Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala is confident that nearly 201 MPs belonging to the main political parties are expected to forget their political differences for a period of two years to realise a common goal for the benefit of the country and its people. But events taking place currently do not project positive images in that direction.
When taking into account the use of abusive language, the waving placards, shouting slogans, claiming they were performing a Sathyagraha and consuming liquor, one could associate such behaviour with the Sri Lanka Parliament of today. Would the people of this country continue to witness such drama in the future? Or could Parliament live up to the standards the present government is claiming it would deliver? The answer given by the Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala to this question during an interview with the Daily Mirror was ‘yes’.
Following are the excerpts of the interview.
You have been the Deputy Speaker for a brief period; what do think of the current Parliament?
In my opinion, it’s going to be fine. It will be a new experience for MPs and also the people. Nearly 201 MPs belonging to the main political parties despite their political differences have come together for a period of two years to realise a common goal. I think it is going to be a great success.
But some members of the Opposition are complaining they are being curtailed from speaking in Parliament?
Anyone can complain but ample time is given to all members to speak. So, there is no problem with regard to speaking time. The truth is that some Opposition members are not present to speak when time is given to them.
There is an allegation that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is exerting undue influence on the Speaker?
The Prime Minister has never influenced the Speaker in any way. He has never come into the Speaker’s chambers whenever there was a ruling pending and the the Speaker has never acted partially either.
The government has promised many changes in parliamentary proceedings to ensure more democracy. As representatives of Parliament, what changes do you plan to introduce to bring about that effect?
We are transforming Parliament into a vibrant institution that maintains a high degree of accountability when it comes to public funds. Accordingly, we are looking at placing overseeing committees. A budget office to guide these committees is also being planned. We hope to have it in place early next year. These changes will bring more transparency and I am personally happy that the budget office is going to be a reality because I came with that proposal in 2012 .
Other suggestions are being made to ensure democracy by making select committee meetings open to the public. Is this possible?
As far as we are concerned, there is nothing wrong in allowing the media into observe select committee meetings. It will enhance the participant’s contribution towards Parliament. This way more accurate figures regarding funds would emerge.
How about the live telecasts? Two hours of parliamentary sessions are shown live on Rupawahini now; is there any possibility of showing entire parliamentary sessions live on TV?
At the movement two-hour sessions are telecast live. But there is an issue there. When state TV is used to cover parliamentary proceedings, it results in a loss of revenue to the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation because it loses advertising time. When this [monetary] aspect is considered showing an entire day’s proceedings in the House would be a problem. However, most countries where House sessions are shown live on TV began with these issues. I believe we will find a solution to this matter in time to come. There are other issues that need consideration. For instance, some MPs may take advantage of the live telecast to gain political mileage. Anyway we hope to introduce a system where people could watch the telecasts.
You attended the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) sessions recently when the IPU wanted details on the probes carried out on the killing of several MPs. How have you responded to this request?
The IPU wanted details in the investigations carried out on the killings of four MPs: T. Maheshwaran, Nadarajah Raviraj, Joseph Pararajasingham and Minister D. M. Dassanayake. I contacted the families of these members prior to my departure and inquired after the [progress] of the investigations and legal proceedings. There was no issue pertaining to the probe on the killings of MP Maheshwaran and D M. Dasssanayake and the IPU was happy with the progress made on these probes. In fact court cases pertaining to these have ended. But the investigations and the court cases pertaining to the killing of Raviraj and Pararajasingham are pending and the IPU wanted periodical reports on the progress that have been made on these two investigations. Actually the former Chief Minister of the Eastern Province Sivanesathure Chandrakanthan (Pillaiyan) is behind bars in connection with the killing of Pararajasingham while the suspects of Raviraj’s killing are also under arrest. Considering this level of progress, the IPU has acknowledged that Sri Lanka had advanced in ensuring democracy in the country by apprehending those who had been responsible for breaking the law in the country in 2015.