Speaker refused our request
BY Kavindya Chris Thomas
Former minister and current parliamentarian of the Joint Opposition (JO) Dinesh Gunawardena made news last week when he was suspended from Parliament, after a controversial verbal battle with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. In the fallout of the incident, we witnessed the august House taking some dramatic turns – even the government members walked out of the session, forcing the Speaker to adjourn the proceedings. Ceylon Today interviewed the man responsible for the latest drama in Parliament.
Q: What caused the incident that got you suspended last week from Parliament? We've heard the government's side of the story, what's yours?
A:The issue of course was a result of an argument between Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, myself and MP Wimal Weerawansa and the continuous request made to him to give us a few extra minutes to place the JO's view on the issue that was before the House.
The Speaker refused our request. The issue was really whether political parties that had been earlier given recognition under former Speakers can be recognized again. Secondly, the 52 members of the JO have been deprived of their official recognition as a major party in the Opposition.
There wasn't anything else in our argument, but we were told that we will not be given time to make our submissions. They said they wanted written submissions. But later on, that also changed and the Speaker said he would give us a chance. After all, it is our right as Members of Parliament and as the biggest Opposition group in Parliament to ask for our rights. That is indirectly marginalizing the millions of people who voted for us.
Q: You said the JO is not given recognition continuously. In the previous week, in a similar manner, MP Bandula Gunawardena was summoned to give evidence at the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate the issuance of Treasury Bonds by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. He was reprimanded by the presiding judges for making false claims. Do you believe this is part of the government's sidelining programme against the JO? Do you see a connection between the two incidents?
A: I don't think those two incidents are connected in anyway. But the propaganda machinery of Sirikotha is making use of such issues, making connections for the benefit of their own publicity machine in order to protect an already collapsing government.
Q: What are your views on the most recent revelations made at the hearing into the controversial Treasury Bond case?
A: The JO has been continuously demanding to see more concrete action being taken about this matter. We were the ones who exposed this matter –violation of the Treasury Bond issuance by the Central Bank. We were the ones who demanded that legal action should be taken against it, which is yet to come. The Presidential Commission can of course dwell into the matter, but all it can do is report back to the President, because it is not a Commission that can punish any party or pass any judgment. Since February 2015, as the matter had taken place and was exposed, it has not seen any significant change because nothing has been done against it. Despite the latest revelations into the case, the government is yet to take this matter seriously.
Q: As the JO is vigilant about this case, what do you expect the government would do next? If enough information is revealed, will this case go for trial?
A: I do not know what the government would do. But from what we have seen, all their action has been to suppress the matter from developing further by covering up information, intimidating officials and to avoiding any legal action. The Commission hearings show that the witnesses who are summoned have shown what has happened since February 2015.
Q: JO has been very vocal about the United Nations interfering in internal matters. Earlier this week, a proposal to establish a United Nations Human Rights Office in Colombo was presented by a member of the Tamil National Alliance. The government was quick to turn it down. What's your view on it?
A: It is very clear that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is making use of its official position of the Parliament Opposition, of which they do not have a legitimate right to hold, to work against the government and the country's Constitution. Of course, the government is trying to cover up all the stories because it has made the biggest blunder that any government could make- that is to join a resolution against its own country. But, unfortunately for them, no other government made this error.
We have seen the consequences of this – they are trying to disengage from what they have done, the President has said there will be no foreign Judges taking part in our Judiciary while the Prime Minister took 10 months to make the same announcement. If you extend the present resolution, it still stands.
Q: Right now, however, the government has disagreed to the proposal to establish a United Nations Human Rights Office in Colombo. If Mahinda Rajapaksa regime was in power, wouldn't they have done the same?
A: Mahinda Rajapaksa regime disagreed with foreign intervention of any sorts in the country's politics right throughout its tenure.
We maintained a principled position as a sovereign independent country. We maintained our stance through and through. But we have not seen this government doing that- they have not placed their stance in the face of foreign powers. They are not stable even in their statements and policies. It's very clear that the newly elected United States Government should have been lobbied and canvassed on these matters. This was mentioned by the former President himself and the government has failed to do that.
Q: Are there any more big revelations that are waiting to be exposed by the JO such as the exposing your party's stand made on the Treasury Bond scam?
A: JO has been giving some serious attention to some matters that we are currently checking. Thereafter the team that is handling the issues will make the necessary announcements with regard to them. We are not ready to make any announcements yet, but in April or May there will be some big announcements that will be made.
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