“If a deal is being made, a contract is given, and percentages are already allocated. 5 % for the minister, so much for the ministry secretary, so much for somebody else, all of that is established, systemised That is why the youth of the country are saying, “System Change”. -MA Sumanthiran MP

(Text of Speech made in Parliament by Jaffna District TNA Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran on 05th December 2022 )

Thank you Hon. Chairman of Committees.

Out of those 26 minutes that I have, I will speak for 20 minutes, the balance 6 minutes will be taken by Hon. Govinthan Karunakaram. I am glad that both Ministers whose ministries are being discussed at the committee today are present in the chambers, Ports, Shipping and Aviation; and Justice, Constitutional Affairs and Prison Reforms.

I have seen a report that Sri Lankan Airlines in the 1st half of the Financial year 22/23 had lost 112.8 Billion rupees. That’s the losses made in the first half of the Financial year on 22/23, now that includes the forex losses also. Nevertheless that’s a staggering figure, and that every month we keep making these losses and the State absorbs this. I am mentioning the figure because the cost of having an election is only 11 Billion, and whenever we talk about an election the defence is taken. “how can we afford an election?”

One month’s loss of Sri Lankan Airlines is more than the cost of having an election. So, that is not an argument, you keep making these losses and then you say how can we hold an election? Fundamental to the functioning of a democracy is periodic elections; one might say, “Well, the Parliament has a mandate for 5 years, and why are you asking for an election now?”

I wish to draw the attention of both Hon. Ministers today; by your own very conduct you conceded to the country that this parliament has lost its mandate. A few months ago both of you crossed the floor, and came and sat in the opposition.

You conceded that the Parliament had lost its mandate; the election which gave a near two thirds majority to the government at that time was lost. Subsequently you were both given ministerial portfolio and you have crossed back to the government side, taken the cabinet post, and you are both in the front row now.

The Hon. Minister for justice constitutional affairs and prisons reforms made a very strange speech today just before me, if I may call it that. He might as well have made this speech sitting in the opposition. You sounded very much like an opposition MP, complaining bitterly about the corruption that is rampant and the fact that all these persons who art corrupt, businessmen included, are protected by politicians.

Now its rich coming from a minister who holds a portfolio of justice, to be complaining about that. To complain about that is our task; your task is not to keep complaining about that, your task is to remedy that, to put it right. Now I know that this is not something that can be done in a day, you might say “I have only taken on this portfolio not even a few months” and so on.

But this is endemic; this has gone on for so many years. And Hon. Minister of Justice has been on this side, then that side, this side and then that side…. Then again on this side and then again on that side, I have lost count of the number of times you have crossed this floor ever since you entered parliament first. I don’t know whether you have a record of the number of times you have crossed the floor.

The task you have undertaken we understand is an enormous task. Its not an easy one. But it is not your lot to complain to this House. Your task is to put all these right. And there are several Bills, after you took over as minister we appreciate, several Bills that you have forwarded to this house making amendments, new Acts of Parliament and so on and with regard to some of those we have raised our concerns.

Like the fact that under the Opium and dangerous drugs ordinance, the bail application is now moved from the high court to the court of appeal. The question of access to justice and that is something that you need to put right, perhaps it was in there when you took over as the minister. Several of these drafts we find were done before you took over as the minister of justice, and those are just being churned out like in a factory floor, and being produced here and being tabled. Some of which will not fit in with the legal culture of our country.

I understand that there is a registration of title Act, that’ll impinch on prescription. Now prescription is a mode of acquisition. It comes from the Roman Dutch Law. It has a fundamental principle that nobody actually absolutely holds a property. If you don’t use it, if you don’t derive from it then, somebody else can take it after a long period of time, for 10 years.

But title registration now comes in and if it is registered, then I’m told prescription will not apply. Now those counter some basic principles, I’m just raising it I don’t want you to respond Hon. Minister but some of this we will have to have a closer look before we make them into laws and trumpet to the country and elsewhere that a lot of reforms are being made.

You are also the Minister for Constitutional Affairs. And the President has now, for the umpteenth time – I heard him two days ago – says that before 75th anniversary of our Independence the National Question of this country will be solved. Not only does he say that, he says that if it is not solved before that date, it’ll never be solved. Now that’s a prophet of doom, as it were, but he says that. So, the primary responsibility if I might call it, in this house, to carry that through rests on your shoulders, as the Minister who holds that portfolio.

And as I have said in this House, while the president was present, I wish to repeat it: as for ourselves we will cooperate with whatever genuine effort that is taken. And that is the reason why we have continued to sound positive, although we have serious doubts in our minds. We don’t want to be blamed by you saying “why we were ready to do it but the Tamil side raised various issue and they were not willing to do it”.

