Former government slandered image of public officials through COPE/COPA live transmissions: Johnston

Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando yesterday said in Parliament that the ‘Yahapalana’ government misused the COPE/COPA live transmission to slander the image of public officials. Fernando also said that the ‘Yahapalana’ government also targeted the former President and his supporters using the live transmission of parliamentary committee proceedings.

Fernando made these observations when SJB MP S.M. Marikkar requested the Speaker not to alternate the live transmission of COPE and COPA. Fernando, speaking on the matter, said, “Former Leader of the House Kiriella said that the previous government took the decision to transmit the COPE and COPA, live. We were also in the same committee that took this decision; I hope he remembers this.”

“MP Marikkar said that now COPE will investigate into ‘suit-wearing Cinnamon Garden-dwellers’ who were involved in corruption during the ‘Yahapalana’ regime. That is an internal problem that they have. I should point out that the previous government used this live transmission to slander some persons’ image, specifically the image of the former President and his supporting ministers; it was used to fulfill their political agenda,” he added.

The Chief Government Whip said, “We can also use this live transmission as a political means to an end. But there is something called moral values. What do most TV channels do using these telecasts? They take specific cuts from this telecast and use them for political campaigns. (Referring to MP Marikkar) Yes, channels that represent people like you. We are not letting any public officials lose their self-respect. This government is not doing media displays. Your government did it, and people refused it. We are not doing what a rejected government once did.”

MP Marikkar, demanding that no alterations should be made to the live transmission of COPE proceedings, said that, “It does not matter which government started this process; this is a matter of transparency. The public has a right to know how these proceedings are carried out, and what happens in them.”

“Now the proceedings of the House are broadcast as a live transmission. It is not an edited late transmission. Therefore, the tradition of the COPE is also the same. However, we have a hunch that the live transmission is to be turned into a late transmission. So, we request not to do that. Moreover, COPE is now going to probe issues that occurred during ‘Yahapalana’ government from 2015, so the present government has nothing to fear,” he added.

“The government also now has an opportunity to reveal how ‘suit-wearing Cinnamon Garden-dwellers’ were involved in corruption. I would like to request the Speaker to pay attention to this matter. Please don’t do a late transmission of the COPE proceedings; it will jeopardize people’s confidence in the House. We are not asking for something new; just that you stick to the same procedure.”

In reply, the Speaker said that he shall look into the matter. Meanwhile, Government MP Jagath Pushpakumara said, “You are misleading this House and the public. No such decision was taken. Since MP Charitha Herath is a new Chairman, he only requested the other Members to give their opinion. The Opposition is saying that the COPE Chairmanship traditionally goes to them. How can it be so?”

“D.E.W. Gunasekara once held the position and he was on the government’s side. Even though then COPE Chairman MP Sunil Handunnetti was in the Opposition, he was in a clear alliance with the government. He worked according to the government’s agenda,” he added.

Following Pushpakumara, former Minister SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella said, “The proposal to live-transmit COPE, COPA, and other committee proceedings was passed by the House.”

COPE Member MP Nalin Bandara, raising a question, said, “I am a COPE Member. Now the government is saying that it has taken a decision to stop the live broadcast. But our new COPE Chairman told us he is considering all options, and will give a decision in the coming week. This decision should come from the COPE Chairman. It is not a decision that should come from the Leader of the House.”

In reply, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando said, “This is a decision taken at the government’s party meeting.”

Minister Namal Rajapaksa, at this juncture, requested the Speaker not to allow Opposition MPs to carry out media displays which waste the time of the House. “This is a decision taken at the government’s party meeting.”

The Speaker said Opposition MPs were misdirecting the House from its agenda by asking such questions. However, the Parliament Media Division stated yesterday that newly-appointed COPA Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitarana said COPA sittings would be open to the media.

Oral question allocations impartial: Speaker

The allocation of oral questions for both the Government and the Opposition is done impartially by the respective Parliament officers, in accordance to the dates on which those oral questions have been submitted for registration, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said yesterday.

The Speaker made this observation when Government MP M. Muzammil urged the Speaker to fairly allocate the opportunity to raise oral questions between the Government and the Opposition.

Muzammil said, “I would like to draw your attention to the arrangement of oral questions, both yesterday and today. There are 73 MPs in the Opposition; on our side, there are 82. Yesterday, only two Government MPs were given the opportunity to raise oral questions as per the agenda. Today, the agenda says that only three government MPs can ask oral questions.”

“Some of the Opposition MPs have been allowed to ask two questions within one session. Please look into this matter. The government MPs also should be given a fair chance to ask oral questions. In my opinion, the Government and the Opposition sides should be given a 50-50 chance,” he added.

In reply, Speaker Abeywardena said that the oral questions are arranged as per the dates on which they are submitted and registered. At this juncture, Muzammil said that he, too, has submitted oral questions as early as August 22, but his questions did not appear in the agenda.

The Speaker then said that the other MPs whose questions are included in the agenda must have submitted their questions before Muzammil did. “When oral questions are submitted, we include them in a register. Then, the questions are included in the agenda in accordance with the dates the questions got registered. It is a process.”

Samagi Jana Balawegaya MP Mujibur Rahuman said, “If a Government MP has a question to be asked from the government, they can do it in their government party meeting. However, as the Opposition oral question round is the only platform, we have to question the government.”

