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Copa : Tissa Vitarana out Kabir Hashim in. Why?

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by Prof. Tissa Vitarana

The Government has made a change in the composition of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts ( COPA ). A major change is that its chairman, Tissa Vitarana, is no longer a member and thus no longer the chairman. As many people have asked me why this has occurred, I thought that for the record and to avoid any misunderstandings, I should make a public statement.

As COPA chairman I have done my duty to the best of my ability with the support of the members of the committee. At the outset I decided to probe the activities of the three main sources of revenue to Government, the Inland Revenue Department (IRD), the Customs, and the Excise Departments.

The Auditor General in his Report stated that many of the largest companies, including a major private bank, had not paid any income tax for six to seven years. When we probed this it came out that there were three successive Boards of Appeal in the IRD, and that a tax payer who did not get redress from the first Board of Appeal, could then go to the second and then the third board of Appeal as well. It would appear that the process took about a year and a half at each stage, so that the process could be delayed for five or more years. Then it would be possible to resort to the Law Courts as well. That was why the biggest contributors to Tax Revenue were able to avoid payment of their dues for so long, seriously affecting Government Revenue and Budgetary expenditure for national development. I, with the support of COPA, decided to propose to the Minister of Finance that there should be only one Board of Appeal in the IRD and that the matter should be settled within six months. Further that at least 50% of the tax amount should be collected at the outset, pending a decision on payment of the balance. I have been informed that both Big Business and some employees at the IRD were not happy with our proposal. Further suggestions were also made to ensure that the sharks were not able to escape the tax net, and officials were not able to take bribes.

With regard to the Customs Department, we found out that the HS Code was being manipulated to enable rich importers of large vehicles, companies or individuals, could avoid paying a substantial portion of the amount due to Government. To give one example, the category of “dual purpose vehicles” was being misused to enable luxury Mercedes Benz vehicles to pay the low duty applicable to ambulances. We proposed that the HS code should be made specific so that there would be a separate category each for ambulances and for luxury vehicles.

With regard to the Excise Department it was clear that adulteration of imported liquor was rampant and that little action was being taken against this abuse. The conduct of frequent raids and ensuring that the bottles collected were properly sealed and sent promptly to the Government Analyst for testing, required to be stepped up considerably if there was to be a significant impact. The attention being paid to stop or at least curtail the illicit liquor industry ( kassippu etc.) was totally inadequate. The conduct of frequent raids by a special Unit of well paid and well trained Police, located separately from the area Police, was essential to achieve a successful outcome.

COPA was also active in many other areas of public concern. To give an example my friend Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando was able to appear before officials of the Wild Life Department and show slides of his successful method for preventing the Elephant-Human conflict, based on protecting the village, and not trapping elephants. On following up we found that no progress had been made. The reason given was that the Wild Life Department had to follow their unsuccessful method of trapping the elephants as tenders had already been called for the purchase of the concrete columns and barbed wire.

The recommendations of COPA have to be sent to the Ministry concerned for action. If our suggestions led to loss of income to some officials the progress was not satisfactory. Further where we identified corrupt individuals there is no way of taking action against them. Not even to report to the Attorney General or the Police. This is very unsatisfactory and needs to be changed if COPA is to be more effective. Otherwise it is a waste of time and money. From what I have stated above, it will be evident why a government headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe will want me out of COPA and replace me with Kabir Hashim.



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Election Fright in Sri Lanka and India’s Marathon in a Midsummer of Elections

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Supporters of the opposition Indian National Congress party dance in celebration in Mumbai on June 4, 2024, during the counting of votes in the national elections (Al Jazeera Photo)

by Rajan Philips

It is tempting to ask if Ranil Wickremesinghe can electorally survive the referendum fast one that he got his cop-turned politico Party Secretary to pull on his behalf. Will Mr. Wickremesinghe even contest? Might his effervescent mind think of another pre-election ploy? Such as a special referendum to consult the people if he should contest the next presidential election for the sake of the economy? He could creatively interpret the constitution to justify such a referendum. But he will most likely not do it. It is not that he wants to absolutely make sure of his chances. It is only that he is not a natural for politics at the hustings. After forty seven years in politics, the man still lacks the fortitude when it comes to facing an election.

