The accountability of Government Ministers in particular and Parliamentarians in general towards the voters, who elected them was once again well manifested last week.
On September 5, there was not a single Minister to answer the 15 oral questions that had been raised by the MPs and documented in the Parliament’s Order Paper of the day well
Next day, on September 6, Parliament was forced to be adjourned soon after the House was commenced for want of quorum.
According to the remark made by MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardane in the House only three out of 106 Government members had attended the meeting forcing the Government to withdraw an important Bill and an Order under another Act.
Speaking on the absence of Ministers to answer the oral questions, JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake had called the day “A black day in Parliament” citing that some of the questions had been handed over to be answered a year ago, he questioned as to what the use of holding Parliament sessions was if Ministers could not come and answer the questions raised by the MPs.
In fact, most of the oral questions are very important and it is a method that ensured the Right to Information of the people. Many a time, oral questions had led to startling revelations.
For instance, it was an answer given to an oral question that revealed that the Mattala Airport had earned only Rs. 16,000 in the month of May in 2014. Before the Right to Information Act (RTI) was introduced the strongest leverage people had to obtain the details of corruption, lethargy and wastage in public institutions was the oral questions raised through their representatives in Parliament and Provincial Councils.
Hence, evading answers to those questions in some cases might amount to defending corruption and wastage. This is not the first time Parliament experienced the lack of quorum. We have witnessed this situation so many times in the past years. We have heard Speakers advising the MPs of their duty towards the people when Parliament had to adjourn owing to low turnout of MPs, but to no avail.
Parliament meets only on eight days a month as two four-day sessions, with a ten-day interval in between.
And the MPs are sumptuously paid for it as salary and various perks apart from the pension they are entitled after ‘serving’ only five years.
According to Parliament sources they are paid a sitting allowance of Rs. 2,500, committee allowance of Rs. 2,500 and an office allowance of Rs. 100,000 apart from their salary, monthly allowances for telephone, driver, fuel (Depending on the distance from Colombo to their respective districts), entertainment.
And stamps amounting to a thumping Rs. 350,000 are also issued to them annually, while duty-free vehicle permits are provided and it is a well-known fact that many MPs sell them
It is said that some candidates spend over a hundred million rupees during their campaigns to be elected to Parliament.
It points to the income they would earn legally or illegally, after being elected. All these highlight the moral responsibility that elected representatives to Parliament down to Local Government bodies should have towards the masses, who voted them in and maintain their luxurious life.
Unlike in some other countries, the attendance to Parliament is not compulsory in Sri Lanka. According to The Parliamentary Mandate- A Global Comparative Study published in 2000 by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva, in many countries including France, Spain, UK, US, Canada, Russia and Germany ‘compulsory attendance’ is a rule and in Canada Members of the Senate may be accused of insulting the House due to their non-attendance.
Financial penalties are imposed on the absentees of Parliament in countries such as Costa Rica, Cyprus, France, Gabon, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Jordan, Poland and some others, according to the above IPU publication. The rationale is not only they are paid from the public coffers, but the Parliament is the forum that makes laws that govern the lives of the people and that aims to discipline the masses.
Hence, the members of Parliament do not have the moral right to make such laws without putting their house in order. It is high time Sri Lanka bring necessary laws following those countries.