Speaker: Children reluctant to say their parents are MPs


Speaker Karu Jayasuriya addressing the inauguration ceremony of capacity development programme for journalists covering parliament on Friday in Kalutara

By Saman Indrajith

Some parliamentarians have stooped so low that people detest them as a bunch of crooks living off the public without rendering any service, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya says.

"We know there are some parliamentarians’ children who hesitate to mention in public that their parents are MPs," the Speaker said, addressing the opening ceremony of a capacity development programme for journalists covering parliament on Friday in Kalutara.

The Speaker said some MPs’ failure to maintain decorum had tarnished the image of all lawmakers. Action would be taken to introduce new Standing Orders to bring the situation under control and the Code of Conduct for MPs, once introduced, would help deal with errant MPs, Jayasuriya said.

Jayasuriya said Parliament had achieved many things in the recent past and the international community appreciated them. When compared to situation in some other countries the Sri Lankan parliament had progressed, he said. The Inter-Parliamentary Union considered it a model. "Many third world countries send their delegations here to learn from us how the country has improved the democratic system. Acquiring new technology and implementing the US Congress system, too, had helped to improve the status of the Sri Lankan Parliament, the Speaker said. The introduction of independent commissions through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, sectoral oversight committees, giving the Opposition an opportunity to question the Prime Minister, live telecast of sessions and releasing almost all details through the parliament website have helped increase public engagement with parliament and its position in world rankings."

Speaker Jayasuriya said that the introduction of Right to Information Act would help increase awareness of the conduct and interests of their representatives. The results of the new legislature would be felt in a couple more years and the politicians, too, would have to adapt to the new situation, Speaker Jayasuriya said.

"There have been media reports that the government is planning to introduce laws to control media. They are not true. We have always stood by media freedom whenever journalists were harassed and we too were assaulted, teargassed and baton-charged when we staged protests with journalists in the past. We would never deprive the media of its freedom."

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dassanayake said the media which worked as a bridge between parliament and general public should explore ways and means of increasing public engagement with what was taking place in Parliament. "The media used to be the Fourth Estate and today it is said to have become the First Estate owing to the power it wields in creating and shaping public opinion. We hope that media will use that power to make society a better place. The media can make use of that power to strengthen the links between parliament and people. People’s trust in parliamentary system is a sine qua none for sustenance of democracy."

Alena Tansey, Acting Director, Office of Government and Vulnerable Populations, USAID, said that her organisation was happy to see Sri Lankan parliament exploring avenues to increase public participation in the parliamentary process. "I grew up in Washington and many of my friends and relatives used to watch congressional hearings on TV and what was taking place in political sphere always attracted public attention there. In our country people are keen on political developments. They are very keen to know how their representatives fare in parliament and how their problems are debated. It is usual to notice people irrespective of their age differences watch congress on TV in local pubs or restaurants. It is similar to your watching cricket matches on TV here."

Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala, who is also the current chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket, addressing the ceremony said: "We have something to learn from the speech of USAID Deputy Director. As she said there in the US people watch parliament on TV, here we watch cricket. So that we know the reasons for the difference between the two countries."

Chief of Staff and Deputy Secretary General of Parliament Neil Iddawela, Assistant Secretary Generals Kushani Rohanadeera and Tikiri Jayathilake, Director (Legislative Services) Jagath Gajaweera, Head of the Bills Office Rani Govindasamy, Director Information Systems and Management Mahesh Perera, Deputy Coordinating Engineer DLD Adikari, Deputy Sergeant At Arms Narendra Fernando and former Chairman of SLBC and former Director General of SLRC veteran journalist Sunil Sarath Perera conducted sessions of the programme.

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