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PM: MPs appointed to parliament committees can elect chairpersons

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By Saman Indrajith

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday told Parliament that the MPs appointed as members of parliamentary committees including the Committee on Public Finance (PFC), Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) and Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) could elect the Chairmen of the respective committees at their own will. 

 The Prime Minister said so while responding to a query raised by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa on the Premier’s stance on the appointment of the chairman for the three committees. MP Premadasa made the query after the matter was brought up by SJB Kurunegala District MP Nalin Bandara Jayamaha. 

 Jayamaha raising a point of order said that under standing order 103 the Speaker should appoint the chairman to each Special Committee. He said that it was the tradition in the Parliament to appoint chairman of the COPA and COPE from the Opposition. He queried if the newly elected Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena would follow the tradition.

The Speaker in response said that those committees mentioned by MP Jayamaha were not Special Committees.

MP Jayamaha:

At least would you follow the tradition in the Parliament?  

Speaker Abeywardena:

“They are not Select Committees. So, the Chairmen should be elected by the members of the respective committees. 

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa said that following the British Parliamentary tradition, the chairmen of COPA, COPE and Committee on Public Finance (PFC) were appointed from the Opposition side members. “Would the same tradition be followed now?”  

Speaker Abeywardena observed that the matter could be decided at the Select Committee. 

The Opposition Leader queried what the stance of the Prime Minister Rajapaksa was on the issue.

Leader of the House and Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that the stance of the Prime Minister was that the appointments should be made as instructed by the Speaker. Those Committees consisted of members not only from the government side but from the other parties in the opposition. So the Opposition Leader could not make decisions himself and he should consult others.

Minister Bandula Gunawardena said that he contested to be the Chairman of the PFC while he was in the opposition during the Good Governance government. He added that the post was not given to the opposition but to M. A. Sumanthiran. “That was the ground reality,” Minister Gunawardena said.     

State Minister Nimal Lanza said that the appointment of the Chairmen to the COPE, COPA and PFC was the right of their members. He asked the Opposition Leader to allow the MPs to exercise their right. 

 State Minister S. B. Dissanayake said that during the Good Governance government the chairman of COPA was Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna. The tradition had been breached by the Good Governance government. 

The Opposition Leader attempted to speak further on the matter but the Speaker prevented him doing so, stating that he would not allow wasting the time of the Parliament any more. 

“My query is if the tradition should be followed,” the Opposition Leader queried. 

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said that such a tradition as the Opposition Leader said had not been followed in Parliament. He added that at times the chairman position had been granted to the Opposition and sometimes to the government side.

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Govt. suspended Sectoral Oversight committees to prevent discussion on 20A – Opposition Leader

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By Saman Indrajith

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa accused the government of suspending the functioning of Sectoral Oversight committees to avoid the 20th Amendment being discussed.

Raising a point of Order on Thursday in Parliament, soon after government members moved a motion to suspend the functioning of Sectoral Oversight Committees, the Opposition Leader demanded to know the objective and rationale behind the motion.

“This is a gross violation of democratic process. You are trying to bypass the process,” he protested.

Leader of the House, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena presented the motion to suspend the committees until establishing Parliamentary Consultative Committees under the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Leader of the Opposition Premadasa and JVP lead NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake objected to the motion.

Premadasa said that the Sectoral Oversight Committees had the power to inspect the bills presented to parliament before they are considered in the House.

The committees are there to analyze, appraise, and evaluate the bills and have the powers to indicate the conditions and circumstances in necessity or desirability of enacting new legislations. Now when the committees are suspended the government does not need to worry of the changes being suggested at the committee for the 20th Amendment, he said.

He said that the Government tried to avoid the 20th Amendment to the Constitution being discussed at the Sectoral Oversight Committee.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said that the issue came up earlier and as a result SJB MP Mayantha Dissanayake was assigned to study the matter and to present a report regarding it.

Opposition Leader Premadasa then queried as to why the committees are going to be suspended before receiving the said report.

Leader of the House Minister Gunawardena said that the opposition leader had not read the motion properly. The motion was presented to suspend Sectoral Oversight Committees until the appointment of Members to them, the Minister said.

JVP leader Dissanayake said that the committees should not be suspended until the said report is presented. The motion says that the suspension is till new members are appointed to them. That is the tricky point. There are concerns about the sectoral oversight committees and we are awaiting a report. The report could propose some changes, or to continue the committee in their present form or to abolish them.

