Parliament, a hallowed institution descends to lowest depths | Sunday Observer

Parliament, a hallowed institution descends to lowest depths

This government has had more than its fair share of embarrassing moments. The President and his Prime Minister have been at odds with each other, there have been two Prime Ministers officiating at the same time and the highest court in the land has said that the country’s Constitution has been violated.

To add to this long list, last week, the expenditure heads of two Ministries- the Ministry of Internal and Home Affairs and Provincial Councils and Local Government and the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development- were defeated in Parliament.

These Ministries come under the purview of Ministers Vajira Abeywardena and Patali Champika Ranawaka.The former was defeated by 38 votes to 23 and the latter by 38 votes to 24. In practical terms, the defeats have no real consequences for either the Government or the Opposition: the Government is set to pass supplementary estimates to approve funds for these Ministries and it will be business as usual thereafter. Still, it is a slap in the face for the Government. Even if the defeat of the votes had no consequences for the ruling party, it was emblematic of the state the Government is in: lazy, complacent, expecting that the faults of the Opposition are sufficient for it to get re-elected. The mere resignation of the Deputy Chief Government Whip Ashu Marasinghe will not fix any of these issues.

Leader of the House, Lakshman Kiriella, came up with a childish excuse for the lapse. He claimed that there was agreement between the Government and the Opposition that there would be no votes taken on the expenditure heads of Ministries.

Surely, Minister Kiriella has been in politics for long enough to know whether the words of politicians could be trusted?

However, what it illustrates is that only 62 of the country’s 225 parliamentarians were in Parliament that day, when one of its main functions, the budget debate, was in progress. That indicates the diligence with which our parliamentarians discharge their duties which they were elected to perform.

Compare and contrast this with late last year, when there was a constitutional crisis in the country. That was the time when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was informed that he had been dismissed from his post and Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed to that office, instead.

To ensure that he kept his hold on that office, Rajapaksa had to demonstrate that he had the confidence of Parliament. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya had summoned Parliament. All eyes were on whether Rajapaksa could muster the magic number of a 113 MPs to support him, which would have given him a simple majority in the House.

That was not to be, but, in those tumultuous days, Parliament was packed to the rafters.

Almost all of its 225 MPs were present every day. Of course, there was nothing wrong with that. It was representative democracy at its best even though the fisticuffs and the rowdy behaviour that we witnessed left much to be desired.

Almost all parliamentarians were present in Parliament to cast their votes during those days because they wanted to protect their leaders, their parties and by extension, themselves. However, when it came to a budget debate allocating funds for two important Ministries, they couldn’t care less.

Parliament is a hallowed institution. It is the bedrock of our democracy.

That was demonstrated in ample terms during the constitutional crisis. It is also maintained by public funds so every man, woman and child have a right to feel they are adequately represented there. Has that happened, though?

Recently, parliamentarian Harshana Rajakaruna said that in 2018, thirteen parliamentarians did not utter a single word in the House.

That list of names makes interesting reading because twelve of them are from the Opposition- so when it comes to shirking their duties, the Opposition is no better!

Those who kept their vows of silence were Sarath Amunugama, Indika Bandaranayake, Janaka Bandara, Tharanath Basnayake, Siripala Gamlath, Lakshman Wasantha Perera, Angajan Ramanathan, Lohan Ratwatte, Lakshman Seneviratne, Arumugam Thondaman, Thenuka Vidanagamage and Duleep Wijesekara, all of the Opposition, and Vasantha Senanayake from the ruling party. It is interesting to note that in this list are some of those who made the biggest noise when MPs were embroiled in physical altercations in the chamber. Also in the list are some who made the biggest noise outside the chamber, staging one cross-over after another!

The manner in which parliamentarians conduct themselves in the House also came under scrutiny this week for another reason- the use of unparliamentary language. Opposition parliamentarian Mohan Priyadarshana de Silva was heard uttering an expletive at State Minister Ranjan Ramanayake during a heated argument. The word was the same expletive used by senior parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara a few years ago on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

This is a sad reflection of the depths to which our Parliament has descended to. A legislature that has seen the oratorical brilliance of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, N.M. Perera, Colvin R. de Silva, W. Dahanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali, Anura Bandaranaike, Sarath Muttetuwegama and Lakshman Kadirgamar to name just a few, now descends to uttering expletives to make its point! It would have been far more appropriate had the MP concerned abided by the dictum ‘if you have nothing to say, say nothing’.

We are aware that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is quite aggrieved by these goings on but his capacity to remedy all these issues is limited. Perhaps, the only redeeming feature in the current Parliament is that we have a man of integrity at its helm.

Yet, there is a solution, even if it is a few months away: a general election.

This can be called any time after February and then it would be up to us citizens to select the men and women we want to see in our Parliament. Instead of complaining afterwards, voters should think carefully before they vote because, in the end, every country gets the Parliament it deserves!