Parliament struggles to maintain a quorum: Can waste of public funds be condoned? | Sunday Observer

Parliament struggles to maintain a quorum: Can waste of public funds be condoned?

Despite the Parliamentary sessions scheduled for four days from September 04 to 07 this week, Parliament sittings abruptly ended on two days on September 04 and September 06 raising serious concern whether parliamentary standards have deteriorated to such an extent that it regularly struggles to maintain the required quorum. Some law makers, professionals and public describe this trend as a major national issue, a very pathetic situation. When a day’s Parliamentary sittings cost the taxpayer over Rs. 4.5 million with nothing in return at all, the waste of public funds couldn’t be condoned under any circumstances.

Tuesday’s (September 04) Parliamentary sittings were restricted to two and half hours due to a protest staged by Joint Opposition (JO) Parliamentarians in the well of the Chamber alleging that the Government is using the Police to scuttle their ‘Janabalaya Colombata’ held on September 05. The vociferous JO members accused the Prime Minister and Law and Order Minister of getting the Police to obtain court orders to prevent their protest. The JO members also protested that the Government had instructed the Police to order private bus owners not to provide buses for the protest and Local Government bodies not to permit the city playgrounds for the protesters. The protest drama enacted by the JO members paved the way for the Speaker to adjourn the sittings abruptly.

Meanwhile, the recommendation by the Prime Minister to pay emoluments for the Members of the Office of the Missing Persons was passed amidst the turmoil.

Responding to a query raised by JO Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said his Government had restored democracy so that anyone could stage protests. The Premier told the vociferous JO members “We have restored democracy. We will not abduct people the way you abducted Pradeep Eknaligoda. We will not kill people the way you killed Lasantha Wickrematunge. We would not assault people the way you did to Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon. You can stage protests today because we have restored democracy in the country.”

The Parliamentary sittings also ended abruptly within five minutes of commencement on September 06 due to lack of a quorum of 20 MPs. The business of Parliament and several Committee meetings scheduled parallel to the sittings had to be postponed. The question on the quorum of members was raised by UPFA MP Bandula Gunawardena after the presentation of papers and public petitions.

Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri who was in the Chair ordered the ringing of the quorum bell to summon members, but only 17 MPs remained even after the quorum bell rang for five minutes. Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella at this point requested the consent of the House to proceed ignoring the lack of quorum as it is an utter waste of money and time.

However, the Deputy Speaker pointed out that he could not allow that request as it is a violation of the Standing Orders of Parliament and announced that the sittings would be adjourned till 10am the following day. At the time the Parliament was adjourned, most of the UNP MPs were absent as they had reportedly participated in the UNP’s 72 anniversary celebrations held at their party headquarters, Sirikotha. As a result of abruptly suspending the sittings, the House could not even take up the oral question round at the commencement of the sittings, the second reading of Economic Service Charge (Amendment) Bill and Regulation under the Value Added Tax (Amendment) Act scheduled for September 06 had to be postponed.

Meanwhile, UPFA Parliamentarian and former SLFP General Secretary S.B. Dissanayake at a media briefing held in Colombo on Thursday (September 06) also acknowledged that the standard of Parliament has deteriorated to such an extent that it is now regularly struggling to maintain the required quorum. Dissanayake also noted recently the Parliament had to be adjourned on three consecutive days due to lack of quorum. However, the entire JO group also skipped Parliamentary sittings on September 05 to join their ‘Janabalaya Colombata’ demonstration.

The Government law makers who joined the debate in Parliament on September 05 on which date the JO staged their ‘Janabalaya Colombata’ protest questioned the reason for toppling this Government two years before the expiry of its term. Deputy Minister of Law and Order Nalin Bandara told the House when the people who participated in the ‘Janabalaya Colombata’ were forced to sleep on the street, the JO leaders had reserved luxury rooms in five star hotels. He described the JO leaders as wolfs in sheep clothing.

Deputy Minister Bandara also queried whether this Government represses or kills the people as was done by its predecessor? When rules and regulations are tightened for the frauds and malpractices committed by the previous regime, they somehow want to put the people as a shield or kill a few of them to grab power. Some Government legislators who spoke in Parliament said ‘Janabalaya Colombata’ demonstration organised by the JO ended up as a ‘damp squib.’

The JVP on Wednesday (September 05) presented in Parliament a bill titled 20th Amendment to the Constitution to abolish the Executive Presidency. The Bill presented by JVP MP Vijitha Herath seeks to amend Article 4 of the constitution which has vested the executive power on the President elected by people and replace it with the Cabinet of Ministers. MP Herath said several leaders made false promises that the Executive Presidency would be abolished, but it never happened. He pointed out when measures being taken to formulate a new Constitution to strengthen the democratic governance in the country, it is vital that the Executive Presidency be abolished.