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Heated exchange over camera focus

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Heated exchange ensued in Parliament yesterday after the SJB demanded to know as to why the camera had not been focused on Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and SJB Kegalle District MP Kabir Hashim on Tuesday when the government presented the 20th Amendment to the House.

 SJB Kurunegala District MP Nalin Bandara Jayamaha said that the MPs were allowed to avail the facilities of microphone and the TV recording camera’s focus when they get the floor to speak. However, the Opposition Leader and MP Hashim were not given that facility on Tuesday when they spoke against the 20th Amendment draft bill. That was unfair for the MPs concerned and also amounted to depriving them of their privileges,” MP Jayamaha said.

 Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said that a decision had been made during the time of former Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara to level the focus of the camera to the Chair or to the Mace if there was any confusion or unrest that took over the business of the House. “Whenever the MPs behave unruly the focus of the camera would be leveled at the Mace or the Chair.

That decision is now considered the precedence on the matter. On the day the MP mentioned specifically the same happened as the opposition MPs took off from their seats and protested in the Well of the House,” the Speaker said.

MP Jayamaha: “Both opposition leader Premadasa and MP Hashim had been given the microphone but not the camera. That was unfair. If there was such a precedent and practice guided by that precedence, then how the camera was given to the MPs who urinated on the Speaker’s Chair and poured water on it and attacked other MPs with chili powders when there was an unrest situation sometime back.”

Speaker Abeywardena said that focus of the camera could be given to any MP till he or she maintained the dignity and decorum of the House.

MP Jayamaha: The rule is not to give a microphone and camera whenever there is a row or unruly behaviour. The focus of the camera was given to government MP Shehan Semasinghe in Tuesday’s instance.

State Minister Semasinghe: I did not behave unruly. I was making the speech when the trouble broke out. But I continued my speech without being affected by the antics of the opposition MPs. The camera-mania of Sajith Premadasa is well known. He speaks only to the camera. He cannot speak without a camera. And MP Jayamaha is not a person who could come here to talk of public property. Tell this House the way you use public property and waste public funds even now as an opposition MP.

MP Chaminda Wijesiri shouted at the Chair and accused the speaker of being biased.

Speaker Abeywardena said that he would give time to the opposition to speak on the matter on Friday.

 Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage: MP Chaminda Wijesiri is unfair when leveling accusations at the Speaker. We have experiences under many speakers and know how the speakers reacted on such occasions. Your allegation against the Speaker is very unfair. Please withdraw it. People laugh at us because of the behaviour of some MPs in parliament.

 MP Wijesiri: I got up to raise a point of order and to ask the truth of the newspaper report of a knife being smuggled into the Parliament premises. I apologize to the Speaker if I hurt his feelings unintentionally.

Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena: We are proud of the incumbent speaker compared to the conduct of former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya who was nothing but the epitome of biasedness to his party. We were in the opposition and experienced his manner of conduct.



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Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has questioned the rationale behind President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that the military will be deployed to curb protest vis-a-vis a Foreign Ministry undertaking to boost foreign trade and investment.

Addressing the Parliament, during the Budget committee stage debate, on 28 Nov., Prof. Peiris said the Foreign Ministry couldn’t expect to succeed in economic diplomacy while the government was resorting to repressive measures.

Prof. Peiris asked who would want to invest in a country where the people were warned of dire consequences if they held protests, and elections were arbitrarily postponed.

Referring to the long overdue Provincial Council polls, Prof. Peiris discussed how postponement of scheduled Local Government polls could further jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing among the international community.

Prof. Peiris alleged that the government was planning to use private members’ motion submitted by Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatta (SLPP, Colombo District) to put off scheduled Local Government polls further. The ex-Minister claimed that the motion meant to enhance youth representation in governance would be utilised to delay the polls indefinitely. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had postponed the Provincial Council elections indefinitely.

The rebel SLPP Chairman pointed out that the government had chosen MP Dolawatta’s motion, handed over recently, though SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar submitted a private member’s motion on the same lines much earlier.

MP Dolawatta handed over a copy of his motion to President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct 31. Prof. Peiris said that they wouldn’t find fault with the lawmaker for making proposals which the academic said were timely.

Prof. Peiris warned Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be an appealing destination for investments unless the government adopted tangible measures to curb corruption. Shocking disclosures at parliamentary watchdog committees underscored that corruption was at unprecedented level and needed immediate attention.

Speaking on behalf of the breakaway SLPP faction, Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa aka Freedom People’s Congress Prof. Peiris said that the recent declaration by the World Bank that it would audit the procurement and distribution of fertiliser here meant that the world had no faith in our system.

Commenting on assurances given by the government that a new Anti-Corruption Bill would be introduced soon, Prof. Peiris said that existing laws were quite sufficient. The issue at hand is absence of political will to battle corruption, the former Minister said, meant flight of professionals and intolerable increase in taxes on business wouldn’t encourage Foreign Ministry’s drive.

At the onset of his speech, lawmaker Peiris asked whether the government was genuine about the recent declaration that the national issue could be resolved by the enactment of a new Constitution by the next Independence Day. Who would take such a promise seriously against the backdrop of all previous attempts undertaken by far more stable governments failing to achieve the desired results? the former law professor asked. The former minister also questioned the feasibility of forming an apparatus on the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Prof. Peiris asked whether those now at the helm really had the wherewithal to meet the South African standards.

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State FM assures there won’t be shortage of milk powder

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State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya told Parliament yesterday (29) that there would be no shortage of milk powder in the coming days due to the Customs holding a consignment of six containers of milk powder, imported into the country, for violating regulations.

Minister Siyambalapitiya said the six containers had 105,375 kilos of full cream milk powder, imported from New Zealand, via Malaysia. It reached the Colombo port on 20 Oct. It was only after the consignment had arrived in the Port that the importers submitted the letters to get the consignment released from the Controller Imports and Exports. Arrangements would be made to release the stock from the harbour on the recommendation of the Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Food Security.

As such, there is no need for permission from the Controller Import and Export to release the stock, the minister said, adding that there were no limitations imposed on importing milk powder and there would be no cause for panic buying in fear of a shortage of milk powder in the coming days.

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Dolawatta responds to GL

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SLPP MP Premanath C. Dolawatta said his private member’s motion wouldn’t lead to the postponement of local government polls. He said he felt the need to restore the 25% quota for youth, even before he entered Parliament, consequent to the August 2020 general election. The government and the Opposition could quickly reach a consensus on the proposals, and avoid unnecessary complications. MP Dolawatta said so when The Island sought his response to accusations made by Prof. Peiris, who said that time was rapidly running out for Local Government polls. As the nomination process needed to be commenced soon to ensure that 341 Local Government bodies could be constituted by 20 March 2023.

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