Jan 14

Whilst the Sri Lankan public is aware that there are some Members of Parliament (MPs) who do try to bring to the notice of the Government problems faced by the public, those MPs who do not care two cents for the welfare of the People far outnumber the conscientious and caring ones.  Unhappily, our citizens have continued to accept without protest the reality that a large number of our MPs (including Ministers) do not attend Parliament regularly or only show their faces for a few minutes in the Chamber, presumably so that they can collect their attendance allowances.

The Speaker has, on several occasions, remarked on the remissness of Ministers and non-Ministerial Members of Parliament who disregard their obligation to the citizens who elected them to be their representatives.  Too numerous to count have been the occasions when Ministers have not been present to answers questions addressed to them.  Shamelessly, they have got into the habit of leaving it to the Leader of the House or the Chief Government Whip to trot out some kind of an answer.  In another case of irresponsibility, not very long ago, Ms Gamini Lokuge, T.B.Ekanayake, Arundika Fernando and Wasantha Senanayake, who had indicated that they wanted to present petitions were not present in the Chamber on the allotted date.  The Speaker was most emphatically not pleased.  This is just one of many such instances.  It demonstrates the contempt that so many Ministers and MPs have for the People, paying scant regard to the fact that it the People who pay them – and that, too, more than handsomely in cash and in kind.  That is, without taking into account the ample opportunities empowered MPs have “to make a little bit on the side”.

The scant respect shown to the public by Ministers and MPs is seen in the way in which they have been riding roughshod over the public’s rights and convenience in so many ways but most visibly when they decide to bulldoze their way through the traffic on our public roads.  In this connection, we are reminded of a well-publicized report of a couple of months back that an MP’s vehicle had hit a wild boar at a speed of around 160km/h.  We have heard nothing further about any action that might have been taken against him.  Was he given protection from prosecution under “blanket presidential immunity”, not to mention “impunity”?  Did this immunity extend to his driver as well?  Is the MP not to be held responsible for not warning his driver to conform to the speed limits that all the rest of us have to respect?  What was the urgent matter that required him to put at such great risk the multitude of road users that he must have passed on this “life-saving” journey that completely tore apart a powerful wild boar into two pieces which were flung into the distance?  It could very well have been an innocent pedestrian (or two or many more of them) who was violently dissected into several pieces.  Happily – but not for the wild boar – the incident ended as it did.  Would it be too much to ask our Police Spokesperson to tell us where the Police draws the line between criminal culpability and immunity in this and similar instances?

If one were to carry out even a superficial analysis of the number of hours spent each year by MPs on matters of concern to the public, it would show us how many of them are, to all intents and purposes, cheating the People by not devoting enough time to constructive discussion and consideration of the problems faced by citizens.  The unending torrents of quite irrelevant and crude personal attacks or salacious remarks that are thrown across the floor of the Chamber can hardly be counted as serious contributions made for the welfare of the People.  Sailors, who are proverbially credited with a facility for colourful language, would find that they could learn a thing or two from our Parliamentarians.

We have an ageing MP castigating the Indian Prime Minister, who is younger than he by a few years, as a naakiya, which may freely be translated as “a doddering old man”!  This MP continued with his tirade by referring to the UK Prime Minister as a kaalakanniya, which means “miserable wretch”.  He described President Obama as a kalla, namely “a black fellow”.  Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe was diagnosed as having thala thel flowing in his veins, thus accusing him of being a lover of Tamils who are popularly believed to use sesame (gingelly) oil for cooking and on their hair.  It has been reported that our formerly respected Professor of Law, in his incarnation as Minister of External Affairs, was present at the time but did not seem in the least troubled by these obnoxious appellations.  In any event, does not reconciliation require that citizens of different ethnic and religious groups should give up their hate-filled rhetoric and learn to love each other a little bit as Ranil Wickremasinghe is being faulted for doing?

Let us now look at the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), which is one of most important entities in Parliament.  It is required to oversee – or, more accurately, to carry out “post-mortems” – on the functioning of a large number of State institutions.  How well do its members perform?

We have had a few hardworking and conscientious MPs who have been the Chairmen of COPE, which now has a membership of 31 or so.  Particular mention may be made of the late Mr Bernard Soyza, Mr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and Mr D.E.W.Gunasekera.  But what about the performance of the other members?  Unfortunately, we do not have access to the detailed records of the contributions made by the members of COPE to its deliberations.  Nevertheless, a brief peek at the latest Press reports indicate that only a small fraction of the total membership had attended over 50 per cent of the 100 or so meetings held in 2012/2013.  By name, these dutiful MPs were M/s D.E.W.Gunasekera, Mahinda Amaraweera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Dayasiri Jayasekera (now resigned), A.H.M.Azwer, A.Vinayagamoorthy, Eran Wickremaratne and Sarana Gunawardena.  As for outright malingering, the first prize goes jointly to M/s S.M.Chandrasena, Weerakumara Dissanayaka, Atureliye Ratana Thera and E.Saranavanapavan, who did not attend even one meeting out of the total of 100.

Ms Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Mr Chandrasiri Gajadeera and Mr M.T.Hasan Ali managed the Herculean effort of attending one meeting each!  Mr Namal Rajapaksa managed to participate in three meetings.  As an ambitious young MP, he should realize that he will have to do much better than that to earn the trust of the populace.  Mr Mervyn Silva and Susil Premajayantha were present at four meetings each.  Ms Rosy Senanayake outdid these six MPs by gracing all of five meetings.

To some extent, one may attribute some of this underperformance to the perception that the majority of MPs belonging to the Government are not expected to think but only to provide support as noisily as possible so that the Opposition’s contributions are drowned.  In the midst of all the yelling, there is a Member who, in his apparent keenness to demonstrate his loyalty to his patrons, insists on popping-up like a jack-in-the box to reveal his intimate, but highly unproductive, knowledge of Standing Orders.  It may not be too wild a guess to suggest that he wastes more Parliamentary time than any other MP.

Some of the MPs not only behave in a deplorable manner in Parliament, where they are protected by Parliamentary privilege, but also outside.  A married MP whose notoriety in snatching journalists’ cameras, tying indefensible public servants to trees, attacking the genitals of a monk and goodness knows what else, managed to outdo himself by gaining international exposure by offering to take as his wife a highly placed United Nations official.  He did not indicate what he would do with his lawfully-wedded wife nor did he consider how adversely his proposal would affect the view that reasonable people both here and abroad would come to form about Sri Lanka’s governance, its legislators and its People.

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