Despite the removal of travel restrictions on the 21st June, the government decided to continue with all necessary measures in compliance with strict health regulations. Meanwhile, as a supplementary estimate of Rs. 200 billion had been submitted to Parliament for government expenditure, and as former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was about to be sworn in as a Member of Parliament, many people’s attention was drawn to the sittings of Parliament.
The Committee on Parliamentary Business met under the chairmanship of the Hon. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena in Parliament on Monday 21st to decide on the Business of the House for the last week amidst the Covid situation.
At the outset of the meeting Hon. Leader of the House of Parliament Minister Dinesh Gunawardena informed the Committee that the Government intends to take up the Bill entitled “Registration of Electors (Amendment)” for the Second Reading on Tuesday, the 22nd of June 2021. After discussion, the Committee agreed that the Second Reading of the above Bill be taken up during the First Sitting Week of Parliament in July 2021.
The Hon. MP Anura Dissanayaka brought to the notice of the Committee that an Adjournment Debate on the “Annual Report of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka for 2020” was agreed at a previous meeting and the Hon. Leader of the House of Parliament agreed to consider it in July.
Accordingly, after deliberation, it was decided that the Weekly Parliament should meet only on June 22nd and 23rd. Accordingly, the Committee agreed to debate the Sri Lanka land Development Corporation (Amendment) Bill and the Regulations under the Land Acquisition Act on 22 June.
It was also decided to debate a Resolution under the Local Treasury Bills Ordinance on June 23, Two Regulations under the Imports and Exports (Control) Act, the Supplementary Estimate to incur the essential expenditure of the Government and Control COVID-19 Pandemic.
The Members of Parliament also agreed to set aside time from 10.00 am to 11.00 am for Questions for Oral Answers of Members of Parliament on both days, and then to take up the Motion at the Adjournment Time to be moved by the ruling party on Tuesday and the opposition on Wednesday from 4.50 pm to 5.30 pm.
The Hon. Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella brought to the notice of the Committee that there is no opportunity to ask a Parliamentary Question for Oral Answers of timely importance and when it is scheduled to be asked in Parliament, there is no timely importance of that question at all.
The Secretary-General of Parliament Dhammika Dassanayake informed the Committee that it takes about two to three months for a Parliamentary Question for Oral Answers to be included in the Order Paper.
The Hon. Chief Opposition Whip requested the Hon. Speaker to explore the possibility of increasing the number of Questions at the Adjournment Time until a final decision is taken to formulate an appropriate mechanism for Parliamentary Oral Questions.
The Hon. Leader of the House of Parliament was also of the view that a suitable mechanism should be evolved in order to enable various other Members of Parliament to ask oral questions rather than it is confined only to two or three same Members of Parliament on every Sitting Day of Parliament.
The Hon. Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando pointed out that if 04 Questions at the Adjournment Time are allowed, around 05 minutes allocated for the Minister to answer such questions are insufficient and further informed the Committee that a decision to increase the number of questions at the Adjournment Time could be discussed at a later stage.
The Hon. Chief Opposition Whip brought to the notice of the Committee to explore the possibility of advancing the starting time of the Sittings of Parliament to 9.00 a.m. instead of 10.00 a.m. The Hon. Leader of the House of Parliament supported by the Hon. Chief Government Whip informed the Committee that due to the prevailing situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country and the heavy traffic congestions it would not be possible for the Members of Parliament to arrive in Parliament on time.
Committee on Public Finance meets online
Meanwhile, the Committee on Public Finance met under the chairmanship of Hon. MP Anura Priyadarshana Yapa in Parliament this morning. In the face of the prevailing Covid 19 situation, government officials had to be contacted online for the meeting in accordance with health regulations.
At this meeting the Committee on Public Finance granted approval to issue Rs. 1,000 billion Treasury Bills, under the Local Treasury Bills Ordinance which was scheduled to be presented to Parliament for approval by the Hon. Minister of Finance.
Hon. State Minister Susil Premajayantha, and Hon. Members of Parliament Dilan Perera, Prof. Ranjith Bandara, Mujibur Rahuman, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Anupa Pasqual, Isuru Dodangoda, Nalin Fernando were present at the Committee meeting held.
