No fight, only talk as sessions survive four days
By Santhush Fernando
The thirteenth Parliament met for the fifth time in three months this week. An unusual calm prevailed against the backdrop of violent scenes that marred the last sittings on June 8.

Tuesday's sessions began with six new MPs taking their oaths before Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara. Mohomed Muzammil, Nirmala Kothalawala, H.R. Mithrapala from UPFA and Mohideen Musthapha, Basheer Segu Dawood and Siyabdeen Najimudeen from the UNF were sworn in to fill the vacancies created by the resignation of UPFA MPs Phillip Kumarasinghe, Maheepala Herath and Reginald Cooray and UNF MPs Ali Zaheer Moulana, Ismail Kuddoos and W.P.S. Pushpa Kumara.

The highlights of this weeks' sessions were the debates on the control of state media and the UPFA's economic policy framework. UNF MP Lakshman Seneviratne moving the debate slammed the UPFA for going back on its election manifesto promise that it would de-politicise the state media. Instead, a media mafia was running state media institutions, causing a 70 percent fall in the circulation, he said.

The Badulla District Parliamentarian said that although the SLFP had agreed to a JVP proposal not to appoint any defeated candidates, almost all top posts in the state media institutions were filled by them, sidelining professional journalists.

Minister and SLFP stalwart Anura Bandaranaike, who once had a stake at a now-defunct newspaper group, told that the UNF had no right to ask the Government to liberate the media, as its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe made no effort to free it during his tenure as prime minister.

He linked the origins of the plague that was gripping the state media to the late President J. R. Jayewardene - whom he referred to as 'father of all troubles' - while making no mention about the 1970-77 period during which one newspaper group was nationalized and another sealed. Mr. Bandaranaike in a defiant rhetoric said the UPFA would continue to use the state media to strengthen the government, which is still unable to muster enough support in the legislature to cross or reach the 113 mark.

Undeterred, the globetrotting tourism minister, who is now in China, mustered enough courage to send a message to Speaker Lokubandara that his days as Speaker were limited. "We can and will appoint a Speaker who is capable in working with us," he said.

Taking the debate to a different aspect, journalist-turned-TNA Parliamentarian S. Jeyanandamoorthi accused the Sinhala media of operating in a racist and fanatical manner to disrupt the peace process. "The Sinhala media called me a Tiger when I covered the opening of LTTE courts for The Sunday Times," the angry Batticaloa District MP complained.

In response, Deputy Media Minister Cegu Issadeen gave the hackneyed reply that the state media had a traditional role to play in countering anti-government propaganda in the private media. Though an unusual calm prevailed the debate was not without the usual uproar.

Shattering the serenity of the House, angry and agitated JHU parliamentarians joined Government MPs in denouncing a comment made by Batticaloa District TNA MP K. Gajendran. The comment, which many saw as unwarranted and inflammatory, was later expunged from the Hansard.

JHU leader Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera warned that if the TNA made one more such comment, the JHU would cross the divide and join the Government.

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama presented the Freedom Alliance Government's economic policy framework. Named "Creating our future: Building our Nation", Minister Amunugama said that unlike the economic programme of the UNF, the UPFA policy framework was pro-growth and pro-poor.

K. N. Choksy, author of the UNF's pro-market budgets which did not convince the rural masses and contributed to the defeat of the UNF at the last general election, denounced the UPFA document as "a mass of words that contained no concrete proposal".

Hitting out at the government's so-called "mixed economic policy" as straight-jammed economy that no country in the world followed, Mr. Choksy claimed there was a yawning gap between the income and expenditure of the Government while no budgetary provision had been made to implement the policy framework, which, he predicted, was bound to collapse.

Socialist minister D. E. W. Gunasekera told Mr. Choksy that the UPFA would introduce its patriotic, radical and left policies in the November budget. Reminding the government that socialism was more a rhetoric than reality, Puttalam district UNF MP Gamini Jayawickrama Perera said the Government was leading the country into a more capitalist framework than the UNF.

From state media to economic policy, the House on Thursday turned its attention on dengue which, according to statistics provided by the UNF's doctor-turned-politician, Jayalath Jayawardena, had claimed 60 lives and afflicted nearly 10,000 people.

Dr. Jayawardena moving an adjournment motion charged that the Government had not taken any substantial steps to counter the dengue outbreak and called on the state to treat it as a national emergency, even at "this late stage".

He warned that if the government failed to take action, the opposition was prepared to undertake this task with the help of the masses. Endorsing Dr. Jayawardena's view, JHU's Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera said that unless Parliament put in to action what it debated, it would soon become a talking shop as China's Chairman Mao Zedong once remarked.

However, the Ven. Thera saw a bigger danger to the country than dengue in what he referred to as "the disease of unethical conversions." Also talking with tongue-in-cheek or metaphorically was UNF National List MP Abdul Bais when he said the Government too was suffering from dengue. "The PA had been afflicted with dengue after the JVP joined it and is now trying to cure it by injections from the CWC and the SLMC."

A JVP MP retorted: "Your leader too has been afflicted with dengue." The House was adjourned until August 3 after some lively debate on national issues were conducted sans any fight - though government benches were occupied by only about 20 MPs most of the time. If the opposition MPs who were present had walked out, the House would have had no quorum.

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