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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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PSC action could cripple health services, warns GMOA Secretary

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There were vacancies for 89 specialist doctors in government teaching hospitals due to certain actions taken by the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

GMOA secretary Dr. Senal Fernando yesterday told The Island those vacancies had the potential to cripple the state health service, as the service was stressed due to COVID-19.

Dr. Fernando said: “Specialist doctors are appointed and transfered according to procedures established by the Health Service Minute. The Ministry of Health is responsible for the transfers and the PSC should oversee the transfering process to ensure that they are made in a proper manner.”

“The PSC has ordered the appointment of a committee to look into the matter but there is no mention of such a committee in the Health Service Minute. Instead of following the process, the PSC has tried to intervene in the process and 89 posts remain vacant during the time of COVID-19,” he said.

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Hizbullah denies links with Zahran

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But signed agreement for Zahran’s help in 2015 GE

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former Governor of the Eastern Province, M. L. A. M. Hizbullah on Monday night told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks, that he had not had any links to National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim. The NTJ members had assaulted his supporters at Kattankudy in March 2017, he said.

Hizbullah said so when the Commissioners asked him about his links with Zahran.

Hizbullah was also asked about billions of rupees he had received from foreign organisations since 2016. Earlier in the day, it was revealed that close to Rs. 4 billion had been deposited by foreign individuals and institutions in two accounts Hizbullah operated at the Bank of Ceylon Colpetty Branch from 2016 to 2019.

The witness said the Sri Lanka Hira Foundation, a social service institution run by him, had received money from foreign countries after March 2016.

“Ali Abdullah al-Juffali of Saudi Arabia gave Rs. 308 million and Siddique and Diana Osmond of London gave Rs. 5.5 million,” he said.

Hizbullah added that he knew al-Juffali and some other Saudi philanthropists. Al Juffali family was one of the richest Saudis with an estimated worth USD 19.8 billion, he said.

Then, a video of a discussion Zahran had with Sibli Farooq of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was played at the PCoI.

The video showed Zahran and Farooq talking about a sum of one million riyals that Hizbullah had allegedly received from Saudi Arabia. In the video, Zahran says that he had no problem with Hizbullah receiving money from Saudi Arabia.

In response, Hizbullah said that by the 2015 Presidential election, Farooq and Zahran had been against him. A member of the Commission then asked why Hizbullah had entered into an agreement with Zahran during an election if he had acted against him.

Hizbullah said Zahran had told, on social media, that he would support politicians who agreed to some of his proposals.” All the parties joined him. I also went along,” he said. Earlier, it was revealed that representatives for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for the support of NTJ in 2015.

Hizbullah was also questioned on the Aliyar clash between NTJ and Sunnath Wal Jamaat, a group that supported Hizbullah, on 10 March, 2017.

“Did you ask Zahran to surrender to the court through his mother?” a member of the Commission questioned.

“I made no such comment. I do not know if anyone in my party did so,” he said.

The Commissioners also asked Hizbullah about growing date palms in the Kattankudy area and placing Arabic billboards.

The witness replied that he had grown date palms because of the high temperatures in the area. Nameplates with Arabic letters had been put up to attract Arabic students as they were largely visiting the area, he said.

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CA annuls summons issued on President

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The Court of Appeal yesterday annulled the summons issued on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the disappearance of two persons in Jaffna in 2011.

Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan went missing in 2011. Last year, Jaffna Magistrate’s Court issued summons on Rajapaksa over a habeas corpus petition filed by the relatives of the two missing activists. They had named Rajapaksa one of the respondents since he was the Defence Secretary at the time of the disappearances.

Earlier, Rajapaksa had submitted a writ application stating that he found it difficult to appear before the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court due to security reasons. The Court of Appeal issued an injunction preventing Rajapaksa being summoned by the Magistrate.

President of the Court of Appeal A. H. M. D. Nawaz, declaring their decision, said that a Magistrate’s Court could only issue summons over a specific reason. However the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court had issued the summons based on a motion of a lawyer and that there was no legal basis for the summons. Thus, the Court of Appeal issued a writ notification declaring the summons issued by the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court void.

 

 

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