The spectacle in Parliament earlier this week speaks for itself. It reminds us of a postprandial speech made by the late Lakshman Kadirgamar at a UK-SL Friendship Society dinner, before he turned from lawyer to lawmaker. He said that in Britain, Members of Parliament were not referred to as ‘the Honourable MPs”, but some are, [...]


If you are ‘Honourable’, put country before self


The spectacle in Parliament earlier this week speaks for itself. It reminds us of a postprandial speech made by the late Lakshman Kadirgamar at a UK-SL Friendship Society dinner, before he turned from lawyer to lawmaker. He said that in Britain, Members of Parliament were not referred to as ‘the Honourable MPs”, but some are, while in Sri Lanka all the MPs are called ‘Honourable MPs, but some are not.

One really does not know whether to laugh or to cry at the sight of ‘Honourable MPs’ wearing posh suits and white national dress with invisible mud all over them howling in protest over former President Mahinda Rajapaksa being summoned before the Commission Investigating Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.

The issue of the summons itself is a different matter. The ostensible charge seems rather far-fetched in the country’s political environment, but that is a matter for the prosecution to establish a case. Whether it was timely given the fact that the (minority) Government was seeking the cooperation of the recalcitrant Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) MPs to pass the 19th Amendment (19A) is the point at issue. All the timing of it did was, to use a pithy local saying, poke a finger into the eye of a baby waiting to bawl.

That decision to summon the former President emboldened the SLFP legislators, and a party in disarray was brought together. Even the presence of the President, as the new leader of the SLFP to present the 19A himself was not enough to appease the enraged MPs of the party, many of whom may have been spurred on fearing their own fate before this Commission rather than by empathy with their former leader.

In the process, it gave a helping hand to those waiting to throw a spanner in the works of the 19A and bring Parliamentary proceedings to a standstill. The Government is not without blame either. Its mad rush to have the somewhat half-baked 19A passed — jumping over hurdles but hurling the gauntlet down in the process, without negotiating with the Opposition and reaching some consensus to meet its self-imposed 100-day deadline — was a sure recipe for disaster.

The SLFP initially brought a spoiler in the form of demanding electoral reforms by way of a 20th Amendment (20A) to be simultaneously implemented. We saw a second mad rush in that exercise. They seem to never learn. Back in 2000, the SLFP introduced what was commonly known as the ‘package’. It contained constitutional reforms to abolish the Executive Presidency, an election promise waiting to be implemented since 1994.

It was called a ‘package’ because it contained not only provisions to do away with the Executive Presidency, but included provisions for devolution of power to the North and East – provisions that were unacceptable to the wider population of the country. For reasons best known to them, the SLFP leaders of the time stubbornly refused to de-link the two – the abolition of the Executive Presidency (which was widely accepted) and the devolution mechanism (which was widely opposed).

The result was the burning of the ‘package’ within the chamber of the House to the cheers of thousands protesting outside Parliament. Now, again, the SLFP wants a ‘package’ of sorts linking the reduction of powers of the Executive Presidency with, this time, changes in the way MPs are elected – a case of mixing oranges with apples, as they say.

From all accounts, though the SLFP says it will support the 19A when it is taken up for debate next week, it appears that the section of the party represented in Parliament is in no mood to do so. The political waters have been so muddied with summoning, questioning, and arrest of the Rajapaksa family members that some of the ‘rogue-MPs’ of the previous administration see a lifeline to escape the long arm of the law reaching them because of the continuing chaos.

Dissolution of the present Parliament seems inevitable if this chaos is to continue. An ensuing general (Parliamentary) election however, is not going to be the panacea for the problem at hand. Given the current political scenario outside Parliament and in the electorates around the country, what can be envisaged is such an election churning up a similar composition of the House with a few seats more or less for the main parties viz., the SLFP and the UNP. The picture might be different if 20A comes into play but that is an unlikely possibility because the new hybrid system proposed (170 elected on the old Westminster system and 60 coming through the proportional representation system together with 25 National List MPs), is yet to get into even discussion stage among the political parties. Not that the views of the country have been ascertained either, especially the fact that the people will be asked to sustain 30 additional MPs to the 225 already in the bloated House.

The uncertainty in the political situation has spread to the public sector and to an extent to the commercial sector. They are watching, and waiting; little or nothing is moving.
It is unfortunate that the new Government was unable to implement some of its election promises, in 100 days in office. While, on the one hand, the Government was rushing to meet this self-imposed deadline on 19A, many other promises fell by the wayside. One of them was the introduction of the Right to Information Law, which would have been a major feather in the cap of the new Government.

The draft RTI Bill has been ready from last month, but the officials, after getting the input of the experts played hide and seek eventually putting up to Cabinet a draft bill that was not up to the mark. The Attorney General gave his assent to it, but some loose ends needed to be tidied up to make this law a modern and progressive piece of legislation, hopefully the best in South Asia. Last week we referred to some contradictions with the 19A and the RTI as a constitutional Freedom of Expression right. But in the meantime, the draft bill has been rushed to Cabinet and now approved as an urgent bill with many flaws. It is a classic example of the mad rush as in the drafting of the 19A and these laws the Government had promised, resulting in poor quality laws now to be debated in Parliament.

Even so, the people of this country will be watching with eager eyes and listening avidly to the theatrics of our ‘Honourable’ MPs in the next few days. They will want to know if the MPs can put the country before self, and how many of them deserve to be returned to that august assembly once again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.