Time for tough action | Daily News

Time for tough action

Parliament is often referred to as an August Assembly, a sort of hallowed ground where a country’s lawmakers gather to debate crucial issues and pass laws that directly affect the lives of the people who elect them. There is ample room here for heated exchanges of words and ideas because it is a forum for expressing diverse opinions. It is through such a dialogue that a consensus or a majority opinion emerges, which finally becomes law.

It is generally understood that all this is done in line with a strict code of conduct that is partly governed by Standing Orders and partly by moral and ethical considerations. Members of Parliament are regarded as an example for lower-ranking politicians in the provincial and local bodies, especially the younger politicians aspiring to become leaders one day.

But recent events have cast a shadow over this reputation, as MPs have gone berserk in the Chamber even in the presence of schoolchildren and the general public. Many of these sordid acts took place in the 51 days of anarchy when a “government” helmed by the former President was in power. From throwing chili powder in the faces of political opponents to breaking down the expensive microphones in the Chamber, these offences are too numerous to mention individually. The errant MPs showed absolutely no respect to the Chair and Parliamentary traditions.

But the MPs who committed these offences did not perhaps think of one thing – the power of live television. The whole country saw the unruly and violent behaviour of these MPs, who got further negative publicity when the TV networks aired the clips repeatedly during news broadcasts. Predictably, there was a backlash against the MPs from the media and the wider society. Disgusted voters naturally felt betrayed by the deplorable behaviour of the representatives they had sent to Parliament.

This resulted in an outcry for a proper investigation into these incidents that would forever be a black mark in the history of local politics and the appointment of a Parliamentary Committee to probe them. If the offending MPs thought that they could seek cover behind the cloak of Parliamentary Privileges and get away scot-free, they are sadly mistaken because the Committee that investigated the unruly incidents in the Chamber on November 14, 15 and 16 has observed that the immunities and privileges of MPs do not obstruct taking legal action against the MPs’ misbehaviour in the House.

The report of the six-member committee chaired by Deputy Speaker Ananda Kumarasiri had recommended taking action against 59 MPs (54 UPFA MPs, four UNP MPs and one JVP MP) who were found to have misbehaved in the Chamber. Senior Deputy Solicitor General Rohantha Abeysuriya who represented the Attorney General’s Department had told the Committee that either Parliament or the Supreme Court could impose punishment on the offenders. The maximum punishment that Parliament can impose is the suspension of the Parliamentary service, while only the Supreme Court can impose harsher penalties.

The Committee in the report has emphasized the need to expeditiously continue investigations conducted by the CID and thereafter institute judicial proceedings upon the advice of the Attorney General.

“Activities such as approaching the Speaker’s chair, accusing and intimidating the Speaker are not in conformity with the ‘Gentlemanly Behaviour’ expected from the MPs. Throwing objects into the Speaker’s chair and damaging equipment can be considered an inestimable blemish to the reputation of Parliament, notwithstanding of the financial loss incurred. Such activities cannot be justified under any circumstances,” the report has stressed.

This is a landmark development in local politics that will have far-reaching, hopefully positive consequences. The naming and shaming of the MPs will make them and other MPs think twice about repeating such mistakes in the future. Some political leaders have floated the idea that an external body such as the Police should not be involved in probing incidents that happen in Parliament. Under the 19th Amendment, even the President’s actions can be legally challenged under certain circumstances and we therefore see no reason why normal laws of the land should not apply to ordinary MPs and Ministers. We also believe that the MPs who damaged Parliamentary property and equipment should be called on to pay for the damage out of their own pocket instead of the State dipping into public funds for same.

But this is not the only question mark hanging over the House. Just a few days ago, State Minister Ranjan Ramanayake dropped a bombshell when he said that as many as 24 MPs were in the habit of consuming illegal narcotics. This has created an uproar within and outside Parliament, with calls for a thorough investigation. Law enforcement and Parliamentary authorities must expeditiously investigate his claims. Even if partially true, it points to a dark nexus between the narcotics trade and politicians.

All these incidents point to one inescapable conclusion – we need more educated, professional young men and women in Parliament. All political parties must keep this in mind when they give nominations at the next provincial and general elections. 


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