21 January, 2022

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A Post-Mortem On The Parliament Of 2020

By Ruwan Laknath Jayakody

Ruwan Jayakody

The Parliamentary sessions for the year have ended; its achievements but few, its failures greater, its ignominies, both manifold and manifest. With the next session to commence early in the new year of 2022, it is perhaps timely to look at some relevant aspects of the Legislature’s and specifically its elected and non elected (appointed through parties national lists) public representatives performance during the course of this year (2021). The focus hence will be on aspects pertaining to Parliamentarians attendance, the legislators behaviour and conduct, and Parliamentary oversight of a financial nature and as a check and balance on the other pillars of democratic governance – the Executive and the Judiciary, and overall transparency and accountability in its functioning.

With regard to attendance, the Parliament is one of the few work places, which while not making attendance mandatory, conversely, in a unique departure from the way things are done in certain private sector entities – the eminent domain of contemporary slave labour, where not just attendance but punctuality too is made compulsory and visited with deprivations in terms pay/salary cuts/deductions in the event of late attendance – instead, rewards it. A Member of Parliament is paid a sitting allowance of Rs. 2,500 per attendance at a Parliamentary meeting and the same if attending any Parliamentary committee meeting held on Parliamentary non-sitting days. This is not to mention an office allowance, drivers allowance (if no driver is provided by the Government that is), fuel allowance (based on the distance between the Parliament and the electoral District), telephone allowance (monthly for a land line and mobile), transport allowance for four personal office staff and free postage facilities. The reality, however is that the incumbent Speaker of the Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena recently disappointingly querying the conspicuous absence of the majority of the Government front benchers including Ministers (whom the Speaker did not name, but most notably ‘superman’ Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa whose Budget was the cynosure, if not admiration, of the Parliament, for the most part of recent Parliamentary debates) during Parliamentary sessions, noting full House only being seen on the days that the President attends. In the same vein, a prominent Opposition Parliamentarian recently questioned the similar absence of Power Minister Gamini Lokuge who is tasked with presenting a controversial hush-hush foreign deal to the House, yet is not to be heard of or from when related questions are posed. The Finance Minister’s absence, more specifically, the extent of the absence during the crucial period in question (not unlike the fate of the enforced missing in the country), is unprecedented, as evidence of the lack of even the elementary aspects of omniscience on his part as the central framer of the document known as the Budget 2022 is glaringly evident in the sheer omnipresence of questions on the document (Budget 2022) which is hardly a white paper to begin with.

On the matter of the exemplary behaviour and dignified conduct of Parliamentarians, the less said about their behaviour or conduct in the Parliament, some argue, the better. This year’s best loudmouth windbag award went to Government MP Thissa Kuttiarachchi who raised the bar for the guttersnipe and barroom school of oratory – previous helmed by incumbent Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara who referred to an incumbent Opposition MP who was at the time the Prime Minister in the vernacular colloquial for the main male genital appendage which another incumbent Minister proceeded to explain was also a classical reference denoting ‘fruit’ – when he, with all the dignity befitting a giddy cad, referred a female Opposition MP who queried the price of a fruit used in cooking, to seek a reply from the Opposition Leader’s spouse with the added (the nerve!), entirely unrelated to the matter under discussion, inference, that the latter used the phallic shaped fruit in question, as a dildo. Of course, the usual moral opprobrium ensued, but the matter was treated with kid gloves including especially by the Speaker. This attitude of and approach by the Speaker (not only the incumbent but also his predecessors), has for quite some time now, come to be the standard of discipline enforced by the lord of the flies (the Speaker) whose subjects cognitive capacity, inverse to the requirements of the task at hand of legislating and policy making by way of asking questions, engaging in consultation, performing oversight, and making draft law and policy related submissions, seems to suffer the fate of the vestigial organs, at a time when sterner stuff is the desperate need of the hour. So much then for using Erskine May {the canonical text of Parliamentary procedure} and the Commonwealth {Latimer House} Principles on the Legislative Branch of Government and the Standing Orders for attempting the Sisyphean task of cleaning up the hallowed Chamber of the Augean stable that is supposed to be the Parliament. Perhaps, replacing sanitizer fluid with over proof mouthwash (one of course runs the predictable risk of this being taken for an on the House on the job tipple) or imposing a fine to be deposited in a swear jar (no pun intended on the dwindling foreign reserves in State coffers) might be beneficial if one were prone to treat the matter as a joke whereas in all sincerity, a period of suspension, a permanent marked-in-black entry on the electoral nomination registry, and the docking of privileges and benefits, with the threat of recall by the constituency (legal amendments are required to bring about such), would be better served if a lasting lesson is to be taught in this regard.