While President Wickremesinghe appears to be weighing his options: to run or not to run, like the proverbial Prince of Denmark, other potential candidates and political parties are publicly positioning themselves and outlining their platforms. The SLPP, now forced to wait on Ranil Wickremasinghe to make up his mind, is trying to launch a campaign even without a candidate. Last week, the SLPP reportedly began its ‘battle from Rajarata’ (Satana Arambamu Rajaratin), for what and against whom no one knows. Not far away in Rajarata, the NPP responded in style a few days later. Anura Kumara Dissanayake went lyrical with a litany of people’s grievances and promising deliverance with the assurance of an NPP government just round the corner.

In Colombo, Patali Champika Ranawaka made his own pitch at his Party’s (the United Republic Front) second convention, at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium. It seemed well attended including outside personas who would not be otherwise seen together in the same place nowadays, namely, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Maithripala Sirisena. The former is fighting for the soul of her father’s Party while the latter is fighting to turn it into a rickshaw for Wijeydasa Rajapaksha.

As for Champika Ranawaka, he has apresidential ambitions and may not be in fear of elections, but he has no significant political organization to sponsor his candidacy. Yet the contents of his technocratic speech at the convention lend considerable weight to his credentials as a candidate even though he has no viable campaign wagon of his own.

Absent in these pre-election positionings is the voice of Sajith Premadasa. A while ago I wrote in this column comparing him to Rahul Gandhi in India, mostly for their ineffectiveness as political scions. The elections in India have proved many of us wrong, at least in the pre-election assessment of Rahul Gandhi. Contrary to predictions, Rahul Gandhi is the biggest winner in India’s mammoth election, and Prime Minister Modi is the biggest loser in spite of his threepeat success.

The two cross-country marches that Rahul Gandhi launched covering over 10,000 miles, first from south to north and then from east to west, were initially laughed at lampooned by his detractors, especially those in the pro-BJP media. Now, the marches are being credited for enhancing his image and credibility as a leader. May be Sajith Premadasa could take a leaf from Rahul Gandhi and conduct his own marches in Sri Lanka – from south to north and from east to west.

The journeys will be much shorter and far less arduous. But success cannot be assured, because in a presidential election there is no second place winner. The winner takes it all, unlike in a parliamentary election as in India, where Modi has been cut to size in spite of his winning, and Rahul Gandhi has made substantial political gains even though he could be nowhere near forming a government.

The TNA’s Hand

The TNA had its own marches – from east to north – not too long ago, and now it is reportedly getting ready to have discussions with all presidential candidates before deciding which candidate it can support in the election. The Daily Mirror (June 5) quotes parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran articulating the TNAs position: “We will have to look at what the candidates come up with, and then we will hold discussions with them. Our final decision will be made only after this exercise.”

He has also dismissed, as “dreaming,” the apparent claim by the SJB that the TNA will be supporting Sajith Premadasa in the presidential election, while welcoming the “land distribution programme carried out by the government.” The government is Ranil Wickremesinghe. So, we cannot be sure if Mr. Sumanthiran is intentionally or otherwise tipping his hand about whom they might support. Supporting Ranil Wickremesinghe will not be without some controversy, but if Mr. Wickremesinghe opts to stay out of the race, the TNA will have to look for an alternative suitor.

In any event, evaluating the proposals of candidates and deciding on one of them as worthy of support is a far superior approach to the lame brained suggestion to field a common Tamil candidate, or the dead end idea of boycotting the presidential elections. And the top of the list questions to the candidates should be about what concrete plans do they have to normalize the lives of the survivors and victims of war, how would resources be allocated to implement those plans, and what timing commitment are the candidates willing to make. Nothing less, of course. Nothing more, as well.

The people who are hurting on the ground need to have something on the ground that is material to their lives, and not some text about political structures over which there will never be any agreement between any two Sri Lankans. There is enough constitutional text to provide the framework for rehabilitating the surviving victims of war. The process of rehabilitation would in turn vitalize and revitalize the political texts and provide the scope for new actions and programs. That would be the approach of building from ground up, a surer political process, than the tortuous talk-down alternative of permanently tinkering with the constitution.

It would be interesting to see how the JVP/NPP would respond to the TNA’s intended approach. Will it dismiss it as ‘bargaining’ and, therefore, unacceptable to its political ethics? Or seriously engage with the TNA to see what meeting points there could be between them.

In fact, the exercise should not be limited to the TNA, and should be extended to include the political organizations representing all non-Sinhala-Buddhist sections of the Sri Lankan population. Even the Sinhalese Catholics have political grievances even though they do not have a political organization to represent them. All of this is not ganging up on the Sinhala-Buddhists, Sri Lanka’s natural majority, but seeking to expand the state, rather than divide, to equally include the island’s natural minorities.

