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NewsA referendum on a new constitution will be lost only because of Govt. corruption

A referendum on a new constitution will be lost only because of Govt. corruption

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Speech made by the TNA MP  M.A. Sumanthiranon 10th December 2016 at the budget debate.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the opportunity to speak at the concluding stages of the Committee Stage Discussion. One could hear the words “හොරා, හොරු” continuously in the Chamber.

ගරු මන්ත්‍රීවරයෙක්

(மாண்புமிகு உறுப்பினர் ஒருவர்)

(An Hon. Member)

හොරා.

ගරු එම්.. සුමන්තිරන් මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு எம்.. சுமந்திரன்)

(The Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran)

There you are! I can hear it again being traded from one side to the other fairly liberally. I will address that issue in a moment. But, let me begin with something that I want to mention in this House in my capacity as the Chair of the Committee on Public Finance. During the course of the Budget Debate, our Committee was supposed to tender two Reports to Parliament. We presented one Report.

In that Report, we raised a very serious issue, that the Estimates that were placed on our table on the day the Budget was presented contains figures that are not accurate, figures that the officials themselves knew to be not accurate because during the course of the Committee deliberations, they admitted so and gave us another set of figures stating that it was on the second set of figures that the Minister actually made his Budget presentation. Also in that Report, we recommended that the figures of 12th November, which were said to be the actual figures, be distributed to all Hon. Members at least during the Committee Stage, and I regret that it has not been done. We all are looking at the estimates in those red books, which the officials of the Ministry of Finance themselves have told us are not accurate.

The second Report we were supposed to present to this House was our comments on whether the Government Estimates actually reflect the Government policy, whether money is well laid out in accordance with Government policy. We have tried to ascertain the Government policy and that is not easily forthcoming because as in the last year, this year too, the Hon. Prime Minister made a Statement prior to the Budget and then, the Hon. Minister of Finance made his Budget Speech, and one is still left wondering which is the Government policy. We have sought this information. We have asked officials and the Ministers, the Prime Minister included, to provide to the Committee a proper statement of Government policy so that we can examine the Estimates and comment on them for the House as to whether the money has been well laid out in accordance with the Government policy. Unfortunately, we have not been able to do that during the course of the Budget Debate, but we will strive our best to do it early next year.

Provisions of 19A not inconsistent with Constitution - Sumanthiran

Provisions of 19A not inconsistent with Constitution – Sumanthiran

With regard to corruption, it is very interesting that from the time I entered this House in 2010, allegations have been made against the Government, sometimes, against particular Ministers. Certain words are used for certain Ministers and one is then supposed to deduce what those mean. Today too, we heard different words being used for different Ministers. In the last Parliament also, we saw that. Now, some of that is coming out. I would like to say – I am not saying this in any patronizing way – that those words are being used because there is knowledge in the country as to what the Ministers are up to. A lot of the corruption that the Ministers are involved in is no secret in this country. That is why those words are used. A Government that has been in office for just two years will do well to take heed of this and correct their ways. It is no use defending the Government by asking the Opposition, “What did you do when you were in the Government?” That is not the answer. Constantly, when the Hon. Members of this side were on that side also, the same thing was done and it is being repeated. What is most strange is that some who were Ministers in the last Government continue to be Ministers in this Government too, and those are the Ministers who remain quiet when these allegations are traded because they are always at the receiving end of the allegations. As soon as the Government changed, we started hearing stories. I am going to use some words now which might ring bells. We started hearing about the areca nut transactions of a Minister who was in the previous Government too and continues in this Government. Like that, there are so many words that are being used. I will not go through the whole list.

But, this is a Government that we also helped come into office and I think we also have some right to expect better performance by this Government. It is well-known, and it is conceded even by the “Joint Opposition”, as they call themselves, that the President and the Prime Minister who head this Government, both, are well above any of these allegations. I have not heard any allegations being levelled against either of them personally.

ගරු මන්ත්‍රීවරයෙක්

(மாண்புமிகு உறுப்பினர் ஒருவர்)

(An Hon. Member)

How about the COPE Report?

