A sinister attempt by Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena to blind side the opposition by sneaking in the gazette that is to give unprecedented tax concessions to Australian casino tycoon James Packer and his local partner Ravi Wijeratne under the Strategic Development Projects Act for their Crown Casino has crashed due to the vigilance of the opposition.
This week’s agreed upon Parliament business had not included a debate on the casino gazette. But early this afternoon Abeywardena had attempted to insert this debate for tomorrow the 9th by calling for a special meeting of representatives of party leaders who decide parliamentary business later in the afternoon. The plan had been to ram it through even if the opposition objected due to lack of preparation time. However, the problem had been that the gazette had to be Tabled prior to business proper began in the Chamber. Employing a high risk maneuver Abeywardena had quickly read out the procedural statement in the Chamber that the gazette was ‘Tabled’ (meaning distributed to all 225 members by physically keeping a copy on each members table) assuming that he would be able to move on to the next item in the agenda before anyone noticed that the gazette had actually not been kept on the tables of the opposition members.
But MP Harsha de Silva who was recently referred to in the Australian press as the ‘fiercest critic of James Packer’ immediately raised a point of order that Abeywardena was misleading the House and was in violation of Parliamentary procedure. Even though Abeywardena had tried to wiggle his way out by saying that the gazette was Tabled and that Harsha de Silva was also given one was met by stiff resistance by a number of MPs including the Leader of the Opposition and Anura Kumara Dissanayake who challenged the Speaker to physically verify the documents at their tables so that he could see for himself that Abeywardena’s position was not correct. Many other opposition members then stood up and protested that none of them had received a copy of the said gazette.
The strategy failed and the Speaker has called for an investigation on how the gazette was only Tabled for some members and not others. He had also ruled that under the circumstances the debate would not be allowed for the 9th.