[Parliament– (21-11-2016)] | Daily News

[Parliament– (21-11-2016)]

MPs should be given more facilities: PM

Premier stresses need to hike Parliamentarians’ salaries

More facilities should be given to Parliamentarians to fulfill their duties, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in Parliament on Saturday.

Joining the Third Reading debate on Budget proposals for 2017, the Prime Minister said that there is no use in giving more powers to Parliament without providing facilities to Parliamentarians to fulfill their duties.

He stressed the necessity of increasing the salaries of Parliamentarians to strengthen the Parliamentary system.

The present salary paid to them is not sufficient since they have to fulfill the needs of their families, the Prime Minister said.

The Premier also proposed to pay a Rs. 100,000 monthly allowance to each MP to carry out his duties in his electorate.

“The salaries currently paid to parliamentarians is very low compared to the income levels of the private sector and other professionals,” he said.

He said a vehicle should also be given to MPs officially involved in any government development work. Even government officials are given vehicle permits and official vehicles to fulfill their duties, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said.

“In most countries, an allowance is paid for MPs to engage their duties in their respective electorates. Therefore, I would like to propose that a Rs. 100,000 allowance be given to each MP to carry out work in his respective electorate. If any particular MP is opposed to providing this allowance, he can refuse to accept it. We are well aware the difficulties encountered by MPs, particularly in distant areas, when performing their duties. If we don't seriously consider this matter, there is no use of giving powers to Parliament,” the Prime Minister said.

The Premier added that air travel facilities should be given to MPs in the North and East.

He said some countries provide such facilities to Parliamentarians.

Under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, President Maithripala Sirisena pruned some of his executive powers and vested it to the legislature, he said.

“At present, the executive presidency has become a portfolio promoting national reconciliation. Though Presidents ruled the country during the war, they couldn’t promote national harmony. Even after 2009, the executive presidency was not used to promote national harmony,” he added.

He said national reconciliation has now been restored in the country.

President Sirisena visited the North on 11 occasions. Today the post of presidency has created Sri Lankan identity, he said.

“After Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, a new responsibility had been vested with the presidency to create a Sri Lankan identity. At present, we have been able to closely work with each community and religion. Even Opposition leader R. Sampanthan has shown his commitment in this regard. Even the Opposition Leader at the Constitutional Assembly stressed the need to go for a referendum when the new constitution is drafted,” he said.

The Prime Minister said some Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim extremists are attempting to disrupt the peaceful situation and unity among all ethnic groups.

“We will never let any extremist disrupt the country. We will take every possible measure to prevent any attempt by extremist elements to disrupt reconciliation restored in the country. This is our prime objective and we are committed to do so since national reconciliation was restored in the country after 30 to 35 years,” he said.

Constitutional Assembly convened: PM forwards reports of six sub committees

The constitutional assembly was convened in Parliament chambers on Saturday under the auspices of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.

As the chairman of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe forwarded the reports of the six sub committees appointed for drafting a new constitution, to the constitutional assembly.

The reports prepared by the sub committees on Fundamental Rights, Judiciary, Finance, National and Public Security, Public Order and Police and Law Enforcement, Public Service Reforms and Centre - Periphery Relations, considering the proposals and suggestions of the political parties, individuals and organisations were presented by the Prime Minister.

Special attention of the constitutional assembly was paid towards the abolition of the executive presidency and changes to the electoral system.

The Prime Minister, Opposition leader and all party leaders in Parliament said that the draft for the new constitution needed not only a two thirds majority of Parliament but also passed by the people in a referendum.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said three alternatives had been proposed for the post of the Executive Presidency and the best alternative would be selected from the opinion of Parliament and the people of the country.

“The principles of power devolution including police and land powers to peripheries had also been discussed in the reports separately,” he said.

The Prime Minister said the reports of the sub committees should be debated in Parliament and they should be taken to temples, kovils, mosques and churches and to the people through the official web.

January 10, 11 and 12 have been allocated for a debate on the reports and if the need arises, time could be extended by a couple of days with the agreement of party leaders.

“Since its inception, the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly had met for 40 sessions and the committee had wide discussions on the issues of sovereignty and religion,” the Premier added.

He said there was no aim of changing the existing provisions and they would be further strengthened.

Currently, none of the main parties have a clear majority and added that steps would be taken to further strengthen the new constitution democratically. Opposition Leader Sampanthan explained the process of presenting the draft constitution.

