How Will the 9th Parliament Overcome the Challenge Posed by COVID-19 to Its Maiden Session?

BY Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 25 2020
Ceylon Politics How Will the 9th Parliament Overcome the Challenge Posed by COVID-19 to Its Maiden Session?

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was busy attending various public gatherings organised by SLPP candidates in a bid to boost their election campaign. Though he refrained from addressing any political rally, he was seen giving an attentive ear to woes of public.

President attended to whole gamut of issues in Nuwara Eliya and instructed officials to look into and address teacher shortage and other issues in schools in Nuwara Eliya District.

Attention was drawn to appoint teachers from Nuwara Eliya itself and closest districts in order to fill existing teaching vacancies. President also took measures to provide on the spot solutions to other shortcomings in schools including the lack of sports and extracurricular facilities as voiced by students.

President issued these directives at a public gathering in Thalawakelle on Tuesday (21), organised in support of the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna (SLPP) candidates contesting forthcoming Parliamentary election. The meeting was organised by candidate Palani Shakthivel and candidate Jeewan Thondaman was also present.

The public apprised the President of alleged frauds and misconduct at Lindula Urban Council. A girl child J. Vidusha, a Grade 5 student at Thalawakelle Sumana Secondary School donated the collection of her piggy bank for the COVID Fund. 

The President who participated in the public meetings organised by candidates at Maskeliya Urban Development Vehicle Park and at the Pundaluoya TC Ground engaged in a cordial discussion with the people gathered at the venue.

Issues related to official residence of the Regional Medical Officers were also brought to the attention of the President when he attended the public meeting held at the Kotagala Town. Candidate Jeewan Thondaman had organised the gathering. 

President Rajapaksa participating at the public meeting organised by candidate Kanagapathi Kanagaraj at the Norwood Thondaman Ground instructed the former State Minister C.B. Rathnayake to take necessary steps to establish a Divisional Secretariat in the Norwood Town. 

Earlier in the day, while touring Nuwara Eliya, President Rajapaksa stated that he would introduce a mechanism enabling vegetable farmers to sell their products at a fair price to secure a financially stable future for them.  

President highlighted that distribution of vegetables, fruits and other products should be carried out in as quickly as possible benefiting both consumers and the farmers.

He made these pledges at a public gathering organised in Walapane Weekly Fair premises by former State Minister C.B Rathnayake and candidate Nimal Piyathissa.

The farmers informed the President that the State bank loan system does not help them in their farming endeavours. “State entities in Nuwara Eliya District are left with a number of vacancies. Appointees to these institutions opt for transfers to other areas in a short period of time, leaving their posts vacant.  As a result, residents of the area are driven to face a number of hardships in meeting their needs,” they added.

Students of the Poramadulla Central College made a request to the President to improve the state of their playground and connect it to their school with a bridge. President directed this request to the Army Commander and advised him to look into this issue and resolve it immediately. In addition, the President directed the other issues presented by the locals to the respective authorities.

Maha Sangha blessed President Rajapaksa by chanting Pirith during a meeting at Rikillagaskada Pradheshiya Sabha Playground organised by former Minister S.B. Dissanayake.

The President instructed the authorities to inspect and report with regard to the request made by the Maha Sangha to establish a ward for clergy in Walapane Hospital.

President Rajapaksa who participated in a public gathering in Kandapola Fair premises organised by the SLPP candidate Sathasivam Suppaiya was warmly welcomed by the local Tamil community. The President received blessings from Tamil religious leaders during the gathering.

Farmers also requested the President to provide them with standard seed potatoes to address the shortage of potatoes.

President Rajapaksa did not forget to speak with the crowd along the way to Nuwara Eliya from Kandapola.

The residents of Nuwara Eliya requested the President to preserve the environment of Nuwara Eliya without harming the surrounding mountain range, at the public rally organised in close vicinity to Gregory Lake. President commended the self-employees’ “Budget pack” business venture to sell vegetables and fruits carried out by a group of local women. Issues in relation to the tourism industry and lands without deeds were also presented to the President.

Former State Minister C.B. Rathnayake, S.B. Dissanayake and former spinner Muttiah Muralitharan were also present on the occasion.

 In another meeting, President Rajapaksa assured to bequeath to the future generation a country free from the drug menace. Several measures are already in place to prevent drug infiltration and distribution, he said. The President                                                                                   emphasised the country will be freed from drugs similar to that of terrorism.

President made these comments at a public gathering organised near the Kiribathgoda Shopping Complex on Wednesday (22) to support candidates of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna contesting 5 August General Election.

The gathering was organised by candidate Prasanna Ranaweera. Maha Sangha, led by Prof. Ven. Kumburugamuwe Vajira Thera, invoked blessings on the President.

