Public funds busted to maintain bankrupt House
By Nalaka Nonis and Santhush Fernando
A three-and-a-half month old government, four parliamentary sessions -- two of them ending in chaos and blows -- no debates, no important bills passed and no more sittings for this month. This will be the pathetic legacy of the 113th august assembly as it prepares to meet next on July 20.

Since a new government was elected to office on April 2, Parliament has met only on four days -- April 22, May 18, 19 and June 8. The proceedings on these days were confined to the election of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and swearing in of four new MPs with the most part of parliamentary business being dominated by unruly and unbecoming incidents that have undermined the supremacy of the House.

Despite assurances from the new government that important legislation such as the anti-corruption bill and anti-conversion bill would be on top of the parliamentary agenda, they have all been held back. The only matter that was debated was the Kandapola incident and that too was overshadowed by the dispute surrounding the JHU monks. With parliament not meeting regularly, time has not been allocated even for oral questions regarding various matters of parliamentarians.

For the whole of this year only a few bills were passed in parliament- and this too during the period of the UNF government. The bills included the Amendment to the Land Reclamation and Water Board Act, the VAT amendment bill and the Inland Revenue amendment bill. With the convening of the new parliament, Parliamentary committees such as the disciplinary committee and the high posts committee have to be constituted anew. There is also the need for the reconstitution of important committees such as the select committee on electoral reforms, which under the previous parliament had completed a set of recommendations. The process of giving legal effect to these recommendations was disrupted by the dissolution of parliament on February 7.

The Opposition has charged that the government's inefficiency has not only disrupted the carrying out of important business in the House but also denied them the opportunities to raise vital issues pertaining to the progress of the peace process, the government's pre-election promises, strikes, the cost of living and the devaluation of the rupee.

Former Speaker Joseph Michael Perera commenting on the situation said, "It is sad to see the government not taking up important legislation, debates and adjournment motions in parliament. We have so far not been able to present oral questions to the House since this government came. What is happening now inside the House is all needless stuff".

He charged that in comparison to the first three- month period of the former UNF government, the UPFA government had made little progress in parliament. Although parliament has met only on four occasions, the maintenance cost is still high. Even when parliament does not meet MPs are entitled to come there, conduct meetings and have meals at a nominal price. They can even bring visitors who also have the benefit of enjoying the meals.

The meals of parliamentarians are subsidised. A breakfast consisting of string hoppers, noodles, bread, rathu kekulu rice and kiri bath, fish, chicken, potatoes, dhal, coconut sambal, chilly sambal, onion sambal, fried egg, omelette, scrambled eggs, half-boiled egg, full-boiled egg, bacon, sausages, jam (3 varieties), butter, Marmite, tea, coffee and fresh milk, costs only six rupees. The 15-rupee lunch comprises, Samba, Basmati or Kekulu rice along with fish, beef, chicken, five types of vegetables, vegetable salad, fried fish, courses, soup, bread, butter, mushroom and baby corn, with banana, pineapple, papaw, pudding, ice cream for dessert and also coffee.

On days that parliamentary meetings are held, 250 kgs. of rice, 20 kgs. of Basmati rice, 50 kgs. of Seer fish, 200 kgs. of Paraw fish, 20 kgs. of prawns, 150 kgs. of chicken, 100 kgs. of mutton (for two days), 110 loaves of bread, 10 loaves of brown bread, vegetable worth around Rs. 13,500 and fruits worth about Rs. 21,200, 3 kgs. of sausages, 2 kgs. of bacon and 25 kgs. of Gila fish are prepared in the parliamentary kitchen. The monthly electricity bill is about Rs. 3 to 4 million, while the telephone bill is about 6 to 6.5 million rupees.

The ugly scenes that transpired in parliament last Tuesday has also raised doubts among parents and teachers whether it was advisable to allow schoolchildren to witness parliamentary sessions in the future.

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