A House divided as Assets Bill becomes law

Opposition vents collective ire on Bill as Govt. remains steadfast in its support for its ‘virtues’

Parliament on Wednesday debated and passed the Revival of Underperforming Enterprises and Underutilised Assets Bill, which was presented to the House as an Urgent Bill.

Democratic National Alliance (DNA) MP Anura Dissanayaka said that, though Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa insisted that the Bill was not introduced in a secretive manner, saying that a committee had been appointed for drafting the Bill, and Cabinet kept informed, the lack of public participation in the process made it secretive.

“It was an entirely a government process, there was no public participation. Only the government discussed the issue within its circles. If the real fear was that, if company owners found out about the Bill and started removing the goods, or if BOI agreements had been violated, there are other ways to deal with them, rather than bring in such legislation. There is no justification for this Bill. This is a stubborn and thuggish Bill,” he said.

UNP MP Karu Jayasuriya said this kind of Bill was damaging to the country‘s image, as it would scare away foreign investors as well as affect local businesses. Today, the country has a bad image abroad due to the deterioration of democracy in the country. The media is under attack and many journalists have been killed, abducted or attacked.

Tamil National alliance (TNA) National List MP M.A. Sumanthiran said Parliament is not competent to pass such a Bill. He said that, in the schedules to the Bill, certain companies have been described as underperforming enterprises or those having underutilised assets.

“No information is available to this Parliament to intelligently discuss if all these assets are underutilized, or if these companies are underperforming. Parliament is being invited to decide on these companies and pronounce them as underperforming or underutilized, without placing before it even the Balance Sheets or Accounts of these companies.” Mr. Sumanthiran said that, “Even if those details are available, it is not the task of the House to go into such matters. If there is a desire to take over the assets garnet to various enterprises, then the Bill should lay down certain criteria upon which all this enterprises could have come under scrutiny.

A body could have been appointed to decide on which ones to take over. In such a scenario, many of the companies that are not listed in these schedules would have also come under scrutiny”. He said this was an ad hoc piece of legislation, which merely pronounces some institutions as underperforming or having underutilised assets. “It’s outside the competence of the Legislature to pass laws like this. What about this Parliament? This Parliament can be described as underperforming and underutilized, as it has lost all its powers, because government has obtained, by dubious methods, a two-thirds majority. Parliament has been reduced to a rubber stamp. It’s a sad end we have come to.

Minister Jagath Pushpakumara who wound up the debate on behalf of the government, said that many of the UNP MPs had spoken on the takeover of the Sevenagala Sugar Company. “I was Chairman of Sevenagala and Pelawatta Sugar Corporations. Since the present proprietor took over Sevenagala, sugar production has come down from 24,000 tonnes to 6,000 tonnes, while spirit production has gone up. The aim of these companies should be to increase sugar production in the country, not the production of spirits.

Minister Pushpakumara said the Maha Sangha have also been misled on the issue. “None of the monks in Sevenagala have spoken in this regard. They know what is happening there. The BOI agreement says that they will produce 10,000 value added liquor bottles. This is the agreement signed during the UNP’s tenure,” he said.

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