President heeded to the requests by the public to construct a housing scheme for the residents in Peliyagoda prone to flash floods and to set up a pumping station in Pethiyagoda. People also apprised the President of the current status of the Kiribathgoda Hospital and issues related to lands. They also requested the President not to halt investigations into Easter Sunday attacks.

Minister Prasanna Ranatunge and candidate Sisira Jakody were present on the occasion.

President inspected the jogging path near Siyambalape Junction which is in a dilapidated condition due to lack of proper maintenance. People requested the President to renovate it and develop the surrounding area as a self-employment centre akin to Diyatha Uyana.  

The President who participated at the public gathering organised by candidate Dulip Wijesekara at Siyambalape Junction, Biyagama was told by the public more than 400 acres of paddy land can be cultivated by renovating the Waduwegama and Kottunna tanks in Biyagama.  They also apprised the President of the difficulties faced by them for a long period due to inadequate operations of SLTB buses.  

The President also attended a public meeting organised by former State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna near Sub Post Office in Dalupitiya Road. The President was warmly welcomed by the people gathered at the venue and appreciated his efforts to eradicate the drug menace from the country.

President Rajapaksa also joined the public meeting organised by candidate Sahan Pradeep near Kadawatha private bus stand. People gathered at the venue requested the President to construct a sports complex in Mahara Kadawatha and to repair the dilapidated roads.

The requests by the people which will take time to be fulfilled will be scrutinised and necessary steps will be taken in the future.

The people in Gampaha District pledged to strengthen the hands of the President by giving him a landslide victory for the SLPP at the forthcoming Parliamentary election so that the initiatives introduced by him to take the country forward in a new direction can be successfully completed. 

The public made this promise when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa joined a public gathering held in Gampaha District. 

The people stressed that it is the responsibility of the people to extend support to the President ensuring a stable and strong Parliament as the upcoming General Election is a decisive milestone in framing the future of the country.  

Office employees complained of many hardships that they have to face as a result of non-stopping of the Intercity Express trains at the Ragama Railway Station. The people gathered at the public meeting held near the car park of Ragama Railway Station requested the President to look into this matter. 

Candidate Madhu Madhawa Aravinda had organised the meeting. Sea erosion has had a major negative impact on the daily lives of fisher folk in Uswetakeiyawa area. A group of fishermen told the President the effect could be minimised with the construction of a fisheries harbour. 

President also participated in a meeting organised by candidate Nimal Lanza in Nayakakanda Playground in Wattala. The President was also briefed on the issues faced by the fishing community in the area, due to illegal sand mining. 

Attending meetings organised by candidates M. Perera in Ja-Ela and candidate Sudarshani Fernandopulle near Govijana Seva Centre in Katana President engaged in cordial discussion with the people present at the venues.

President was warmly welcomed by the people in the area when he attended meetings organised by candidate Indika Anuruddha in Divulapitiya Town and candidate Kokila Harshani in the Mirigama Bus Stand.   

A group of United National Party supporters present at the venue said that they are pleased with the manner President is leading the country and will support SLPP at the Parliamentary Election.

President invited all the patriotic people to join hands to rebuild the country.   

MR’s time management

Though Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa is quite a busy person, he also tends to look into his duties as the Minister of Finance as well and he does not shirk his responsibility in this respect. 

The PM as the leader of the SLPP, also presently undertakes visits to various areas adhering to the health guidelines to address election rallies of his party members, who are set to contest the next month’s poll.

It must not be forgotten that PM Rajapaksa tends to attend over 150 such political rallies notwithstanding the great physical strain in the process.

A Buddhist monk recently inquired from the Premier, as to how he manages to balance his work as the PM, as the leader of the SLPP and on spearheading the election campaign all at the same time. 

“Hamuduruwane, I truly love this country. Whenever I tend to recall memories of my country and my people I can easily overcome the physical constraints that I experience,” the amiable Premier responded to the monk.

In the meantime, the Cabinet ratified a proposal mooted by the Premier to grant all pensioners more benefits from the Agrahara Insurance Scheme, last week.

The PM also revealed while addressing a SLPP political rally in Trincomalee last week that a programme will be initiated soon after the conclusion of the August General Election, to grant 1 million jobs to unemployed youths including 60.000 graduates as well.

After speaking at the said rally several youths who came to meet the PM, confided to him that they were in tears listening to the remark made by the PM that youths will be provided with employment.

In the meanwhile, while proceeding to the rally in Trincomalee, from a few calls that had been received on the cell phone of the Premier had inquired about the state of the 13thc historic building in Kurunegala that was allegedly razed to the ground by the Mayor of Kurunegala MC.

“As per the recommendations of the Committee report we will institute legal action against those responsible for its demolition. For all those who commit offences of any kind there will not be any mercy from me,” the Premier emphasised sternly.

