Disruption was bound to occur when parliament re-convened on Wednesday to discuss the 2010 budget. On Tuesday, opposition MPs waved placards protesting high prices and claiming the new budget was not people-friendly.
“I’m not going to answer until they behave themselves!” shouted Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva, presumably referring to the protest, when UNP MP Sajith Premadasa posed a question during oral question time. Silva went on to add that the opposition had “violated parliamentary tradition,” much to the amusement of the opposition themselves.
Later, Silva leaped to his feet to angrily answer a question posed by DNA MP Sunil Handunnetti on the Api Wenuwen Api project, though it was not addressed to him. “There are school children watching! Sir, please maintain the minimum of decorum,” pleaded Handunnetti, to no avail. Chief Government Whip, Dinesh Gunewardena attempted to speak, but Silva continued his tirade, referring to General Fonseka in derogatory terms. Fonseka gestured angrily, but did not defend himself amidst a general roar from the opposition side. At this point Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa was forced to admonish Silva, threatening him with removal from the house.
UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake made the opening speech, accusing the government of pandering to the IMF in formulating the budget this year.
He charged that consumers would suffer with higher prices for essential foodstuffs and bemoaned the postponed Rs. 2500 salary increase, now delayed until at least November. He added that in his opinion the budget lacked clear vision. “There have been tax cuts on BMWs and Benzes and on fridges, but people can’t afford these items,” Karunanayake said.
He was followed by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who said that on comparing other budget opening speeches, he felt Karunanayake’s was “useless.” Vigorous applause from the government side followed this pronouncement. Several other government MPs also criticised Karunanayake’s speech later, saying there was too much mudslinging and too little analysis.
“We will not compromise our sovereignty,” Rajapaksa thundered to rapturous applause from the government. He painted a rosy picture of the economy, pointing out that the country survived a grim economic recession. He also highlighted the government’s efforts to develop rural areas.
His view was not shared by DNA MP Sunil Handunnetti. “This is the most sarcastic budget in the history of Sri Lanka!” he declared. He added that there could be no debate on the budget, but rather a debate on Acting Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama’s speech. Several opposition MPs, in fact, said that President Rajapaksa, as the Finance Minister, should have come to parliament to facilitate the budget debate.
UNP Deputy Leader, Karu Jayasuriya, condemned the lack of transparency in government spending, “for every rupee spent there should be justifiable profit,” he said. UNP General Secretary, Tissa Attanayake noted that while there was a gap between expenditure and revenue, there was no explanation as to revenue sources. “This budget is a beautifully painted picture.”
Shortly after, UNP MP Joseph Michael Perera rose to speak. As he argued that the government had taken loans which were being displayed as income, it became increasingly apparent that the sumptuous lunch and the long proceedings were taking a toll on some. Several members, including TNA MP R. Sampanthan and Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunge, nodded off intermittently.
This did not go unnoticed from the government side. MP Dilan Perera after rising with due pomp and ceremony, said it was a great honour to follow Joseph Michael Perera. “He made such a fine speech, that the chief opposition whip has only just woken up!” he cried, amidst much laughter from both sides of the chamber.
Despite the usual bickering, it was pleasant to see both sides forget their mutual animosity and laugh before getting back down to business.
Acting Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama, during
his budget speech in parliament.
Deputy Minister of Highways Mervyn Silva, in response to
an oral question by UNP MP Sajith Premadasa, presumably
referring to the opposition protest on the budget and high prices.
UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake during oral question time,
querying how much wheat was imported and how much
was locally produced.
Deputy Minister, Public Administration and Home
Affairs Dilan Perera, joking about the fact that Chief Opposition
Whip, John Amaratunge, fell asleep during fellow
MP Joseph Michael Perera’s speech in parliament
JVP politburo member and head of National Trade Union Centre,
K.D. Lalkantha, waxing eloquent on the delayed salary increase.