Midsummer Elections

While Sri Lanka is in its long pre-election phase, others are finishing up theirs. India has finally ended its election marathon, and while it was at it over seven phases and forty days, South Africa and Mexico started and finished their day long voting business. The European Union is having its elections over this weekend, followed by Britain in July. To complete what one might call a midsummer of elections. The US elections are always Fall elections and are due in November.

Political taxonomists divide the world into super states and small states. There are apparently four super states now – the US, China, India and the EU, republican successors to the old monarchical empires. Remarkably, this year is seeing elections in three of them. The elections to the European parliament are being watched for the rise of populist right wing parties in many member countries, which will have implications for national elections in different countries. Especially France.

In the US, it is still early to say who is bluffing whom: Donald Trump or his Democratic detractors. China is not a part of the democratic taxonomy and would like itself to be left alone to its own civilizational inclinations, as it likes to call them. But others who have got accustomed to having elections have no real reason to change their ways. Democracy has imperfections but elections are not one of them.

Britain, France, and Germany are all former empires, now reduced to the status of small states. France and Germany are at least part of a super state, the European Union. Thanks to Brexit, Britain is no longer even part of a super state. The median population of small states, many of them offshoots of former empires, is identified as eight million. Sri Lanka at 22 million population is in the top half with Britain and other fallen empires for company.

With so many elections going on it is appropriate to provide a broad brush take on all or most of them, before going in some depth in any one of them. The Indian elections and results deserve more than a single piece of writing, insofar as writing is really an enjoyable form of learning. The elections in South Africa and Mexico lived up to their expectations. Both countries conducted both national and provincial/state elections concurrently on the same day. Both have presidential-parliamentary systems. Mexico elects its president directly by the people, while in South Africa it is the newly elected parliament that elects the president.

The African National Congress (ANC) suffered its first setback in seven elections after the end of Apartheid. The 400 members of National Assembly are elected on a proportionate basis, and the ANC’s vote share dropped dramatically from 57% in 2019 to 40% now. The Incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC are now forced to look for coalition partners to continue his presidency and form the new government. The main opposition group led by the Democratic Alliance Party has expressed its willingness to join the ANC in forming a new government.

A rather perverse winner in the election is the discredited former President Jacob Zuma, who was ousted from office for corruption and replaced by Ramaphosa in 2018. He is now out for revenge and to oust Ramaphosa. His new MK (uMkhonto weSizwe – Spear of the Nation, the ANC’s para-military wing during Apartheid) Party won a significant 15% of the vote and finished third in the election, ahead of the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Party at 9.5%.

Ironically, while the ANC is paying the price for Zuma’s presidential corruption, Zuma has regenerated himself as a political force based on his regional popularity and vote share. The ANC’s drop in vote share is really a split of the traditional vote base between the ANC and Zuma. The sharp drop in voter turnout, from 85% in the first election after Apartheid in 1994 to 58% now, is another reason and is indicative of the people’s disillusionment.

The Mexican elections went as planned with the outgoing President Lopez Obrador’s anointed successor Claudia Sheinbaum winning by a significant margin (59% to 27%) over the opposition’s Xochitl Galvez. Ms. Sheinbaum becomes first female president in the Americas and winning an election in which the two front runners were women. She is widely expected to continue the policies of her predecessor in the centre-left government of Mexico’s Morena Party.

There is also curiosity arising from the professional background of Ms. Sheinbaum, who is of Jewish descent, as a Climate Scientist, and what it might mean for the regional and global politics of Climate Change. Mexico is the third member of the North American free trade agreement that includes the US and Canada. During his first term as President, Trump wanted to wreck the agreement. The then Mexican President Lopez Obrador, who had just won his first term election, and his Canadian counterpart Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had their work cut out in saving the agreement from Trump’s threatened abrogation. History might be repeating itself if Trump were to win the US presidency again in November.

In India, Narendra Modi and the BJP have won their coveted third term, but the Indian voters have given them a bruising and qualified victory. The BJP pitched high to surpass the 400 mark that carried the threat of major constitutional changes. The voters without much help from the disarrayed opposition parties have stopped Modi and the BJP in their tracks. They gave the BJP’s NDA alliance less than 300 seats, 286 to be exact, a bare 14 more than the required majority. The BJP itself ended up with 240 seats, a steep fall from the 309 seats it won in 2019. 28 of the NDA’s 286 seats belong to two Regional Parties, the Telugu Desam Party of Andhra Pradesh with 16 seats, and Bihar’s Janata Dal Party with 12 seats. The TDP and the JD have become king makers now.

