Mini battle on day of condolences
By Chandani Kirinde
The continuing tug of-war between the executive and the legislature was reflected in Parliament with the President once again failing to name an appointee to the post of Secretary General of Parliament, although the government had highlighted the administrative problems in the House caused by the delay.

The President's Office instead announced that the Deputy Secretary General Priyanee Wijesekera had been appointed as the acting SG after her previous acting appointment of two weeks had lapsed few days earlier.

Speaker Joseph Michael Perera too was out of the country along with other legislators including Anura Bandaranaike, attending a conference in Namibia. In the absence of a Deputy Speaker, it fell on the Deputy Chairman of Committees Siri Andrahennadi to conduct proceedings. It's close to a year since the election of this Parliament but the post of the Deputy speaker has remained vacant, with the two sides unable to agree on who should take up the post.

Although the acting Speaker may have been counting on two days of smooth sailing with only two non controversial amendment bills, the Rent and National Housing Development Authority (Amendment) Bills set for debate on Tuesday and the next sitting day allotted for votes of Condolences, the opposition stirred up enough noise in the Chambers to have Mr.Andrahennadi trying hard to keep the situation under control.

The problems began when parliamentarian Dinesh Gunawardene said he was asking for an adjournment debate on a matter of public importance-the situation in the north and east and said he had given notice of it to the acting Speaker. Twenty members on the opposition side too rose in their places to support him as required by standing orders if such a motion is to be taken up for debate.

"The government first said no to the debate on the confidence vote they wanted to move themselves as well as the no -confidence motion against Defence Minister Tilak Marapana. We are now asking for an adjournment debate on the increasingly dangerous situation developing in the north," Mr.Gunawardene said.

However, Chief Government Whip Mahinda Samarasinghe said the motion had been made available only a day earlier and the government could not allow it as they needed time to prepare the speakers and also be ready comprehensively for the debate.

"We are prepared to give not one day but two or three days, if we are given proper notice. This question is being put purely to play to the gallery," Mr. Samarasinghe charged.

The Opposition didn't take the criticism lightly and JVP's Wimal weerawansa accused the government of attempting to prevent any kind of debate on the north-east situation until the so-called talks in Thailand are concluded.

Although Mr.Andrahennadi ruled that a debate cannot be allowed, the arguments dragged on for more than half an hour. There was still a lot of shouting going on when Parliamentary Affairs Minister A.H.M. Azwar moved the vote of condolence on the death of Ashley Soundranayagam - the Batticaloa district MP who was killed in November 2000 - less than two months after he was elected to Parliament.

Instead of the situation in the country, what the opposition did get was a chance to talk on a motion moved by Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapakse condemning the terrorist attacks on America a year ago and a resolution to support the global war on terrorism.

PA and UNF members spoke on the scourge of terrorism gripping the world and the need to put an end to it but cautioned on the need to distinguish between liberation struggles and terrorism.

It was the lone JVP speaker Anura Dissanayake who said the USA was reaping what it had sowed by causing dissension in many countries in the world over the years and the attacks were a result of that. He also went onto attack the UNF government accusing it's members of slaying more than 60,000 of their comrades in the period of 1988-90.

"Some of these government members engaged in getting sadistic pleasures by killing innocent people," he charged amidst shouts by UNF legislators that it was the JVP that unleashed death and mayhem in the country and not the other way.

Finance Minister K.N.Choksy too took time in the House to answer the allegations again by Dinesh Gunawardene that he had disregarded the suggestions made by the Supreme Court to make amendments to the VAT Bill before it was passed in Parliament.

Minister Choksy said that the SC had said that " no question of unconstitutionality was involved here" and the amendment suggested by the Supreme Court was related merely to a matter of policy and not of constitutionality. He said the suggested amendment was made before the Bill was passed.

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