“Formulating a new constitution is a sacred task and the new constitution should be introduced only with the consent of the people,” the Opposition Leader said.

Chief Opposition Whip and JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said that the JVP also agreed with the need for a new constitution.

“But there should be an election system that reflects the wish of the public.”

He said 17 out of 19 amendments introduced to the present constitution were envisioned to consolidate power.

"The Executive Presidency should be abolished and the provisions of the new constitution should ensure the rights of all people irrespective of their differences,” the JVP leader added.

Joint Opposition Leader, MP Dinesh Gunawardena said the Joint Opposition submitted a document containing 14 principles for the new constitution to the Steering Committee.

“The Joint Opposition would not agree for anything without those principles. We want to know what would happen for the powers vested with the President on Provincial Councils if the Executive Presidency is abolished,” the MP said.

The Constitutional Assembly will convene again on December 10, 2016 at 9.00a.m.

Use Shrawastri Mandiraya and Mumtaz Mahal for MPs’ benefit: John

Christian Religious Affairs, Tourism and Lands Minister John Amaratunga urged the Speaker to recover the properties of Parliament such as Shrawastri Mandiraya and Mumtaz Mahal, the official residence of the Speaker and use them for the betterment of parliamentarians.

He made these comments joining in the committee stage debate on Budget Proposals for the financial year 2017 on Saturday.

Responding to him, the Speaker said that he will look into the matter and will take a decision.

Minister Amaratunga also stressed the necessity of increasing the health insurance coverage of Parliamentarians to Rs. 500,000.

“As a result of the increase of the Value Added Tax, the prevailing health insurance coverage of Rs. 200,000 is not sufficient to cover the medical expenses of parliamentarians,” he added.

The minister emphasised the need to providing new official residents for MPs.

Around 13 journalists killed from January 2006 to January 2015: Sagala

Around 13 journalists have been killed from January 2006 to January 2015, Law and Order and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayaka said in Parliament on Saturday.

He was responding to a question by Kalutara district JVP MP Nalinda Jayatissa.

Ratnayaka said one journalist had gone missing, 87 had been assaulted and 20 had been taken into custody during the same period. He added that four private media institutions had been attacked five times during the same period and many evidences in connection to those incidents had been destroyed by government officials and legal action would be taken against those who destroyed those evidence and some of those who had involved in destroying the evidence pertaining to those incidents are now in remand custody.

He said investigations into the incidents on journalists have been carried out with difficulty and added that evidence into these incidents could be restored.

New constitution formulation historic: Kiriella

The formulation of the new constitution is historic since all political parties representing Parliament have been able to participate in the constitution making process, Higher Education and Highways Minister and leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella said in Parliament on Saturday.

Joining the third reading debate on the Budget proposals for 2007, Kiriella said there were two constitutions which were formed earlier by the two main political parties without the consent of other political parties.

“During the previous regime, some claimed that the 13th amendment to the constitution was not sufficient. But they never worked on that. A parliamentary select committee has now been elected to work on that,” he said.

“We like to devolve powers to the province. The Upcountry Sinhalese were the first to urge to devolve powers and not the Tamil community. The situation was changed due to the behaviour of governments which ruled the country after gaining independence. Ethnic conflict would not have been aroused if this national issue had been solved soon after gaining independence,” the minister said.

He added that a peaceful country should be created for the betterment of the country’s future generation.

Provide facts to authorities without making statements, Hakeem tells Wijayadasa

The Justice and Buddhasasana Minister should provide facts of Muslim extremists to the authorities if he had them, without making statements before Parliament, City Planning and Water Supply Minister Rauf Hakim said in Parliament on Saturday.

He made this observation joining the committee stage debate on the budget proposal for financial year 2017.

The minister questioned on what grounds Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe stated on Friday that Muslim extremists had arrived in the country to teach in international schools propagating terrorism here.

“If he had proper sources what he could have done was to provide them to the authorities so that such persons could have been deported or their visas cancelled,” Hakeem said.

“Without doing so, he made statements which was published in the media to the dismay of the Muslim community who have been disturbed greatly,” he said.

Hakeem said the media should also publish the news with a sense of responsibility on sensitive issues like this. He said such reports could create unnecessary problems here.

The minister said President Maithripala Sirisena summoned heads of security sections and instructed them to prevent racism and extremism spreading in the country.

Unity of minority parties gives hope for reconciliation: Mahinda Samarasinghe

The unity of minority parties within the government gives high hopes for reconciliation the country has been trying to achieve for decades, Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said in Parliament on Saturday.

