By Chandani Kirinde, our Lobby Correspondent
The much talked about 17th Amendment to the Constitution was once again the focal point of debate in Parliament last week.
By now it is evident that all the talking in the world is not going to break the deadlock with regard to the reappointment of the Constitutional Council (CC) given the polarizing views held by the Government and opposition on how to resolve the issue.
The Government is adamant on waiting for the report of the Parliamentary Select Committee which was appointed to look into the operation of the 17th Amendment, and identify its shortcomings and recommend corrective measurers while the opposition including the UNP, JVP and the TNA want the CC appointed immediately without waiting for the report.
The Government’s insistence on the Select Committee report seems a lame excuse now, because it’s two years since the committee was appointed and so far it has failed to present an interim report to Parliament.
The committee has been in limbo since two of the UNP’s representatives in the committee Karu Jayasuriya and G.L.Peiris joined the Government in January last year and since then the UNP decided to boycott the committee insisting if they are to participate in its deliberations, these two members should be removed.
There has been a softening of the UNP stance since then with another of its Committee members K.N.Choksy being allowed to participate in it but still there is no consensus on the final contents for the interim report and hence the process drags on.
Chairman of the Committee, D.E.W.Gunasekera who spoke in Parliament on Thursday did his best to shift blame away from the President, on his failure to appointment the CC saying, the term of the first Council had lapsed in March, 2005 before this President took office he was not to be blamed for the present deadlock. He said the real delay was caused by the minority parties in Parliament namely the JVP, TNA and the SLMC failing to agree on their nominee to the Council for two years and only decided on former Auditor General A.C.Mayadunne in February, 2007.
“Who is responsible for this delay? It was the Opposition and the JVP, TNA and SLMC in particular but there was no agitation for the CC for two long years because the responsibility rested with them,” he charged.
Mr. Gunasekera also blamed the Opposition Leader, accusing him of wanting to perpetuate the crisis without a solution, and carrying on his international campaign claming the President was violating the Constitution by not appointing the CC.
Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe also came to the defence of the President saying he was compelled to make some appointments to national institutions in the absence of the CC as these were of “critical significance” and their existence and functioning was of great importance and the President was fully justified in using his residuary power under the Constitution to make these appointments. The Opposition however was not satisfied with such explanations.
The Government has now a tougher opponent to contend with in Parliament in the form of the JVP that has become more vocal of its criticism of the Rajapaksa administration since its former Propaganda Secretary MP Wimal Weerawansa left the party.
The JVP’s Anuradhapura District MP K.D. Lal Kantha has become more prominent among the JVP’s rank and file and it was he who made it clear to the ruling side that the days of being silent about the government’s bad policies fearing it would affect the war effort, were now over.
“The war is now a daily occurence and is a necessity and not a political issue but because of it we can no longer refrain from speaking about the other issues that are affecting the people particularly their economic woes,” MP Lal Kantha said adding the general strike planned for July was to safeguard the democratic rights of the people.
“The President had two and a half years to address the country’s problems. It’s only in the war effort that there has been a movement in the proper direction but the other issues have been ignored,” he said.
The attacks on journalists were addressed by several MPs. UNP’s Dayasiri Jayasekera accused the government of carrying out a war on the media and not a war on terror.
“The government had managed to silence the journalists in the north by killing or attacking them and this same trend is now being extended to the south,” he charged.
Media Minister, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said the Government appointed a committee to look into the grievances of journalists as well as to get to the bottom of who was behind a fax that was sent to several missions in Colombo containing names of 27 journalists who are allegedly being targeted by the state.
President Rajapaksa might be taking a cue from his predecessor who was known for appointing a commission to inquire into all kinds of matters but never saw an end result.
There is one certainty that threats, intimidation and attacks against media personnel will not stop by the appointment of a committee.
What is needed is a clear statement by the President and the Government that it is serious about upholding media freedom. Otherwise such a committee would only be a waste of time and money.