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Emergency debate loses sting as money talk generates heat

By Nadia Fazlulhaq

The debate on the extension of the state of emergency in Parliament took a backseat on Thursday, with heated arguments on the Vote on Account and today’s Southern Provincial Council elections dominating the proceedings.

The arguments ensued after the Leader of the House, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva announced that the government had decided to present a Vote on Account for 2010, instead of a Budget.

Minister de Silva said the Vote on Account was being presented not because the government was unable to meet the so-called IMF conditions, but because they felt that in view of the general elections, a new parliament should present the Budget for 2010.

Pointing out that the statement of the Leader of the House was in contradiction to the Deputy Finance Minister’s earlier assurance that arrangements were being made to present the Budget, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe charged that the Vote on Account was to tide over the financial crisis in meeting salaries and other relief measures for the public in the first quarter of 2010.

He also charged that the government was presenting the Vote on Account because of its inability to pay salaries to state employees for the first quarter of 2010 and provide relief to the public due to lack of funds.

JVP Parliamentary group leader MP Anura Kumara Dissanyake said there was a vast difference in previous Votes on Accounts and the present one as the government had not finalized a date for the general elections in 2010.

Opening the extension of the emergency debate, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake said, the government had received information through intelligence sources that LTTE cadres were still at large in the city and the suburbs. He also said there were attempts to form an armed group with the help of those living in Western countries.

UNP MP Lakshman Seneviratne said the government should seriously consider reducing the inconvenience to the public caused by heavy security measures, one-way traffic systems and road closures. He said a foreigner entering the country would feel like he/she was entering a war zone on certain roads although terrorism had been defeated.

The Southern Provincial Council election was a hot topic although several ministers and MPs from the South were not present in the House.

Meanwhile, Matara district JVP MP Pemasiri Manage charged that public transport was being misused for election purposes causing great inconvenience to the public, while intermittent road closures for VIP convoys were an additional irritant for the people in remote areas. He said buses from far away areas such as Mannar and Akkaraipattu were among the 570 buses being used to transport supporters for election campaigning in the south. He also charged that the MPs frequent helicopter rides on tax payers money would heap more burden on the people.

Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama in a defiant statement said the government would not permit the European Union to proceed with the proposed ‘investigation’ in order to extend the GSP+ trade facility.
He said, the government was not willing to compromise Sri Lanka’s sovereignty with the intrusive procedure of a GSP+ investigation and that the government was engaging the European Commission on relevant human rights conventions.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the JVP charged that to offer the Chief of Defence Staff and former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka the post of secretary to the Ministry of Sports and Recreation was a clear move to disrespect him and the entire forces.

JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti added that an Army commander who led the final battle against terrorism would be clearly insulted by such an offer. He said it would be a disgrace for the former Army Commander to address a rebel leader- turned minister, Vinayaagamoorthy Muralitharan (Alias Karuna Amman) as ‘sir’.

Although the Minister of Sports and Recreation, Gamini Lokuge and Deputy Minister Arjuna Ranatunge were present none of them responded to the remarks made by the JVP MP.

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