The Daily Mirror was able to have exclusive access to a letter written by British Prime Minister David Cameron hailing the work done in Sri Lanka through sport to highlight reconciliation issues. In his letter sent to Muttiah Muralidaran and his Foundation’s Chief Trustee Kushil Gunasekera,
Mr. Cameron says that such a commitment is clearly essential to the future of the country. Meanwhile, recent days saw the Pakistani Speaker visiting Sri Lanka Parliament and at one point directing a question at the EU and the USA raising concerns over the increased production of heroin in Taliban regions despite the NATO presence. And here at home, government members of parliament are increasingly becoming shy of facing live coverage during parliament sessions. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s letter sent to MuttiahMuralidaran and his Foundation’s Chief Trustee Kushil Gunasekera recently, showed how keen the international community is on genuine action being taken to address reconciliation issues in Sri Lanka. British Prime Minister’s unassuming message written under the letterhead of 10, Downing Street, London, clearly endorses the good work done by Sri Lankans to achieve lasting peace in the country. Apart from that, the simple language he has used in presenting such a compelling message with a bit of his hand-written words further stimulates his core message.
Mr. Cameron’s letter is inserted in this article for our readers to get a real sense of the reconciliation work which can be achieved through sport and other community level work.
Pakistani Speaker’s visit
Visiting Speaker of Pakistani National Assembly Sardar Ayas Sadiq, accompanied by Deputy Speaker of the Sri Lanka Parliament Chandima Weerakkody, was walking along the corridors of the parliamentary complex last Friday. The Deputy Speaker was showing him pictures of former MPs, places and objects significant in terms of parliamentary traditions.
As the visiting Pakistani Speaker arrived at the spacious area of the complex leading to the members’ portal, Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen and Government MP A.H.M. Azwerliterally mobbed him by rushing to get close to him and introducing themselves. Then they had a friendly conversation starting off with the many memories of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka relationship.
At this point, Mr. Weerakkoddy chose to add a new dimension to the conversation by referring to Minister Bathiudeen’s electorate.
“We have found gas in the sea off Mr. Bathiudeen’s electorate,” the Deputy Minister told Mr. Sadiq.
Stage set for gas exploration
This remark appeared to set the stage to explore a novel aspect of co-operation between the two countries. Once Mr. Weerakkody mentioned the discovery of gas in the Mannar basin, Mr. Sadiq noted Pakistan had expertise in oil and gas exploration, and was ready to invest in Sri Lanka provided that the willingness of the government of Sri Lanka was granted.
“We have expertise in oil exploration. We can do it at a less expensive rate here than anyone else,” he said.
Minister Bathiudeen responded with a positive note, and agreed to have a formal dialogue on the matter later.
Speaker Sadiq also paid a courtesy call on President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the parliamentary complex on the same day. A statement issued by the Pakistan High Commissionstated that Mr. Sadiq conveyed the appreciation of Pakistani government for the hospitality extended by the people and the Government of Sri Lanka towards the Pakistani delegation.
The statement said, “The Speaker said that Pakistan and Sri Lanka were historically bonded in a relationship of trust, mutual respect and deep friendship which was manifested at all the phases of bilateral history.
SardarAyazSadiq also commended the arrangements made by the Sri Lankan government for successfully organising the Commonwealth Heads of government meeting (CHOGM) last month in which the Prime Minister of Pakistan Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif headed the Pakistani delegation. He further said the meeting between the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Sri Lankan President has boosted the relations between the two countries.
The Speaker also appreciated the efforts of the Sri Lankan government in defeating the menace of terrorism which plagued Sri Lanka.
The statement also said, “President Rajapaksa, while acknowledging the support extended by the government of Pakistan during the Sri Lankan war against terrorism, said that Pakistan’s unflinching support during the three decade internal conflict had immensely helped in the elimination of terrorism from Sri Lanka.
He said that Pakistan has proved to be a true friend of Sri Lanka and that the Sri Lankan government and the public have a deep affection for Pakistan.
President MahindaRajapaksa also welcomed Pakistani investment in the Sri Lankan sugar industry and reiterated his government’s fullest corporation in this regard.
The two sides agreed to further strengthen the bilateral relations and stressed upon the need to work closely in the regional and global context.
Invitations to Chamal and Nimal Siripala
Earlier in the day,SardarAyazSadiq met his Sri Lankan counterpart ChamalRajapaksa at the Sri Lankan parliament. The two speakers held detailed discussion on bilateral issues and explored the ways and means to further strengthen the parliamentary relations between the two countries.