Secretary to the Treasury, Ministry of Finance Mr. S.R. Attygalle expressing his views stated that an increase to Rs 3,000 billion from the current limit of Rs. 2000 billion is thus expected. He further said that this does not imply that the money will be spent within the coming 06 months and that everything will be managed within the borrowing limit approved by the Parliament.
The Committee also approved two regulations to be tabled in Parliament under the, No. 1 of 1969 Imports and Exports (Control) Act presented to Parliament on 08.06.2021. Secretary to the Treasury, Ministry of Finance further stated that given the context where tax relief has been granted for imported vehicles under the category of special purpose vehicles, this opportunity given is often misused.
The Secretary pointed out that the Government incur a great loss in terms of tax revenue as it has now been identified that vehicles imported under the category of special purpose vehicles are being used as ordinary purpose vehicles.
He further explained that last year alone, 947 freezer trucks were imported and that it has been reported that most of the imported freezer trucks remove the refrigerators after importation and used them as ordinary lorries. Accordingly, steps have been taken to revise the relevant taxes by these regulations.
Expressing views, Parliamentarian Nalin Fernando stated that a situation of tax evasion on technical matters pertaining to the margarine importation has also risen. The Secretary to the Ministry of Finance told the Committee that this is expected to be done in the future under a new methodology.
Parliamentarian Dr. Harsha de Silva, inquired from the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance regarding a statement made by the Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila regarding notion that the country is currently in an economic crisis. Responding to it the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance stated that despite certain economic concerns that may arise given the current situation, every effort will be made to manage such concerns properly.
Further, the proposal to increase the salaries and allowances of the members including the Chairman of the Office of the Missing Persons which was rejected at the last Committee meeting was approved at this Committee meeting after taking all factors into consideration.
Committee on Election Law Reforms Meets
Meanwhile, he Parliamentary Select Committee on Election law reforms met this afternoon under the chairmanship of Hon. Leader of the House, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.
The Committee decided to extend the deadline given for recognized political parties to submit proposals on the reforms related to election laws and the electoral system until July 15. Accordingly, the Chairman of the Committee Leader of the House, Minister Dinesh Gunawardena requested the relevant political parties to send their proposals in writing on or before this date.
The Secretary to the Committee and the Deputy Secretary General and Chief of Staff of Parliament Mrs. Kushani Rohanadeera stated that the Committee had received 94 proposals and comments regarding the election law reforms thus far.
The Minister of Health Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi stated that the election law reforms should be carried out in such a way that women are properly represented in Parliament, Provincial Councils and Local Government Authorities.
The Minister also said that Sri Lanka is at a low level in women representation compared to other countries in Asia. The Minister also requested that a positive step be taken to address this issue in the proposed reforms.
She further stated that the opportunity for the female MPs to represent a Select Committee is very limited and thus she extended her gratitude for appointing her to this Committee.
The Committee also agreed to conduct the election reforms in accordance with the Mixed Electoral System. The committee also discussed the need to change the system of local government, provincial council and parliamentary elections based on that principle.
The Chairman of the Committee stated that the Elections Commission and PAFFREL have requested to give evidence before the Committee and the Committee agreed to provide an opportunity for that.
Hon. Cabinet Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva, Prof. G.L Peiris, Pavithra Devi Wanniarachchi, M.U.M Ali Sabri, Hon. Members of Parliament Anura Dissanayake, Kabir Hashim, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Mano Ganeshan, M. A. Sumanthiran, Madura Vithanage and Sagara Kariyawasam were also present at the meeting.
Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Lands agrees to present Sri Lanka land Development Corporation (Amendment) Bill
Meanwhile, the Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Lands chaired by Hon. Minister of Lands S.M Chandrasena also met in Parliament this afternoon and it was decided to present the Sri Lanka Land Corporation Development Bill in the Parliament for the approval.
Committee Members Hon. Members of Parliament Asanka Navaratne and Chinthaka Amal Mayadunna also participated in the meeting where the officials of the Ministry of Lands were contacted online.
The Minister explained the situations that arise when the government does not agree to pay compensation for private lands acquired by the government for various development projects under the Land Acquisition Act.
