PARLIAMENT | Daily News


 

PARLIAMENT

Sandasen Marasinghe, Camelia Nathaniel and Amali Mallawarachchi
Sandasen Marasinghe, Camelia Nathaniel and Amali Mallawarachchi

COPE, COPA proceedings opened to media

Speaker tells media to report with responsibility

Parliament opened proceedings of the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) and Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) to media yesterday.

This is with the view to strengthening parliamentary democracy in the country.

A ceremonial event was held in Parliament yesterday afternoon under the patronage of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to mark the official commencement of the first COPE proceeding accessible to media.

Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri, a representative of the European Union, COPE Chairman JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti, COPA Chairman Lasantha Alagiyawanna, members of the two Parliamentary committees, Auditor General W.P.C. Wickremeratne, Parliament Secretary General Dhammika Dissanayake, Serjeant-at-Arms Narendra Fernando and the officials of parliamentary staff.

Opening the parliament committee proceeding to the public through media has helped to re-establish the lost trust on parliamentary democracy, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya inaugurating the new camera and broadcast system installed at the Secretariat of Committee on Public Enterprises (CoPE) said.Speaker Karu Jayasuriya also said that Parliament is also considering opening the Sectoral Oversight Committee proceedings to the media as well.

“This is a gigantic step towards strengthening democracy in the country. This is a day we can be very proud of our achievements.This will strengthen our parliamentary system.We have managed to establish parliamentary democracy in keeping with 190 Parliaments in the world. Some Parliaments have started to follow us by increasing their standards. It will also list our parliament as an institute that follows the most advanced international standards. I would like to commend the representatives of the European Union and the United Nations Development Program, Auditor General, Secretary General of Parliament and other officials in the parliament staff for your commitment to make this endeavour successful,” Jayasuriya said. “The Eighth Parliament has passed a few milestones in the Parliamentary history. Allowing media to report the Parliament Select Committee proceedings appointed to investigate the Easter Sunday attack was a crucial decision taken to narrow the gap between Parliament and the people.” Jayasuriya added.

Speaker Jayasuriya requested the media to report proceedings with responsibility."Some persons, who have spoken to me on this move to open Committee proceedings to media and public, told me that the proceedings of Parliament Select Committee on the Easter Sunday carnage have become quite popular among the public.”

Speaker Jayasuriya extended his gratitude to President Maithripala Sirisena for his fullest support in the process as well.

COPE Chairman JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti observed that the decision to open COPE and COPA proceedings to media will set straight the negative opinions held by the public on the Parliament affairs.

“People in this country believe that Parliament is not doing anything worthwhile. If you look at the important investigations we carried out over the last few years, you would understand that it is not the case. So when we open the proceedings of COPE and COPA, people will realize the importance of work we are doing here. This move, I believe, will be an act of ensuring the supremacy of the people.” Handunnetti also said.

The Industrial Development Board and the Department of Government Printing were summoned before the COPE yesterday. COPE Chairman Handunnetti requested media not to take any personal statements from the officials who come before the Committees as representatives of the summoned government institutions. Similarly, Handunnetti requested COPE and COPA members to refrain from giving personal statements to media after the proceedings are concluded.

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No one complained when ACSA was signed by two US citizens in 2007 - Kiriella

Opposition MPs who criticise agreements which are signed with the US forget that their would-be Presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa was himself a US citizen when he signed the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with the US, Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament yesterday.

Speaking during the adjournment debate moved by the United People’s Freedom Alliance on obtaining Parliamentary agreements entered into by the Government with foreign countries, Kiriella queried whether any Opposition MPs accusing the Government of betraying the country, raised these issue when the ACSA agreement was signed by the then Defence Secretary and presented to Parliament in 2007.

“This agreement was signed by two US citizens. If we are to accept their (Opposition) argument, Gotabaya Rajapaksa betrayed the country and committed treason.What we did was to simply extend that same agreement,” he insisted.

Kiriella also claimed that the proposed Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement has so far only amounted to letters being exchanged. “The agreement was initiated by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.These were done by your Governments.We are bound to implement those agreements signed by previous Governments. We will send all the drafts to the Attorney General. They will ensure that there’s nothing in them that are harmful to the country’s sovereignty. We will only sign them after obtaining the approval of the Attorney General,” he added.

The Minister noted that most Opposition MPs who are critical of the US were themselves educated in the US while their children are also being educated there.The US is also a preferred travel destination for them. “Even their Presidential candidate left for the US when the war was at its peak. He obtained US citizenship and all its benefits.

He then returned to the country after our Government had broken the LTTE’s backbone after getting people like Karuna Amman to defect.”

The US gave Sri Lanka the fullest cooperation during the war under these same agreements, Kiriella added. He further noted that the US is Sri Lanka’s biggest trading partner, purchasing USD 11 million worth of goods every year.

