Mahajana Eksatha Peramuna (MEP) leader and joint opposition parliamentarian Dinesh Gunawardana last week raised an important question in Parliament over the appointment of former foreign Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam as adviser to the Speaker on international affairs. He was not against the Speaker having an international affairs adviser despite there not being such a rank in the list of officials of Parliament but questioned the propriety of the adviser being paid by a US agency.
The MEP leader observed that the Speaker has the right to appoint advisers to him on any matter, but argued that any official of Parliament being paid by a foreign agency would be a matter of concern, as it involves the sovereignty of Parliament, the legislature of the country and thereby that of the people. Opposition Leader and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa who also joined the discussion was also of the view that Mr. Kariyawasam as an adviser to the Speaker being paid by a US agency would jeopardize Parliament’s sovereignty.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, a respected politician in the country, did not deny the suggestion by MP Gunawardana that he had appointed an adviser to him on international affairs and the fact that the adviser, Prasad Kariyawasam was being paid by the US agency, Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI) which is the implementing agency for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
House Leader Lakshman Kiriella in response to the question raised by Mr. Gunawardana said Mr. Kariyawasam was appointed to supervise the programmes relating to democratic reforms initiated after this government assumed power. However, despite democratic reforms being praiseworthy and the fact that Mr. Kariyawasam might be capable of doing the job, the question remains as to whether the matter falls within the purview of Parliament. Even if it does the rationale behind the Speaker’s adviser being paid by a foreign agency whether it is the US or China or India for that matter is still questionable.
Minister Kiriella further said that there were so many foreign agencies that were supporting Parliament and individual agencies obtain the service of local and foreign advisers. Nobody can and wants to argue against those agencies obtaining the services of local and foreign advisers. The question raised by the MEP leader was about an adviser to the Speaker being paid by a foreign organization. The Opposition did not deny the Speaker’s right to obtain the services of advisers or to pay them through funds allocated to Parliament by the budget. Their argument was that of a conflict of interest being involved when the services of a person was paid by a foreign government agency.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said during the discussion in the Parliament that it was the Opposition that appointed Mr. Kariyawasam as foreign secretary and ambassador to the US when they were in power and ridiculed the Opposition saying that they were now calling Mr. Kariyawasam an US agent. This argument too had nothing to do with the question raised by Mr. Gunawardana. In fact the question raised by the MEP leader was not against Mr. Kariyawasam, but about someone appointed as an adviser to the Speaker being paid by a foreign agency.
The House Leader, the Speaker and the Prime Minister pointed out the issue of foreign tours offered to the MPs for workshops and training. They said that these tours were funded by foreign agencies and both the government and the Opposition MPs have used these opportunities. In spite of the unanswered question as to whether the MPs have ever used the training they had obtained during such foreign tours for the betterment of Sri Lanka, those programmes are a far cry from the issue at hand which is a matter of sovereignty being compromised.
It is simple logic that once an official serving locally is paid by a foreign country, he naturally is under obligation to that country. This is so when a matter concerning the interests of that country is being debated locally. This is more so when an issue concerning a country that is well known for meddling in the affairs of other countries is being handled locally. Therefore, people have a right to expect that the Speaker would clear such doubts that might arise after last week’s discussion in Parliament.