Ruling party’s Dr. Ramesh Pathirane complained in Parliament recently that his fuel quota was insufficient for his regular travel to attend parliamentary sessions from his constituency in Galle, and therefore he used the luxury bus service on the expressway for his commute. His lament was seriously discussed at the meeting of the Business Committee of Parliament chaired by Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa last Wednesday. It has been a common concern for all the MPs, barring those holding ministerial portfolios.
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The representatives, across the political divide, decided to increase the fuel quota for MPs, and there was no agreement on the amount to be increased.
The MPs, particularly from outstations, justify their argument for an increase in their fuel quota or their allowance, on the basis that their activities normally involve a lot of travel covering the length and breadth of their electoral districts, or sometimes outside.
True, a parliamentarian cannot confine himself to his polling division in the electoral district concerned under the present complicated electoral system. Contestants are required to canvass votes from the entire district, and it is a costly exercise. Candidates, with a lot of wealth at their disposal, always, outshine others, by lavishly spending on propaganda activities. Upon election to office, they face yet another challenge - to retain their vote base spread across the district. For that, they use various tactics. They need to attend funerals, weddings and any other public functions to maintain a rapport with their voters. Not that there are no politicians who exploit their power for personal benefits instead of serving the interests of those who elected them. For politicians with ill-gotten wealth, there cannot be financial constraints to buy fuel for their luxury vehicles.
"Contestants are required to canvass votes from the entire district, and it is a costly exercise. Candidates, with a lot of wealth at their disposal, always, outshine others, by lavishly spending on propaganda activities. Upon election to office, they face yet another challenge - to retain their vote base spread across the district"
Yet, in a general context, the present electoral system should be blamed in great part for the present predicament of MPs seeking to amass wealth to keep themselves afloat in politics. So, the time is ripe for a change in the parliamentary electoral system.
Prof. Sudantha Ranasinghe, an expert on electoral affairs, once told a gathering that the demarcation of electorates had no relevance under the Proportional Representation System, as candidates should canvass votes from the entire district concerned.
The need for a change in the present system is going to be featured in the next election campaign - be it parliamentary or presidential.
Already, some parties, both within the government and outside, have openly said it. The Democratic Left Front (DLF) led by National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara discussed it at its Central Committee meeting conducted last Sunday. Minister Nanayakkara said the present electoral system should be replaced with the First-Past-the Post System, and it would be included in a pamphlet to be distributed among people under a public awareness campaign to be initiated by the party shortly.
The abolition of the executive presidency and transfer of its powers to Parliament, the revision of the tax policy with more focus on direct tax, and the provision of selected essential food items at concessionary prices are the key demands approved by the Central Committee.
The DLF, as an ally of the government, is cautious enough not to antagonise President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The party, therefore, chose to campaign for the transfer of executive powers to Parliament only headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister in such an eventuality.
The main opposition UNP has been agitating for a long time to bring about a total change of the present constitution with emphasis on a new election system, based on the mix of the Proportional Representation System and the First-Past-the Post System.
Liquor consumption on the rise
During a recent function to mark the opening of a new police station in the Seethawakapura division, Sabaragamuwa Provincial Council member Dr. Parakrama Athauda, the son of Senior Minister Athauda Seneviratne, narrated a story about the effects of alcoholism.
As a medical professional, he said he had conducted autopsies on more than 1000 bodies, and around 200 of them were deaths caused by alcoholism. Dr. Parakrama Athauda worked as the District Medical Office at a number of hospitals during his career before entering politics.
“In this area, brewery of illicit liquor is rampant. Therefore we find an increased number of crimes related to that. Therefore, we ask villagers not to turn to us as politicians to secure the release of criminals arrested by the police,” he told the gathering.
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Also, he thanked Sabaragamuwa Chief Minister Mahipala Herath for releasing a building to house this police station.
“I, as a medical professional, had conducted autopsies on 1000 dead bodies. Over 200 of them were of youths who had died due to the diseases related to alcoholism. When their bodies were dissected, their mouths gave out an odour of Kasippu (illicit liquor brewed locally),” he told the Chief Minister.
Then, the Chief Minister said the police alone could not tackle crimes.
“Adherence to the five precepts preached by the Buddha can eradicate crime from society,” he said.
Despite the much hyped ‘Mathata Thita’ (End to Alcoholism) programme, the liquor sales had soared in the country during the last few years. United National Party (UNP) MP Ajith P. Perera took this matter up in Parliament.
