Intense argument over IMF agreement
As Opposition MPs questioned the Government as to why the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was not yet presented to the House, an intense argument followed in the Chamber yesterday. The Opposition also criticized the Speaker over the appointment of COPE and COPA chairpersons.
Chief Opposition Whip Samagi Jana Balawegaya MP Lakshman Kiriella questioned the Speaker as to why the agreement with the IMF has not yet been presented to the House. Responding to the issue, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana stated that he would need to discuss the matter with the President. “Since the President was abroad, I was not able to discuss the matter. I will do it shortly,” he said.
Kiriella noted, “Did you talk with the President regarding this? When the President was in the Opposition, he himself requested the details. When Basil Rajapaksa said ‘no’ to that request, Wickremesinghe himself said to provide that document to the House as it holds the power over public finance. Actually, you don’t need to ask the President. You can do it out of courtesy but it is not compulsory. You need to safeguard the honour of this House. When are you going to give us the information? Tomorrow? Please do not neglect your responsibilities.”
On the same subject, SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva pointed out that the Committee on Public Finance too needs a copy of the agreement with the IMF. “MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara questioned me if I was aware about the agreement. As the Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance, I need to be aware of this.”
In reply Minister Shehan Semasinghe said the Government will soon inform him of the updates on debt restructuring. Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardana said that the Government has no intention to not disclose any information.
The argument changed course as SJB MP S.M. Marikkar questioned the Speaker as to why the chairpersons of COPE and COPA have not yet been appointed. MP Marikkar pointed out that a month has elapsed since the opening of the ninth Parliament’s third session, but these appointments have not yet been made.
In reply, the Speaker noted that he does not have to “ask anyone” how to make the appointments. He pointed out that he would appoint the COPE and COPA chairpersons after discussing with all the responsible parties. The Speaker also said that he will follow the Standing Orders and he is not intending to work outside them.
Meanwhile, the 13 SLPP independent MPs lead by MP Dullas Alahapperuma held a press conference in the Parliament premises as a protest against not allocating time for them to speak in the House. The press briefing was held at the Parliament grounds yesterday morning. MPs Dullas Alahapperuma, Prof. G.L. Peiris, Prof. Charitha Herath, Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, Prof. Gunapala Rathnasekara, Udayana Kirindigoda and Dr. Thilak Rajapakshe were at the press briefing.
Professor G.L. Peiris observed that the Government is requesting all political parties to work together and form a National Council; however, it is not even ensuring the freedom of expression of Parliamentarians. He noted that it is a violation of the powers and privileges of the Parliamentarians as well. He that the Government is using repression not just outside the Parliament, but inside the Chamber as well. Prof. Peiris also said that they will take the matter to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the SAARC regional organization.
Meanwhile, State Minister Diana Gamage proposed that liquor stores should be kept open during the night. She also said that all the supermarkets should be given licences to sell beer. Gamage pointed out that closing the liquor stores early means that people would buy them at higher prices without paying the due taxes to the Government. She also noted that attitudinal changes are imperative to develop the tourism industry as well as the country. “Night life is not prostitution. There are many entertainment activities that people can enjoy at night. Now what happens is that everything is done secretly. Our people have nothing to enjoy. What is this so-called culture? Is disrespecting a woman being cultured? I also spoke about cannabis. Industrial hemp is not something that one would consume at night and gallivant. I am talking about foreign exchange here. It is not illegal to grow cannabis. Industrial hemp has a history of 6,000 years, not 2,500 years,” Gamage said.
SJB MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said that he agrees to the fact that Sri Lankan society needs to have an attitudinal change. However, he is not in agreement with exporting cannabis to develop the country. “She has been talking about exporting cannabis now for some time. Since you said growing cannabis is not illegal, why don’t you go ahead and grow it without shouting at us? Why, there is enough space in the Parliament premises, you go ahead and grow it,” De Silva said.
Meanwhile Tourism Minister Harin Fernando, to everyone’s amusement, got Diana Gamage and Princess Diana mixed up. SJB Ratnapura district MP Hesha Vithanage questioned Fernando, “Your State Minister is promoting ‘something’ these days. Are you in agreement with this?” to which Minister Fernando replied, “Most of what happens in Sri Lanka is mudslinging. You should ask this question from ‘Diana Kumariya’, no sorry, I meant, State Minister Diana. She will answer your question.”
The House will sit today at 9.30 am.