Last week, Minister of Education, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, told Parliament that Opposition MPs should demonstrate the same eagerness and energy they showed during last Tuesday’s clash when attending to official parliamentary matters. The statement was made by the minister subsequent to the absence of MPs from the Opposition who had tabled a question.
The minister went on to say that Members of Parliament from the Opposition would attend Parliament in their numbers if there was a dispute in the House, but failed to be present to raise questions and address issues on behalf of the masses during the Oral Questions Sessions in Parliament.
Acts of this nature raise the very simple question of whether parliamentarians are doing their jobs properly. They are elected by the people to represent the people. Parliamentarians are expected to take decisions on behalf of the people and question certain acts of the government on behalf of the people. It is the parliamentarians, particularly the ones who are in the Opposition who have the responsibility to make the government accountable for its acts. Sadly though, it appears that the Opposition had forgotten the responsibility at the time it was most needed.
Parliament is considered the supreme place which performs the function of legislation. Becoming a Member of Parliament, gives a person enormous responsibility. That responsibility needs to be taken very seriously as the decisions taken in Parliament matter to the entire country. However, parliamentarians, nowadays, do not even appear to know the importance of the job in their hands. They seem to be blinded by power, running after power forgetting to serve the public.
In advanced democracies, MPs are expected to take their responsibilities seriously and be accountable to the people they represent. They are expected to follow a certain code of ethics, and actively involve themselves in parliamentary debates. However, what we experience in Sri Lanka is the total opposite. MPs in Sri Lanka are very active in slinging mud at each other during parliamentary debates, while keeping their mouth shut or absent from the debates that are of national importance. Now it has gone to the extent of MPs tabling questions not being present in Parliament, which indicates their irresponsible behaviour.
At the same time, it must be noted that often ministers too ignore answering questions. The Speaker had recently taken up the matter seriously and insisted that ministers should be accountable and should respond to the questions raised. At this important juncture where there is a joint government, the Standing Orders should be strengthened. Parliamentarians should not be allowed to go scot free of their responsibilities and action need to be taken against those who fail to fulfil their responsibilities. The laws and Standing Orders should be strengthened up to an extent, which allows such laws or Standing Orders to fire MPs. In simple terms, just like in a private entity, those who fail to fulfil responsibilities should no longer hold respectable positions. Such should be replaced after being warned.
Last week, we witnessed a clash in Parliament, amongst MPs. It appears that the MPs had completely forgotten about discipline and its importance. To be responsible too is part and parcel of that discipline. Sometime back there was a suggestion to introduce a code of conduct for parliamentarians. Though the promise was made, it was not kept.
The government always talks about good governance and rule of law. However, Parliament itself had failed to set an example to the public by being responsible. Therefore, the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker must take this matter seriously. It is high time MPs were made responsible and reminded about their job.