“There is also no other Government that had protected the country’s historic sites like us. How many historic places had been damaged during the time of the war? After the end of the hostilities we took measures towards the protection and safeguarding of these historic sites and places of archaeological importance. During the period of the last UNF-led regime lands including those at the Muhudu Maha Vihara temple had been forcibly taken over. Further 600 such places had also suffered various forms of damages. In order to look into these things and protect such sites a Presidential Task Force was also established by this Government. Now, these people who had been deaf and blind to the demolition of historic sites in the recent past have woken up from their slumber are attempting to teach us the importance of protecting these sites and places,” the Premier opined to the inquiries made to him in this regard on the phone.

Operation Rishad

The Election Commission (EC) has requested Acting IGP C.D. Wickramaratne to defer inquiries on All Ceylon Makkal Congress Leader and former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s alleged connections to the Easter Sunday terror attacks in 2019 until after 10 August, following a complaint made by Bathiudeen. 

Bathiudeen complained that summoning him to the CID, to record statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks was disrupting his election campaign. 

The complaint stated that as a leader of a political party, he needs to travel island-wide for election campaigning. Therefore, each visit to the CID takes at least three days away from the election campaign and that it distorts democratic traditions and his democratic freedom. Furthermore, the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Easter Sunday terror attack in 2019, declared that according to the investigations they conducted, no connection between him and the terror attack had come to light, Bathiudeen said. 

The EC, in a letter to the Acting IGP, said that they unanimously decided, after consideration of the complaint, to request postponing inquiries into the matter until after 10 August. 

The EC, in a letter to the Acting IGP, said that they, on 15 July unanimously decided, after consideration of the complaint, to request postponing inquiries into the matter until after 10 August. 

Meanwhile, Election Commission sources revealed that such decision was not reached when the Commission met on 15 July and had been sent following a consensus reached by the three members elsewhere.

It was in the midst of this that Colombo Fort Chief Magistrate Ranga Dissanayaka on Tuesday (21) ordered former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen to provide a statement to the CID in connection with the probe into the 21 April 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks.

He gave this order after perusing the ‘B’ Report compiled by the CID and the subsequent request made by the latter.

As per the order issued by Dissanayaka, Bathiudeen has to report to the CID at 9 a.m. on Monday, 27 July to give his statement. 

The CID had made the said request to Court as Bathiudeen had allegedly failed to complete a previous statement that he had given to the CID.

The request on behalf of the CID was made to Court by Deputy Solicitor General Thusith Mudalige. He told Dissanayaka that Bathiudeen had visited the CID to provide a statement on 7 July and that he had promised to complete his statement six days later. Mudalige said Bathiudeen had failed to abide by his promise and when CID officers had inquired from Bathiudeen over the phone on 14 July, he had said that he was due to be admitted to hospital. Mudalige told Court that CID officers had once again rung Bathiudeen on 18 July and he had then sought a break due to his illness.

He then said lawyers for Bathiudeen had lodged a complaint with the Election Commission  to grant him approval to give a statement on 10 August as he has to carry out his election campaign targeting the 5 August General Election.

Mudalige said the EC has also urged the CID to look into this issue. He said that it was questionable as to why Bathiudeen had sought a date after next month’s Poll to provide the statement to the CID.

He further noted that when Bathiudeen had arrived at the CID on 9 July, he had consented verbally to give his statement six days later and insisted that this was all in the backdrop of the EC having gazetted the date for the General Election. 

Mudalige added that if as requested by Bathiudeen he is allowed to make a statement to the CID after the completion of the 5 August Poll, the dates for the detention of 75 suspects who are presently being grilled in this regard would also have to be further extended. 

He explained that Bathiudeen has informed the Acting Inspector General of Police to give him the date as 10 August after the conclusion of the General Election to complete his statement to the CID.

He also said the CID was conducting probes as to how Bathiudeen had in his capacity as the former Minister of Industry and Commerce, improperly facilitated the provision of copper to the firm Colossus owned by the Cinnamon Grand Hotel suicide bomber, and allowing the suicide bomber to amass billions of rupees in the process. Mudalige said the CID was probing as to whether the billions of rupees so accrued had been used for any terror and extremist activities as well. 

Meanwhile, Acting IGP C.D. Wickramaratne has informed the Election Commission that it is not possible to postpone recording statements of the former Minister until 10 August, due to the instructions given by the Attorney General (AG).

The Police are acting as per those instructions of the AG and therefore, it would not be possible to stop summoning Bathiudeen to the CID because postponing investigations is a violation of human rights, the Acting IGP has stated. 

According to sources at the EC, the Commission did not have any discussion regarding the matter during its meeting held on Tuesday (21) as well. The Commission members had only discussed this unofficially, the sources said. 

Ranil clarifies Volkswagen issue 

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe returned to Colombo after attending election rallies in Northern, Eastern and Uva Provinces on Saturday (18) night. He received good feedbacks from the people during those rallies. 