No! We are ready. But it must meet with the just aspirations of our people and you know what it is, we have said it very clearly, we have said that it must be a meaningful scheme of devolution to the North and East, on a federal structure.

I have said this once before recently in this house: federalism is not a bad word, there are many countries in the world, indeed the strongest countries in the world, have federal structure. Federal idea was introduced to this country, by none other than the founder of the Sri Lanka freedom party – S.W.R.D.Bandaranayeka, in 1926. The Kandian chiefs wanted federalism into three units in this country. It was the Sinhala leaders who wanted it; they couldn’t have wanted something bad for the Sinhala People. So this bogey saying Federal will divide the country cannot continue any further.

Persons like you learned in the law must tell the people the truth. That there is absolutely no danger of the country dividing because we share power in a meaningful way under a federal structure. Unless we do that, we will continue to have this wound festering. I am borrowing again from the phrase that the President used, on the 3rd of this month. We are willing to come to a settlement that’ll be good for not just our people but good for the country. This is the moment to do it. This is the moment to put lots of things right. Because we are in this economic crisis, and I agree with you entirely that the big fraudsters must be brought to book. But those are not done merely by passing laws.

There are some things that are fundamentally flawed in this country. It has ingrained into the system so much so that if a deal is being made, a contract is given, and percentages are already allocated. 5 % for the minister, so much for the ministry secretary, so much for somebody else, all of that is established, systemised. The systemised corruption is very very difficult to irradicate. That is why the youth of the country are saying, “System Change”.

Now that system change has to be both political culture, as with the culture of corruption of this country. And until we strike at that root and it’ll be – it’ll hurt us somewhat when we do that – we won’t put it right. And I think the time has come. We have declared our country bankrupt, we have gone through 3 decades of war At least now if we are not willing to strike at that root and turn it upside down, the country will never resuscitate from the coma that it has got into.

So as you said this is the only time, you have gone in the other direction, we appreciate that you have taken on a responsibility, most difficult responsibility at the most difficult time. But that enormous responsibility must be carried out. Now we in the opposition have a function, we have the function of supporting you in every positive step that you take. That’s a responsible opposition.

And we will play that role, you know that very well. We will play that role, but equally we have an enormous responsibility to oppose, to make plain to the country, to announce, and call out to the Government if the government is on a wrong path. Now after these several months of this new government most of us are not in a position, if I speak the truth, not in a position to pull our full weight with this government. It has to do with the fact that you on your side still have people whose hands are sully. Who everyone knows is corrupt. And you are carrying on regardless.

If the President and you think that you can somehow balance these matters and carry on and get away, you are sadly mistaken. It will not happen. Unless the fundamental change is made, unless the government and everyone here comes to the realisation that we must start a new, nothing is going to change.

Because the force of the evil that have griped this country are far too strong to be balanced. It has to be eradicated. So all the racist elements, the corrupt elements, all of that have to be totally eradicated.

You can’t leave some of them and work with other and hope that this is politics, we can manage the two, we can somehow get across, No, that won’t work. Therefore, Hon. Ministers I urge you please as two minsters who left the government ranks and crossed the floor, recognising that government has lost its mandate, now you have gone back, taken ministerial portfolio but as those who recognises that there is no mandate for this government, you must also support the view that the Parliament has lost its mandate. And that with a fresh mandate, with a fresh outlook, with what the people asked for that fundamental system change.

Only then we can come out of this mess that the country has got into and fundamental to that is the National Question and repeatedly ad nauseam we are saying because we want the country to hear, we want the world to hear, that we will cooperate on that; not to just cover-up and hope that things are balanced. No, to do the right thing properly, make the fundamental change, share power in a meaningful way under a federal structure, then you have not only just our support, you will have the support of the entire world to change this country around.

I must thank the Hon. Minister for Ports, Shipping and Aviation for reducing the airport tax for Palali airport by half, that has enabled I believe the first flight to now arrive on the 12th of this month. I urge him to actually take away the airport tax in toto. We’ll have more tourists coming, we will have foreign exchange that we badly need. It was an important move, to have done in September ‘19, to have declared Palali airport and the Batticaloa airport as International airports together with the Ratmalana airport.

That must come into effect; both Palali airport and the Batticaloa airport must receive foreign tourists, and others who will bring much needed exchange to our country. I am saying specifically those two airports, because linguistically it will attract Tamil speaking people, from South India, from Singapore, from Malaysia, from various other parts of the world.

Take that. And so my appeal to the minister is to relax that balance airport tax also, and enable economic recovery through that process too.

Thank you.