ගරු එම්.. සුමන්තිරන් මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு எம்.. சுமந்திரன்)

(The Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran)

But that is not good enough. The two leaders must ensure that their Ministers – leave alone the public officials, but their Ministers – are also above reproach. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case. If this continues, this Government will not last. You must understand that the former Government, who now shouts hoarse also came down because of corruption – mostly because of corruptions. It is unfortunate that many of you do not seem to learn those lessons, but are still continuing those very ways. I will cite one thing, an allegation I made a few days ago in this House with regard to the 65,000 houses. On that day, I asked the Minister concerned to deny if possible that one Ravi Wettasinghe was the local agent of ArcelorMittal. I asked him to deny if possible that it was Ravi Wettasinghe who was the local agent. He did not deny it. Now, I take it therefore, that it is Ravi Wettasinghe who is the local agent of ArcelorMittal. He is a notorious figure in this country. He figures in the book called, “Thatcher’s Fortunes: The Life and Times of Mark Thatcher. ” In 2002 – I am glad that the Hon. Ruwan Wijayawardene is here – he got into a brawl outside a nightclub when you were present and it is reported how this happened and what kind of person he is. This is how it is reported:

“Ravi Wettasinghe, known to contribute towards political campaigns in millions, was the local agent for a British bus consortium comprising three bus companies Ibis, Transbus and Mayflower. In 1993, Mr. Ravi Wettasinghe bought the Government-owned Werehera Bus factory..”

– I mentioned this last time –

“.. for Rs. 25 million, but ran into problems and eventually left the country forcing the Government to pay Rs. 460 million in salaries for the workers. While he was away, he had reportedly contributed..”

– now this will hit both sides –

“..Rs. 7 million to the PA during an election campaign while also contributing towards the UNP election campaigns.”

ගරු කෙහෙළිය රඹුක්වැල්ල මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு கெஹெலிய ரம்புக்வெல்ல)

(The Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella)

How much?

ගරු එම්.. සුමන්තිරන් මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு எம்.. சுமந்திரன்)

(The Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran)

That amount is not given here. Now this is the man who is the local agent of ArcelorMittal who wants to build those steel, pre-fabricated houses. He is the man who funds both sides.

Yesterday was the International Anti-corruption Day and His Excellency the President, while making a speech, responsibly stated publicly that even today more than 50 per cent of the tenders that are granted by his own Government is riddled with fraud. Your own President said that, publicly. I was in the same forum. I told him, “It is not 50 per cent, it is more than 90 per cent.” He did not dispute me. So, why is this happening? I think if you have come together as a National Government to take the country forward, to make a new beginning for this country, you have to rid yourselves of corruptions. Without that, this country will not go forward.

The Hon. Minister of Finance is listening attentively, I am happy. I hope you will take all the necessary steps and that it will not be necessary hereafter for anyone to be shouting at your Colleagues and yourself calling you all, “Horu.

There is one more thing. This morning, when we convened as the Constitutional Assembly, the Hon. Rauff Hakeem, the Leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, referred to Xenophobia that is enveloping this country and this is a very serious issue. On the last day of this year as we sit, I want to make certain mention of some of the trends that are happening. All of us know what is happening and are either unwilling or unable to arrest this particular trend. The Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena mentioned about a resolution that was allegedly passed by the Northern Provincial Council. The Hon. Minister of Justice too mentioned this a few days ago in this House and I want to correct both of them. There was no resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council saying that no Buddhist temples can be built in the Northern Province; that is false and malicious. The only Resolution they have passed is to say that no unauthorized structures of any religious institution, be it Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Christian, should be built. That is all that the Resolution says and I think you need to be careful before you make such inflammatory remarks in this House. You must ensure-

ගරු දිනේෂ් ගුණවර්ධන මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு தினேஷ் குணவர்தன)

(The Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena)

We cannot worship a Bo tree according to you.

ගරු (ආචාර්ය) විජයදාස රාජපක්ෂ මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு (கலாநிதி) விஜயதாஸ ராஜபக்ஷ)

(The Hon. (Dr.) Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe)

Sir, it was in the banner headlines in almost all the newspapers in this country and was telecast in all the television channels, but there was no single denial either by the Chief Minister or any Member of the Northern Provincial Council. Then, am I responsible or are they responsible for, if it is a false?

ගරු එම්.. සුමන්තිරන් මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு எம்.. சுமந்திரன்)

(The Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran)

What the Chief Minister has said is in the newspapers today. He has referred to the Hon. Minister of Justice as a good friend and somebody who knows him and he has said, “The Hon. Minister could have called and asked me.” You know what the media does in this country; you know how involved the media also is in fanning these flames.

So, one needs to be careful –

ගරු (ආචාර්ය) සරත් අමුණුගම මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு (கலாநிதி) சரத் அமுனுகம)

(The Hon. (Dr.) Sarath Amunugama)

If the Chief Minister has issued a disclaimer, it could have been published in the media.

ගරු එම්.. සුමන්තිරන් මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு எம்.. சுமந்திரன்)

(The Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran)

What I am saying is -[Interruption.] No, no. The media constantly does it. If we are to issue disclaimers and denials, everyday we will be doing that. So, all that I am saying is, please ensure before you –

ගරු කෙහෙළිය රඹුක්වැල්ල මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு கெஹெலிய ரம்புக்வெல்ல)

(The Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella)

In any case, there is no unauthorized –

ගරු එම්.. සුමන්තිරන් මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு எம்.. சுமந்திரன்)

(The Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran)

Anyway, I have now clarified. Take my word for it. So, do not make these inflammatory remarks again.

