By Sakif Samy Nanvir
Joseph Michael Perera, a former Minister of the UNP and one time Speaker of Parliament, in an interview with our sister paper ‘Deshaya’ aired his views on the No confidence Motions, New regulations, political situations and other parliamentary procedures. Following are excerpts of the interview.
Q What are the factors that have led to certain parliamentarians being resentful within the parliament chamber?
This is because people have failed to elect those who are knowledgeable on parliamentary procedures.
QDoes that mean you believe that there are issues among these parliamentarians?
I don’t say so. There may be some issues. They are shouting in an uncontrollable manner. Dinesh Gunawardene shouts in that manner, without reason.
QDuring the past bringing a no confidence motion was a very responsible move. Now there are moves to bring in no confidence motions at every turn. Doesn’t the Parliament have a better way of doing things.
Even today moving a no confidence motion is a responsible act. Now they are planning to bring a no confidence motion against Rajitha Senaratne. The Parliament isn’t a place where MPs can iron out personal matters. What they have to do is speak about official functions, their duties and how the funds allocated by the Parliament are being used. They are also required to submit public opinions for discussions. These matters can be moved as Private members bills or as questions that are raised. The relevant Minister should answer these questions. The prime duty of a MP is to be in Parliament whenever sessions are on. An MP should listen to questions and form replies.
QIt is expected that The Speaker of the House should always remain neutral. Considering your experience and the present complex situation can The Speaker act independently setting aside politics?
Yes. The Speaker is the protector of MPs. His duty is to see that necessary assistance is provided, in keeping with the legal requirements, to have the enactment of all bills presented by the Government. An MP should assist bills and acts proposed by the Government so that they can be passed in accordance with the legal procedures, Standing Orders and Constitution. Acting neutral doesn’t mean that you allow all what the Opposition proposes and allow them to be passed. Acting in a neutral manner means that you act according to the Parliamentary standing orders and the Constitution. The Speaker is bound by the Standing Orders. In situations that don’t come under Standing Orders, an MP could solve them in a justifiable manner by resorting to obtaining other opinions. These are normally handled by the office of the Speaker, but such a responsibility lies with The Speaker.
Q The two main parties two years ago agreed on forming a conscientious Government. The people had high hopes on this Government. But the Unity Government has failed to fulfill the aspirations of the people.
No they haven’t failed, nor have they found it difficult. After the President was elected, how much have they achieved within one year? There is a reduction in the cost of living. When the fisher folk protested against the fuel hike, the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government responded using firearms. One fisherman died. When we assumed power we reduced the price of fuel, gas and milk powder and also offered the nutrition pack. To do whatever we wish, we have the blessings of the parliament majority and the 2/3 rd power. The benefit of forming a Unity Government is well depicted here.
After the President was elected, how much have they achieved within one year? There is a reduction in the cost of living. When the fisher folk protested against the fuel hike, the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government responded using firearms
QThe expectations of the people aren’t realized because when ever the UNP brings in a proposal the SLFP raises objections. When the SLFP brings in a motion the UNP cries foul. Where does the fault lie?
That was in the past.
QWhat I am referring to is the situation within the conscientious Government.
There are no issues, and both groups are working together. The Leader of the country is the President and the deputy is the Prime Minister. The Cabinet consists of both parties. Decisions are arrived at after consultations with both the President and the Prime Minister. Subject matters are afterwards brought before the Cabinet. This is possible because of the 2/3 rd majority the Unity Government possesses. This proves what unity can achieve in many ways.
QDuring the time the COPE was active, we witnessed how one report was thrown into the dustbin. This time it is different. The President appointed a special commission to probe the alleged fraud in the Bond Scam. When a commission is appointed regarding this matter, what will be the next move?
A COPE committee should investigate all state enterprises to find out whether there had been any malpractices. They must investigate the manner in which revenue had been earned and spent. These reports are then studied by MPs in Parliament. Earlier too these COPE reports had been presented in Parliament and debated on. These reports had never been thrown away. The Bond Scam is a different one altogether when compared to what COPE handled.
There are many unfulfilled promises made by the Government after being in power. There are many areas that haven’t been completed, areas which were mentioned in the election manifesto. For example some genuine people had been ignored when granting Samurdhi benefits
QThis Government which assumed power stating that it would nail the rogues of the former Government are now engaged in doing other things. How and why has this situation arisen?
I see that the job isn’t being done properly, not only by those who were in the former Government, but by those in the present one. All those who are involved fraud must be probed. There are people outside Parliament who benefited from both the present and past governments. Even these people should be probed.
QDuring the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government the AGs Department was under the President. This was highly criticized by the intellectuals of the country. Now there are allegations that agreements are signed without informing The Parliament.
When signing agreements it isn’t necessary to inform the Parliament. Did Mahinda Rajapaksa present the agreements to vest the Hambantota Harbor or the Port city to The Parliament?
Q As a former Speaker, what is the legal position relating to the signing of international agreements?
The legal position is that all these shouldn’t be tabled in Parliament. There are certain obligations when it comes to Governments and agreements. What is brought before the Parliament is the manner in which one should enter into agreements. For example there are international agreements on women’s rights, Youth rights and Covering the health sector. These agreements are brought before Parliament. But all agreements that the Government enters in to with other countries don’t need to be brought before the Parliament. There is no legal requirement for that.
QNow the Government has been in power for the past two years. Do you see any signs of this Government having made progress?
There are many positive signs. I also see lapses. There are many unfulfilled promises made by the Government after being in power. There are many areas that haven’t been completed, areas which were mentioned in the election manifesto. For example some genuine people had been ignored when granting Samurdhi benefits. Though they have promised to rectify this situation it still hasn’t been done. When providing jobs certain Ministers have acted on their own. A promise was made to compensate those politically victimized, but it hasn’t been done yet. These things should be attended to by this Unity Government. The grassroots don’t benefit from the good that is being done. Therefore it seems that the people aren’t convinced. The benefits of whatever programme implemented by the Government, aren’t passed onto the people due to bureaucracy.
- people have failed to elect those who are knowledgeable on parliamentary procedures
- The Parliament isn’t a place where MPs can iron out personal matters
- Acting in a neutral manner means that you act according to the Parliamentary standing orders and the Constitution
- Did Mahinda Rajapaksa present the agreements to vest the Hambantota Harbor or the Port city to The Parliament
- This proves what unity can achieve in many ways