Parliament | Daily News


Camelia Nathaniel and Amali Mallawarachchi
Camelia Nathaniel and Amali Mallawarachchi

Sri Lanka faces seven to eight road accident deaths every day: Chamal

Around seven to eight people die every day due to road accidents in Sri Lanka; the total number of persons whom died in road accidents in 2018 was 3,151, while 2,899 people died in road accidents in 2019, State Minister of Internal Security Chamal Rajapaksa said.

Responding to MP Shantha Bandara’s question during the oral answers round in Parliament, yesterday, Minister Rajapaksa said that police had identified several factors behind the spike in accidents. He said that many such accidents had occurred at bends, during overtakes, and in cases of reckless and drunken driving. In order to minimise these accidents, police have increased ‘round-the-clock surveillance operations and have expedited the process of filing charges on traffic offenders.

As of June, 2020, around 9,300 police officers were assigned to traffic duties, while 2,371 officers had completed their junior and senior traffic management courses. The police had also taken measures to enhance the knowledge of police officers engaged in traffic management in order to better equip them in handling traffic operations. Measures are also being taken to increase the number of police officers attached to the traffic police divisions as there is a clear shortage of traffic police officers as against the requirement.

Raising a supplementary question, MP Shantha Bandara noted that at the rate of seven to eight deaths per day due to road accidents, over 3,000 persons would die annually due to road accidents. “This is greater than the number of lives lost so far in the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hence, this issue needs to be addressed immediately. While thanking the minister and the police for their commitment, I would also suggest that drivers be given short-term training under the guidance of the government and the police, as the training given for the issuance of licences is very brief,” he said.

In response, the minister said that currently, a programme has been launched to send drivers who commit minor traffic offences for training during the weekends. He also said that the government is also looking at the possibility of reviewing the performances of drivers once in three years and providing them training programmes.

MP Shantha Bandara then asked whether the government has implemented some form of regulation with regard to private companies entrusted with issuing licenses. Minister Rajapaksa assured that this matter would be looked into in the future.


‘Excess defence expenses a main contributor to country’s debt’

Since the 1970s, large amounts of money have been put into the defence sector and that is one of the main reasons that we are so heavily in debt. What we need to do is resolve racial issues, ITAK MP Shanakiyan Rajaputhiran Rasamanickam said.

Joining the third of the four allotted days of the second reading debate in Parliament, yesterday, he said he feels that even the current President is not able to do that. “What we need is a political solution. We don’t need the budget to bring in investments and we cannot survive without the assistance of foreign countries. We cannot build our economy without them.”

He noted that if there is a proper political solution to the racial issues in the country, getting investments would be easy as there are many Tamils who left the country in 1983 that are in good positions around the globe today.

“Even the President does not know what the country’s situation is. He has one committee comprising Buddhist monks and another comprising intellectuals, and I would like to ask the President if he gave ‘Pilleyan’ a position based on the recommendations of these committees?”

Rasamanickam added that the President had ideas of making Sri Lanka like Singapore. “He has not failed yet as it’s only a year since he assumed duties. However, if he continues in this manner, he will definitely fail,” the MP added.

The Parliamentarian, citing irregularities happening under the government, noted that 32 sand permits had been given by the government in Batticaloa. “Under the ‘100,000 Job Scheme’, 250,000 jobs have been provided in Batticaloa through bribes of Rs.100,000 each. These are wrong. The government needs to investigate these corruptions,” he said.

He also noted that the government should develop the Trincomalee Harbour as it is a vital component in the country’s development drive.


Committee on High Posts approves Kananathan as Ambassador to Kenya

The Parliament Committee on High Posts has approved the appointment of Velupplillai Kananathan as the Ambassador to Kenya and the appointments of secretaries to six ministries, the Parliament Media Division said in a press release, yesterday.

For the first time in the history of Parliament, the Committee on High Posts used video technology to discuss the qualifications of a Sri Lankan living abroad.

The High Posts Committee was chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena. Leader of the House and Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando; Ministers Chamal Rajapaksa, Douglas Devananda, Udaya Gammanpila, Keheliya Rambukwella, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Vidura Wickremanayake, Ramesh Pathirana; and MPs Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, Vijitha Herath, John Seneviratne, and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka were present.

The confab was held with Velupplillai Kananathan as Sri Lanka’s newly-appointed Ambassador to Kenya. Secretary-General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake said that the discussion with Kananathan, who is currently in Uganda, was held via Webex.

