way that way: Flying questions and dodging ministers
Another hotchpotch of 27 ministries, was taken up for debate during
the committee stage of the Budget in Parliament last week with subjects
ranging from Womens’ Affairs, Transport, Power and Energy,
Education and Health being among the subjects under discussion.
This assortment of subjects also meant that there
was not even a word spoken on some subjects like Science and Technology
expect by the minister in charge, Dr.Tissa Vitarana. “Either
my Ministry is very good or else no one understands the subject,”
Dr.Vitarana said when he got up to speak.
His other ministerial colleagues were not so lucky.
They had all kinds of allegations made against their ministries
by the UNP, JVP, TNA and JHU members with Trade and Consumer Affairs
Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle being at the receiving end of many
an opposition allegation that his ministry is not doing enough to
control the cost of living or not sending enough food to people
in Jaffna and Varkarai. The JVP MPs in particular levelled charges
against Health Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva for irregularities
in his ministry.
In response, Mr. De Silva revealed his frustration with the frequent
trade unionism that has become a law unto itself in the health sector.
“Unless we break the dictatorial nature of these trade unions
in the health sector, it can never develop properly. If we try to
train more nurses, or MLTs or psychotherapists, they say they can’t
train many as it will bring down their standards. So how can we
go forward,” the Minister asked. As the vote of his ministry
were taking place, some health sector employees were once again
proving their activism skills, lining the road leading to Parliament,
shouting and carrying placards asking for settlement of salary anomalies.
The JVP also took on the new entrant to President
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Cabinet Youth Empowerment Minister Arumugam
Thondaman accusing him of running his office from the CWC headquarters
in Colombo and queried why a person who did not support the “Mahinda
Chintana” is benefiting under the Rajapaksa’s government.
Mr.Thondaman assured the House that he is looking for a new location
for his ministry and would shift within the month, but said nothing
about his pre-election and post –election stance.
There was also an instance when criticism came
from within the government, this time levelled against the Ministry
of Youth Affairs and Sports by a sportsman himself, MP Arjuna Ranataunga.
He alleged that large scale fraud had taken place during the South
Asian Federation games held in Colombo and called for a special
commission or probe these allegations. But the Minister in charge
of the subject Jeevan Kumaratunga said he could not answer these
allegations due to the lack of time to do so but did say that the
SAF games were not a waste of money as Sri Lanka was able to win
178 medals at the games including 38 gold medals.
Mr. Kumaratunga wasn’t the only one dodging
questions in Parliament last week. Foreign Affairs and Ports and
Aviation Minister Mangala Samaraweera too had to use some diversionary
tactics to ditch some queries from the UNP and the JVP about an
intended new budget airline named “Mihin Air” raised
as an adjournment motion by UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake and seconded
by none other than Mr.Karunanayake’s one time arch foe JVP
MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake.
Other than telling the House that Cabinet approval
has not been sought so far for the creation of such an airline and
the stipulated procedure would be adopted in issuing the licence
to the new airline when it is sought, Mr.Samaraweera left more questions
unanswered than answered when the sittings came to a close. He didn’t
say who paid for the newspaper advertisements calling for staff
for the new airline or the creation of a logo for it.
Neither did he answer allegations that millions
were being spent to refurbish an office at the World Trade Centre
for the airline’s office. Another UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekara
moved an adjournment motion calling for an increase in the Rs five
million allocated to each MP from the decentralized Budget to at
least Rs 10-20 million. “Before 1990, each MP only represented
an electorate but today we have to represent an entire district.
I represent the Kurunegala district which has 18 electorates and
with this amount, there is little I can do for the people in my
area,” he lamented.
He was supported in his appeal by another JVP
MP Vijitha Ranaweera but Deputy Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya
said the MPs will have to do with what they have for the time being.
Strangely, while the MPs were talking about increasing their funds,
the politicians who normally make a lot of sound whenever it is
decided to give a pay raise to public servants, remained quite silent
about the thumping pay raise they gave themselves the previous week.
At least on that account, they were united irrespective of political,
ideological, race or religious differences or what ever other differences
they may have.
And with the UNP and the JVP’s new found
camaraderie, there may be other things they will agree on in the
Meanwhile, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had a new entrant to
Parliament on Thursday. K.N.Sri Kantha was sworn in as the MP for
Jaffna, filling in the vacancy created by the death of MP Nadarajah