Divided Opposition Brings Government Together Through NCM

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 24 2021
Ceylon Politics Divided Opposition Brings Government Together Through NCM
By Gagani Weerakoon

A special discussion was held at UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s residence last Sunday concerning the NCM that was filed in Parliament against Minister Udaya Gammanpila by the SJB. Lawyers and party seniors were in attendance. During the discussion most of the seniors inquired whether there was any possibility to submit amendments to the NCM during the course of the debate. Then most of the lawyers who were present mentioned that as per the Constitution, Standing Orders and Parliament Privileges Act, any MP could submit amendments.

At this stage UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena was of the opinion that if there are no legal impediments then the UNP must propose amendments as not only Gammanpila but the Minister of Finance too has to be held accountable over the spike in domestic fuel prices. Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene too opined that the NCM should have been filed against the entire Cabinet by the SJB rather than targeting a solitary Minister.

Accepting the recommendations put forward by party lawyers and seniors, the party leader decided to propose an amendment to the NCM where the target was the entire Cabinet rather than the Minister concerned. In the meantime, the leader confided to party seniors that he will be speaking about the present political plight faced by two Opposition MPs Rishad Bathiudeen and Harin Fernando in the House.

Wickremesinghe submitted a copy of the speech that he intended to deliver in Parliament to his party members present. He went to Parliament on Monday morning with the aim of handing over a copy of his amendment to the NCM to the Speaker.

Wickremesinghe noted in the proposal “Parliament resolves that it has no confidence in the competence of Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila and all other Ministers in the Cabinet to function as Cabinet Ministers any longer.”

In accordance with Standing Order 43, the MP gave Notice of the following amendments to the No-Confidence Motion against Gammanpila: “In line 37 (of the NCM), delete the word ‘Energy’ and add the words ‘Energy and all other Ministers in the Cabinet.’ In line 37, delete the words ‘Cabinet Minister’ and add the words ‘Cabinet Ministers’.”

Before that, at the Parliament lobby Wickremesinghe was seen having cordial talks with a group of SLPP and SJB MPs. Then one MP inquired about the veracity of a rumour that the SJB has decided not to allocate time for the UNP leader to speak during the NCM debate.

Wickremesinghe was hopeful that the Speaker would ensure the rights of MPs to speak in the House. At the Speaker’s Office having handed over a copy of his amendment to the NCM, he urged Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to allocate time for him to air his views during the debate.

The Speaker assured Wickremesinghe will be allocated time not only because he was a former Prime Minister but is one of the most seasoned MPs in the House. Afterwards Wickremesinghe held talks with the TNA leader and MPs, Muslim party MPs and the JVP concerning the NCM brought against Gammanpila.

One MP opined that, by bringing the NCM against a solitary Minister the Government will be able to join forces and defeat it with ease. The UNP leader said it was due to this reason that his party had proposed to amend the NCM to target the whole Cabinet.

PM to Marikkar’s rescue 

SJB MP S.M. Marikkar opened the debate from the opposition side but it was much later did he and his colleagues in Opposition realised that they have forgotten to read the motion first. Instead of reading the motion, he made a speech against Gammanpila and the Government.

He attempted to speak for a second time when he realised his mistake but Minister Wimal Weerawansa objected to the move. Few other Government rankers including Leader of the House Dinesh Gunewardena joined Weerawansa in objecting to the move.

At this juncture, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa intervened and requested Weerawansa to permit Marikkar to read the motion. He requested Speaker Abeywardena also to allow Marikkar to read it, saying the Government was ready to face the NCM.

Meanwhile, amendments tabled by UNP National List MP Ranil Wickremesinghe to the No-Confidence Motion against Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila were deemed unacceptable by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Tuesday (20).

The matter was discussed in Parliament when the debate on the NCM resumed for the second day.

Wickremesinghe had proposed that the NCM be brought against the Government as a whole, and not just against Gammanpila.