ගරු දිනේෂ් ගුණවර්ධන මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு தினேஷ் குணவர்தன)

(The Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena)

Both of you are not in agreement.

ගරු එම්.. සුමන්තිරන් මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு எம்.. சுமந்திரன்)

(The Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran)

No, no. We are fully in agreement. We belong to the same Party. We are in agreement and I defend that Resolution that was passed by the Northern Provincial Council. I do not think that in any part of the country, any unauthorized structures should be put up, whether it is Buddhist, Christian, Hindu or Muslim. Everybody must comply with the law and if -[Interruption.] Well, that is so. -[Interruption.] I am talking about structures.

ගරු දිනේෂ් ගුණවර්ධන මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு தினேஷ் குணவர்தன)

(The Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena)

You can worship anybody.

ගරු එම්.. සුමන්තිරන් මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு எம்.. சுமந்திரன்)

(The Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran)

Yes. I am not saying you cannot worship. -[Interruption.] You tried to do this, this morning also.

ගරු දිනේෂ් ගුණවර්ධන මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு தினேஷ் குணவர்தன)

(The Hon. Dinesh Gunawardena)

You can lay a Buddha statue in front –

ගරු එම්.. සුමන්තිරන් මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு எம்.. சுமந்திரன்)

(The Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran)

I am talking about the construction of temples and places of worship.

Sir, with regard to Buddhism also, one has to be very careful that you do not misrepresent to the country what we say. We respect Buddhism. We think the majority of this country who are Buddhists must have their due place in the country, we do not dispute that, and, as we strive to draw up a new Constitution, this issue of foremost place to Buddhism has again hit the headlines. One needs to be very, very careful unless, of course, you deliberately want to cause mischief and mayhem in the country. One must be restrained in what you say. We are striving to do that and that is why we continuously keep on saying we have no objection to some important, special place be given to Buddhism. I am prepared to say that even despite the fact that most, not most, but all of my constituents are not Buddhists. We will do that. Sir, equality before the law of all the people of this country is also a principle, I think, all of us agree with and that also must ensure special place for certain historic, certain other reasons does not mean and cannot mean that others come second. All citizens of this country are equal and that must be very clearly understood and laid down. So, as we strive to do this, allay the fears of the majority, at the same time, the people who are small in numbers in this country must also be assured that although their numbers are little, that they do have a place; that they are not second-class citizens. That must be assured. -[Interruption.] Please do not disturb me.

ගරු මූලාසනාරූඪ මන්ත්‍රීතුමා

(மாண்புமிகு தலைமைதாங்கும் உறுப்பினர் அவர்கள்)

(The Hon. Presiding Member)

You have only four more minutes.

ගරු එම්.. සුමන්තිරන් මහතා

(மாண்புமிகு எம்.. சுமந்திரன்)

(The Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran)

Okay. Therefore, in this difficult journey that we have undertaken to draft a new Constitution, we must act together. The fact that all parties represented in Parliament constitute the Constitutional Assembly and are represented in the Steering Committee, is a good thing. This is a historic feat. The fact that the Steering Committee has met more than 40 times – I think 46 times or something like that – and been able to deliberate matters itself, is a very positive thing. So, we need to be careful, as we go forward, that we do not lose this opportunity.

I am told that when we talk about the new Constitution, various persons are getting worried about a referendum.

Now, we have very clearly said and I want to repeat what my Leader has said in this House and in the Constitutional Assembly. He said, “We want a new Constitution that all the people of this country approve of, that definitely must include or should include the majority people of this country. A Constitution will not stay as a Constitution of the country if the majority of the people do not accept it.” So, we are not trying to do something that the majority people of this country do not want. But at the same time, we have the confidence that the majority people of this country are also reasonable people, are also people who will adhere to basic human values of equality, of equal citizenship. That message must be taken to the majority people of this country. I am rather disappointed that Members who represent the majority community are fearful about going to their people and telling them this is a right thing to do. If they fear and they keep saying, “We will lose a referendum”- you will lose a referendum only because of corruption and nothing else, not because of the contents in the Constitution. So, put your House right with regard to even perceptions of corruptions, be transparent, go before the people, and convince your people that you are in fact involved in good governance. Please tell your people that this is the right thing for us to do if we are to go into the future with all the people who are smaller in numbers also agreeing that this is our country, we are no longer second class, we have equal stake, and that is necessary to forge the unity of this country.

So, my final words as I wind down is, let us see a prosperous and a new era for Sri Lanka in 2017 with a basic social contract which is the Constitution ensuring that as we go forward.

Thank yo

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