Lifting emergency: The talk of the House

Amidst pressure from some local and international quarters to scrap the state of emergency, Parliament met on Tuesday to seek the extension of the emergency regulations for a further period of one month, and it was the main business of the  House for that day.

The emergency regulations, imposed from time to time in the past depending on the security situation in the country, were lifted during the peace process of the 2002-2004 UNP regime. Yet, again in August 13, 2005, the state of emergency was re-imposed following the volatile security situation triggered by the assassination of then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. Since then, the House continued to extend it on a monthly basis after debates coupled with heated arguments between the members across the political divide.

More than two years after the war was over, Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne informed the House on Tuesday that negotiations were underway with the Security Council to seek the possibility of lifting the  emergency.

But, in his opening remarks on the debate, he referred to at length how the LTTE, decimated locally, was trying to re-organize itself overseas. Probably, the Prime Minister attempted to convey to the House that though the state of emergency was done away with, the moves to pre-empt any possible threat to the national security from outside   the country would continue to remain intact. All in all, there are signs now that the emergency regulations will be scrapped in the near future.

The proceedings went on without any tension among members in the House, and the opposition parties demanded the early withdrawal of the state of emergency.  The international community including neighbouring India seems to be keenly monitoring the government’s step in this regard.

The emergency debate wound up  the day with the conclusion speech by   Deputy Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardane. Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva was assigned to conclude the debate after a summed up speech with responses to remarks, allegations and arguments by opposition speakers. There was an exception this time.   Mr. Abeygunawardane launched a verbal barrage against the TNA, the UNP and the JVP for their criticising the government.

Interestingly, he challenged the UNP to win at least the  Colombo Municipal Council seats if possible at the upcoming election to the local bodies in October. The Colombo Municipality is obviously the stronghold of the UNP. The party was able to retain power at the council even when it was at the lowest ebb of electoral politics. Therefore, it is politically impossible to anticipate the UNP’s defeat at the election to the Colombo Municipal Council under normal circumstances. Therefore, Mr. Abeygunawardane’s challenge has to be viewed seriously especially if he really meant it.   Otherwise, it will be yet another political rhetoric with little meaning to the electorate.

Also, he made a serious allegation against the TNA. He said that the Tamil Diaspora put undue pressure on the Tamil people living in the North to vote for the TNA at this election.

Though the allegation was serious, there was no response from the TNA. Party leader Sampanthan, MPs Suresh Premachandran, Mavai Senathirajah and   M.A. Sumanthiran who were also present at the time.

At the commencement of the day’s business, another notable feature was the political party leaders of all hues expressing their congratulations and felicitations  to Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa who was appointed the Chairman of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

On Wednesday, Parliament debated yet another important regulation which seeks to give   total tax and duty concessions to Cairn Lanka (International) Ltd, the company engaged in the offshore oil exploration in the Mannar basin, for the import of equipment, machinery and materials to be used in their work.

DNA parliamentary group leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake delivered a fiery speech critical of the new regulation imposed by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa under the Strategic Development Project Act. Mr. Dissanayake cited this regulation as an attempt to only  give tax exemptions to a company   which does not bring sufficient economic benefits to Sri Lanka.

“Only ten per cent of the profit share belongs to Sri Lanka. Is it adequate?,” he asked.

Minister Rajapaksa, however, replied that   the government struck this deal taking into considerations all aspects.

“If a gem is found in a mine, it does not belong solely to the land owner concerned. The profit has to be shared among license holder, land owner and workers.  Oil dredging is a similar business. There is an accepted way of doing it. We have stuck to that criterion,” he said.

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