Opposition divided on NCM

Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said the SJB’s decision to move a No-Confidence Motion against Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila was a politically ‘foolish one’ and a Media stunt.

Participating in the NCM debate in Parliament, Dissanayake said the SJB’s move would further strengthen the Government.

“This is not politics. This is just a Media stunt. If those who moved this Motion had a slight idea about politics, they would not have presented this NCM. Why am I saying this? Gammanpila represents one faction of this Government. There are some other factions who are not pleased with them either politically or personally. We saw that Ministers like Dayasiri Jayasekara and Vasudeva Nanayakkara openly spoke about that. We can understand their hints. Now what did the SJB do? They brought an NCM in that backdrop. Now, those who had started to speak about political conflicts in the Government will become silent. The SJB by moving this motion made them silent. That is why we say that this is a politically foolish move. This is not politics. This is only a Media stunt,” he said.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was also of the opinion that the No-Confidence Motion has resulted in bringing Government MPs together.

“The Energy Minister was one of the parties responsible for the fuel price increase. But it’s actually the Finance Minister that increases the price, in any Government. As far as I know, this has not changed. So the Finance Minister is also responsible.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but the cost of living committee also discussed this matter – which means the Ministers on that committee must also be included,” said Wickremesinghe.

Signed by 43 SJB MPs including Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, the motion cites an official statement by ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) general secretary MP Sagara Kariyawasam blaming the price hike on Gammanipla.

“The new Finance Minister must also be included because the price has not been brought down as promised,” said Wickremesinghe, referring to statements made by a number of backbencher MPs in the Government who claimed that newly sworn in Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa would not have allowed a fuel price increase.

“This motion has evidently been brought over a statement attributed to MP Sagara Kariyawasam. He has since retracted that statement. He is no longer of that position,” he added.

Wickremesinghe said the No-Confidence motion has resulted in bringing Government MPs together.

“Now all the Minsters have united. The Government is collectively ready to show its strength,” he said.

Easy Win 

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila triumphed over SJB’s sinister plan to oust him, as the No-Confidence Motion brought by the latter against him was defeated by a majority of 91 votes.

The NCM received 61 votes in favour and 152 against.

The SLPP voted against the motion. The SJB, UNP, Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) and Illankai Tamil ArasuKatchi voted in favour of the NCM.

When the votes were being counted, Minister Mahindanada Aluthgamage said that SJB MPs Harin Fernando, Hesha Withanage and Chaminda Wijesiri were not present in the Chamber to vote.

“Why are they not here? Even our Harin is not present,” Aluthgamage said.

In response, the SJB queried where Minister Chamal Rajapaksa was. Aluthgamage was heard saying ‘in quarantine.’

After Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced that the NCM was defeated, the Government MPs clapped, expressed their joy and shouted ‘Jaya Wewa!’

The House was adjourned until 3 August.

The SJB moved the motion alleging that Gammanpila was responsible for the recent fuel price hike.

President’s indication 

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday (19) gave a conclusive hint that he was prepared to go for a second term and would therefore contest the next Presidential Poll.

“To fulfil my agenda for this country and its people, not only the next three years but a further five years will be available,” he said.

The President had reportedly made these comments during a meeting convened with heads of media institutions held at the Presidential Secretariat yesterday.

Rajapaksa, who contested the 2019 Presidential Poll, as a non-partisan candidate, was elected as the country’s ninth Executive President with an overwhelming majority.

The President while striving to fulfil the policies contained in his election manifesto titled ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ is presently, taking great pains to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic which has ravaged the globe since last year.

President Rajapaksa in March 2020 said will not be seeking a second term as he needs only one term to finish what he had started.

However, the recent indication of his seeking a second term comes in the wake of  his brother Basil Rajapaksa, who was recently appointed Finance Minister, has been touted as a possible future presidential candidate of the ruling SLPP in the next Presidential Election.

