ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 9, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 15

Govt. reloading phoney cards: JVP - Parliament

By Nadia Fazlulhaq

The explosive issues over the five controversial finance bills turned parliament into a virtual combat zone on Thursday with ugly and unprecedented scenes provoking Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara to describe it as terrorism and warn he might be forced to quit.

The five bills intended to raise taxes on mobile phones, motor vehicles and other widely used items created a highly-charged atmosphere compounded by the decision to put the decisive issue to an electronic vote. The MPs who were not hi-tech literate or tech-scared found it difficult and the tension over who would say yes and who would say no brought matters to a bursting point.

Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara

Finally, the first bill was passed with 106 MPs voting for and 81 opposing with the no votes coming from the UNP, the JVP, the TNA and the two SLFP-M members. Opposition UNP leader then led a chorus of protests saying the electronic voting system was defective and demanding the old process. JVP and other opposition members joined in the shouting and chaos with the Speaker pleading for order and promising to put things right. The situation did not get better but worse when UNP parliamentarian Mahinda Ratnatilake rushed to the Speaker’s chair and tried to snatch some documents from Mr. Lokubandara’s table.

Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage rush to the Speaker’s rescue while some MPs were seen to be exchanging blows behind the Speaker’s chair while others were trying to capture the front-page headline hitting scenes on their mobile phone cameras.

On a sober and serious note earlier, Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion Minister Sarath Amunugama who had introduced the five bills said 6.3 million mobile phones, 1.5 million CDMA phones and almost 900,000 land phones were in use in Sri Lanka. That meant 40 percent of the population had phones and the government hoped to increase the figure to 50 percent, by giving more benefits.Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera rang alarm bells saying the tax on mobile phones would hit mainly the poorer people – a strange twist and irony of today’s life where poorer people have the modern mobile phones while the richer folk still use the ancient land phones.

He charged that the new taxes were not really meant for development work but to maintain the giant cabinet. Mr. Perera also turned angrily to government MPs and asked why they were imposing new taxes on vehicles, including school vans while a VVIP was flaunting a multi-million rupee Aston Martin super luxury sports car. He wanted to know who this lucky boy was but government MPs did not or dared not say anything.

If the UNP hit hard, the JVP hit harder. Parliamentarian Sunil Handunnettii said the five new tax bills amounted to a mini budget with wreaths for the people instead of bouquets. Using the mobile phone imagery, he accused the Rajapaksa administration of being like a re-load government when it wanted more money.

Amidst the confusion, contradiction and chaos, the Speaker in his traditionally mellow voice kept insisting that the bills had been duly approved. But the protests and challenges continued.

On Tuesday, parliament took up the monthly motion of the extension of the emergency with Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake giving a scare by charging that the LTTE was trying to produce chemical weapons. As evidence he cited the detection of sulphuric acid.

He said that during the past month, 21 security forces personnel were killed and 192 injured while 27 civilians were killed and eight wounded. UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella said that the President has made enemies with the Tamil parties, other political parties and the international community.

UNP frontliner Lakshman Kiriella opened fire for the opposition. He said the Rajapaksa policies were plunging the country into further international condemnation and isolation while the Tamil people were also being marginalised and harassed.

In such a catastrophic situation, the government was going ahead with plans to spend some 300 million US dollars to buy MiG 29s while trying to get a loan of 500 million US dollars from HSBC and other banks at a huge interest rate of eight percent.

The JVP also lashed out. Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath accused the government of allowing police to use emergency regulations to attack university students and workers. He warned that if the trend continued the party would withdraw its support for the motion to emergency.

The government side roared as the bombshell defector Sripathi Suriyarachchi rose to speak. He said the Ukrainian government was carrying out a full probe on the alleged MiG bribes while bribery commission officials were going to Ukraine and Britain for investigations. The scam was a terrible shame for Sri Lanka.

However, the motion to extend the emergency was approved with 88 voting for and 12 against. On Wednesday, an adjournment motion was moved to discuss the current situation in the north and east. TNA leader R. Sampanthan said hundreds of thousands of people were still displaced and accused the government of trying to create a Sinhala district between Trincomalee and Mullaitivu.

He said the situation in Jaffna was so grave that at least 65 people had sought protective custody from the Human Rights Commission in recent days. In response, Public Administration Minister Karu Jayasooriya said normalcy would soon be restored in the east and assured there would be no military rule there.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.