It is a stunning setback. The BJP lost in the west, east, south, and most of all in the north – in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Remarkably, the losses in Uttar Pradesh include the BJP’s defeat in the Faizabad constituency where Ayodhya is located and where Narendra Modi triumphantly inaugurated the Ram Mandir temple that had been constructed over the vandalized ruins of a historic Mosque. This is not the end of Hindutva politics. But the huge secular symbolism in the verdict of a deeply religious electorate deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated.

The voters have also mobilized the disparate opposition parties of the INDIA alliance into a sizable force of 202 members in the Lok Sabha and added another 55 members who do not belong to either the governing NDA or the opposition INDIA alliances. The Congress Pary has shot up from 40 seats in 2019 to 99 seats and is now qualified to be the official Opposition Party. Rahul Gandhi is set to become the Leader of the Opposition and now has a chance to show his mettle against Modi whose cleverly cultivated aura has been punctured by the people. Elections and the voters do matter, and they can make a difference.

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POST-COLONIAL PROGRESS AND CURRENT CONCERNS: A Brief Review

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by K.Locana Gunaratna, PhD

Following some independence from the Colonial British through the Donoughmore Constitution in 1931, our prime indigenous concerns focused on agriculture for domestic consumption and on the broad-basing of education. These particular achievements were due respectively to two farsighted Sri Lankan politicians: D.S.Senanayake and C.W.W. Kannangara. They were the first Sri Lankans appointed to the otherwise British dominated Cabinet of Ministers.

The unique consequences were an effort towards food self-sufficiency and a mass-scale free education system. They resulted in: rebuilding of our abandoned ancient reservoirs in the Dry Zone to resettle land-hungry Wet Zone farmers; and, making primary education free to the public in all government schools and to be conducted in the indigenous languages.

Following ‘Independence’ in 1948, these same priorities continued and there was also a new focus on hydroelectric power projects. This latter arose through the pioneering work of the brilliant Sri Lankan engineer Wimalasurendara. His original proposals presented earlier at the local Institution of Engineers had been shot down by the then predominant British membership who were influential with the Colonial Government.

Also, multipurpose irrigation and hydroelectric power generation projects came into being only through the efforts of notable Sri Lankans, some of whom were inspired by the success of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the US. This inspiration was important which in due course resulted chronologically in the Gal Oya, Walawe Ganga, and the Mahaweli Ganga multipurpose development projects. Consequently, an important difference between our progress then and that of many other low or middle income counries (LMICs) was that we, until relatively recent decades, were focused more on rural upliftment in preference to urban development.

It is relevant to note that implementing a plan for Colombo prepared by the famous British Town Planner Patrick Abercrombie, working in collaboration with his former student, Oliver Weerasinghe, who was by then the first head of our new Town Planning Department, was sidelined by our government in favour of the Gal Oya Project. A few years later, implementing the Colombo Master Plan Project prepared by the same Department then under the direction of Neville Gunaratna, with the support of a massive UNDP team of foreign experts was also sidelined again this time in favour of the Accelerated Mahaweli Project’s Master Plan.

Thus, rural and regional development projects at that time clearly received priority over urban development. That committed focus is the reason why we then had less urban blight and its adversities than in most other contemporary LMICs. This situation changed negatively for us only in more recent decades.

Current National Developmental Concerns

There are qualified and experienced professionals, who were and some of whom still are available in Sri Lanka despite recent adverse economic conditions. Given the unfettered opportunity, they surely can help to deal with many areas of serious national concern that confront us today, a few of which are:

– the ailing agricultural sector and rural development;

– the Human-Elephant Conflict in many rural areas;

– the impacts of Climate Change including recurrent floods, droughts & landslides;

– the vulnerability of some coastal populations to likely sea-level rise in the near future;

– the state of our cities with gross living conditions for the poor; and,

– the ailing construction sector.

All these identified areas require expertise in various professional disciplines to successfully deal with them. Spatial Planning expertise is required in almost all of these areas of concern. This latter specialization is commonly referred to in Sri Lanka by the old British terminology: “Town and Country Planning“. ‘Country Planning’ includes both ‘Regional and Rural Settlement Planning’. The latter has never been comprehensively taught in current Sri Lankan academia.