Basil Rajapaksa is the most qualified to run for president in the event President Gotabaya Rajapaksa doesn’t seek re-election in four years’ time, SLPP MP Sahan Pradeep was quoted earlier as saying.

“As the SLPP, we are quite clear that Basil Rajapaksa is qualified to contest. Some camps that are not keen on the idea are now engaged in a mudslinging campaign. They cannot bring Basil Rajapaksa down, nor can they bring the SLPP down,” said Pradeep.

The MP made this remark in response to a question about speculation that President Rajapaksa may not contest the next Presidential Polls. Reporters also questioned Pradeep about the alleged rift between the SLPP and Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa.

“Minister Weerawansa says there are political rogues, but there are no rogues in the SLPP. However, there may be such rogues in a party that is aligned with the SLPP. That’s a question that only he can answer,” said Pradeep.

PTA to stay

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry, appointed to appraise the findings of Previous Commissions and Committees on Human Rights and the Way Forward, in its interim report, states that it does not agree with requests to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The PCoI interim report which, was handed over to President GotabayaRajapaksa on 20 July, further states that the PTA should be reformed in line with the laws against the prevention of terrorism in other countries including in the UK.

The PCoI, which has paid special attention to the Sections 9, 11 and 13 of the PTA, has made three key recommendations, in its interim report, with regard to the implementation of the PTA in a more democratic manner.

The PCoI has highlighted the possibility to expedite the hearing of cases of those who are being detained for a minimum of three months or a longer period under the Provision Nine of the PTA by filing indictments against them and to confine the detainees to their own homes or the residential areas under special security instead of detaining them in prisons in line with the Section 11 of the PTA.

It also proposes the importance of establishing an Advisory Board, consisting of not less than three persons, representing all ethnic groups, to advise the President or the Minister in charge of Defence under the Section 13 of the PTA.

The President, in an extraordinary gazettes issued on 21 January and 12 February appointed members to the PCoI to investigate, inquire into and report or take necessary action on the findings of the preceding Commissions or Committees appointed to investigate human rights violations, serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and other such offences.

The PCoI is chaired by Supreme Court Judge A. H. M. D. Nawaz. The other members are retired Inspector General of Police Chandra Fernando, retired District Secretary Nimal Abeysiri and former Mayor of Jaffna Yogeswari Patkunarajah.

De-facto Opposition Leader

Last week in Parliament, UNP Leader Wickremesinghe was seen acting in the role of Opposition Leader which he was accustomed to. He said the detention of MP Rishad Bathuideen and alleged attempts to arrest MP Harin Fernando infringe upon the privileges of the entire Parliament.

Wickremesinghe told Parliament Monday (19) that while MPs aren’t exempt from arrest, the House must be informed of the cause of a member’s detention.

Meanwhile police moves to question main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Harin Fernando over a statement he had made regarding the Easter bombings were an attempt to intimidate the outspoken MP, said Wickremesinghe.

Fernando, who has been criticised for not sharing information his late father was said to have given him about an imminent attack on churches on 21 April 2019, made a startling revelation in Parliament in April this year. The MP claimed that investigations by former Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Director Shani Abeysekara had revealed that an intelligence officer who had been arrested in connection with the bombings had had discussions with the perpetrators of the attack.

“Let’s presume that Fernando’s father did give the information. If the Police didn’t act on the information given by the Indian intelligence services, do you think they are going to act on what Harin Fernando’s father had said?” he said.

Wickremesinghe said in his speech that all information regarding the Easter Sunday attack had been provided by the Indian Intelligence to the Sri Lankan authorities on the morning of the attack.

“So if you now come to question him on a matter which is not relevant and which has been dealt by a Presidential Commission of Inquiry, there is only one conclusion: they want to intimidate him,” he said.

Quoting British constitutional theorist Thomas Erskine May’s seminal work on parliamentary procedure, Wickremesinghe said: “Erskine May has said attempts to influence members in their conduct by threat is a breach of Parliamentary privileges. So this is intimidation of a member which violates the privileges of the House.”