Finally, there is the infinitely vexatious question of Parliamentary oversight and the lack of transparency and accountability. The indecent haste with which the Government sought to bring about the safe passage of the perilous Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill and now the equally egregious skullduggery that has come to define the questionable veil of secrecy surrounding the Government’s hitherto un-tabled in Parliament pact with a United States based energy company, are examples from among one too many including others that pertain to the opening of letters of credit and payments being made from such. In yet another unique departure from the Parliamentary norm, it is the same Opposition MP who queried the subject Minister’s absence, who has since had to table the Government’s dodgy bilateral deal! Furthermore, Article 148 of the Constitution stipulates that the “Parliament shall have full control over public finance”. The full-blown debt and foreign reserves based financial crisis or ‘bankruptcy’ that is, per the pundits, all but imminent early in the coming year, and the humanitarian crisis that is presently unfolding as a result, is proof positive of the Parliament’s abdication of the sovereign duties and responsibilities it is vested with per the said Constitutional provision. Moreover, the reverberating effects of the debacle that started out as the ‘100% carbonic/green/organic agriculture policy’ is proof that the Parliament, and more to the point the Government, has not been able to rein in Executive excess, in this case, Presidential hyperopia – and to thereby be a vital check and balance on another pillar of democratic governance – the Executive.

This, some hypothesize, is the only inevitable state of affairs that can be expected when it is the tragedy of the commons to have a Government with an absolute two thirds majority that is compounded by an Executive branch of Government bolstered thanks to the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. Regardless of whether this is in fact the case, what is avoidable however is the blasé apathy on the part of the Speaker, the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Government and Opposition Whips, the Secretary General of the Parliament and the Serjeant-At-Arms, whose tenure should instead be one that sets the tenor of the proceedings in a manner that is in keeping with the esprit de corps required for the nationally important work of making law and policy. Towards this end, it is proposed that there be a system replete with mechanisms to ensure the adequate participation of MPs in the affairs of the State, and as such quotas be mandated for questions each MP needs to pose per the day’s activities of the Parliament and a similarly mandated quota of the submission of private member motions and bills on matters of public interest and concern, including legal reform, and for the Parliament to give serious consideration to the merits and demerits of the recent proposal by the Opposition concerning opportunities for MPs education and thereby the continuous career development and growth of our legislators and policy makers with an eventual view to converting such gains of human capital to gains of national advancement.

In moving forward to the next Parliamentary year (2022), one that is going to be more challenging on all fronts, it is prudent for the Parliament to use the remainder of this year (2021) to engage in a collective autopsy of sorts to identify the Jane and John Does of this pillar of democracy – the Parliament, and to check its balance.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    If the President believes in law and order, he should immediately remove all Ministers and appoint new ministers. One of the reasons why he prorogued Parliament is because of the case filed against the number of cabinet positions. This case is coming up.

  • 1
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    “merits and demerits of the recent proposal by the Opposition concerning opportunities for MPs education and…,” Is it the tax payers duty to educate the uneducated MPs, who are elected by uneducated?
    It is batter to give lesson to children on Civics, Politics and Citizenship through school curriculum .

  • 3
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    Excellent summation, RLJ!
    Vitally necessary, but, I guess, it will end up blowing in the wind…feathers on a duck’s back.
    These guys dont have an ounce of shame, let alone self-awareness.
    Anyway, I hope your message gets spread far and wide.
    I imagine many people have long forgotten what they should expect of their representatives.

    • 1
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      Manel Fonseka,
      I have read your comment. The article … , not yet.
      The article must have been illuminating, – the way you reveal your glee!
      My interest is on what we should expect of our representatives.
      I expect nothing. We cannot expect anything from the men and women we settle upon!
      They are there for the perks it provides and the opportunities it brings.

  • 1
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    “A Post Mortem On The Parliament of 2020”. The “Decision” is: Has Committed HARA-KIRI by all of the “Three” – Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary.

    The “PEOPLES COURT” will decide on the “PUNISHMENTS” to be given to ALL those responsible.

    Thank you, Ruwan Laknath Jayakody for assisting “JMO” (The PEOPLE) in arriving at the “DECISION”.

  • 1
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    They are there just to raise their hands when they were told and sleep other times. Some times they told to shout and hoo and they do it.

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