No vote on SLC debate raises questions on Speaker’s impartiality

Saturday, 11 November 2023 00:00 –      – 33

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Thursday’s debate in Parliament on a joint Government-Opposition resolution to remove officials of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) was lauded by members of the public as well as several parliamentarians as a positive step toward unity among all parties, an example that should be followed in addressing the economic woes of the country as well.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa moved the Resolution and got the debate off to a swashbuckling start hitting shots in all directions accusing SLC offices of links to underworld figures, prostitution, money laundering, and nepotism to name a few evils.

The Resolution was seconded by Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva who took a more balanced view of what was up for debate. This was followed by more MPs levelling accusations against SLC. Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe wound up the debate and heaped on more allegations, tabled several documents which he said would prove the unholy alliances between SLC officials and some questionable persons.

All in all, the debate did bring about rare unity among Government and Opposition lawmakers and while it is tempting to say such unity should augur well for the future, it’s obvious that there was more behind the whole process with many MPs eager to score a few political points now that elections are not too far away. Opposition MPs too were keen to take a few swipes at President Ranil Wickremesinghe who reportedly is on a collision course with the Sports Minister for his decision to appoint an interim committee to run SLC without consulting the President nor Cabinet before issuing the relevant Gazette notification.

While the debate went smoothly, problems arose at the time when a vote was due to be taken on the Resolution. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, recently back from an overseas tour, was in the Chair when the debate ended, and several opposition MPs called for a division so that each MP could vote and those who voted for and against the Resolution could be seen by all. The Government did not seem keen for a vote by name with the Leader of the House Minister Prasanna Ranatunga saying that as it is a joint resolution, it should be considered as passed as all have said ‘aye’ in its support.

It is understandable why the ruling side was not keen for a vote by name given the obvious differences that the SLC issue has brought to the surface from within Government ranks. Most senior Government MPs did not take part in the debate and conspicuous was the failure of MPs Namal Rajapaksa and Johnston Fernando, both former sports ministers to speak during the debate.

But the Speaker is not the Government and his failure to take a vote on an important resolution, though non-binding, but keenly watched by the public, exposes his failure to take a firm, independent decision.

It is no secret that since his appointment, the current Speaker has failed to act in an impartial manner. His failure to take a vote by name, obviously on the instructions of the Government, is an example of his bias. Once a speaker is appointed, his sole responsibility is to ensure that the House is run according to Standing Orders.

Before winding up Thursday’s proceedings, the Speaker interjected saying that references have been made to the conduct of the judiciary by some MPs and apologised for it while stating that those were not the views of Parliament. By this comment, the Speaker of Parliament himself is undermining the supremacy of the legislature and questioning the parliamentary powers and privileges that have been given by law to elected representatives of the people, the safeguarding of which are in his hands. If the Speaker cannot uphold the rights of MPs, who can?