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Role of Parliamentarians

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On Thursday Parliament had to be postponed after only 16 Parliamentarians turned up for sittings. The inability to form a quorum, which needs just 20 Parliamentarians, was a disappointing indication of how unimportant Parliament has become when other political party interests take precedence. 

Many Opposition Parliamentarians chose to stay away after participating at the ‘Jana Balaya’ protest on Wednesday and others skipped sittings to be present at the 72nd anniversary of the United National Party (UNP), which to them would have seemed as valid reasons. But from the point of public interest, given that an estimated Rs. 5 million is spent for each day of Parliament, the oversight is a significant one. 

Parliament is a forum that was established to discuss policies, laws and issues of public interest. One of the critical duties of Parliament is also to improve transparency. Many questions regarding development projects, funding, progress reports on key projects and the impact they are having on the public is also regularly discussed and debated in Parliament. These are all essential to sustainable development and gives the chance for the public to be aware of what actions are being taken by their representatives. 

Parliament is also a place where legal changes are vigorously debated. Decades ago Parliament was the venue for stirring speeches made by top politicians who used the House as a stage to fight for rights of marginalised people. They also protected important policies such as universal healthcare, education, housing and a host of other aspects that are fused to the very definition of Sri Lanka’s political, economic and social systems.

Of late economic challenges have also received attention in Parliament. The Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement that was signed in January as well as a host of other trade deals under negotiation have been discussed multiple times in Parliament. Key reforms to improve Sri Lanka’s economic environment including better debt management, improving exports, ease of doing business, and tax policies have made their way through Parliament. In November the annual budget cycle will begin and as Sri Lanka heads to a challenging debt repayment cycle from 2019, Parliament oversight will only become even more significant. 

Parliament is central to governance and Parliamentarians are integral to ensuring that the people’s rights are protected. From constitution making to eliminating corruption, all the main election pledges of this Government have to make their way through Parliament in just five short years. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this institution and the responsibilities that have been entrusted to its representatives. 

Unfortunately it is these very same representatives who have been responsible for the degradation of this institution. Gone are the days when stirring, eloquent and well-informed speeches were made in the House. Nowadays proceedings are more akin to a circus with frequent protests and Parliamentarians running off with the mace and staging sit-ins. The once-eloquent speeches have descended into catcalls and all-out screaming matches as Parliamentarians attempt to outdo each other with the most creative insults. These then flow into the public, resulting in even less respect for Parliament and the many important roles it holds. For this situation to change, Parliamentarians themselves need to become the solution. The first step would be showing up. 

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