Parliament has fallen to the extent of being ignored by its own members. On Tuesday the House was adjourned almost four hours early because the members who were required to speak on topics tabled for discussion were not present.
It was reported that Parliament sittings ended abruptly after at least 10 Government and Opposition MPs who were listed to speak were not present in the House. Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa called out the names of several MPs who were listed to speak on an Order under the Ports and Airports Development Levy, which was under debate but they were all absent.
The Speaker then adjourned the House and called on UPFA MP Arundika Fernando to move the adjournment motion listed by him, but he too was absent. This led to the entire Parliament being adjourned well ahead of its usual time.
The Parliament of Sri Lanka is the highest law-making authority in the country and its members are elected by the people of Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is the highest irresponsibility to ignore the importance of their office and neglect to participate and protect the interests of the people who appointed them. There are many essential laws, regulations and decisions taken by Parliament that require the vigilance of the Members of Parliament.
MPs are given extravagant perks at the expense of public money. Many are the heavy convoys flanked with numerous security guards that whizz by on Parliament Road, bearing testimony to the lifestyle that they lead. After campaigning hard and pledging repeatedly to protect and promote the interests of the people, they decide not even to be present during Parliamentary proceedings. This is probably the last straw in a long line of incidents that have demeaned the sanctity of the House.
Parliamentarians have been seen engaging in fights, throwing papers at each other, using obscene language and in one memorable instance running off with the Mace. This was done so that the Mace, which is the symbol of authority of Parliament, would be removed from the chamber so that sessions could not be held. Fed up with this ridiculous behaviour, the people have lost all faith in the Parliament and prefer to treat it on par with a circus – indeed, there have been many similarities displayed over the years between the two.
Voting at general elections has proved that people are fast losing faith in the Parliament and believe that a powerful head of state is the medium for development. This is not only wrong, but dangerous. Room for discussion, debate and deliberation will be lost unless the MPs fulfil their role. Keeping an eye on the nation’s finances, development projects, poverty reduction, environment, civil rights and balancing it against the challenges for economic growth is an immense task that Parliament is lacklustre at fulfilling.
There is a grave need for the fight against corruption to stem from Parliament. Good governance needs to be improved on every stratum of Sri Lankan society and Parliament, as one of the highest institutions of the land, can lead the way. However, that will not happen unless the MPs themselves become more disciplined and understand the importance of protecting public interest. Not even being present for sessions means that we have a long road ahead.