A salutary admonition | Daily News

A salutary admonition

No individual who had been observing the political scene would dispute the advice offered by senior politician Minister Chamal Rajapaksa that all Parliamentarians should be aware of their duties and responsibilities and above all, know their limitations.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Minister Rajapaksa stressed that Members of Parliament are not given a license to insult the Judiciary and those who do so should be punished.

He was alluding to the four-year RI term handed down to film star turned politician MP Ranjan Ramanayake by a unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court for holding the country’s Judiciary in Contempt. Ramanayake was the second Parliamentarian in recent memory to be sent to prison for Contempt of Court. Before him MP S. B. Dissanayake too met the same fate, sentenced to two years RI which was cut short by a Presidential Pardon. On an earlier occasion too Dissanayake had to appear before the Supreme Court to answer charges relating to Contempt of Court (he said all Courthouses in the country should be shut down) but got away by apologizing to the Bench. A repeat though got the voluble MP into hot water resulting in the jail sentence. Ramanayake, though, was far from being repentant at any stage of the trial but kept on repeating his original stand as regards the Court and lawyers.

The fate that befell the MP ought to serve as an eye-opener for all MPs, both Government and the Opposition, against challenging the verdicts of Courts or casting aspersions on the Judiciary. The Judiciary is a vital limb of constitutional governance and should not be trifled with. Court verdicts are based on the laws that had been sanctioned by Parliament in accordance with Constitutional provisions. If lawmakers themselves are in contempt of the very laws they themselves have sanctioned, Parliament itself stands to lose its relevance. In any event, there is a mechanism in place to deal with officers of the Judiciary within the system. It is not for MPs to stand in judgement over judges.

In this respect the contention of Minister Chamal Rajapaksa ought to be viewed with all seriousness and those MPs with loose tongues and given to be carried away by their own theatrics and garrulity, both inside and outside Parliament ought to be reined in and told in no uncertain terms where to get off. Let the Minister’s admonition be a beginning where our Parliamentarians will learn to act with circumspection and good sense not just in what they say and do but also where it relates to their general demenour and deportment inside the August Assembly.

Certain MPs’ conduct within the Parliament Chamber does not stand up to scrutiny. Many were the occasions where the Public Gallery had to be cleared of schoolchildren to spare the little ones the antics of some of our Peoples’ Representatives. No less a personage than President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had occasion to hearken to the quality of Parliament sittings between now and the time when he as a youth observed proceedings from the Public Gallery, not speaking in very complementary terms of the present day scenario.

Not just against the courts and judicial officers, Parliamentary privilege is being abused to sling mud and vilify other individuals such as State officials who have no means of defending themselves in the Chamber. There have also been instances of insults and abuse hurled at family members of fellow MPs across the aisle and other extraneous issues brought forth into the open inside the August Assembly which may have figured in the thinking of Minister Rajapaksa when he stated in no unequivocal terms that the MPs should learn to behave. They certainly should not be allowed to cross certain boundaries nor exceed their limits for whatever reasons, whatever the provocation.

The conduct of MPs, needless to say, should be exemplary, befitting the office they hold. They should not be seen to be misusing their powers. There was a time when MPs drunk with power openly acted in breach of the law, secure in the knowledge that they are beyond the long arm of the law. Who can forget the time when some MPs broke into police stations to get their supporters released from custody. On one such occasion a politician even occupied the chair of the OIC of a Police station. Mercifully such incidents are not heard of now and it should stay that way. Minister Rajapaksa’s advice should be heeded not just by Parliamentarians but also by politicians in the periphery. Who can forget the incident where a Provincial Council Minister forced a teacher to kneel for “pulling up” his daughter over some infringement, or a Chief Minister forcing another teacher to do the same for allegedly ignoring his order to get a child admitted to the teacher’s school.

Minister Chamal Rajapaksa should be commended for taking a stand on the behaviour of MPs and for reminding our MPs of their duties and obligations and most of all the limits which they should not overstep.