Brawls marred yesterday’s special parliamentary sitting as the UNP and the Joint Opposition (JO) MPs resorted to fisticuffs after the Speaker failed to arrange for the tabling of the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry that investigated the Treasury bond scams.
The JO MPs invaded the Well of the House protesting against the government’s failure to honour its promise to table the report.
When the House commenced sittings, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, said that the Presidential Secretariat had informed him that the bond commission report and 34 reports of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power, State Resources and Privileges (PRECIFAC) would be made available to Parliament after one week. The Secretary to the President had also informed the Speaker that copies of the bond commission report had been referred to the Attorney General, Central Bank and the Bribery Commission.
Leader of the House Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella: The Joint Opposition and SLFP asked for a debate. We are ready for the debate. There is no report. Without getting ready they demanded a debate.
Chief Opposition Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake: We have been demanding that the bond commission report be tabled. At the last party leaders’ meeting we came to an agreement that the Speaker would have the report tabled and thereafter we would hold a party leaders’ meeting to decide on the debate. A summary of the report was given by the President in his address to the nation. The President said there had been losses amounting Rs 11,000 million to the county and a loss of Rs. 8,500 in public funds. In addition, public funds were used for the commission. These details should not be hidden from us. Parliament should be informed of these. We have asked for these reports under the provisions of the Right to Information Act.
MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena: We asked the President to give us a copy of the report. Secretary to the President has said he will give a copy to the JVP. The JO has 53 MPs. We asked at the party leaders’ meeting for the tabling of these reports in Parliament. This is a serious question. The government says it does not have the report. It was promised at the party leader’s meeting yesterday that the first item today in Parliament would be tabling of the report. Now, the officials cannot act in contravention of a pledge given by the Speaker and ask for more time. Former Speakers Anura Bandaranaike and Chamal Rajapaksa have established that Parliament is above other institutions including the judiciary. Now, it is up to you as the Speaker to exercise your powers. You have the powers to summon any public official and ask for any public document. The entire country is waiting to see the report. You can summon the Secretary to the President and ask him to come with the report.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe: MP Dinesh Gunawardena called and asked me to convene Parliament. It is not easy to call MPs for an urgent sitting as they are campaigning in their villages for the forthcoming elections. When I convene Parliament, as per the provisions of the Standing Order number 14, I have to give reasons for doing so. Then I said I would convene parliament to make a statement too and to convene Parliament on Jan 10. It is up to the President to decide whether he would make the reports public. Before presenting the report to the House, it should be presented to the Cabinet.
MP Bandula Gunawardena: Parliament has been convened to debate the bond commission report not to listen to a statement from the prime minister.
Premier Wickremesinghe: You can blame me more after this statement. But, I can make it. We have enough numbers in the House.
Opposition Leader R Sampanthan: The reports should be tabled at its earliest possible time. This is a matter pertaining to public funds and parliament has responsibility over public finances. This should be debated. We should investigate frauds and find the truth. There was a time we did not know what happened to similar commission reports. I thank the President and Prime Minister for this report.
Prime Minister: We need to talk of the follow up action on the report of the Committee on Public Enterprises on bond issuance. The Speaker can decide when the debate on the bond commission report will be held after he received the report. That is why we convened parliament today.
MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara: We were given to understand that this sitting was for debating the report. It is not on our tables. We cannot let the Prime Minister make a statement on a report we have not seen.
Prime Minister: Special sittings are convened for a special purpose. I need to make this statement. I will make it and thereafter you can debate or state your opinion. I did not know whether the report would be made available or not. I was asked to convene Parliament. I convened it.
Speaker: Presidential Secretariat has promised to give us the reports next week. I do not want to see a conflict between the President and Parliament.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake: We, too, demanded that Parliament be summoned. We asked for the special sittings to debate the bond commission report and not to listen to prime minister’s speech. The President says he will give the reports in a week. We cannot accept that. Some of the reports were handed over to the President in 2016. You are delaying the reports targeting the elections. Summon the secretary to the President to Parliament and ask him why he cannot give us a copy. When the bond commission report was given to the President, there were three copies of it. Ask for one of them for parliament.
Speaker: One has been sent to the bribery commission.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake: We should have been given it before it was given to the bribery commission. Since when has the bribery commission been placed above Parliament?
TNA MP MA Sumanthiran: The report should have been sent to parliament before it was directed to other institutions. We call on the Speaker to instruct Secretary to the President to come to parliament at 1.30 pm today with a copy of the report.
Prime Minister: The President is in Anuradhapura today. There are many ministers too in Anuradhapura.
Dinesh Gunawardena: Speaker has powers to summon any public official. Call the relevant officials and table the report.
Prime Minister: At the end of this session, we can hold another party leaders’ meeting. I, too, will attend it.
The Prime Minister started to read out his statement, but the JO MPs shouted slogans and held placard in protest. As the prime minister continued, the JO MPs came down to the Well of the House shouting at him. As JO MPs led by Dinesh Gunawardena marched towards the Mace. Sergeant-at-Arms Anil Parakrama Samarasekera and his deputy Kushan Jayaratne held the Mace in the bracket when the Opposition MPs tried to grab it. While the Prime Minister kept reading out his statement, UNP MPs, too, came to the Well. JO MPs shouted ‘Kavuda Hora, Ranil Hora’ (Who is the thief? Ranil is the thief!) while the UNP Members shouted ‘Mahinda Hora’ (Mahinda is the thief). Speaker Jayasuriya suspended the sittings for ten minutes at 11.05 am.
Though sittings were suspended the protesting MPs remained in the Well. The UNP MPs tried to grab the placards from JO MPs triggering a brawl. In the melee, UNP MP Marikkar punched JO MP Gamini Lokuge. Lokuge slapped Marikkar. MP Kavinda Jayawardana trying to grab the placards from JO MPs was seen falling. MP Marikkar and Minister Harsha de Silva came to the help of fainted MP Jayawardana and took him to the backbenches and sprinkled water on his face. After he could stand up, MP Marikkar helped him get out of the Chamber. MP Johnston Fernando was seen punching UNP MPs Chaminda Wijesiri and Hector Appuhamy. When the MPs exchanged blows and shouted vulgar words, MP Prasanna Ranaweera was seen being dragged away by his colleagues. Prasanna Ranaweera’s shirt was torn by UNP MP Chaminda Wijesiri. MP Rohini Wijeratne was also caught in the melee and was seen kicked by other MPs. MP Prasanna Ranatunga was seen hitting MP Chaminda Wijesiri and running out of the place while the latter chased him. Ranjith Zoysa, too, was punched and kicked by UNP MPs. Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake however did not fight. He was busy capturing the brawl on his mobile phone. MP Marikkar hit Gamini Lokuge again. Lokuge fell on his chair. Some MPs were seen throwing books at their rivals.
When the House resumed sittings around 11.50 am, the Speaker announced that he had received a letter from the President and read it to the House. He said he would meet the Attorney General in the evening. He said he would let the Prime Minister to deliver his speech again for the latter had been disturbed on the earlier occasion.
MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake protested saying that there was chaos in the House as the Speaker had failed to his pledge to the party leaders.
When the Prime Minister got up to deliver his speech, JO MPs booed at him and walked out.