ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 27
Columns - Lobby

This way that way: Flying questions and dodging ministers
By Chandani Kirinde, Our LobbyCorrespondent
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 future.
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 Raviraj.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.