House sittings suspended thrice following uproar

Azwer orders two Opposition members to leave Chamber

by Saman Indrajith

Sittings of the House were suspended thrice yesterday following an uproar caused by UPFA National List MP A. H. M. Azwer, who was chairing the Committee Stage debate of the budget 2013, under the financial headings of the Ministry of External Affairs, when he named and told two members of the Opposition to leave the Chamber.

UNP Colombo District MP Ravi Karunanayake, participating in the debate, was reading out a Hansard report on the Divineguma Bill and some quotations by Minister Basil Rajapaksa when the chair ordered him to wind up his speech. Kalutara District UNP MP Ajith P Perera then said that two more minutes must be given to Karunanayake from the Opposition’s time to continue his speech, but Azwer opposed it.

As Karunanayake continued, Opposition MPs, including Ajith Perera, shouted that the Opposition should be given the power to decide how to use its time. Azwer ordered MP Perera to leave the Chamber. As the uproar prevailed, the presiding MP suspended sittings for 10 minutes around 4.15 p.m.

When the House resumed sittings around 4.30 p.m., Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody was presiding and the Opposition MPs shouted that the Chair could not remove an MP during a committee stage according to the Standing Orders.

As shouting continued, the Deputy Speaker suspended sittings for ten minutes, for the second time around 4.37 p.m.

When the House resumed sittings around 5.10 p.m. the Deputy Speaker said that MP Karunanayake could continue his speech after Minister D. E. W. Gunasekara delivered his.

When Karunanayake rose to his feet, the government MPs again started disturbing him and Minister Basil Rajapaksa, raising a Point of Order, said that the sittings should not deviate from tradition.

"According to Standing Orders, a member can be given a chance to speak twice under same heading and the Speaker has ordered Karunanayake to continue," Weerakkodi explained.

However, at this point Chief Government Whip Minister Dinesh Gunawardane, who was visibly angered by the decision of the chair, demanded an explanation from the chair whether they are going to continue proceedings solely based on Standing Orders ignoring the consensus reached at the party leaders’ meeting. The deputy speaker reiterated that he was only following an order by the Speaker. However, amidst the din MP Karunanayake continued his speech and at that point the Chief Government Whip was seen charging towards the Chair in protest.

The Deputy Speaker suspended sittings for another five minutes, for the third time, around 5.22 p.m. after which the sittings resumed with Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa in the Chair around 5.45 p.m.

"According to Standing Orders a member can speak twice during the same debate during the committee stage. However, there is a decision taken by the Party Leaders not to allow this to happen so as to enable as many MPs as possible to speak. But, under the present circumstances I give two minutes to MP Karunanayake to conclude his speech," Speaker Rajapaksa said.

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