In reply to MP Rahuman, Government MP Shantha Bandara observed that every MP has the right to raise oral questions. The Speaker again stressed that there is no issue regarding the arrangement of oral questions in the agenda.

Tax Policy to be simplified to attract investors: Semasinghe

‘Greater emphasis on promoting online system’

Samurdhi, Household Economy, Micro-Finance, Self-Employment, Business Development and Underutilized State Resources Development State Minister Shehan Semasinghe said in Parliament yesterday that the Tax Policy would be simplified in a manner that would attract investors into the country.

He said greater emphasis would be placed on reducing the use of paper and promoting a paperless online system. The state minister said this in response to a question raised by MP Mohammed Muzammil, during the round of oral questions.

The state minister said that the new government had simplified the Tax Policy and introduced an easy tax collection system, which would make it easier for all small and medium-scale enterprises. He said that all banks and financial institutions have been issued directives to simplify process of providing information to the Credit Information Bureau (CRIB). State Minister Semasinghe also said that a new credit-rating system would be introduced in the near future.

He said that nearly Rs.369 billion had been spent on paper imports between 2015 and 2019, adding that special attention had been placed on the use of online methods for letters, documents, etc. He said several systematic measures have been taken in this regard.

The state minister said that a proper programme will be implemented in the future to protect the environment and reduce the huge cost for paper imports, adding that factories have been set up to produce high-quality paper that can compete internationally, under the instructions of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

‘Senior Members forced to sit in back rows due to large number of small-party MPs’

The election of MPs from a large number of small political parties to Parliament has created a difficult situation as senior MPs who had been representing the House for a long time have been forced to sit in back rows, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene said in Parliament, yesterday.

The Speaker made this observation yesterday, in response to a question raised by Samagi Jana Bala Wegaya Parliamentarian Nalin Bandara Jayamaha. He said that it is a difficult task to allocate front row seats to both party leaders and the senior members as requested by MP Nalin Bandara.

“There are 15 political parties representing Parliament this time, and it is difficult to provide front row seats to both party leaders and senior MPs,” the Speaker said.

MP Nalin Bandara brought to the notice of the chair that Senior MPs have been made to sit at the back rows, while allowing leaders of small parties to sit in the front. Nalin Bandara further said that he made this request on another day as well but it had not been implemented yet.

Sagara K. moves Adjournment Motion for Election Commission Progressive Report

Government MP Sagara Kariyawasam yesterday moved an Adjournment Motion on the Progressive Report of the Election Commission pertaining to the time period between July 7, 2019 to September 30, 2019; while proposing to increase the number of Commission Members from 3 to 5, to relax limitations on election propaganda and to establish an advanced voting system where employees of essential services can vote.

Moving the adjournment motion, MP Kariyawasa said, “There are only three members in the Election Commission where the quorum is also the same. This has created serious issues. For example, one member of the EC said in open media not to vote for a particular political party. Then there were several delays when issuing preferential numbers for election candidates.”

“What matters is the independence of the Commission, not the independence of a particular member of the Commission. The public loses respect for the whole system of independent commissions when certain EC members are displaying such behaviour. So, we believe that the number of EC members should be increased from 3 to 5,” he added.

Kariyawasam also proposed that limitations on election propaganda need to be lifted. He said only the candidates with major financial abilities could afford to carry out propaganda in electronic and other digital platforms.

He proposed an advanced voting system that would allow employees working in essential services such as health, aviation, tourism, and expressways would be given a chance to cast their votes.

“These employees are not privy to postal votes. As they need to provide services, most of them miss the chance of voting. If we can incorporate an advanced voting system, we can make space for these voters too. They should be allowed to vote on a day prior to Election Day,” the MP said.

MP Kariyawasam also said that nobody should blame all the members of the EC because of one member. “The Election Commission was able to successfully hold the 2020 General Election in a free and fair election. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the EC, while sticking to health regulations, was able to conduct the election with no spread of the virus. When the ‘Yahapalana’ Government was trying to postpone the local government election, the EC did not allow that,” he added.

Seconding the adjournment motion, Government MP Premanath Dolawatta said, “I am seconding the motion. We witnessed over the last several months prior to the election that one member of the Election Commission ruined the image of the EC. This member, Hoole, openly said not to vote for the ‘Pohottuwa’ party. If people had the slightest confidence in the EC, they lost it that day.”

“The quorum of the EC, which was brought forth in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, is problematic. As a result, other members had to depend on this member when making some decisions. Especially when every time an election was to be declared, the EC went on to say that the elections were not necessary. We know that the UNP governments are known to postpone elections. The EC also supported this. With moves such as these, people’s democratic rights were violated,” he added.

“Furthermore, for the 19th Amendment, the Constitutional Council included members who are not bound to answer Parliament. We doubt if such members, some of them who are attached to NGOs, were trying to influence the EC via this EC member. So, this is why the 20th Amendment introduces a Parliament Council that includes Parliamentarians, as they are answerable to the House,” the MP said.

“Members of the Parliament Council cannot run away from the public. The ‘Yahapalana’ Government was hiding behind this label called independent commissions. We remember how some of the IGPs who were appointed by the independent police commission acted according to the whims and fancies of the previous government. This same IGP said that he would bend the law,” MP Dolawatta said.

“During the previous Rajapaksa rule, no elections were postponed. When I went to the courts requesting provincial council election should be held, no support was given by the EC. It seems that the EC is answerable to the House. That is why members like Hoole acted in that way,” he added.







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