Dasanayake further stated that the Committee on High Posts looked into the qualifications of Kananathan who previously served as the Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Uganda from 2013 to 2015, through Webex technology and then approved the new appointment. In addition, the Secretary-General stated that appointments of secretaries to the six ministries also received the approval of the Committee on High Posts.

Wasantha Perera was appointed Secretary to the Ministry of Power, K.D.P. Olga as the Secretary to the Ministry of Energy, R.W.R. Pemasiri as the Secretary to the Ministry of Highways, N.B.M Ranatunga as Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, S. Hettiarachchi as Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism, and Jagath P. Wijeweera as the Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media.


‘Government has filled 108 of 278 principal vacancies left unchecked by previous regime’

The Good Governance Government failed to appoint principals to 278 national schools in the country during its rule, Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris revealed in Parliament, yesterday. The total number of national schools in Sri Lanka is 373, he said.

“After the new government took over, principals have been appointed to 108 national schools. The application forms for the recruitment of principals to the remaining 170 schools are available on the website of the Ministry of Education; the recruitment process is a transparent process.” Prof. Peiris added.

The professor made these observations in reply to a question raised by Samagi Jana Balawegaya MP Chaminda Wijesiri, who inquired about the national schools in Sri Lanka, its principals, and their qualifications. The minister tabled the names of all the national schools in Sri Lanka and explained that the qualification required to be a Principal of a national schools is to be a Grade I/II/III Ordinary or Special-Grade or Principal or Officer of the Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service. It was also explained that the officers of the Special Service after reaching grade 11 could serve as deputy principals or principals for a maximum period of five years.

When Wijesiri inquired about the Education Ministry's failure to implement any methodology to ensure the education of children during the pandemic and its decision to open schools in the near future, Prof. Peiris said that the decision to open schools was a recommendation by special discussion round between education and health experts. The MP expressed his disappointment over the response given by the Education Minister and went on to say, “During our tenure, all principals were directed to the Provincial Education Ministry to select and recruit all principals through an examination without any political interference.”

He also asked if the government would point the finger at schoolchildren if another wave of this epidemic breaks out centering schools. Responding to the concern, the Education Minister stated that government took a fair decision while taking measures to ensure students’ safety, while facilitating the continuation of the education in the country.

SJB MP Hesha Withanage drew attention of the Education Minister, concerning the issues related to the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Belihuloya. It was observed that a VC has never been recruited through political interference.

MP Lakshman Kiriella intervened and pointed out that he also served as the Minister of Higher Education and since the time of then President J. R. Jayewardene, the Vic- Chancellor was selected by the vote of the Governing Council, and not by calling the persons of choice for interviews and selecting the names of three of them and sending them to the President. In reply, Prof. Peiris said that the process of appointing the VC is transparent and said that as in the past, one-third of proposed names for the post of VC chosen by the governing council would be sent and finally chosen by the President, which is the normal selection procedure.


Radar receiver sent to China for repairs misplaced: Hesha

A radar receiver and antenna scanner worth around Rs.29 million that was sent to China for repairs by the Sri Lanka Air Force has been misplaced, Parliament was informed yesterday by SJB MP Hesha Withanage.

During the question round anticipating oral answers in Parliament, yesterday, Withanage said that it has been six years since the equipment had been sent for repairs. While admitting that the previous government should take responsibility for not looking into this matter, he called on the present government to investigate the matter.

Responding to Withanage’s question, Minister Chamal Rajapaksa said the equipment was sent to China for repairs through a private company, adding that the equipment was purchased for a sum of Rs.74 million; at the time it was sent for repairs to China, it was worth around Rs.29 million.

However, the minister said that while the previous government had appointed a Financial Crimes Division, it had not been able to investigate this matter, adding that the current government cannot be expected to address all these issues within just one year in office. The minister, however, assured that the issue would be investigated and the outcome would be reported within the next six months: “So your government failed and our government has passed.”


Madrasa school monitoring essential: GL

Education Minister Professor G.L. Peiris yesterday said there are 317 Madrasa schools in the country and that it is essential to properly monitor and regulate the said schools. The Education Minister also stated that prior to 2015, there was a proper mechanism to regulate Madrasa schools, but the Good Governance Government failed to put it to use. Professor Peiris made these observations in reply to Samagi Jana Balawegaya MP Dr. Kavinda Jayawardena.

According to the Minister of Education, the then Minister of Postal Services and Muslim Religious Affairs had submitted to the Cabinet a bill to regularise the teaching of Arabic schools, in the aftermath of the attack on Easter Sunday.