“Those are the possible recommendations of the report. We could suspend the committees till the report is ready. But the government is suspending them till new members are appointed. The prime minister knows the trick. That was the same method he employed while he was the president to prevent the functioning of independent commissions under the 17th amendment to the constitution. The law was passed to set up commissions but they could not function for nearly five years because the members were not appointed to them. So the same trick is being played once again. There would be no appointments to the sectoral oversight committees so that they would not function if we pass the motion,” the MP said, asking the speaker to give a ruling on the matter.

Speaker Abeywardena: There is no need for me to give a ruling, put it to the House and make a decision.

Leader of the House Minister Gunawardena asked whether the House agreed and the government MPs shouted ‘aye’. The motion was passed.

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Yahapalana govt. made use of CID and police to frame their political opponents – MP Jayasekara

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By Saman Indrajith

Murder convict, Ratnapura district SLPP MP Premalal Jayasekara told Parliament on Thursday that the way the yahapalana government made use of the CID and police to frame their political opponents was now unfolding in the media.

Participating in an adjournment debate on the Finance Commission, the MP said: “I think there would be some more terrifying stories on how the yahapalana political leaders got certain officials such as Shani Abeysekera to tamper with evidence while also fabricating evidence to achieve their political objectives by bending the law according to their whims and fancies.

When these stories come out, people who voted for the SLPP to send the yahapalana government home, will be proud of their choice. They understand that they did a yeoman service to the entire nation by voting to change that regime. People can be happy that they voted for the SLPP to end such a tyrannical government.”

The MP said that Shani Abeysekera and several others now under investigation for ‘making’ and ‘breaking’ cases by forcing witnesses to give evidence had played a role in investigations against him. “There will dawn a day when the truth will come out,” the MP said.

He further said that not all the police officers were corrupt and politically motivated such as Shani and others under investigation. “There are many gentlemen in uniform. Amongst them there are highly corrupt officers such as Shani,” he said.

“Similarly there are many untold stories about prison officers. We saw in the media recently some reports of corrupt officers. Just like in the case of the police, not all prison officers are corrupt. There are some bad eggs. One of the reasons might be the poor salary and facilities they get. Since I am now in prison, I see these things”, the MP noted.

He added: “I happened to read a letter from a jailor describing how hard their lives are. I table that letter. It shows the hard life they live while they are on duty. We know that the salaries of police officers were increased by 40 percent recently. But prison officers did not get a raise. I propose that their salaries be increased because that would at least ease their burden,” MP Jayasekera said.

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US donates locally procured Personal Protective Equipment to support SL’s COVID-19 Response 

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COLOMBO, September 24 – 

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Alaina B. Teplitz donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health, Pavithra Wanniarachchi as part of the United States’ ongoing assistance to Sri Lanka in its response to COVID-19.  

The donation includes 23,000 masks, 24,000 nitrile gloves, 600 isolation gowns with hoods, 60 infrared thermometers, 50 portable oxygen concentrators with a large supply of expendable equipment to support their operation, and disinfectants.  The total value of donation was $191,000. 

 The donation was funded by the US Department of Defense.  All items were procured locally in keeping with US efforts to support Sri Lanka’s local businesses and industry as they recover from COVID-19’s economic impact.  As part of its private sector engagement with the apparel industry and the Sri Lanka’s Export Development Board, the United States has funded capacity building trainings that have aided new exporters in accessing the US market. 

 “These donations from the American people accomplish two shared goals: protecting the health and safety of Sri Lankans and supporting Sri Lankan jobs,” said Ambassador Teplitz.  “Providing sustainable assistance that enables Sri Lanka’s economic recovery is a hallmark of the U.S.-Sri Lanka partnership.”  

In Sri Lanka alone, the United States has provided more than $26 million in health assistance over the last 20 years and this latest donation, builds on more than $6 million in COVID-19 assistance in 2020.  On behalf of the American people, the Ambassador recently presented 200 brand-new, high-quality ventilators that enable Sri Lanka’s health providers to deliver quality care that could save lives.

Meanwhile, the American people are also helping Sri Lankan children resume their schooling via support for a national media campaign that encourages children and parents to follow seven important lessons to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

The United States continues to be one of the world’s largest providers of bilateral assistance in health. Since 2009, the American people have generously funded more than $100 billion in health assistance and nearly $70 billion in humanitarian assistance globally.  

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