The Minister further explained that a common policy was needed to pay compensation, taking into account the various anomalies faced by the beneficiaries in reconsideration based on various regulations in such cases, and accordingly the National Policy on Compensation was formulated in 2007.
Accordingly, these regulations have been amended on several occasions and this Bill has been prepared based on the Land Acquisition Regulations of 2013, the Minister said.
Supplementary estimate of Rs. 200 billion presented to Parliament
The participation of the Members of Parliament for the Sittings held on the 22nd and the 23rd of the week was high . Accordingly, 201 (90%) MPs on June 22nd and 202 (90%) MPs on 23rd marked their presence.
Parliament convened at 10.00 am on Tuesday the 22nd to comply with the prevailing health regulations.
The Hon. Speaker Mahinda Rajapaksa commencing the sitting of Parliament stated that he had received a copy of the petition filed in the Supreme Court under Article 121 (1) of the Constitution on the Bill entitled “2019 Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) (Temporary Provisions)” Mr. announced.
The Hon. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena announced at the commencement of the sitting of Parliament that he had received a copy of the petition filed at the Supreme Court under Article 121(1) of the Constitution in respect of the Bill entitled “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19)(Temporary Provision)”.
Meanwhile, the Hon.Chief Government Whip and Minister of Highways Johnston Fernando presented the Supplementary Estimate No. 01 of 2021 worth Rs. 200 billion in Parliament The Hon. Chief Government Whip also proposed to refer it to the Committee on Public Finance
In addition, the Minister presented the Annual Report of the Ministry of Finance for the year 2020 and proposed that this report be referred to the Ministerial Consultative Committee on Finance.
On that day, the Members of Parliament had the opportunity to ask questions under the question-and-answer session from 10.00 am to 11.00 am. Thereafter, under Standing Order 27 (2) questions the Leader of the Leader of Jathika Jana Balawegaya , Hon. Anura Dissanayake stated that the LPG gas consumers in the country had to face a great injustice by changing the size of the Litro gas cylinder.
Responding to this, the Hon. Minister of Commerce Bandula Gunawardena stated that the Consumer Affairs Authority has not given any permission for these changes in the gas cylinder and he admits that injustice has been done to the consumer.
Accordingly, it has been ordered through the Extraordinary Gazette Notification 2231/8 dated 09.06.2021 that every outlet should have 12.5 cylinders for sale, he said.
While claiming that officials of the Consumer Affairs Authority have been informed to take action against violators of this law, the Minister further stated that a case has already been filed against the Litro Gas Company in the Maligakanda Court in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
Commenting under the ministry’s announcements, Hon. Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Namal Rajapaksa said that a large number of youths in the prisons were unable to obtain bail due to certain delays.
Meanwhile, he pointed out that a large number of LTTE terrorist suspects are in jail and that there are some among them who have no cause for action. Commenting on this, the Minister of Justice Ali Sabri stated that action will be taken in this regard in the future.
The Hon. Members of Parliament Rauf Hakeem, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, G.G Ponnambalam and several MPs also expressed their views in this regard.
Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation (Amendment) Bill passed in Parliament
Hon. Minister of Lands S. M. Chandrasena presented the Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation (Amendment) Bill to Parliament for the Second Reading under main business for the day.
This Bill was brought to amend the Land Development Corporation No. 15 of 1968. This Bill was published in the Gazette Notification dated 10th February 2021 and was presented in Parliament by the Hon. Prime Minister on 8th April 2021.
The Bill has the legal effect of specifying the amount of fine and imprisonment to be imposed if convicted in a Magistrate Court case against persons engaged in illegal activities in connection with lands.
In addition, the Hon. Minister of Lands, also issuing orders under the Land Acquisition Act, stated that this amendment will enable the payment of compensation to the people when acquiring lands in a more systematic manner.
The Minister whilst stating that the people are currently entitled to receive the compensation due for the acquisition of lands under six major projects, also stated that compensation will be given to the people given the acquisition of lands under the main projects implemented under the Ministry of Highways, Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Power and Energy.
The Minister further said that the amendment would help avoid complications in the future as the people are constantly complaining that the actual compensation for land acquisition is often not properly assessed and given and also the fact that it takes a long time.
