Twenty Opposition MPs to support 20A | Sunday Observer

Twenty Opposition MPs to support 20A

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) Parliamentarians made their first futile attempt in Parliament on Tuesday, September 22 enacting a big drama protesting against the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

No sooner Justice Minister Ali Sabry presented the 20A Bill to the House, SJB Parliamentarians who began protesting against the Bill later came to the well of the House wearing black armlets and badges shouting ‘No to 20’.

The SJB MPs’ unparliamentary behaviour created a tense situation in the House and Government lawmakers also came down to the well and shouted ‘Yes, we want 20’. Amidst the protest, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena continued proceedings and Trade Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena moved a number of Orders under the Special Commodity Levy Act for debate.

Seconding the motion moved by Minister Gunawardena, State Minister of Samurdhi, Household Economy, Micro Finance, Self Employment, Business Development and Underutilised State Resources Development, Shehan Semasinghe said that the Opposition should have raised their concerns elsewhere. “They can go before court and point out these concerns. They have another option and that is to secure a two-third majority in Parliament and defeat the Bill. Without doing that they come here and disrupt sittings by shouting and thereby wasting public funds.”

SJB parliamentarian Kabir Hashim said, “Today we are staging this protest to save the powers of the Prime Minister and not for our sake. Do you remember the Subha saha Yasa story, Hashim asked. A palace guard and the king exchanged their places as a joke. But the guard did not give back the throne to the king. He remained in the position and eventually had the King executed. The very same will happen here too when the 20th Amendment is passed,” he said.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa pointed out that the TV camera was not focused on MP Hashim. Then SJB MPs shouted, demanding the camera be focussed on MP Hashim. Raising a Point of Order, Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa said that MPs cannot demand that the camera be focussed on them. “Whenever there is a protest in the House, the camera should focus either on the Speaker or the Mace. That is the procedure. It was introduced by the former Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara. Now the MPs are demanding the camera focus. That is only to put up a show.”

Amidst the uproar in the Well of the House, Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage who spoke aggressively, said this is a Government of people and we would not bring anything against the people’s aspirations.

Minister Aluthgamage said there are many MPs in the Opposition who wished to join the Government. Of the SJB MPs holding placards, 17 have already expressed their desire to join the Government. However, we will get 20 MPs from the Opposition to get this Bill passed.

He said, “You do not have to worry about saving the powers of the Prime Minister. We will see to that. You had passed the 19th Amendment to prevent the Rajapaksas coming to power. The Opposition paints a picture of a devil and names it as the 20th Amendment.”

Coconut prices

The Minister said, “SJB MP Kabir Hashim laments about the prices of commodities. Tell me the price of a coconut. You cannot because you do not know. You do not know because you are living in luxury away from the people. Today, a coconut is Rs. 70 in the market. You are not with people and that is why you lost the election.”

National Congress Leader MP A.L.M. Athaullah had to leave the Chamber on Tuesday, September 22 owing to protests by SJB MPs against Athaullah coming to the Chamber wearing an Afghan Pashtun vest over his dress.

Soon after the rumpus created by SJB MPs over the presenting of the 20th Amendment to the House, Athaullah arrived in the Chamber. Raising a Point of Order, Colombo District SJB MP S.M. Marikkar said that there is a dress code for MPs but Athaullah had come in wearing Afghan dress and the latter should be removed from the chamber.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said that MP Athaullah had come in a dress according to his communal identity. SJB Parliamentarian Harin Fernando threatened to remove his shirt in protest. “If Athaullah is not removed from the chamber, we will remove our shirts. We will get all our MPs to do that,” MP Fernando said. Government MPs were seen going to MP Athaullah and discussing with him. After a couple of minutes, MP Athaullah left the chamber.

President visits NHDA office

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made a sudden visit to the Narahenpita Office of the National Housing Development Authority following a complaint by a member of the public on Wednesday, September 23.

According to the complaint, the officers had failed to perform their duties on a number of occasions while saying that the staff was not adequate. President Rajapaksa who visited the office observed that there was sufficient staff to fulfil their duties properly. The President noticed a differently-abled person waiting in great distress and inquired about his background and his needs. The President who met the staff emphasised that the primary responsibility of public servants was to fulfill the public needs efficiently and without hesitation.

Minister of Monkeys

SLPP Parliamentarian Dilan Perera claiming that it was essential to find a solution to the persisting issues surrounding wild monkeys in the country, said he was willing to accept the post of Minister of Monkeys.

MP Perera told reporters that wild monkeys have destroyed nearly 60 percent of the crops in various areas, including the Badulla district.

“Do not think that only the Badulla district is affected by wild monkeys. The animals can be seen in Colombo as well. He said if we do not address this issue, wild monkeys might even enter Parliament,” he said.

MP Perera pointed out that the President appointed Ministers to address issues pertaining to the human-elephant conflict, clay, batik and handlooms and the Ministers have commenced work. “If the President hands over the post of Minister to address issues surrounding wild monkeys, I too will take measures in this regard,” he said.

Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith says that he is happy with a process of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry probing the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks.

The Cardinal told the media at the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress in Colombo that he is confident that justice will be delivered through this process. He added that it is evident to him that the Presidential Commission is sincerely looking into the matter. However, the Cardinal said that they will not issue a statement regarding the Commission until the final report of the Commission was released.

No conflict

Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has not made any comment against the draft 20th Amendment to Constitution, adding that the Prime Minister and the President are of the same opinion in this regard.

The Minister made this observation speaking to reporters after attending the Cabinet meeting on September 21. The Minister also said that the Prime Minister has also expressed his opinion on the draft.

Minister Amaraweera said the Prime Minister has not made any comment against the draft and said the President and the Prime Minister are of the same opinion. He said that the Justice Minister said that the Committee’s opinions have been presented to the President.

“We never felt any disappointment from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and the President were of the same opinion on this affair. Therefore, no objections were raised from Parliamentarians or the Ministers. They worked with much understanding. No conflict was ever felt. He said, “The 20A will be passed in Parliament with a two-thirds majority, suggesting that some of those within the Opposition would also vote in favour.

Security

Irrigation Minister and Internal security, Home Affairs and Disaster Management State Minister Chamal Rajapaksa told Parliament on Wednesday, September 23 that police officers will be assigned to provide security for Parliamentarians and the public alike and the officers would not be assigned to carry the files and bags of Parliamentarians.

He made this observation in response to a request made by SJB Parliamentarian Buddhika Pathirana demanding additional police security for Parliamentarians. MP Pathirana made the request during the round of questions for oral answers.

Minister Rajapaksa said, “We will not provide police officers to MPs to carry their files and bags.”

He queried as to why Parliamentarians need additional security if they have the trust of the people. He said that two police officers have been deployed for each Parliamentarian. There are only 85,000 personnel in the Police Service. If Parliamentarians need more police security, more personnel will have to be recruited to the service.

Not afraid of threats

SJB Parliamentarian Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka said that he has enough strength to take on all Government members in the front row numbering 25 together single handedly in case they try to surround the Opposition MPs.

Participating in a debate at the time of the Adjournment of the House on the progress report of the Election Commission on Wednesday, Field Marshal Fonseka referring to a statement made on Tuesday by Agriculture Minister Aluthgamage that the Government had a two-thirds majority in the House and the Government MPs could outnumber their Opposition counterparts three to one, said, “His figures are wrong. To have that ratio you need a three-fourths majority not two-thirds. I tell the Government members not to dare think of surrounding us just because you have more numbers. I can single handedly take all those in your front row.

“To take on your second row, we’ll send someone of the calibre of our fellow MP Chaminda Wijesiri. We know that there are some among you who have had the experience of tasting the power of his blows. For your second row, which has Dayasiri Jayasekera, who knows karate, we can send someone such as MP Diana Gamage, because she is a black-belt holder in karate. So, do not speak of taking us on that easily. Remember we are not afraid of threats simply because you have a two-thirds majority.”

Not to be seen

Several party leaders of the SJB such as SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem, the ACMC Leader Rishad Bathiudeen and the JHU Leader Patali Champika Ranawaka did not participate in the 20A protest in Parliament on Tuesday. Although the said trio is noted to occupy front row seats in Parliament in the Opposition ranks, they were not to be seen when the SJB protest was staged in the House. Though MP Hakeem was present at the time of the commencement of the Parliament session on Tuesday, he was not seen in his seat when the protest against the 20th Amendment was launched by the SJB. Political sources have confirmed that some MPs of the SLMC and ACMC are discussing about joining the Government.

A heated debate ensued in Parliament on Friday, September 25 over Justice Minister Ali Sabry’s attire. The heated exchange of words began when SJB MP Chaminda Wijesiri asked Justice Minister Sabry about the allegations against Dr. Shafi performing sterilisation surgery on women, at the Kurunegala Teaching Hospital.

Minister Sabry stated that such information could not be disclosed by him, as this was not within the purview of the Ministry of Justice. The Minister said MP Wijesiri should know that the Justice Minister does not give phone calls to anyone and neither have we established special courts for selected cases. “As the Justice Ministry, we work within the perimeters of our subject assigned to us. We have no intention of getting involved in cases, we will not interfere in court cases and there is no possibility for us to get involved either.”

Then MP Wijesiri made a comment about Minister Sabry’s attire, saying it should be seen how ‘tie-coat’ officials would perform. However, the comment received a heated response from the Minister who heatedly asked MP Wijesiri if he was expected to dress like him, adding that he was wearing attire appropriate to Parliament. Sabry then alleged that Wijesiri was making a racist reference in criticising his attire and said that it had no relevance to the matter at hand. SJB MPs Thushara Indunil Amarasena, Dr. Harsha de Silva and Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando also joined the ‘tie-coat’ debate, which ensued for a full six minutes.

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