few smaller parties in the UPFA, namely MEP, NFF, DLF, and PHU supported by some other SLFP members who have extended their support to the former President have collectively formed the Common Opposition in Parliament. It is sad the members of the Common Opposition have opted to contravene Standing Orders (SOO) of Parliament and disrupt the work in Parliament as never before.
Unruly disruptions have become a common feature in Parliament. It looks as if it is a part of the established practice and procedure. Every step needs to be taken to minimise disruptions. Creating chaos, disruptions and stalling the work of day to day business in the august assembly have got legitimacy since the members of the Common Opposition have openly stated that they would resort to all types of (mis) behaviour until their demands are met by the Speaker!
Disruptions, unruly and disorderly behaviour is nothing new in our Parliament. During the tail end of the previous Parliament, they carried out a protest through the night, and claimed that they would resort to a ‘fast unto death’ until their demands were met. Shouldn’t they protest against the social, political and economic ills created by successive governments? Why are they silent about poverty issues, drugs, sexual abuses against women and children, murders, thuggery, alcoholism, drug addicts, corruption, fraud, economic inequity, failure in transport, health, education and other sectors etc?
It is unfortunate that a majority of politicians usually base their decisions to entertain themselves and the voters thereafter. Instead they should search for solutions for what is best for the country and what will benefit the voters. They should also align the party policy to play a bigger role with the State in order to regulate, direct, and improve the national economy to commanding heights. Jawaharlal Nehru had said – “Ordinary politicians have no principles to stand by and their work is governed by day-to-day opportunism”.
According to Erskine May, parliamentary privileges are peculiar rights enjoyed by Parliament and parliamentarians in order to strengthen them because they cannot discharge their onerous duties to the people and the country without these rights and immunities. Thus, parliamentary privileges are certain rights and immunities such as freedom from arrest or freedom of speech for the performance of their parliamentary duties. In terms of the Privileges Act, when any of these rights and immunities are violated, the offence is called a breach of privilege, which is punishable under the law.
The Speaker has the right to initiate strict disciplinary action. The matter could also be referred to the Privileges Committee and such actions could be treated as contempt of Parliament. Elected representatives have been granted these special privileges “to be able to perform their legitimate duties in Parliament without hindrance”.
In interpreting these privileges, we must not exclude elected representatives. If and when a Parliamentarian commits such disruptions and misbehaviour while causing obstructions in Parliament without discharging his duties, responsibilities and failing to fulfil his obligations to the constituents and the country, the same way it applies to others, law should be strictly applied in similar situations without an exception to Parliamentarians as well.
In other Parliaments, under similar circumstances, punishments ranging from an admonition, suspension from service of the House (with or without pay), to expulsion in the most serious cases have been enforced. Shouldn’t we too apply the rules because we have shot down and killed similar street fighters and demonstrators when they came out asking for clean water etc. In corrupt states, they do not want reforms to begin this way. If and when the law is made applicable they should understand it is not harassment. In addition, they do not want Parliamentary debates done in accordance with the provisions of the Standing Orders. The S.OO are basic rules of conduct and they are all fully well aware of those S.OO. These guidelines are there to be adhered to and observed for the purpose of making the Parliament a productive place for the benefit of
Most of the politicians always scream that they would fight to win the rights and benefits for the masses. However, the gates of politics have been wide open and anyone can become a politician nowadays. Having lowered the standards, they have now thrown ideologies, principles, ethics and morality to the winds. The majority of politicians have now become swindlers, exploiters, suppressors, oppressors, cheaters and beyond doubt doing everything – Jacks of all trades. The Parliament no doubt should therefore have sole control over all aspects of its own affairs and introduce legislation to ensure that the right people get nominations.
It is vital that every single elected representative should observe the parliamentary practices and procedures and the orders of the Speaker, which is final. I do not think we should leave aside the question of how the conduct of elected representatives should be regulated and by whom, which has become a contentious issue. It may be appropriate if we could also follow what John Major, the then Prime Minister of UK did in 1994, in setting up a Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by a Senior Judge - Lord Nolan, independent of Parliament and Government: “To examine current concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of public office, including arrangements relating to financial and commercial activities, and make recommendations as to any changes in the present arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life”.The relevant Committee in their report had summarized ‘the general principles of conduct which underpin public life need to be restated’, which I believe is applicable to the Sri Lankans too at present.
The Committee thereafter identified seven principles of qualities in public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The Committee also had recommended that all public bodies should draw up codes of conduct incorporating these principles for maintaining the highest standards supported by independent scrutiny. It had also addressed specific recommendations to Members of Parliament on holding paid outside interests and a Code of Conduct for Members. The Nolan Committee recommended that Commons should continue to be responsible for enforcing its own rules and that the House had accordingly appointed a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, a person of independent standing to take over the responsibility for maintaining the Register of Members’ Interests, for advice and guidance to MPs on matters of conduct, for advising on the Code of Conduct and for investigating allegations of misconduct. In the UK, steps have also been taken to establish a Committee of Standards and Privileges in place of the Committee on Privileges, which has been charged with the responsibility to review and recommend to the House if suitable modifications are needed from time to time.
It also appears a popularly elected government that is pursuing just policies should be given necessary support and strength to overcome its problems to ensure delivery of its promises, because it is trying hard to strengthen its capacity for governing an utterly corrupt state. Zulu proverb says – “If the future does not come toward you, you have to go fetch it”. May I add corruption is not only about stealing public resources. It is putting bad people in prime positions too. This type of corruption is crippling our economic growth and development. It is worse than warfare. Hence, political leadership of various colours represented in the National Parliament are responsible for maintaining the highest standards of propriety in the discharge of their parliamentary duties. They should be highly attuned to ethical issues and demonstrate their commitment by setting an example at the highest political level in Parliament by establishing at least good-enough governance early by reinforcing ethical behaviour. The elected representatives should be united to commit themselves as far as possible to discontinue exploitation of ethics and laws for political purposes. Thomas Jefferson said – “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny; When the government fears the people, there is liberty”.
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