Matters pertaining to the parliamentary procedures, committee system and the budgetary process also came under discussion. The Pakistani Speaker invited the Sri Lankan Speaker to visit Pakistan at his convenience and Mr. Chamal Rajapaksa graciously accepted it.The Pakistani Speaker at this point said that he would like to see the Sri Lankan Leader of the House NimalSiripala de Silva also visiting Pakistan.
While addressing the members of Pakistan- Sri Lanka Parliamentary Friendship Association, the Speaker urged the members to act as representatives of Pakistan in Sri Lanka. He underlined the need for more frequent interactions between Parliamentary Friendship bodies of the two countries and assured that he would personally oversee their working in his capacity as the Speaker.
The Leader of the House in Sri Lankan Parliament Nimal Siripala de Silva and MP Dr. Sudharshi Fernandopulle thanked the Speaker and hoped that the visit would provide further impetus to the existing bonds of friendship between the two countries.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sadiq, on his way out of the parliamentary complex, made some exclusive remarks to Daily Mirror on the bilateral relations. Calling Sri Lanka Parliament a mature process, he said he was impressed by the President’s conclusion speech of the annual budget debate.
“The two countries have brotherly relations. Yet, there is scope for further corporation, especially in sugar processing and gas exploration,” Sadiq told Daily Mirror.
Heroin bombshell hurled at EU and USA
In recent months, the two countries have been grappling to deal with heroin smuggling. There are Pakistani nationals arrested and jailed in Sri Lanka in connection with heroin smuggling. Asked about measures for co-operation to curb this menace, he said drugs do not originate from Pakistan.
“Drugs originate from Taliban. I would like to ask the European Union and the United States a question. During the control of Taliban, only 500 kilogrammes of heroin were produced in the region. And now, despite the presence of so many NATO forces, this amount has increased to 15,000 kilogrammes. How did it happen? “, he queried.
Upcoming WPC, SPC polls
The government is planning to dissolve the western and southern provincial councils on January 12, to have elections in March. It means the New Year will be marked with another bout of scattered provincial council polls. The alliance partners of the ruling coalition are busy again with their politburo and central committee meetings to decide on the fielding of candidates under the common betel symbol. However, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), an ally of the government, will go solo at this election as they did at the previous elections.
“We will have our High Command meeting during the first week of January. Our stand is that we should contest alone under our tree symbol. We did the same at last provincial councils,” SLMC General Secretary M.T. Hasan Ali said.
MPs shy of live coverage
Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa allowed live telecast of parliamentary proceedings in the hope that the general public can get a better view of their representatives’ role in Parliament. Also, he believes live telecast will restrain the conduct of MPs and bring order to the House eventually. Nevertheless, there is dissension, particularly among government members over the move.
At a recent Cabinet meeting, newly appointed Special Projects Minister S.M. Chandrasena remarked that live telecast would only expose the members, and compromise their dignity before Parliament. The unruly behaviour and the use of abusive words are a problem to maintain decorum in the House. When there was no live telecast or broadcasting of proceedings, such un-parliamentary words did not reach the general public as they were expunged from the official Hansard reports. Also, they were omitted when video and audio clips were edited later for public consumption through the media. It is now impossible due to live telecasts. Members are exposed forthwith. Now, they fear for their image being tarnished in the eyes of people whom they represent.
There was mixed reaction to what Mr. Chandrasena said at the customary dinner hosted by the President after the Cabinet meeting. Petroleum Minister AnuraPriyadarshanaYapa and Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Devi Wanniarachchi expressed mixed feelings. Fisheries Minister Dr. RajithaSenaratne, however, stood for the live telecast of proceedings, as a measure to restore people’s right to know what their representatives do and how they act.
‘Please show empty seats in the House’
Meanwhile, United National Party (UNP) MP R. Yogarajan even requested the Speaker in Parliament during the budget debate not only to telecast speeches, but also to film the entire chamber for the public to know the number of seats being occupied.
“Attendance is very important. People should know whether their representatives attend the sessions regularly or not,” he said.
Speaker’s customary dinner
The Speaker hosted all the MPs for his customary dinner at his official residence on Friday night. The members, involved in verbal harangues, arguments and counter arguments, were exchanging pleasantries at the dinner, casting aside their political differences. The President was also a guest at the event. He, flanked by External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, reached the table occupied by Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan, his party’s MPs M.A.Sumanthiran and Mavai Senathirajah. The President asked the TNA members to join hands with him at this juncture.