The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) was pleased to see a recent newspaper headline which read: “MINISTERS SHOULD BE ASHAMED: SPEAKER” in connection with the inexcusable frequency with which Ministers fail to answer oral questions posed by the Opposition in Parliament. From time to time, the media, too, have drawn the attention of the public to the fact that either the late Mr Jeyaraj Fernandopulle or Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva or Mr Dinesh Gunawardena were forced into the position of having to answer questions which were addressed to specific line Ministers. The perception that the public has is that the preponderant majority of Ministers have not been appointed to their posts on account of any competence in the subjects assigned to them but merely to secure their loyalty to the government. They are neither knowledgeable nor interested in their subjects and are forced to rely on the more experienced senior Ministers to fend off the Opposition rather than to divulge the perhaps embarrassing or incriminating information being sought. Too many Ministers are seen to treat the responsibility that has been vested in them by the People as a matter of little or no importance. They absent themselves so often from the Parliamentary Chamber that even the present Speaker, who is noted for his extraordinarily accommodating attitude towards Ministers, has been driven to express his displeasure. Considering that even the most insignificant Ministry costs the State several million rupees a year, the lack of integrity and accountability exhibited by the cavalier attitude shown with regard to answering legitimate questions raised in Parliament is to be greatly deplored.
We believe that an improvement could be effected in this regard but only if the Speaker steps forward to set an example, as explained below.
A few years ago, we wrote to the Speaker requesting that he gives us a list of those MPs who had failed to submit their assets and liabilities declarations. He did not bother even to acknowledge our inquiry. We should like to emphasise that we did not ask for any confidential information relating to the assets or liabilities of those who had made their declarations. All that we wanted to do was to be able to identify those MPs who were breaking the law in this connection by not submitting their declarations. Subsequently, we repeated our query through the press but, again, had no response. It is not too late, even now, for the Speaker to give us an answer. He, too, is an MP delegated by the People to represent them and, having been elevated to the third highest post in the country, he is under a particularly high obligation to set a good example by answering this simple question which we, in the interests of the People, have been asking him.
Despite the Speaker’s failure to answer the aforementioned query, we called upon him, on a later occasion, through the press, to submit to Parliament a report giving the list of overseas visits he himself has made, utilising State funds, together with details of who accompanied him, what the trips cost, whom he met, and what benefit he was able to secure for Sri Lanka by making each of these trips. Perhaps, his staff do not monitor media comments with sufficient care and missed our enquiries. We hope that, at least now, one of his undoubtedly large circle of well-wishers will see this plea of ours and encourage him act on it so that he will become a role model for all his fellow Parliamentarians. We believe that, if he were to show that he is ready to be accountable to the People, he will be able to exert compelling moral authority, in addition to the formal powers with which he has been vested, to get Ministers to prepare and furnish answers promptly to the questions raised by the Opposition in the name of the People, without shamelessly and improperly asking for unconscionably long dates to do so, or hiding behind the Leader of the House or the Government Whip.
If only the Right to Information Act, which has been ready to be presented in Parliament for more than a few years, were actually to be debated and passed, we would have an alternative approach to securing answers of interest to the public. However, our informal inquiries reveal that there are too many powerful persons, with numerous skeletons in their cupboards, who have no intention of ever allowing this proposed Act to become law lest they find themselves deservedly being well and truly cooked in the boiling hot water in which they would undoubtedly find themselves.
Citizens Movement for Good Governance