Bullet ruffles up House sittings

By Gagani WeerakoonTuesday, 03 Sep 2013

Confusion and security threats added spice to and otherwise lukewarm two days of Parliament sittings last week, which only had an adjournment debate on Rathupaswala shooting incident and vote of condolence on two late MPs listed in the Order Paper for Wednesday and Thursday respectively. Sittings in Parliament heated up Wednesday during the adjournment debate on the Rathupaswala incident, with one opposition member showing an object claiming it was a bullet or an empty shell of a bullet fired during the shooting by the Army, and which had later gone missing. UNP Gampaha District MP, Ajith Mannapperuma, while speaking on the adjournment debate on the Rathupaswala water issue, where three people were killed, held a plastic water bottle in one hand and a bullet in the other, to illustrate the point he wanted to make; that the people who asked for water were given bullets instead. He said the bullet had been embedded in a wall after the shooting at Rathupaswala. Soon after Mannapperuma showed the bullet, Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said bullets cannot be brought into the Chamber and an inquiry should be held in this regard. MP A.H.M. Azwer, who quoted Standing Orders, demanded the arrest of the member as it poses a threat to the security of all the MPs. With several other government MPs also starting to express their objection, UPFA MP Sriyani Wijewickrama, who was presiding tried her level best to bring the House to order and Deputy Speaker, Chandima Weerakkody, who took over the sittings immediately, asked the Serjeant-a t-Arms, Anil Samarasekera, to check whether it was a bullet or the shell of a spent bullet, and report back to him. However, some of the UNP parliamentarians who were present in support of Mannapperuma during his speech managed to convince the Chair to conduct the investigation after the MP completed his speech.

A break from tradition? Conversely, in the past, on such occasions, when near threats to Parliament members or the building was posed or in instances where the decorum of Parliament is challenged, the immediate action by the Chair was to suspend the sittings. For instance, when a strong odour suddenly wafted through the House on 4 October 2006, then Deputy Speaker, Geethanjana Gunawardena, suspended sittings for around 30 minutes. Minister Dinesh Gunawardena complained about the unusual smell that reached even the media gallery, and Serjeant-at-Arms Anil Samarasekera wanted to check whether there was any security threat to the House. Accordingly, the Deputy Speaker, who was in the chair decided to suspend sittings at 10:45 a.m. and the police and the Parliament Bomb Disposal Unit were summoned to trace the source of the odour. The House resumed business again at 11:20 a.m. after the security authorities confirmed there was no security threat to the House. Quoting Standing Orders 137, which says the Speaker shall be responsible for the management of buildings, security arrangements and the general administration of the Chamber, MP Azwer demanded that sittings be suspended and Mannapperuma be investigated. The government MPs vociferously demanded the arrest of the MP in question charging the bullet he claimed to have found embedded in the Weliweriya church wall, is essentially a court material and distorting evidence is an offence. Assistant Serjeant-at-Arms, Kushan Jayaratne, went over to MP Mannapperuma's seat to ascertain what the object was and despite repeated requests to divulge what he had referred to, the MP declined to do so. And, not surprisingly, it was later found to be the clip of a pen. Nevertheless, it was surprising to note that none of the MPs from the government side raise a point on an MP attempting to mislead the House or accused him of dishonesty, as Mannapperuma specifically mentioned that what he had in his hand was a bullet embedded on a church wall at the crime scene. On the other hand, many MPs and senior officials later pointed out the lax security arrangements at the MP entrance of Parliament. Though a screening system is set up and a metal detector is in place, it questions were raised as to whether it would have detected the bullet or the shell, in the event it had actually been the object Mannapperuma claimed it to be. John refuses to raise Rosy's question Following the bullet saga, sittings on Thursday also got disturbed and confusion reigned in Parliament as Chief Opposition Whip, John Amaratunga, declined to raise a question listed under the name of UNP Colombo District MP Rosy Senanayake during question time, without

adhering to the normal protocol of the Whip raising the questions of absent MPs. MP Senanayake's question had been referred to the Minister of Foreign Employment and Welfare and when the time for the question came up, the Chair asked whether the question would be raised as the minister was ready to answer. It was skipped for the first round. Usually, when it comes to the second round, the Chief Opposition Whip gets up and raises all the questions on behalf of the absent Opposition MPs. When Deputy Speaker Weerakkody announced the question number and asked whether anyone would raise it, the Chief Opposition Whip was heard flatly saying 'no'. At that point, UPFA National List MP, A.H.M. Azwer volunteered to raise the question, but, Foreign Employment and Welfare Minister, Dilan Perera, said the crisis in the Opposition has worsened to such an extent that its MPs do not want to ask questions on behalf of each other. However, this made Opposition Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who returned from a three-day visit to India, to quote Standing Orders and say that even though it has been mentioned that an MP can raise a question and three supplementary questions on behalf of his or her colleague MP, it has not provided for raising the supplementary question. He emphasized the matter has to be discussed at the Party Leaders' meeting. Objecting to this, Minister Perera said there is a tradition that an MP raises the questions of absent MPs during the second round and that the Chief Opposition Whip's refusal to raise the question indicates the seriousness of the crisis in the Opposition. As the debate almost reached a climax, the Opposition Leader Wickremesinghe informed that MP Senanayake has informed she wanted to raise this particular question herself. Therefore, no other should raise it in her absence. Deputy Speaker Weerakkody noted that according to tradition, an MP can raise a listed question in the absence of the MP who originally asked it. He also noted that since the Leader of the Opposition did not want to adhere to the tradition, the House can do away with it for the moment, but the matter should be sorted out at the Party Leaders' meeting. However, senior members pointed out that once the question is in the order book, it is the property of the House.