Columns - Lobby

Pot-Purri in the House; MPs bristle over fuel and privilege
By Nadia Fazlulhaq

The ‘fuel price’ was the burning issue in the House this week, with heated arguments and accusations from the main opposition UNP and JVP MP’s against the government not passing the benefits of the recent downward trend in world oil prices to local consumers.

JVP parliamentary group leader, MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake said the cost of a litre of petrol at Rs. 157/- included a Rs. 74/- tax. He said this was not fair by the public during a period when world oil prices had dropped. He added the cess tax of Rs. 15/- on a litre of petrol and Rs. 10/- on a litre of diesel, was a step taken by the treasury to cover ongoing financial losses.

D.B. Wijetunge

Opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe stressed government should make some arrangements to give the public the benefit of lower world market prices.

He said the CPC should consider a price reduction even if LIOC does not agree to reduce its pricing structure. Petroleum Minister A. H. M. Fowzie in what seemed to be standard reply said the CPC was experiencing a loss of 19 billion rupees, indicating there would be no immediate response to the opposition demand.

On Wednesday Senior Presidential Advisor and Minister of Nation Building Basil Rajapaksa and JVP parliamentary group leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake locked horns at the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) committee meeting which resulted in a heated argument over the appointment of the General Manager of the Water Board.

MP Dissanayake questioned why a permanent appointment was not made instead of creating ad hoc positions. Mr. Rajapaksa responded saying government could make any appointment it wished.

On Friday JVP MPs Sunil Handunneti, Anura Kumara Dissanayake and UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekare raised an issue of privilege regarding the behaviour of Mr Rajapaksa, pointing out he was not the Chairman of the Committee and requested the Speaker to look into the matter.

The absence of Ministers to answer oral questions raised in the House was noticeable this week. SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem complained that some questions were too technical and the chief government whip was unable to answer all questions raised.

Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena, who was forced to answer most of the oral questions agreed. The House mourned the death of late President D.B. Wijethunge on Thursday, with MPs from both sides of the House joining to pay their respects to the late President whose body lay in state at parliament.

MPs charged government was attempting to salvage the budget airline “Mihin Lanka” by purchasing six aircraft from China costing a sum of Rs 3.7 billion. They claimed this was being done via an allocation from the 2009 budget without any inquiry into the Rs. 3.2 billion loss incurred during its previous operation.

Deputy Minister of Power and Energy Mahindananda Aluthgamage admitted the airline was forced to suspend its service due to administrative deficiencies. He added the airline did not even have a proper corporate plan.

Basil Rajapaksa Anura Kumara Dissanayake

Minister of Ports and Aviation Chamal Rajapaksa, vowed the airline would serve the Sri Lankan migrant workers travelling to Middle East. He said the airline would also operate a domestic service to Ampara, Batticaloa and Jaffna.

The Minister said prior to commencing operations, a plan would first be submitted to the Parliamentary Consultative Committee for consideration.

Speaking on what he referred to as the biggest financial scandal master-minded by a an English tutor Sakvithi Ranasinghe, National Freedom Front parliamentary group leader MP Wimal Weerawansa queried whether the Central Bank had the mechanisms needed to monitor unregistered financial institutions offering high interest rates to depositors.

Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said there was a need to bring in strict laws to deal with corrupt financial institutions. With this and other promises from the Minister, the matter was laid to rest. Meanwhile victims of the scam continue to live in hope.

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