Govt. denies prorogation of Parliament aimed at dissolving watchdog committees – The Island

SJB says move indicates further deterioration of SLPP

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has denied accusations that the sudden prorogation of Parliament was meant to terminate investigations undertaken by parliamentary watchdog committees, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) and the Committee on Public Finance (COPF).

The media raised the issue at the regular weekly cabinet briefing at the SLPP office at Battaramulla.

The media asked whether President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to prorogue Parliament had been influenced by high profile inquiries conducted particularly by COPE chaired by SLPP National List MP Prof. Charitha Herath.

Asked whether Prof. Herath would be dropped from the COPE when the new session commenced on January 18, 2022, Prof. Peiris, who is also the Chairman of the ruling SLPP said that the composition of the outfit could be changed. Prof. Peiris said that the Parliament would decide the Chairperson of the watchdog committee.

In addition to the COPE, the COPA and COPF were headed by SLPP National List member Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Kurunegala District SLPP lawmaker Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.

Following the damning COPE disclosure of the fraudulent handing over of the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) situated at Malabe to a group of individuals, SLPP lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa, PC, moved the Supreme Court for the government to regain the institution. The COPE tackled a spate of high profile cases, including the Board of Investment, ICTA, Sri Lanka Cricket as well as Litro Gas and Litro Terminal. The COPE pulled up top Litro management over them blocking government audits for a period of two years.

Pressed for an explanation regarding the abolition of the three committees, Prof. Peiris emphasised that the decision hadn’t been taken in a hurry. Dismissing the notion that the prorogation was a unique situation, the former distinguished Law Professor explained all previous presidents exercised the power bestowed on them by the Constitution to prorogue Parliament.

Pointing out that the President acted in terms of Article 70 (Sub Section 01) of the Constitution, Prof. Peiris said that move was subjected to Article 70 (Sub Section 03) that the Parliament should be summoned within two months.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has set January 18 for the next sittings, thereby delaying the proceedings by just one week, Prof. Peiris said. The SLPP Chairman pointed out that at the conclusion of the vote on the 2022 Budget, the Parliament announced the House would meet on January 11.

Prof. Peiris stressed that there was no rule that the three committees should function without any changes during the entire five-year parliamentary term.

Former COPE Chief Prof. Herath declined to comment on the ongoing controversy at the moment. The Island sought his response Monday night and yesterday.

Asked whether the government decision had been influenced by JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake tabling the agreement between the government and New Fortress Energy Sri Lanka Power Holding LLC for the ‘sale and purchase agreement for the purchase of 40 % of the issued share capital of West Coast Power (Private) Limited, Prof. Peiris said that the issue at hand could be raised again in Parliament. The new session wouldn’t deprive those interested in the transaction from raising it again after January 18, Minister Peiris said.

Asked whether the Parliament had been prorogued especially to do away with the three watchdog committees as speculated by the Opposition and other interested parties, ex-COPF Chairman lawmaker Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said he too was aware of such speculation but couldn’t comment on the issue at hand at the moment.

Former COPA Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana said that his outfit made a genuine effort to enhance the government revenue by streamlining the Customs, the Inland Revenue and the Excise. Instead of taking tangible measures to rectify serious irregularities in the revenue collection setup, Parliament had been prorogued, thereby terminating quite important work undertaken not only by COPA but two other committees as well. The former minister said that he really didn’t know why the President prorogued Parliament.

Responding to another query, National List MP Prof. Vitharana said that watchdog committees could only point out waste, corruption and irregularities and it would be the responsibility of the relevant ministers to take remedial measures.

Prof. Vitharana said that they were quite surprised by the sudden prorogation.

SJB lawmaker Rohini Kaviratne said that the SLPP government was in such a bad situation it couldn’t be saved by proroguing Parliament for two months. The national economy had deteriorated to such an extent, they wouldn’t even be able to comprehend the situation when the new session opened, the Matale District MP said, urging the government to admit that all its efforts had failed. The truth couldn’t be suppressed by proroguing Parliament and silencing watchdog committees headed by their members, the former UNPer said.

She said that the government owed an explanation as to why Parliament was prorogued amidst deepening turmoil over ruination of the Maha season, continuing gas cylinder explosions, debt crisis and disruption of much required fertiliser and other essentials.

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