Parliament | Daily News


TRCSL should be brought under Telecommunication Ministry - Mangala

It could have been better if the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) came under the purview of the Telecommunication Ministry, Mass Media and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said.

He was responding to a question raised by MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena in Parliament yesterday.

“I was the minister when the TRC Act was drafted in 1997.

“As per the Act, the TRC should be under the Telecommunication Ministry and its Secretary must be the TRC Head. However, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who tasted money and power attached to this institution took it under him by gazetting it under his purview.

He used it as a political weapon. Since then the TRC continues to be under the President. It could have been better had we given it back to the Telecommunication Ministry,” he said.

On behalf of the Government, Minister Samaraweera expressed his regrets over the TNL incident, adding that the Government is always committed to creating a free and responsible media environment.

“I am happy that the Joint Opposition MPs, who were silent when media organisations came under severe attacks during the Rajapaksa regime, have come forward to speak on media freedom at least now.

Today, many media channels allocate more air time to criticise the Government, but still we maintain good relations with all of them,” he added.

The minister said transmission equipment belonging to the TNL to the value of about Rs 2 million had been taken into Police custody. MP Gunawardena raising a question under Standing Order 27 (2) brought to the attention of the House that due notice had not been given when closing down the TNL transmission tower.

He charged that this was a violation of the TRC Act. Observing that the President is only entitled to keep Defence Ministry and Environment and Mahaweli Development Ministry under him as per the 19th Amendment, the MP questioned whether the President has the power to make appointments in other institutions. He said the President’s appointment of the TRC Director General can be questioned.

Replying to these concerns the minister said the issue could be a bureaucratic bungle than a political issue. “I am not a lawyer or a Constitutional expert, but I see your argument has a basis. We will discuss a way to resolve it,” Samaraweera said.

He also said that he could not contact TRC Chairman Austin Fernando yet as he had gone overseas, adding that he would talk to him as soon as he returns.

UNP MP Pathirana heavily criticised the Government over the TNL incident, also recalling how TNL “Janahanda” programme, conducted by him, provided the platform for many politicians to make their first public appearance.

He noted the Mass Media Minister and the Prime Minister should have been informed and their consent sought prior to the blocking of any media institution.

“Can we control the media by sending Police in this modern era? Besides had the Law and Order Minister been informed when Police raided the premises.

We are dragging the country back to a dark era. I am ashamed of this conduct. We did not come to power to behave in this manner.

This should stop immediately,” Minister Samaraweera said.

University protests funded by certain parties - Dr. Rajapakshe

There are certain groups who provide money to disrupt University operations. These forces are trying to destabilize our university education. Hence, the universities should be safeguarded from these sinister elements and brought to a progressive platform, said Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Wijayadasa Rajapakshe.

He said so during the Second Reading of the National Defense Fund (Amendment) Bill in Parliament yesterday.

The Minister noted that currently, drugs were being taken into universities, while the underworld had grown in magnitudes. “The youth have been caught up in drugs. Ragging today had become very vicious, while students who are subjected to it are afraid to complain. We gave found out through a special unit that there had been 284 ragging incidents last year. This includes sexual harassment too. In some universities, it is a very strange atmosphere and even the Vice Chancellors are afraid to report these incidents as they have no protection if they do so. If students complain about it, they are unable to return to the university thereafter. Some students leave the universities as they are unable to bear the ragging. Therefore, parents are in a quandary as they don’t know how to deal with this situation. This has been happening for some time, but nothing has been done about it,” Rajapakshe said.

Even in the North, the drug menace is now a huge problem, noted the minister, adding that it does not seem that anyone had paid proper attention in addressing this drug menace.

“Today, the drug scourge has reached unprecedented heights and had even made its way into universities. Referring to a recent incident, the minister said a minor staffer of a well-known state university had brought drugs into the university and the staff had reported the matter to the police. According to witnesses, Excise officers had arrived and taken the suspect and later the police had produced him in court on charges of possession of alcohol and he was released. What happened to the drugs? The whole university is aware that he was caught with drugs. I have complained about this matter to the Finance Ministry Secretary, who had promised to conduct an investigation. We are waiting for the report,” he said, adding that today there is a big problem with regard to discipline in the country.

As a means to tackle the issue of ragging in universities, the University Grants Commission has developed a new APP with the collaboration of the ICTA Institute to assist students facing ragging at universities.

