Noise in the House

All hell broke loose in Parliament on Tuesday when a group of UPFA MPs staged a protest against the proposed war crimes investigation against Sri Lanka. They took out a banner condemning what they called a government move to set up a hybrid court in all but name. Some government MPs tried to suppress the protest and the attendant melee caused sittings to be suspended for ten minutes.

It was a supreme irony that Parliament was thrown into turmoil in that manner while Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, currently in Japan, was extolling the virtues of consensus and peaceful assembly. “Let’s meet in harmony, discuss in harmony and depart in harmony,” he said quoting the Buddha.

Tuesday’s rumpus in Parliament presages more trouble for the government on the political front. With the local government polls on the horizon the JVP, which, too, has condemned the UNHRC resolution as a trap, will do everything in its power, to prevent itself from being overshadowed by the UPFA rebels who are functioning as the de facto Opposition. Its opposition to the war crimes probe is sure to find expression in public protests.

Strangely, not a whimper was heard when a supplementary estimate was moved in Parliament on Tuesday seeking Rs. 180 mn for refurbishing the President’s new official residence and another Rs. 70 mn for a new car for President Maithripala Sirisena and some motorcycles for his guards. (Another supplementary estimate was presented yesterday, seeking more funds for the President.) No parliamentarian dared point out that Rs. 180 mn could have been saved if the President had moved to his official residence in Fort. That palatial house compares with the best in the world and is located in a very safe, convenient location. True, the President said during the last Presidential election campaign that he would not occupy the President’s House in Fort. One may, therefore, argue that he has made good his pledge. But, he also promised to operate from Polonnaruwa if elected president; he has not done so, has he?

When the leaders of the incumbent government flayed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and rightly so, for having spent colossal amounts of public funds on refurbishing president’s houses in different parts of the country, we thought they would not waste taxpayers’ money. The government also had potted bushes adorning the outer perimeter wall of Temple Trees removed on the grounds that it cost a lot of money to maintain them.

With the funds being spent on the second presidential house several schools and hospitals could have been developed. Most schools are without even basic sanitary facilities. We reported yesterday that the Koslanda landslide victims were still homeless and only four out of 74 houses had been built for them. It is hoped that the government will get its priorities straight.

Pathola and Vetakolu

The JVP has hauled the government over the coals for seeking to increase the prices of food items such as sugar, edible oil and salt, considered injurious to health. It says the government is trying to rake in more revenue on the pretext of protecting public health.

General Secretary of the JVP Tilvin Silva told the media the other day that if the government continued to jack up taxes on food items on those grounds, then the people would have only pathola (snake gourd) and vetakolu (ridged gourd) to eat.

But, this argument is not tenable in that pathola and vetakolu are also harmful nowadays thanks to the widespread use of agrochemicals. They are virtually soaked in pesticides. The government may impose taxes on those vegetables, too. What does the JVP think the people will be able to such an eventuality? Eating poonac will be out of the question because it is a byproduct of making coconut oil. Will they have to settle for grass?

There is no way the JVP can absolve itself of the blame for what the present government is doing. It helped engineer a regime change in January and became an integral part of the so-called National Executive Council of the 100-day government which prepared the ground for the formation of the incumbent administration.