He further said that it also betrays a failure to provide correct information to the Speaker,

“They said they wanted to question on these issues but the fact is that has already been done and finished. The inquiry was on why the police didn’t act on the information. So they gave the Speaker and the House false information,” Wickremesinghe said.

Meanwhile, Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara responding to the former Prime Minister said that there is no plan to arrest MP Harin Fernando.

“Fernando has said he knows who the mastermind was. So, if he knows the mastermind, he has a responsibility to tell that to the CID in the interest of national security,” said Weerasekara.

The Attorney General, on 14 July, informed the Supreme Court that MP Fernando will not be arrested until 1 September 2021.

Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris informed the Court on this matter when a Fundamental Rights (FR) petition by Fernando was heard on 14 July. The petition sought an injunction restraining his arrest claiming that the CID was preparing to arrest him in connection with the terror attack.

Party activists visit RW’s house

Party activists met Wickremesinghe last Thursday at the leader’s house to air their views related to the present political Situation. Sandith Samarasinghe charged at the outset that the SJB which brought the NCM rather than going after the Minister concerned had found fault instead with the Speaker during the debate.

Abeywardane too lamented that the SJB instead of focusing their attention on Gammanpila had instead strived to take an Opposition MP to the cleaners. Range Bandara also said that the SJB had proposed a new law in Parliament that if our leader is to speak in the House then the UNP would have to inform that to the SJB leader. He said this alone has shown as to how much the SJB is running scared of the UNP leader. Ruwan then mentioned that the UNP leader had never resorted to such action when in the House and he too bemoaned the measures taken by the SJB. Ruwan said that due to around a trillion rupees of currency notes being printed there was sufficient local currency here but not much dollars.

He said even in the Fort black market dollars had become scarce. The leader remarked that the only alternative left for the Minister of Finance is to go on bended knees to the IMF and seek loans as the country has begun to run dry of gas and fuel.

Sagala Ratnayake then proposed that the UNP should strive to cash in on the political situation in the aftermath of the NCM. The leader added that the party should gear itself to carry out its political work to suit the post COVID-19 situation in the country. He urged the party to formulate the necessary plan for it and he assured that he will do the necessary work in Parliament for it. He requested Vajira, Range and Ruwan to look after the political work outside Parliament.

SJB in trouble over Rishad

The incident of a minor domestic worker at SJB MP Rishad Bathiudeen’s residence dying after sustaining severe burn injuries have now led to a division in SJB with a group supporting the Parliamentarian and another group seeking justice on behalf of the victim and her family.

A group of politicians representing estate Tamil communities on Friday lodged a complaint with the Police Headquarters representing the family of the 16-year-old girl who died under suspicious circumstances at the private residence of MP Bathiudeen.

Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) Leader Mano Ganesan, Deputy Leader TPA Palani Digambaram, MP Velu Kumar and MP Udaya Kumar while claiming investigations are not conducted in a proper manner also has insisted that father-in-law was involved in sexually abusing the victim.

The group earlier met Senior DIG- Western Province DeshabanduTennakoon and demanded the appointment of a special police investigation team into the suspicious death of a minor who served as a domestic aide. 

The group led by MP Mano Ganesan met SDIG Tennakoonto request a fair investigation into the death of the 16-year-old girl who allegedly been subjected to rape and subsequently succumbed to burn injuries.

They also demanded that the removal of Borella OIC Chief Inspector Duminda Balasuriya from ongoing investigation claiming there is no transparency in his conduct. The group also urged Senior DIG Tennakoon to take measures to exhume the body and call for a fresh forensic report.

The Tamil MPs led by MP Ganesan further told DIG Tennakoon that it’s not an ethnic issue or about the ruling party or the opposition party but it’s about issues related to law and order in the country.

"This new police team should find out more about her suspicious death and reveal it to the public."

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 24 2021

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