The relevant Gazette Notification No. 2219/56 dated 18th March 2021 can be downloaded from the following link.
The debate consisted of views expressed by a number of Members of the Opposition with regards to the issues regarding the method of acquiring land for development projects and also included suggestions for a more formal approach of implementation regarding this process.
At the end of the debate which lasted till 4.30 p.m., the Land Development Corporation of Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation (Amendment) Bill was passed with amendments and without a vote and the orders under the Land Acquisition Act were also approved by the House.
Questions at the Adjournment Time on this day was made by Hon. Members of Parliament Sanjeeva Edirimanna, Shanakiya Rasamanickam and Premnath C. Dolawaththa. The Motion at the Time of Adjournmets was moved by Hon. Member of Parliament Sanjeeva Edirimanna pertaining to the Challenges of Education in Sri Lanka in the face of the COVID-19. Accordingly, the Adjournment Debate commenced until 5.30 pm.
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as a Member of Parliament
Much attention was drawn as the former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was due to be sworn in as a Member of Parliament on the 23rd of this month. There have been constant recent discussions in society regarding the identity of the person to be sworn in as a Member of Parliament representing the seat which the UNP won under the national list which is the only seat won at the General Election held. Accordingly, the relevant gazette notification was issued after the UNP nominated the relevant member and informed the Election Commission. The vacant seat was filled approximately 10 months after the commencement of the 9th Parliament.
Accordingly, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as a Member of Parliament before the Hon. Speaker at the commencement of the Parliament Sittings held on the 23rd of this month. Given that he was a former Prime Minister, the Serjeant-at-Arms had reserved the 13th seat in the front row on the side of the Opposition for Hon. Wickremesinghe according to his seniority.
Meanwhile, the House experienced a heated moment on the morning of the same day due to a protest by opposition members given the rise in fuel prices. Due to this situation, the Hon. Minister of Health Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi had to answer the question raised by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition under 27 (2) amidst various interruptions.
Addressing a question of privilege, Hon. Member of Parliament M. A. Sumanthiran stated that although he had requested for an English translation of the report on the Commission to Investigate Political Victimization, it had not been received. He also pointed out that there are parts in the Tamil translation are also missing. The Hon. Speaker stated that steps will be taken to look on this regard in the future.
Hon. Minister of Trade (Dr.) Bandula Gunawardana presented a Resolution under the Local Treasury Bills Ordinance, Two Regulations under the Imports and Exports (Control) Act, Supplementary Sum – Head 240- Programme 02 and Two Resolutions under the Essential Public Services Act in Parliament and sought the approval of the House.
The proposal under the Local Treasury Bills Ordinance was to issue Rs. 1000 billion Treasury Bills.
Details on this regard can be found in the Order Paper of Parliament dated 23.06.2021 under Schedule * 1 (Page No. 06) and can be downloaded through the following link.
Furthermore, under the Import and Export (Control) Act No. 1 of 1969, the two regulations introduced in Parliament on June 08th amended the tax on imported vehicles for special purposes. (An extension of this by the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance is contained in the section ‘Finance Committee meets online’)
The relevant gazette notifications can be downloaded from the following web addresses.
The supplementary estimate of Rs.200 billion was presented to meet the essential expenses of the Government and for the control of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Details on this regard can be found in the Order Paper of Parliament dated 23.06.2021 under Schedule * 4 (Page No. 07) and it can be downloaded through the following link.
In addition, two Resolutions were submitted for approval under the Essential Public Services Act. The relevant gazette notifications can be downloaded through the following link.
The House consisted of debates from both the Opposition and the Government on issues including the current economic situation of the country. Post the address in response by othe State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal, the above by-laws and proposals were approved by the Parliament.
Questions at the Adjournment Time on this day was made by Hon. Members of Parliament (Dr.) Suren Raghavan and Mujibur Rahuman. The Motion at the Time of Adjournmets was moved by Hon. Member of Parliament Waruna Liyanage on the contemporary issues faces by the tea cultivation industry to which Members of the Government and the Opposition expressed their views.
Parliament was then adjourned until July 6th.