Media get Tilanga’s goat

Parliament expenses, subsidized food:


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Deputy Speaker Tilanga Sumathipala, MP, yesterday frowned on the reportage of privileges such as subsidized food made available to members of parliament.

Emphasizing the responsibility on the part of the parliament to provide a good meal to members, the National List MP stressed the need to maintain standards. According to him, the food provided to members could be compared with a menu at a three star hotel. The Deputy Speaker said that the parliamentary menu was definitely not five-star standard.

Sumathipala was on live Sirasa and MTV programmes anchored by Bandula Jayasekera and Faraz Shauketaly, respectively. Having failed to retain his Colombo District seat at the Aug. 17 parliamentary polls, Sumathipala entered parliament on the National List. The Deputy Speaker was responding to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s recent revelation in Parliament that single day’s parliamentary sittings cost Sri Lankan taxpayer Rs. 4.6 mn, and, therefore, MPs should bear in mind their responsibilities.

MP Sumathipala strongly denied that the parliament was spending a lot on food. Asked whether he partook of food provided for members, the MP said: "I do eat there."

Sumathipala said that the food provided to members shouldn’t be an issue. The MP pointed out that about two decades ago, people used to talk about five star buffet though today it was nothing.

Commenting on political strategy adopted by some UPFA constituents, Deputy Speaker alleged that they had transformed parliament into the Lipton Circus. Sumathipala claimed that it was part of their efforts to cause chaos and demean the institution. The Deputy Speaker attributed the split in the SLFP-led UPFA for the crisis in Parliament. According to him, the parliament comprised three groups, the UNP under Ranil Wickremesinghe and sections under President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Alleging that those loyal to Rajapaksa were advancing an agenda of their own, the Deputy Speaker compared the conduct of some Opposition members in parliament to that of them taking part in protests opposite the Fort Railway station.

Responding to another query, the MP said that leaders of political parties should be responsible for the conduct of respective members. The Deputy Speaker said that thanks to the live telecast of parliamentary proceedings the electorate would get an opportunity to ascertain the conduct of members. He said the current two hour coverage of parliamentary sittings could be expanded.

Sumathipala asserted that nothing was impossible. The National List MP pointed out that no one had believed that the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa could be defeated.

Sumathipala asserted that improving standards in Provincial Councils was a perquisite creating a better parliament. Those awaiting an opportunity to move from the Provincial Council system to Parliament should be given the opportunity to prepare for the challenging task, the Deputy Speaker said.

Asked whether the incumbent coalition government could last the full five year term, Sumathipala said that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had proved they could work together in spite of some differences. The National List MP said that the coalition would have to first complete the two-year arrangement as promised to the public and then sit and examine the situation. The MP said that the future would depend on the ability of UNP and the SLFP/UPFA to meet the promises made in the run up to last presidential and parliamentary polls. In case of failure, both parties would have to accept responsibility, the Deputy Speaker said.

Sumathipala accused former SLFP leader Rajapaksa of thwarting his bid to raise the contentious issue of right to information in parliament. The former President acted in a manner inimical to members, Sumathipala said, claiming that he had been told not to move a private member’s motion. The former President’s defeat had automatically brought an end to pressure on members, the Deputy Speaker said, asserting that the tangible change could be experienced in about two years.

The Deputy Speaker said the reality was different from what was reported by the media.

Asked whether he was contemplating taking on Ports and Shipping Minister for the top post in Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) administration, the Deputy Speaker said that he would consult President Maithripala Sirisena, Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya before taking a decision. Sumathipala said that he was ready to join the fray with their consent.

Dismissing all cricket interim administrations appointed by successive governments as farce, Sumathipala claimed that he was inundated with requests from those who loved the game to take control.

Asked why SLC had to depend on Ranatunga, Sumathiapala or Dharmadasa to run the administration, the Deputy Speaker laid out his qualifications and experience.

Sumathipala lambasted former President Rajapaksa for thwarting his bid to contest SLC polls. Sumathipala alleged that Rajapaksa got deeply involved in cricket affairs and directed me not to contest to pave the way for another. The former President threw his weight behind certain gangs in various sectors, Sumathipala said. Cricket was not an exception.

"The former President acted beyond his mandate. Rajapaksa had no right to interfere in cricket the way he did," the MP said.

When pressed to explain why Ranatunga, Dharmadasa and Sumathipala always sought to take over SLC, Sumathipala pointed out that former Presidents Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa were still around. Sumathipala emphasized that he could do so much for the sport and there shouldn’t be any dispute to his suitability for the top post.

Sumathipala said that National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa had exposed himself by trying to leave the country using a discarded passport. The Deputy Speaker said the incident revealed the way the likes of Weerawansa operated. The Deputy Speaker said that the electorate would judge him on the passport affair.

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