While this important profession has no expertise in Agriculture and Agro-Pedology, specialists in these areas fortunately are still locally available, but may not be for long. It is important that we do our best to retain these and indeed all other professionals we have to serve our country. The important areas of Rural Settlement and Regional Planning are also required immediately and in the foreseeable future. They are clearly needed for our collaborative national developmental work.

Our cities and Towns

It is not suggested here that we should now neglect our urban areas in favour of rural development. We need much better urban public transport, safer streets and sidewalks, in-situ slum-upgrading and much more environmentally friendly ‘green’ buildings for desired urban progress. The cities that have growing unhygienic slums and shanties need close consideration. Improving the living conditions of their underserved communities will indeed be very necessary and beneficial. These required solutions clearly do not and should not involve the building of multi-storied flats for shanty-dwellers in the suburbs of these cities as is sometimes done, which merely transfers urban blight from city centres to their suburbs.

The planned development of small towns including those required in the Dry Zone is very important and should be given much higher priority than at present. They must be so located and equipped as to serve not only their own populations but also their rural hinterlands. There must be provision within these towns of technical support facilities for agriculture and also social infrastructure including secondary schools and well-equipped small hospitals. These should be designed to serve not only their own urban populations but also be intentionally designed and located so as to encourage and facilitate access by folk in the nearby rural hinterlands of these small towns. Only such provisions will directly help in reducing rural migrations to Colombo and other cities.

The Mahaweli Project

It may be recalled that by ‘accelerating’ development work on the Mahaweli Project in the late 1970s, completion of the very costly ‘headworks’ with hydropower generation capacity were achieved early. A key important achievement was the much lower costs to the country than if these large and very expensive headworks were left to be built later. Accelerating the Mahaweli Project with early borrowings of foreign exchange has indeed greatly benefited us in many ways. One of these very important benefits is that it provided us and will continue to provide us with more clean energy from hydro-electric power for the present and also the future, at a lower cost than otherwise. With that ‘acceleration’, some of the agriculture and human settlement components on the Mahaweli Systems ‘H’ and ‘C’ were also substantially completed.

The Maduru Oya Dam in ‘System B’ was the last main ‘headworks’ to be realized under the Accelerated Program. It was built by a Canadian company (FAFJ) with funds from their government. A small extent of settlement work in ‘System B’ including the planning of a few small towns was begun earlier by the Mahaweli Development Board. But, the main irrigation and rural settlement planning work on this ‘Downstream’ development aspect of the Maduru Oya Left Bank was entrusted to a consortium of two US consultancy firms (Berger & IECO) with funding by USAID. Those two firms worked in very close collaboration with Sri Lankan professional expertise from a local consulting firm mainly on the aspect of Rural Settlement Planning.

This latter important work on the System B downstream area ended abruptly with much of our efforts still on the drawing boards. The reason for the sudden stoppage was due to the threat of resumed armed hostilities by the LTTE against the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL). Apparently, the LTTE’s perception then was that the ongoing project would result in non-Tamil citizens being settled in areas the LTTE considered as their ‘Tamil Homeland’. This perception seemed to have been successfully canvassed by them with the governments of Canada and the US.

This writer’s understanding is that the settler selection policy in the contested parts of the System ‘B’ area, had not been clearly defined by the GOSL at that time of work stoppage. Tragically, this important downstream work on ‘System B’ of the Accelerated Mahaweli Project, which could also have benefited some parts of the North and East as well was aborted and came to a sudden halt.

It would now seem appropriate,

in the current context of the extraordinarily high National Debt, for the GOSL to put together a competent professional team of relevant local expertise to do some preliminary work on this aspect of the Project. The required expertise should not only be in Engineering but also importantly in the professional areas of Agro-based Regional and Rural Settlement Planning.

The starting point of this work should be the last competent feasibility study done by the Consultants.

It was entitled ‘Land Use and Settlement Planning for Two Sample Areas of the System ‘B’ Irrigation Project’ and dated August 1982. The two sample areas in this said study had been identified on the basis of a thorough Agro-Pedology study of the Project Area. They represented the two predominant soil types relevant to planned agriculture in that area.

Further work on Settlement Planning in this effort would also require the

definition of a rational and fair settler selection policy in this under-populated region. It may also require external funding to restart and continue work on the remaining downstream areas of ‘System B’. In this time of need, receiving international funding for this abruptly halted Mahaweli Project work, would surely be beneficial to us in every way. We could even seriously consider proceeding in due course to complete the remaining stages of the Project as set out in the Mahaweli Master Plan.

