation should be held with regard to the letter. Yet another highlight of of the week was that the Speaker’s chair overturned on Thursday (February 09) while the Parliament session was in progress.
The chair toppled when the presiding member UNP Moneragala District MP Ananda Kumarasiri tried to get up at the end of the time allocated for him to preside. The next Member to take the Chair UPFA Anuradhapura District MP Shehan Semasinghe too had come to the podium to continue sittings while the staff members rushed to pick it up. TNA MP S. Srineshan was delivering his speech during the debate on regulations under the National Medicines Regulatory Authority Act when the mishap occurred.
However, UPFA MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage got up and said that it was the first time the Speaker’s Chair had toppled in Parliament and attempted to portray as a bad omen for the Government. Thereafter, MP Semasinghe continued to preside the session for some more time and when the next member to take the chair MP Edward Gunasekera came for his turn the staff members warned him to be cautious before sitting to avoid the mishap again.
The Government once again repeatedly avoided answering opposition questions on who or what is the body which sets standards for the medical profession in the country. Opposition MPs including those in the JVP and UPFA Galle District MP Dr. Ramesh Pathirana asked several times which institute sets the standards for the medical professions, but Minister Lakshman Kiriella did not answer the question and repeated that the court had given an order and everybody would have to abide by it.
JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake asked Minister Kiriella whether the latter was aware that students of the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) were refusing to produce their Advanced Level Examination results. Minister Kiriella swiftly said a senior official of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) too had said in a TV show that he had forgotten his Advanced Level results. JVP MPs who interrupted the Ministers’s speech said that there was a difference between refusing to give results and one forgetting his results.
Minister Kiriella who responded to vociferous JVP MPs alleged that some GMOA members only had scored three ‘S’ passes in their Advanced Level Examination. But they were able to enter the universities because they had sat the examination from rural districts. He queried why students who have received simple passes in their A/L examination get themselves enrolled for a degree they preferred, Kiriella questioned.
Parliament sittings were suspended for 10 minutes by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on Thursday (February 09) following an argument between the Government and Opposition law makers on passing only one of four items after debating all four of them on the previous day. The UPFA Colombo District MP Dinesh Gunawardena pointed out there were four items on the Order Paper and all four of them were debated in the House on Wednesday (February 08) but at the end of the debate only the first item was passed.
However the Chair adjourned the session without passing the remaining three items which are financial regulations. MP Gunawardena said thus, the Parliament has not passed those three financial regulations and that is a wrong precedence.
Minister Lakshman Kiriella said there are three officials in Parliament and they have shirked their duty of instructing the presiding member. He was of the view that the regulations could be passed today as it has happened before.
Speaker Jayasuriya admitted that some mistake has been made and said there had been similar instances on previous occasions as well. The Speaker assured the House to look into the matter.
MP Dinesh Gunawardena requested to call for a meeting of the Party Leaders and make a decision with regard to this. Therefore the Speaker suspended the sitting for ten minutes to take a decision.
Soon after the resumption of sittings and at the end of time allocated for the questions for oral answers, Resolution under the Customs Ordinance, Order under the Special Commodity Levy and Notification under the Excise Ordinance were taken up as adjourned debates on questions taken on February 08 and they were passed.