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Haggling Over Joint Opposition Demand for Allocation of More Time in Debate Ends in Cancellation of UNHRC Debate and Adjournment of Parliament.

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By Saman Indrajith

Parliament sittings were limited to 55 minutes as the Joint Opposition (JO) MPs disrupted sessions demanding more time for them to participate in a debate on the UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka. MEP leader MP Dinesh Gunawardena said that it was unfair to allocate only 31 minutes of the 210 minutes long debate to the JO. The issue dragged on for 55 minutes without a solution.

JO Leader Gunawardena: We submitted this motion for the debate on the Geneva resolution a month ago. Then it was decided to allocate a full day for the debate. Out of the time allocated for the debate only 31 minutes have been given to the Joint Opposition.

Speaker Jaysuriya: We have additional 34 minutes. You can take that, too.

MP Gunawardena: We have no issue with the attempts made by you to give us more time. But, there are 52 MPs in the Joint Opposition Group. We are to debate an issue which is very critical and it matters most for the country’s future. In such an important debate we are given only 31 minutes and 180 to others. How can that be justified? I need at least one hour for the purpose of presenting this motion.

Chief Government Whip and Parliament Affairs and Mass Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilaka: Today is a special day. Cremation of Most Ven Davuldena Gnanissara is scheduled for this evening. We have agreed to end the sessions at 3 pm. None opposed it.

Speaker Jayasuriya: Can’t we reach an agreement since we have additional 34 minutes that can be given to the Joint Opposition?

UPFA MP Dullas Alahapperuma: The statement of Chief Government Whip can give a wrong impression. It was agreed to end the sessions at 3 pm and to hold the debate without a lunch hour break. This motion was moved by the Joint Opposition. When others moved a motion for a debate at the time of adjournment, they were given more time. There are 210 minutes for the entire debate. We have been given only 31 minutes.

Leader of the House and Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella: There would have been none of these problems if they had met their party leader President Maithripala Sirisena. We can get you an appointment. Present your problem to him and he will solve them.

Speaker Jayasuriya: We can give you 30 minutes more and commence the debate. Arguing here will waste more time.

Chief Opposition Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake: We have seen similar incidents before. There are three parties in the Opposition. The TNA got the Opposition leader’s post. We were given the chief opposition whip post. Then there was a political arrangement where a group of UPFA parliamentarians, who broke away from the government and came to sit here, while their colleagues are within the government ranks. That group is not considered a separate group here officially. The usual arrangement is to give 70 per cent of debate time to the government and 30 per cent to the Opposition. The 70 per cent got by the government is divided as 40 per cent to the UNP and 30 per cent to the UPFA. The UPFA’s 30 per cent should be divided among its MPs. We have nothing to do with this issue, which came out as a result of an internal problem of the UPFA. If the UPFA decides to break away from the government and sit in the opposition we are ready to give them the opposition leader’s post.

Speaker: I, too, need to see this problem solved.

MP Gunawardena: There is a group of UPFA MPs within the government ranks. We are not in the government. We are in the opposition.

Speaker Jayasuriya: We can take up this issue some other day. If you need we can discuss this with the President, too. This is a problem for me, too. We should not try to solve the issue here and now.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake: Time in adjournment debates is divided equally between the government and the Opposition. Each side gets two debates a month. Today, we have an opportunity given to the UPFA. Dinesh Gunawardena is making use of the time given to the UPFA.

MP Bandula Gunawardena: Give us 100 minutes out of total time of 210 minutes. We are the ones who speak for war heroes. We are the ones who speak on behalf of the country.

UNP MP S.M. Marikkar: MP Bandula Gunawardena’s statement is aimed at defaming us. We are projected as a group who do not care for the war heroes and the country’s interests. We demand that he withdraw his statement.

MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara: This is an attempt to undermine the use of rules and regulations.

MP Dinesh Gunawardena: We are the largest group in the Opposition.

The Speaker: I have no right to interfere in internal issues of parties. Party leaders should come to an agreement. Time is allocated for the government and the Opposition. I have been given a letter by UPFA General Secretary and I act according to that letter. There is no point asking a solution from me. You should sort it out in your party.

MP Dinesh Gunawardena: Lilliputians have been given time.

The Speaker: Time is given to you with the approval of the UPFA.

Minister Lakshman Kiriella: I propose that the House be adjourned. These people do not need the debate.

The Speaker: I also tried my level best to hold the debate. But, it seems the debate is not needed. Then, we could adjourn the session. You have wasted 20 minutes. I gave you 30 minutes from the government side too. You are not co-operating to hold the debate today.

The Speaker adjourned the session around 11.25am.

Courtesy:The Island

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