Breach of Privileges, LG polls pervade House | Sunday Observer

Breach of Privileges, LG polls pervade House

Following the uproar ignited by several Government Parliamentarians in the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) that their parliamentary privileges have been breached by disclosing details of their phone calls to the media, the Committee Stage debate on Budget 2018 at several occasions over the week turned hot due to explosive retorts by Government and Opposition members. Some Government law makers attempted to portray that obtaining call details of members of COPE which investigated the bond scam amounted to a breach of their privilege.

The Joint Opposition maintained since the Presidential Commission had categorically stated that the telephone conversations of any MP in COPE were not obtained or examined, it is wrong to state that the privileges of the MPs were breached.

However, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya told Parliament that the Privileges Committee would find out whether MPs’ privileges had been violated. Explaining his stance on the issue, the Speaker said, he has considered the privilege issues raised by Leader of the House and Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella and several other Ministers and Government MPs over the past few days.

Raising a privilege issue, Minister Kiriella said the act of obtaining telephone call details of members of COPE which investigated the bond scam amounted to a breach of privilege and also requested the Speaker to summon a Party Leaders’ meeting to discuss the matter.

Soon after the Speaker announced his stance, JO member Bandula Gunawardena raising a point of order said, the Leader of the House Minister Kiriella had misled the House by stating that telephone conversations had been tapped. MP Gunawardena made the point that the Chairman of the Presidential Commission has clearly stated that the conversations were not listened to by the CID.

All what they reported was the list extracted from the phone call details of Arjuna Mahendran and Arjun Aloysius.

The MP said, it is wrong to say that the privileges of the MPs were breached. Minister Kiriella in his response said they have clearly stated they are not against investigations. The Commission should protect the confidentiality of the evidence provided by the CID. What we said was, the privileges of the MPs and Ministers had been breached because this information was released to the media.

JVP Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath who participated in the Third Reading debate demanded the Government to take up the Treasury Bond case as the first in the newly established special court to fast-track the hearing of large scale corruption cases. MP Herath said there was no need for the Government to wait till the PCoI hands over its report, as the special COPE report provides sufficient grounds to initiate legal action against those involved in the racket.

The MPs of several political parties who joined the Committee Stage debate raised concern about the possibility of further delaying Local Government elections due to the Court of Appeal stay order being conveyed to Parliament. The Joint Opposition, UNP, JVP and TNA members during their speeches opposed any further delay to conduct LG polls.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa drew the attention of the House to the Court of Appeal interim injunction preventing the implementation of the delimitation gazettes until December 4. He said the people are demanding these elections and are against postponing them further and insisted that it is the duty of the Government to hold the LG polls as soon as possible.

Minister Lakshman Kiriella noted, the UNP is also opposed to the postponing of LG elections and said they want to hold the elections as early as possible. The Minister said, they have already called applications for nominations and selected the eligible candidates and started village level canvassing. Chief Opposition Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake who joined the debate was highly critical of postponing the LG elections. He charged that it was an attempt by the SLFP to delay LG polls and alleged that the petitioners were close associates of State Ministers Dilan Perera, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena and Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara. Condemning the attempt to strangle democracy, MP Dissanayake said they would do everything possible to win the elections and added that whatever political differences there are, they are ready to join hands with any rival group to achieve that objective.

Dissanayake called upon the JO and all other political parties to rally round to defeat the conspiracy of postponing the LG elections. President Maithripala Sirisena was in the Chamber, listening to the MP’s speech. Dissanayake charged that Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha had deliberately issued the faulty gazette and demanded the resignation of the Minister.

Meanwhile, the JO members handed over a No Confidence Motion against Minister Musthapha to the Speaker, on Thursday. The motion signed by 13 JO members had accused the Minister of deliberately delaying the LG elections. In addition, the JVP also handed over another NCM against the Minister to the Speaker, on Friday.

Refuting allegations that the SLFP and its leadership were trying to delay the elections, UPFA General Secretary and Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said the SLFP wants the LG elections to be held before April and added that the SLFP is a party that upheld democracy and is committed to safeguard it. The Minister said both the SLFP and UPFA had made submissions to court requesting to dismiss the petition and pave the way for conducting LG elections. State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe’s controversial remarks on the President at a recent press conference turned into a hot topic in the House following a Point of Order raised by JO Leader Dinesh Gunawardena who requested the Speaker to investigate and find out whether State Minister Senasinghe’s alleged remarks amounted to a violation of Standing Orders. Gunawardena pointed out that the State Minister said he was disappointed with the President regarding the manner in which the bond scam investigation had been handled. The Speaker said, he would see whether the State Minister’s alleged statement amounted to criticizing the conduct of the President.

Yet another highlight was the remarks by JO member Mahindananda Aluthgama during the Committee Stage debate warning the Government law makers thus: “the attack on us appears to be on normal post, but it could be on the registered post when you get it back. Perhaps, you will find yourself behind the same prison bars where we had been confined to,” he said. However, MP Mahindananda’s kinsman Ananda Aluthgamage who followed him launched a disparaging attack on him. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s present predicament is largely due to the wrongdoings on the part of people like Mahindananda Aluthgamage, he added.