He made this observation joining in the committee stage debate on Budget Proposals for the financial year 2017.

The minister said for the first time in history, all minority political parties representing the Tamil and Muslim communities voted for the passing of the second reading of the budget 2017.

“It was the first time we have seen such solidarity among minority parties with the government in our Parliament history,” Samarasinghe said.

He said minority parties have great faith in President Maithripala Sirisena’s government and conduct and that was the reason for them to support the budget.

“Minority political parties are impressed with the way the President is running the country. The President himself took the lead in cutting down some dictatorial powers of that post unlike previous Presidents who preferred to have more powers,” the minister said.

He said the President doesn’t use the President’s House while Temple Trees has also been given to the Prime Minister.

The President does not take hundreds of henchmen on his foreign tours like former Presidents. The President’s humble qualities have won the hearts of minorities, Samarasinghe said.

He added that the international community is also highly impressed with the President’s conduct.

The minister said the future of the country is no longer bleak as two major political parties, the UNP and the SLFP, and minority political parties work together for the development of the country.

War heroes will not fall into trap of JO’s conspiracies: Ranjan

Even though the Joint Opposition tries to mislead and agitate the war heroes, they would not be trapped in such conspiracies, UNP MP Ranjan Ramanayake said.

The MP made this comment in replay to a remark by MP Dinesh Gunawardena who warned the President of a ‘military coup'.

Ramanayake was making the final speech on Saturday during the Committee Stage debate of ‘Budget 2017’ where the Financial Heads of the President, Prime Minister, Parliament and independent commissions were taken up.

“When MP Gunawardena warned of a possible ‘military coup’ the respect I had for him ended and I could see a ‘Somarama Gunawardena’ in him. It was very improper for him to speak like that in front of the President. These people made a similar attempt on the night of January 8. Had not the Prime Minister intervened and settled the matter, things could have been different. People like Udaya Gammanpila, Mohan Peiris and Daya Rathnayake were at the Presidential Palace with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa that day. They had plans of a military coup, but the war heroes did not give into such conspiracies. They would not do so even now. These only demonstrate the political bankruptcy of the JO,” he said.

Ramanayake commenting on the investigations of corruption and fraud, said the government had in fact made progress despite the claims to otherwise.

“People had high expectations when they voted us into power that we will nab the thieves of the previous government. Now the same lot of rogues are clamoring that we did not catch the ‘thieves'. Mahindananda Aluthgamage who is in the front of exposing ‘Top 10’ is a dangerous thief himself,” he said.“The officials of the FCID, Bribery Commission and other investigative bodies are doing these investigations risking their lives. I urge the media, MPs and ministers not to be disheartened or discourage them. Many high profile figures linked to the previous government are now on bail. Sometimes the big fish cannot be nabbed by investigating into their large scale frauds and corruption. The case of Wasim Thajueen's murder is an example. It is reported that former Senior DIG Anura Senanayake had been sold out and is not willing to confess anything,” he added.

The MP said the Unity Government of the two major parties was similar to a 'Joint Account' opened by the husband and wife in which none of them could withdraw money secretly.

“The President rightly said in Matara that the punishment would be severe if those in the current government was involved in wrong doing. The large scale frauds of the previous government are no reason for the present government to compare and justify its own. Just because 34 COPE reports had been swept under the carpet during the previous reign, this government cannot hide any COPE report coming out,” he said.

Parliament passes 25 Financial Heads without amendments and vote

Parliament on Saturday passed 25 Financial Heads including that of the President and the Prime Minister without amendments and without a vote.

The Committee Stage debate of ‘Budget 2017’ commenced on Saturday and will continue till December 10.

The Financial Heads of the President, Office of Prime Minister, Judges of the Superior Courts, Office of the Cabinet of Ministers, Public Service Commission, Judicial Services Commission, National Police Commission, Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Commission to Investigation Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, Office of the Finance Commission, National Education Commission, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Parliament, Office of the Leader of House of Parliament, Office of the Chief Government Whip of Parliament, Office of the Leader of Opposition of Parliament, Election Commission, Auditor General, Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, Audit Service Commission, National Procurement Commission and Delimitation Commission were taken up for debate on Saturday.

None of the Joint Opposition, JVP and TNA MPs was present at the House at the time of passing of those expenditure heads.

The debate was held from 9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. and both the President and the Prime Minister remained in the chamber most of the time during the debate.

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