By Ashwin Hemmathagama Our Lobby Correspondent
Opposition lawmakers yesterday focused the attention of the House on the recent “criminal attack” on the five UNP MPs who visited the Mattala Airport and the Magampura Hambantota Port, violating their Parliamentary privileges.
Despite the disturbance from Government benches, Chief Opposition Whip in Parliament John Amaratunga requested a Select Committee to conduct the investigations.
Making a statement under Section 23 (2) of the Standing Orders highlighting the rights of Opposition MPs Ajith Perera, Ajith Mannapperuma, Eran Wickramaratne, R. Yogarajan and Nalin Bandara who were intimidated, threatened and abused with extreme foul language by a mob led by pistol-wielding Mayor of Hambantota Eraj Fernando, Amaratunga said: “They also assaulted these Members with stones, sticks and other dangerous objects and also caused damage to the vehicle in which they were travelling.
It is a matter of note that some of these gangs were present inside the premises of the harbour, which is a High Security Zone, and in no way can be described as enraged members of the public as some have sought to make out.”
“It was also a disturbing feature to see senior Police officers idly standing by during the rampage in spite of repeated requests by the Members of Parliament to bring the situation under control. As Members of Parliament they have a right and obligation to visit and inspect these projects since they come under the purview of and are financed by funds provided by Parliament in terms of Chapter XVII of the Constitution of the Republic. More importantly the action by these persons led by the Mayor of Hambantota Eraj Fernando constitutes a serious breach of privilege of both Parliament and these Members specifically set out in item l of Part A of the Schedule to the Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act. These incidents are in the teeth of the Latimer House Principles of the Commonwealth which specifically provide that Parliamentarians must be able to carry out their legislative and constitutional functions in accordance with the Constitution, free from unlawful interference,” he added.
Criticising the Government for misleading the public promising safety and protection, which is a myth in Sri Lanka, MP Amaratunga said: “It appears that the people’s representatives are not even free to visit publicly-funded project sites — leave alone anywhere in the country. It is astounding that the highest officials of the ruling regime have opted to justify this callous attack against democratically-elected Members of Parliament rather than take appropriate action to address the serious breach of law and order. The very fact that the Police stood idly by while this attack was taking place amply demonstrates the level of patronage received for this action. It is sad time when we see a breakdown in law and order during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) you preside over and you are also the Chairman of the CPU in the very districts that the President and you, Mr. Speaker, represent. These incidents emphasise the need for the Government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into law and order and to hold accountable those responsible. We are compelled to take this matter at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the United Nations Human Rights Council.”
UNP MP Eran Wickramaratne in his statement giving reasons for the visit stated that Members of Parliament had a right and obligation to visit and inspect projects, which comes under the purview of and are financed by funds provided by Parliament in terms of Chapter XVII of the Constitution of the Republic.
“After our visit to the MRIA several individuals began verbally abusing us and acted in a threatening manner, alleging that we have criticised the MRIA and Hambantota Port in Parliament. Criminal force was used on Ajith Perera by a citizen who can be clearly identified by video recordings now circulating on the internet. Thereafter we proceeded to the Hambantota Port after informing several high-ranking officers of the Sri Lanka Police including DIG Tangalle McCarthy Perera,” said Wickramaratne.
“After we inspected the port, a large group, which included the UPFA Mayor of Hambantota, acted in a violent manner, throwing eggs and stones at us and the vehicle in which we were travelling. The vehicle was damaged. Their accusation against us was that we had visited the Port to thereafter criticise its functioning, the group sought to provoke us into a fight. Needless to say, we did not engage. The media persons present were subject to similar abuse and intimidation. An individual brandishing a gun, identified as the Mayor of Hambantota, was running towards our vehicle followed by others, causing panic among those in the bus. While we took cover from a possible shooting, the driver and MSD officers bravely steered the bus away from the Port.
“The ASP, HQI Hambantota and other Police officers present did nothing to prevent the criminal attacks against us. Meanwhile the Police Spokesperson initially made a statement suggesting that the incidents had not warranted Police intervention. When it was clear that the vehicle of the HQI Hambantota was about to overtake us, we sought to flag it down, since we suspected we were being followed. But the Police vehicle sped off, unwilling to assist us. Statements were obtained from the MPs, but no action taken against the gun-wielding thug inside the High Security Zone of the port.”
“The Constitution requires Parliament to exercise full control over public finance. This can only happen if MPs are able to engage in meaningful and informed debate. The attack on us was clearly, among other things, towards compelling us to vote in favour of UPFA positions on the MRIA and Hambantota Port and/or to prevent us from exposing serious issues relating to same. This is clear considering that the attacks were led by the UPFA Mayor and aided and abetted by the inaction of the Government-controlled Police. Quite apart from the violations of the criminal law, these incidents constitute a serious breach of privilege of both Parliament and these members and myself specifically set out in item 1 and 2 of part A of the schedule to Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act,” added MP Wickramaratne.
Speaker expresses grave concern over attack on MPs
By Ashwin Hemmathagama Our Lobby Correspondent
Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa yesterday condemned the recent attack on Opposition lawmakers who visited the Mattala Airport and the Magampura Hambantota Port.
Sympathising with the members in Parliament, the Speaker agreed to keep the House informed of the findings of the investigation being conducted by the Inspector General of Police “if a copy is provided”.
“I am the Sri Lanka Freedom Party organiser for Tissamaharama. I am deeply moved by this unfortunate incident. I have been in the Opposition and have visited projects to find facts when certain charges were made. There were members who accompanied me in those journeys. Members of Parliament have the right to do so. If not there will be no freedom in this country. When MPs visit such locations, the responsibility to provide necessary security and related matters falls on the respective ministers and the heads of the departments,” he added.
PM says attack under investigation
Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne responding to MP John Amaratunga stated that an impartial and detailed investigation was now underway to help the Government take legal action against the culprits.
“Suspects are being identified using the video and still photos obtained by media personnel. A special Police team led by the Inspector General is heading the investigations, so it is not essential to have a Parliamentary Select Committee,” said Jayaratne.