House sitting hours to change despite objections from opposition

By Chandani Kirinde

The Government is going ahead with the decision to change the hours of sittings of Parliament from mid-June despite objections from Opposition parties and employees and the additional overtime payments.

The new hours for sittings of the House from June 22 will be between 1.30 p.m. and 7 p.m. as decide by the Parliament Business Committee, Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena said.

The reason for shifting sitting hours to the afternoon is to allow Ministers to spend more time in their ministries and to give MPs more time to attend to their public engagements during the morning, Minister Gunawardena said.

However both the UNP and the DNA MPs have objected to the move saying it would pose many logistical problems. “It’s an inconvenience to the staff as well as for us. It is better for us to start the sittings in the morning and wind up by around 4.30,” Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga said.

DNA MP Anura Kumara Dissanayaka said that the media too would face many problems once the sitting hours were changed. “We all know that most newspapers go into print by late afternoon and hence they would find it difficult to accommodate the day’s proceedings in their early editions while for the electronic media too this would pose many problems,” he said.

The DNA had requested that editors and heads of media institutions be consulted before the changes are made or arrangements made to telecast the proceedings live but there had been no positive response to these requests from the Government.

However the Chief Government Whip said that the House used to sit between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and the changes to morning sittings were made due to security reasons but that problem does not arise any more. He added that as Parliament staff anyway works a little later on sitting days, the new hours would not cause too many logistical problems.

However DNA MP Dissanayaka said that when the House used to sit in the afternoons, there was little media coverage of proceedings and much of the information was gathered by the public from the Hansard.

Meanwhile Parliamentary officials have also met with the Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa to discuss how the changes in time would affect them. One has been the request for overtime payments for staff members who will be required to work beyond 4.30 p.m.

Presently too staff members are given an overtime payment but there has been a request to increase this given the additional hours they would need to work once sittings commence at 1.30 p.m.

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