The matter of drafting the bill was handed over to the Ministry of Education as a decision was taken that such Arabic schools should be monitored by the Education Ministry, Profe. Peiris said. He also said that there is a right to provide education and the government in anyways does not tolerate discrimination of education providers, public, private, or otherwise.

Prof. Peiris said, “When a teacher came to teach in a Madrasa or a similar school, a very thorough investigation was carried out and a close mechanism was maintained with the Department of Immigration and Emigration to keep monitoring their operations. Intelligence Services also worked closely with the Department.”

“That process was broken when Good Governance Government came into power. During their tenure some of such teachers have been given on arrival visas.” The Education Minister also added that presently, the Education Ministry is fully monitoring the operations of Madrasa schools including their recruitment process, employees, syllabuses and on student enrollment,” he added.

MP Kavinda Jayawardena then inquired whether a Maulavi has given evidence to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry investigating into the Easter Sunday carnage, saying that there were content that supported extremism included in the syllabuses of some such schools.

In reply, Prof. Peiris said that it is questionable and regrettable as to why the Good Governance Government did not monitor the curriculum of these Madrasa schools. He added that the said books were not a part of the curriculum of Madrasa schools.

The Education Minister also said that the report of the Presidential Commission will be helpful when approving curriculum and reading materials for these schools.


Budget needs reviewing consdering national, international conditions: Udaya

Minister Udaya Gammanpila joining the budget debate in Parliament, yesterday, said that the budget presented by the Prime Minister should be analysed or reviewed taking into consideration the current background by identifying the national and international conditions. He said that in October 2020, the IMF had expressed its views on the global economic outlook for this year. “According to them, the global economic growth at 14.4.”

Gammanpila accused the Opposition of having piled on the debt burden of the country from Rs.7 to Rs.12 trillion. “The Opposition can talk big, but when they were given the opportunity to prove themselves—and failed.”

Hence, he challenged the Opposition to table better proposals in Parliament if they think they can do better, instead of criticising the government’s budget.

The Minister noted that the government was able to keep the Sri Lankan Rupee stable and the US Dollar at around 185 throughout the year due to the curtailing of imports.

He also claimed that due to the reckless obtaining of loans by the previous government, the current government had to repay USD 4.5 billion in foreign loans, adding that the government has succeeded in repaying that amount without a cent in shortfalls. “In October alone, we paid off USD 1 billion.”

He added that under the current situation, and the challenges posed by the coronavirus, the government has no other alternative but to follow this economic policies if they are to maintain the Sri Lankan Rupee at a stable rate and not pile on the burden on the public.

The Minister of Energy challenged the government to come up with alternative suggestions instead of merely criticising the government, adding that they have time until December to do so if they could.


Government puts the people first: Vasudeva

The present government will always put people first above all other matters, Minister of Water Supply Vasudeva Nanayakkara said yesterday. He made this observation joining the debate on the 2021 Appropriation Bill in Parliament, which is proceeding for the fourth day.

Minister Nanayakkara said, “The Leader of the Opposition criticised the government’s role concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe that is not appropriate. Among the countries in the world, we have successfully faced the COVID-19 pandemic. There are issues that we find difficult to control, but we will do our best. The Opposition Leader is saying that we should import the vaccine. It’s England that needs the vaccine; we do not need it as of yet. I wonder if the Opposition Leader knows what disaster management is. An allocation of Rs.4264 million has been done to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Minister Nanayakkara added, “We cannot give relief like England does. We need to have a revenue like England if we need to match their relief package. The European Union says imports should not be restricted. They want to lend more to us. We want the rupee to stabilise. Inflation rose during the UNP governance, but we are keeping it stable.”

“We would like to tell the European Union that our government is working with a broad understanding of reconciliation and human rights. In a time of crisis like this, we cannot import more than Rs.20 billion. Is it wrong? The World Trade Agreement specifically spells out what to do when situations like this occur. We import things needed for the country’s manufacturing sector. I would like to ask if the EU does not see that,” the minister said.

Nanayakkara said, “The Opposition Leader said that prices of goods cannot be controlled by issuing gazettes. We do all this for the people in the country. Our philosophy is Socialist Democracy. Government intervention is necessary in our country. We will take steps to rejuvenate the businesses that took a fall due to the pandemic. We will give as much relief as possible to our people.”

“The previous government suffocated people with taxation. There is a problem where the relief we give does not really reach the public. The country’s economy was adversely affected by the Treasury bond scam. In our vision, our priority is people, not the market. Our journey will be based on our vision. We will provide job opportunities to 100,000 people who are in need. We are giving 68,000 graduates employment opportunities as well. The speech given by the Opposition Leader drew a dark picture,” he added.