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Speaker, Opposition Leader cross swords over special statements

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By Saman Indrajith

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, on Saturday, asked Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa to refrain from causing an affront to the dignity of Parliament. The Speaker said so when the latter attempted to make a special statement after the former denied permission.

The Speaker said that the Opposition Leader had once made a similar statement and raised very similar questions and the Minister of Health and other ministers from the government had responded to them, and therefore it could not be permitted in the House. “In addition the same matter has been raised in various forms in the form of oral questions and as adjournment debates. The most recent instance was on Nov 13 when a debate was held on the same matter and the ministers have responded in detail.”

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“The Standing Order 36-O states that the same matter should not be raised again and again. I am not raising questions about COVID-19 but problems pertaining to lack of PCR machines and ventilators and antigen tests. I have never spoken about them here. So I have to state the ruling given by the Speaker is wrong. The Speaker deprives us of our right to speak. In addition the Speaker has limited the number of special statements we can make under the Standing Order 27-2 to two a week.”

Speaker Abeywardena:

“The questions raised by the Opposition leader pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccines were answered by Minister Channa Jayasumana. Apart from the similar questions raised by him were responded to on Friday by Minister Namal Rajapaksa. You are trying to disregard the process and procedure in the House. I cannot let you denigrate the dignity of the House.”

The Opposition Leader:

“The Speaker’s opinion is completely wrong. This could be checked with the Secretary General. This is limiting the freedom of speech in the House. Please allow me to make the statement.”

Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena:

“The Opposition Leader should learn that a Speaker’s rule is not a matter for debate or questioning. The Speaker has given his ruling on the matter the Opposition Leader intended to raise. His actions cause the time of the House to be wasted. Therefore, I request the House should move on to the debate on the final day of the second reading of the budget 2021.”

The speaker announced that the House should commence its business for the day and Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando got up to move the House for the debate on budget proposals.

SJB Kurunegala District MP Nalin Bandara, raising a point of order, said the Opposition Leader had attempted to make a statement on a new issue. There could be many problems raised on the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only Minister Namal Rajapaksa, many other MPs in the House have paid their attention to the problem but the problem was yet to be addressed. This is an issue of national importance. If the Speaker would not allow this, it would set a wrong precedence.

SJB Ratnapura District MP Hesha Withanage:

“The number of questions for the backbenchers has been limited. The live telecast of parliamentary proceedings too has been limited purportedly for technical issues. The government has submitted a few questions while the Opposition MPs have submitted over 400 questions to be raised at the time allocated for the Oral Questions session. The number of questions per a day was 15 and now it has been brought down to eight. Today, there is no question time.”

Speaker Abeywardena:

Today is Saturday and it has been agreed not to allow questions on Saturday to give more time to the MPs to speak in the debate.”

Badulla District SJB MP Chaminda Wijesiri: “

We agree with the rulings of the Speaker. There is no argument about it. But the Speaker is a senior politician and former senior minister. I hope he will consider the matter that the Opposition MPs have raised over 400 questions on behalf of their electorates and allow more time to raise those questions. The Opposition Leader’s statement too is on a matter of urgent national importance, and we hope that it would be allowed.

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“I have not raised questions pertaining to rapid antigen tests or antibody tests or injections against the virus.”

Speaker Abeywardena:

“How many times have you raised these issues in this House?”

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“The Speaker prevents us from raising questions because the government has no answers. The speaker is making use of his power to cover the government’s inability.”

Speaker Abeywardena said that the government’s ability or inability did not concern him.

Opposition Leader Premadasa:

“The Opposition Leader has a right to raise questions.”

Speaker Abeyewardena: “

That right is ensured.”

Opposition Leader Premadasa: “

When would I be able to make a special statement again?”

Speaker Abeywardena:

“You will be given time next Wednesday provided that your statement does not mislead the House.”

Galle District SJB MP Manusha Nanayakkara:

“I demand to know whether the question raised by the Opposition leader is not legal or the government has already decided that people do not need to know the rapid antigen test and antibody treatment because a certain group has already obtained them.”

Leader of the House Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena: “

I request the Opposition Leader and his team of MPs not to disrupt the procedure of the House and respect the Chair. We regret their attempts to disrupt the process of parliament. Today, is the last day of the second reading debate. The Speaker has given a ruling on the matter and it cannot be questioned. The MPs should behave in the House responsibly. We act here in accordance with the agreement reached at the party leaders’ meeting. If the Opposition MPs have not been informed of those agreements then it is a problem of their leaders who attended the party leaders’ meeting.

Chief Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando: “

No limit has been imposed on the questions. The number of questions has been reduced only during the budget debate and that has been done as per the request of party leaders to allocate more time for the speeches of all MPs. They wanted to give time to each MP to speak in the debate. It was agreed by all party leaders. The Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella is well aware of this agreement. It is not a problem for the government whether the opposition has raised 400 or more than that number of questions.

SJB MP Ranjith Maddumabandara:

The Speaker is a senior MP. He should not be swayed by his party politics or his personal opinions but give the rulings in accordance with the Standing Orders.

Speaker Abeywardena said that he had already given a ruling on the matter and had no intention of changing it.



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Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’

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By Norman Palihawadane and Ifham Nizam

The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) yesterday arrested six suspects in the Sapugaskanda Rathgahawatta area with more than 100 kilos of Crystal Methamphetamine also known as Ice.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Ajith Rohana told the media that the PNB sleuths, acting on information elicited from a suspect in custody had found 91 packets of Ice.

A man in possession of 100 kilos of heroin was arrested in Modera during the weekend and revealed that a haul of Ice had been packed in plastic boxes.

The PNB seized more than 114 kilos of Ice from the possession of a single drug network.

According to the information elicited from the suspects, more than 100 kilos of Ice were found.

The PNB also arrested six persons including two women with 13 kilos of Ice, during an operation carried out in the Niwandama area in Ja-Ela on Sunday.

DIG Rohana said the ice had been packed in small plastic boxes and hidden in two school bags.

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PM intervenes to iron out differences among coalition partners

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By Norman Palihawadane

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that he was confident that differences among the constituents of the SLPP coalition as regards the May Day celebrations and the next Provincial Council elections could be ironed out soon.

Leaders of all SLPP allied parties have been invited to a special meeting to be held at Temple Trees with the PM presiding on April 19.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa said it was natural for members of a political alliance to have their own standpoints and views on matters of national importance. “This is due to the different political ideologies and identities. It is not something new when it comes to political alliances world over. In a way, it shows that there is internal democracy within our alliance.

The PM said: “As a result of that the allied parties may express their own views on issues, but that does not mean there is a threat to the unity of the alliance. An alliance is more vibrant and stronger not when all the parties think on the same lines but when the member parties have different ideologies.”

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Thilo Hoffman remembered

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A copy of the book “Politics of a Rainforest: Battles to save Sinharaja” was handed over to Dominik Furgler, the Swiss Ambassador in Sri Lanka by the author of the book, Dr. Prasanna Cooray at the Swiss Embassy in Colombo last Tuesday, to be sent to the family of the late Thilo Hoffman in Switzerland.

Hoffman, a Swiss national, who made Sri Lanka his second home for six decades, was a pioneering environmental activist who led the battles to save Sinharaja from the front in the early 1970s, abreast with the likes of Iranganie Serasinghe, Kamanie Vitharana, Lynn De Alwis and Nihal Fernando of the “Ruk Rekaganno” fame. That was the era when the trees of Sinharaja were felled for the production of plywood by the then government. Hoffman was also a livewire of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) for a long time. Hoffman died in 2014 at the age of 92.

The book includes a chapter on Thilo Hoffman.

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