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BASL says ‘it is a matter entirely for the House’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Professor Prathiba Mahanamahewa of the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo, yesterday lambasted the double standard in dealing with lawmakers for contempt of court, which also tends to erode public confidence in the parliamentary system .

The Advocate said this in reference to the sentencing of Gampaha District MP Ranjan Ramanayake (SJB) to four years in prison and Jaffna District MP (TNA) MA Sumanthiran who was allowed to escape under the parliamentary privileges for having also flayed the Supreme Court recently.

Professor Mahanamahewa said so ‘The Challenge’ on Jayamaga TV, anchored by Anushi Hakmanage.

The academic asked why the two legislators were treated differently over the same infraction. He said that criticism of the Supreme Court was not acceptable for any reason or tolerated, under any circumstances.

Warning that the public had realized the double standard in respect of the same offense committed by two different legislators, the Mahanamahewa stressed the responsibility on the part of the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to face the problem at hand.

Speaker Abeywardena said the matter was before the leaders of the party when The Island raised the issue with him. The Speaker said that although he received a complaint from the Minister of Justice Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, in this regard, the party leaders should address the issue at hand. Lawmaker MA Sumanthiran declined to comment.

In a harsh letter to Speaker Abeywardena, last week, Justice Minister Rajapakse requested the appointment of a Special Parliamentary Select Committee to examine the conduct of MP Sumanthiran, following his strong criticism of the SC, during the debate on the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. Sumanthiran skipped the vote as six of the 10-member TNA parliamentary group voted for the new law.

However, Saliya Peiris, PC, president of the Bar Association, said: “Speech made by MPs in Parliament is covered by the Parliamentary (Powers and Privileges) Act. It is a matter entirely for Parliament “.

At the beginning of the live interview, Prof.Mahananahewa asserted that there were many more important issues to be addressed, than the exposure of dual citizens in Parliament.

The lawyer asked if Parliament. as a result of the behavior of its members, it caused doubts among the public regarding responsibility and accountability.

The professor dealt with the gradual expansion of the parliamentary structure, since independence, with the introduction of the PR system (proportional representation), in 1989, at the expense of the system of the first pass. Acknowledging the current electoral process was meant to ensure a much wider public representation, Professor Mahanamahewa asked if Parliament has responded to the expectations of the electorate.

Referring to the composition of Parliament – 196 elected members and 29 appointed – lawyer Mahanamahewa said that parliamentarians lead a fairly comfortable life, although the vast majority of people were struggling to make ends meet . The lawyer briefly discussed the massive eruption of public protests in March over the disruption of essential supplies due to years of waste, corruption, mismanagement and irregularities blamed on successive governments.

Responding to another question from the interviewer, Professor Mahanamahewa said that despite Litro being almost 100 percent government owned, those who suffered damage, due to gas explosions, were not paid compensation.

However, in the case of legislators, whatever the reasons, their complaints are addressed promptly, said Prof Mahanamahewa.

Contrary to the many assurances made, regarding equality among the population, lawyer Mahanamahewa questioned how the restrictions were imposed on fuel distribution through the “QR” code operation. Noting that these restrictions only applied to certain sectors of the population, lawyer Mahanamahewa complained bitterly about the legislators, some of whom were not even qualified to be tea producers, but had a privileged status.

The law professor asked whether the Parliament fulfilled its primary obligations, namely financial discipline and the promulgation of laws. Stating that Parliament has failed to meet the basic aspirations of the public, lawyer Mahanamahewa asked who caused the deterioration of Parliament to such an extent that the public now questioned the parliamentary system of government.



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