(The writer is a Chartered Architect; Chartered Town Planner; Past President, National Academy of Sciences Sri Lanka; Past General President, Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science;Past President, Sri Lanka Institute of Architects; Past President, Institute of Town Planners of Sri Lanka; and Vice President, Sri Lanka, Economic Association.)

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The non-debate and two questions from Sajith and AKD

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by Saman Indrajith

SJB and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa faced two significant setbacks last week, the repercussions of which are expected to unfold in the coming days. The most notable was the backlash on social media following his failure to attend the highly anticipated debate with JVP/NPP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. After weeks of boasting and challenges, the debate was scheduled for Thursday at the ITN studio. While the JVP leader arrived promptly, Premadasa was conspicuously absent.

This triggered a wave of negative feedback and disappointment, not only among SJB members but also among many who had eagerly awaited the debate for weeks. The ramifications of this absence and the resulting damage will become clear in the days ahead.

Then there was a matter of two questions that came up on Tuesday on the ongoing strike by university non-academic staff. This had been raised by both Premadasa and NPP/JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. As question time ended that day, the speaker announced that Premadasa had been given time to make a special statement under Standing Order 27(ii) regarding this matter.

Noting that Dissanayake too had submitted a similar question, the speaker suggested to take up both together to save time. After Premadasa read out his question, Dissanayake demanded an explanation from the speaker regarding how the same question he had submitted to the Opposition Leader’s Office, to be raised in parliament under Standing Order 27(ii), was presented by the Opposition Leader before him.

The speaker clarified, saying the two questions had been submitted to the Secretary General’s office by the Opposition Leader’s office. One was handed over at 11:40 am to be raised by Premadasa, and the other by Dissanayake a 12.10 pm. Dissanayake criticized the occurrence as childish and immature. It was similar to behavior commonly seen in schools where children may steal others’ belongings such as balls, bats, or books.

Dissanayake then inquired whether he could submit questions directly to the Secretary General of Parliament instead of going through the Opposition Leader’s Office. The speaker said the MP could indeed do so if he wished.

The JVP leader explained, “We typically send questions through the Opposition Leader’s Office. However, if you grant me permission, I would prefer to send it directly to the Secretary General. I believe that would be more efficient. What occurred today resembles a childish game.”

After the incident in the chamber, some MPs and staff were seen trying to find out what had happened. It was discovered that Dissanayake had sent his question to the Opposition Leader’s office at 11:30 am on Monday. The established tradition dictates that any party leader in the Opposition ranks, entitled to make a statement under Standing Order 27 (ii), must submit it through the Opposition Leader’s office. Only staff of the Opposition Leader’s Office were aware of the events that took place between 11:30 and 12:10 there on that morning. They submitted a question on the same issue under Premadasa’s name to the Secretary General’s office at 11:40. Thirty minutes later, they submitted Dissanayake’s question.

When the chair finds two similar questions, only one is usually allowed to save time in the House. However, Speaker Abeywardena decided to allow Dissanayake too to raise his question as well. He didn’t elaborate but said that the issue would be resolved once Education Minister Susil Premajayantha responded.

The lobbies were agog with staff and MPs discussing about what happened. Some debated the ethical implications while others speculated that Premadasa may have wanted to champion the cause of university non-academic staff, assuming that the second question would not be allowed. Aware of the practice that prohibits two questions on the same topic and the deadline for question submission being 12 noon, Premadasa’s aides submitted Dissanayake’s question at 12:10, ten minutes past the deadline, some alleged. If the Speaker had disallowed the second question for this reason, this matter may not have been uncovered.

Thereafter, many foresaw that Premadasa would avoid facing Dissanayake in the televised debate scheduled for Thursday. Some SJB MPs were disheartened by their leader’s decision to skip the debate. Some contended that Premadasa had never participated in a televised debate throughout his political career.

During the sitting week, the government seemed to be in a hurry to pass several wide-ranging pieces of legislation against strong opposition resistance. The Electricity Amendment Bill was carried despite former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s appeal that privatizations should await the forthcoming elections. The next three bills in line are the Economic Transformation Bill, Public Financial Management Bill, and Public Debt Management Bill all of which had been challenged before the Supreme Court. The court held that several provisions of the Electricity Amendment Bill violated the constitution and these were amended before the Bill was passed.

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