Reading from a document sent by the Foreign Ministry, he noted that a SOFA does not constitute a security arrangement with a particular country. It seeks to establish the rights and privileges of US personnel in a country and address issues such as wearing of uniforms, exemption from taxes and fees, carrying of weapons, use of radio frequencies, licences and exemption from criminal jurisdictions of the host country.The US has so far signed such agreements with over 100 countries, he stated.

However, Kiriella told Parliament that when Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana was in the US conducting negotiations on extending the SOFA, he had insisted that any US citizen suspected of an offence committed in this country will be subjected to Sri Lankan jurisdiction.

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‘No shortage of medicines’

Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne rebutted media reports suggesting that there was a shortage of medicines in government hospitals.

He said this during the round of questions for oral answers in parliament yesterday in response to a question raised by UPFA-MP Indika Anuruddha Herath regarding the shortage of drugs. Minister Senaratne rejected news reports which suggested there was a shortage of drugs at government hospitals, adding that the Medical Supplies Division had issued a notice regarding this matter. He said the Ratnapura, Badulla and Karapitiya Hospital Directors had stated that there was no shortage of drugs. “Some of the GMOA members have been spreading these false claims that there is a shortage of drugs. As there is an online system now, it is easier to identify the hospitals where there is a shortage of drugs and these hospitals have been given the authority and facilities to obtain these drugs from the nearest hospital to meet the shortage. If not, these hospitals have been given Rs.10 million for emergency local drug purchases.” he said.

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Government entering into dangerous bilateral agreements - Dinesh

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna leader UPFA MP, Dinesh Gunawardena moving an adjournment motion in Parliament yesterday accused the government of entering into bilateral international agreements which are detrimental to the country.

Gunawardena made these observations in Parliament yesterday moving the adjournment motion on several agreements the government is considering to sign with some foreign countries, namely, Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact (MCC).

Gunawardena, in the motion, alleged that the government is signing security agreements in violation of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. He also suggested that the government should present the content of these agreements to Parliament.

“The whole country is concerned about these agreements. If the members of Parliament cannot receive information on the content of these agreements, who can?” Gunawardena questioned.

Speaking further, Gunawardena pointed out that some agreements concerning security and defense matters may jeopardize the regional peace maintained between the countries in the Indian Ocean from the time of Indo-Lanka agreement. “Non-Aligned policy was our cornerstone foreign policy. Sri Lanka had the support of all countries in the Indian Ocean region.The military nature in some of these agreements may have negative impacts on Sri Lanka regional vice.We do agree with the fact that United States of America is one of the leading importers when it comes to Sri Lanka’s foreign trade. However, that does not mean that we should let our sovereignty on the line with these agreements.”

Referring to the said agreements, Gunawardena pointed out that even President Maithripala Sirisena has expressed his disagreement on signing them. “However, the government is continuing with the agreements stubbornly.” he added.

MP Gunawardena during his speech yesterday said that the government should withdraw the State Land (Special Provisions) Bill. Gunawardena pointed out that the Speaker of the House should be informed of the Supreme Court’s opinion on the said bill. If the government is considering amendments to the bill, it should be presented to Parliament first, he added.

The State Land (Special Provisions) Bill, tabled in Parliament, sought House approval to pass necessary provisions to award the sole right to lands of the State held by citizens and matters pertaining to affiliated matters.

Gunawardena pointed out that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should express his opinion on the bill in Parliament.

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Electricity (Amendment) Bill withdrawal delays renewable energy plants - Ravi

600 applications to construct new plants put on hold

The recent withdrawal of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill will stagnate the development of renewable energy power plants in the country, Power and Renewable Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake said yesterday.

Minister Karunanayake making a special statement in House said renewable power plants have not been constructed in Sri Lanka for the last five years and will not set up in the future too hadn't the Electricity (Amendment) Bill had not been amended.

He said this standstill of setting up of renewable energy plants would last long as a result of the withdrawal of the Bill.

Minister Karunanayake said that a flaw in the Electricity (Amendment) Bill had also resulted in 600 applications submitted by investors to construct renewable energy plants in Sri Lanka being put on hold. He said the Electricity (Amendment) Bill prevents the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) from purchasing power from small renewable energy power plants without tenders. He added that it has prevented the investors from having their plants registered with the Renewable Energy Authority.

He added that the Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Bill No 31 of 2013 had made provisions for the CEB to purchase power from small plants which generate not more than 10mw without tenders. He added as a result of a legal issue, the Attorney General had suspended this provision in November 2013.

He said further that the previous government in 2014 had brought another amendment to the Electricity (Amendment) Bill. The then Attorney General had given its approval for it at that time. The present government after coming into power in 2015 had decided to develop renewable energy sector to enable purchase of power but the Attorney General at that time had been of the opinion that power could be purchased from renewable plants only through tenders.

After that the present government brought an amendment to the Electricity (Amendment) Bill in 2018. 


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