About Rs.1.5 million from public funds is spent for a day when the devalued, undermined and often bypassed Parliament meets for debates.
This devaluation, which seriously affected the sovereignty of the people began with the enforcement of the executive presidential system in 1978. Today, after the Rajapaksa Government patched up a two-thirds majority by offering privileges to other parties and specially after the enforcement of the notorious 18th Amendment, Parliament is like a rubber stamp.
During the Budget debate on Monday and Tuesday, the Chairpersons lamented about absentees. They said Opposition MPs who had raised questions earlier and Ministers who were expected to answer them, were not present and Parliament had to be adjourned one hour and 15 minutes earlier than scheduled on Tuesday. Parliament is the main forum where the voice of the voiceless people is heard from their elected representatives but it seems that most MPs themselves are aware that not much purpose is served by what they say, except for some media publicity.
This crisis again highlights the validity and the urgent need for the 19th Amendment proposed by the Rajapaksa Government’s coalition partner, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). Among other key issues, the 19th Amendment proposes that the powers of the Executive President be reduced and that more powers be given to Parliament so that with the restoration of Judicial independence also, we would have the vital checks and balances necessary for a vibrant democracy. The JHU gave the Government a five-day deadline to respond to the 19th Amendment which it insists must be implemented before the early Presidential election in January. On Monday JHU front-liner the Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera said the deadline had passed and there was still or no positive response from the Government. He said the party would decide soon on what it should do or not do, amid some confusion and conflicting reports on what would happen next.
Such confusion, conflicting claims and contradictory reports are seen in many aspects of the 2015 Budget also. For instance, in the important area of children’s nutrition, the Budget says Rs.500 million will be allocated for the provision of nutritious food for children, to improve nutritional standards of mothers and children by engaging nutritional specialists in each district. The Budget also says mobile clinics will be set up to distribute Threeposha and Samaposha nutrition supplements to all lactating and pregnant mothers and for the provision of meals to children attending preschools.
The Budget says that while promoting breastfeeding, infant milk food will be given at concessionary prices through Lanka Sathosa outlets. The President requested all supermarkets and traders to reduce the price of infant milk food.
People-friendly nutritionists say the proposals to promote breastfeeding and to provide infant milk food duty free and at concessionary rates, appear to be contradictory. Infant milk foods or formulas are given to babies below the age of one. Even the promotion of these milk foods is prohibited because Mother Lanka and her mothers know that breastfeeding for at least one year is essential for the healthy growth of the child’s body and mind. Thus it is important for the Rajapaksa Government to clarify the situation and make it clear that the breast is best for the child, the family and the country though we often see politics creeping into breastfeeding because the breast is not good for big business.
Even in the related and equally important area of reviving Sri Lanka’s dairy milk industry, the Government does not appear to be taking the cow by the udder. The Budget says local milk production has increased to 40 percent of local consumption requirements. Public sector and private sector dairy farms, small and medium enterprises have substantially increased their investments in this sector. Many incentives have been given for local milk production but the Budget makes no reference to the startling fact that Rs.140 million a day is spent on the import of powdered milk. The milk of human kindness is being soured by the agendas of big business.