Wickremesinghe said that demolishing the Royal Assembly Hall of Buwanekaba the Second who ruled from Kurunegala could not be accepted and was a grave problem.  

It seems that there are several powerful people behind the incident other than the Kurunegala Mayor. The Government has a responsibility to take action against the culprits, he said. 

During the election meetings, Wickeremesinghe was told although Automobile company assembly centre was established instead of Volkswagen assembly plant in Kuliyapitiya during former Government and people are not aware of that. UNP voters are not happy about it, he had been told. 

In response, Wickremesinghe had told them that UNP voters in Kurunegala District are aware of the fact. 

SJB Manifesto launch

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) launched its election manifesto in a simple yet eventful manner at the SJB office where Dr. Mahim Mendis and Dayan Jayatilake conducted speeches in reference to the manifesto in the view that it cleared all confusion on controversial issues in the country and the world. The manifesto comprises of 16 pages with 20 important aspects. 

The same evening, the SJB conference was held at the Solis Hotel in Pitakotte under the patronage of Sajith Premadasa with the presence of over 200 monks who chanted pirith to bless SJB.

Premadasa and other leaders of the party then proceeded to Shangrila to take part in a youth employees and businessman conference organised by Anuradha Wimalaratne. During this event, there were discussions between the attendees and Premedasa. The manner in which Sajith discussed about the development of the country, economic policies and that of ways to provide relief for the public was commended by all.

Premedasa after having left Colombo on Tuesday joined an election campaign rally in Ratnapura. On Wednesday and Thursday he met the public in Badulla. On Friday, he arrived in Kandy following which on Saturday he attended a rally at Moneragala where he addressed the public and stayed at Katharagama that night. The previous two nights he lodged at Ella and Kandy. He also held review meetings with the district candidates and provided them with relevant advices.

‘’The current Laws of the State have been applied differently for associates; places with a heritage value are destructed. The prices of goods have increased and  wages and other benefits provided for by the Yahapalana Government also has been abolished proving the inefficiency of the Government but as we come into power, we will provide fuel concessions and salaries of 

Rs 20,000 as we operate independently for the benefit of the public’’ said Premadasa.

Kiriella, Rajitha, Tissa, Maddumabandara and other heads of SJB have also been carrying out election campaigns around the country.

Kiriella noted that the Central Expressway has been built in a manner that would cause floods as opposed to their suggestion to build an elevated expressway with over 75% on pillars adding that following coming into power, the public will not suffer as a result of the economic crisis the country has faced.

Standing Orders vs. Health Guidelines

Swearing in of MPs on the inaugural day of the new Parliament after 5 August could run into problems due to COVID-19 health guidelines, informed sources said. 

This is due to a possible clash between Standing Orders of Parliament and requirements under the Quarantine Ordinance.  The Standing Orders demand that all new Parliament Members should be seated in the Chamber. However, Health guidelines demand maintaining social distance. 

As per the Health Guidelines gazetted under the Quarantine Ordinance, wearing of facemasks and use of sanitisers and maintaining social distance are essential to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country. However, it would be impossible to maintain social distancing when allocation of seats to MPs due to space limitations in the Chamber. 

In Parliament, 232 seats have been set up with 116 being in one section. Seating for 225 MPs have been set up within the Chamber. 

Though 20 MPs could be seated in a single row, now only eight or 10 MPs could sit in a single row maintaining social distancing. This means  seating facilities could be provided for 40 or 50 MPs in five such rows on either side of the Well, Serjeant-at-Arms Narendra Fernando had stated thus in a document titled ‘conducting Parliamentary Sittings according to health guidelines’. 

Due to the limited space in the Chamber, there would be problems when arranging seats for MPs as per health guidelines. 

According to Standing Order No. 1, on the first day of conducting business after the completion of an Election and before the commencement of a new term of the House, the statement of the President of the country has to be read out by the Secretary General of Parliament.

After a new Speaker is elected through a vote taken at the Legislature, the newly elected Speaker has to make his official proclamation or his swearing in speech. All newly elected MPs have to take oaths or the official proclamation says Standing Order 1 (A) and (B), before the Speaker. 

Standing Order 3 (1) states that all MPs till they are officially assigned with their respective seats in both the Government and Opposition benches, could occupy any seat in the Chamber.

In this backdrop, the swearing in of MPs has run into issues. Deputy DG of Health Services Dr. Lakshman Gamlath and a team of health officials visited the Parliament Complex on 22 July for an inspection in this connection and are due to hand over guidelines to the Parliament Secretary General as well. As per the Parliament Standing Orders, before being sworn in, all MPs have to occupy their seats in the Chamber and the swearing in also has to take place at the same time in the presence of the new Speaker.

Meanwhile, before the new Legislature is convened no amendments to Standing Orders could be introduced said Parliament sources.

BY Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Jul 25 2020

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