When they install this App on their phones, with just a mere tap, the UGC Unit monitoring this system would be able to determine who the student was and provide assistance instantly, the minister explained.

Referring to the culture of protests in universities, Rajapakshe noted that the students at the Oluvil University had been on strike for many days and when he summoned and inquired them, he was told that they were striking over the expulsion of one student, who is an absolute thug. “He disrupts all university activities and how could we adhere to the demands of the students and reinstate such a bad egg? If we do so, how could we ensure the proper functioning of the university? These striking students notified me that it costs them around Rs. 300,000 per trip to travel to Colombo by buses to stage these protests. They have made around seven such trips to Colombo. How could they afford this and who was funding these protests? All these students who are involved in these protests are those who are on Mahapola Scholarship grants and children of low income families.”

These students waste their time on the streets protesting and when its time for their exams, they get the notes from somewhere and manage to pass, the minister pointed out, adding that despite having a qualification on paper, practically, they lacked language proficiency and complete knowledge.

According to Minister Rajapakshe, many condemn international schools, but today, the international school network has widened vastly. Most students now prefer to go to Nepal, India or Bangladesh to pursue their medical degrees. This is a very pathetic situation the country’s education sector is facing, he said, emphasizing that the government should find a way to save the country’s students from this unfortunate plight.

Closing down TNL Transmission Tower:

Speaker directs Harin Fernando to attend Parliament and reply to queries

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya directed Telecommunication, Digital Infrastructure and Foreign Employment Minister Harin Fernando, to come to Parliament and respond to queries on the TRC closing down the TNL transmission tower in Polgahawela.

The Speaker made this direction when MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena and UNP MP Buddhika Pathirana, demanded an immediate response to the matter.

Chief Government Whip and Minister Gayantha Karunathilake said Minister Fernando had informed that he would make a detailed answer during the next Parliamentary sitting week. The Speaker instructed Minister Karunathilake to contact Minister Fernando and ask him to come to Parliament and give a reply within the course of the day.

“If the minister could give a reply today (8), it would be very useful. I will also inform him,” he told the House.

However, later in Parliament, Mass Media and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera replied to the concerns on behalf of the Government.

Underworld operating with Police, political backing:Dr. Rajapakshe

During the past 3 - 4 decades, underworld gangs have emerged strongly with the backing of either the Police high ranking officials or politicians or both. If any underworld gang came up without the backing of the police or politicians, then within a few months the police would crush them.

If there are underworld gangs that could not be controlled, then invariably they had the protection of Police officials or a politician.

If not, these drug rings or underworld operations could not survive, said Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Minister Dr. Wijayadasa Rajapakshe, joining the Second Reading of the National Defense Fund (Amendment) Bill in Parliament yesterday.

Therefore, he noted that attention needs to be paid to this drug scourge that is destroying our younger generation, by taking measures to address the issue.

In a country that had faced a long war, it is inevitable that drug related activities and the issue of illegal weapons arise, noted Rajapakshe, adding that especially drugs and the underworld could not be differentiated as they go hand in hand. “We expected to establish an Independent Police Commission and with the 19th Amendment, establish an Independent Police Service without political interference. However, now the time has come to re-analyse this situation. It is questionable whether the Police was functioning independently and carrying out their duties properly.”

It is not enough that the Police is merely independent. They should be efficient enough to carry out their duties to the level expected of them, added Rajapakshe.

Party leaders could make changes to MPs nominated to COPE:Speaker

The Party Leaders have space to make changes to the MPs nominated to the COPE, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya told Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to concerns raised by UPFA MP Shehan Semasinghe. Semasinghe urged the Speaker to remove the COPE members who are alleged to have obtained money from Perpetual Treasuries Ltd. “If those members are not ready to step down, I request the Speaker to remove them and ask the relevant parties to nominate other MPs to replace them. The Attorney General had said that certain COPE members had directly benefitted from the suspect accused of the bond scam. The COPE probed on the bond scam extensively. Having members who allegedly obtained money from the accused party, is a disgrace to the Committee as well as the Speaker.

Therefore I request for the removal of all MPs who are alleged to have obtained money from PTL beneficiary owner Arjun Aloysius or had telephone conversations with him,” he said.

The Speaker agreeing with the MP, said he had already conveyed that message to Party Leaders, and that the matter was discussed at several Party Leaders’ Meetings. “Your point is taken. Nominations to the COPE are done by the respective parties.

The Party Leaders could make the necessary changes if they so wish,” the Speaker replied.


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