Pavithra, Sajith lock horns over Health Gazette
By Gagani Weerakoon and Methmalie Dissanayake
A spat occurred between Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa in Parliament, yesterday (20), over the Gazette Notification issued on COVID-19 prevention health regulations, especially in terms of its application in public places.
This was mainly due to Premadasa insisting that health regulations are not adhered to in the Parliament Chamber and Wanniarachchi emphasising that Parliament does not fall within the definition of ‘public places’ as has been clearly mentioned in the Gazette Notification.
Premadasa told Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena that seat arrangements in the Chamber did not fall in line with the gazetted regulations.
Premadasa: “Wanniarachchi released a Special Gazette on 15 October imposing regulations including making it compulsory for everyone to wear a mask and to maintain one-metre physical distance at all times. Not complying with those regulations is a punishable offence. As per Section 5 of the Increase of Fines Act, No. 12 of 2005, those who transgress the stipulated regulations would be punished with either a fine between Rs 2,000 to Rs 10,000 or be imposed with a six-month jail term. But these regulations are not maintained in the Parliament. There is no seating arrangement which maintains the social distance.”
He pointed out that even the Speaker did not wear a facemask inside the Chamber.
“Do we have two laws for the country? Why do the people need to follow one law when the Parliament follows another? I request the Speaker to suspend Parliament sittings and reconvene it after arranging seat arrangements according to the Gazette Notification,” he said.
Wanniarachchi: “Premadasa has not read the Gazette properly. The Gazette has interpreted properly as to where those regulations should be adhered to. It has defined the term ‘public place’ where the regulations should be followed. This House is not a public place.”
Premadasa: “So do we have two laws in the country, one for the Parliamentarians and one for the people?”
Wanniarachchi: “I did not say that there are two laws. I only said that this House does not come under the definition of a ‘public place’ as mentioned in the Gazette. You have not read the Gazette properly and are wasting our time.”
Premadasa: “The Speaker is wearing a facemask now after I pointed it out. Should we wear a facemask in the Chamber or not?”
Wanniarachchi: “You have a responsibility as a citizen. It is up to you to decide what to do.”
Premadasa: “You are making us all confused (koheda yanne malle poll)”
Wanniarachchi: “Not me, it is you who do that. You have not read the Gazette properly and are talking rubbish.”
However, the Speaker refused to postpone the sitting and informed that the United Kingdom Parliament met even while the Germans dropped bombs on London, England. “We cannot suspend the sittings because of the pandemic,” he added.
“Likewise, we too meet here. Sittings would not be suspended. We would not postpone sittings.”