Deputy Minister of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs M.K.D.S. Gunawardane said it had increased because people were getting used to drink more and more.
It appeared to be a funny answer. At this point, Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, ostensibly realising the difficulty in completely eradicating liquor sales, remarked, “This is the end result when trying to put ends to unnecessary matters (Anawasya thith thiyanna giyama oka Thamai wenne).”
UNP in Badulla
The UNP, in its effort to position itself well ahead of the Uva Provincial Council Elections, completed its membership drive in Badulla and Moneragala from May 10 to 12. After religious ceremonies at Muthiyangane Rajamaha Vihare in Badulla and other religious places, the party undertook the membership drive.
The rank and file of the party asked Badulla district MP Harin Fernando to be made the chief ministerial candidate, and the religious leaders, supporting the party, also made the same request. MP Fernando has consented to resign from Parliament and contest at the election.
However, the party hierarchy in the district is distraught that UNP MP for Hambantota Sajith Premadasa did not join the membership drive. It shows the division within the party is yet to be sorted out, let alone unifying the entire opposition for a common political cause.
During the campaign, an interesting remark was made by Government Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.
Making an indirect swipe at those who harassed the UNP MPs during their visit to Hambantota earlier, Mr. de Silva, a senior member of the government said he would not brandish ‘toy pistols’ to intimidate UNP members engaged in the membership drive.
“The development work done under my direction and supervision is great enough to ensure my party’s victory,” he said.
However, the UNP tried to counter this statement saying that the physical development world alone would not suffice as the cost of living had gone through the roof.
Sajith looks for missing elephant calves
UNP MP Sajith Premadasa is an ardent elephant lover. He has a huge collection of wild life photos, especially of elephants taken over the years. Amid allegations about the racket of capturing elephant calves from the wild to be reared unlawfully, he submitted a report about the disappearances of elephant calves to Wild Life Conservation and Development Minister Gamini Wijith Wijayamuni Zoysa in the parliamentary complex last week.
Minister Zoysa was happy about this move. He said, “It is great that you gave all these details. I will look into them. I really appreciate it.”
Pakistani army to clean Colombo beaches
Pakistan Naval Ship PNS SHAMSHEER is on a goodwill visit to the Colombo Port of Sri Lanka on 13-15 May 2014, as both Pakistan and Sri Lanka continue to enjoy strong, diplomatic, economic, cultural and defence ties.
A statement from the High Commission of Pakistan says , “PNS SHAMSHEER is the second ship of SWORD Class Frigates built at Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard Shanghai, China. It is a very potent platform and forms mainstay of PN surface combanants with her other consorts. Installation of the best available weapons and sensors onboard makes her an extremely versatile warship with tremendous fire power to effectively thwart possible threats at sea. The ship is operated by highly qualified, professional and resolutely devoted officers and men. The ship will prove itself an inhospitable foe for the enemy as per expectations of the nation and in line with the finest traditions of Pakistan Navy.
As part of goodwill, Pakistan Navy ships frequently pay port visits to Sri Lanka. These visits are aimed at further strengthening the existing strong relationship between Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
In pursuit of promoting bilateral relations, the Pakistan Navy provides a number of training courses for Sri Lankan Naval personnel. In order to further enhance the potential for sharing of military knowledge and expertise, particularly in the face of the emerging terrorist threat, both the countries share their experience.
Sri Lanka is an important regional country and the Pakistan Navy regards co-operation with the Sri Lankan Navy as of paramount importance.
During their stay in Colombo, officers and men will take part in beach cleaning around Colombo and will play a friendly volleyball match with officers and men of the Sri Lankan Navy.
Douglas invites Wigneswaran to attend PSC
Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development Minister Douglas Devananda recently invited Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran to attend the Parliamentary Select Committee mandated to evolve a political solution through constitutional reforms. It happened at the Jaffna District Development Co-ordinating Committee meeting.
Mr. Wigneswaran used to boycott its sessions earlier. Eventually, he started attending its sessions. Likewise, Minister Devananda asked Mr. Wigneswaran to join the PSC. However, there was no response from the Chief Minister.
John falls sick, MR offers help
Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga fell sick recently, and he had to seek treatment from a hospital in Singapore. President Mahinda Rajapaksa knew about it and offered to assist him in whatever way possible. It is characteristic of the President.
“You should have told me about your illness. Then, I can arrange the facilities for you here for treatment,” he said.
The President asked Sri Lanka’s diplomatic mission in Singapore to provide a vehicle for Mr. Amaratunga to use during his stay in Singapore.