Despite being the oldest democracy in South Asia, of late Sri Lanka’s parliament has not won much respect in terms of its behaviour. For years the House has been treated by the public as a circus, where the members provide entertainment to the people. In fact, the capacity for lucid, fact-based and courteous discussion has all but died motivating the Speaker to act.
Reports indicate that a committee in the Sri Lankan parliament is currently working on preparing a code of conduct for legislators. The Parliamentary Committee on Discipline, Propriety, Traditions and Security was appointed by the Speaker to introduce measures to be adopted to instil discipline among legislators and bring order into the House.
Indeed these are the very qualities that are severely lacking in the house and after many incidents of MPs even coming to blows and regularly being broadcast shouting insults to their fellow members. The severe lack of discipline is made even more ironic and these MPs and Ministers are to ensure the smooth and competent running of the country.
The committee headed by Senior Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera includes MPs Karu Jayasuriya, Rauf Hakeem, R. Sampanthan, P. Dayaratne, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Wijedasa Rajapakse. Gunasekera has told media that the committee is preparing a code of conduct for the parliamentarians.
He had remarked that the committee is looking at proposing the allocation of more powers to the Speaker to control the MPs and call on party leaders to play a more active role in controlling legislators in the House.
These are positive developments as often the main points of the debate get ignored as members get sidetracked hurling insults at each other. In fact there have been times when MPs have to be cautioned to moderate their language as the galleries are occupied by school children. Undoubtedly this is not the impression that people who came up with the concept of parliament or laid down their lives to protect it would have wanted.
According to Minister Gunasekera the committee is also considering making certain proposals to control MPs from behaving in an unruly manner outside the legislature. Hopefully this will prevent them from getting into brawls in hospital parking lots, night clubs and exhibiting other reprehensible behaviour.
Perhaps the most crucial of all these changes is that the committee is focused on amending the law that prevents the public from making a direct complaint against an MP to the Speaker. Given that the MPs are elected by public vote it would seem high justice for his conduct to be evaluated by the same source.
The vibrancy of a democracy is also judged by its strong accountability. This means that the public have a right to protest their representatives behaving in an unacceptable and degrading manner that not only demeans parliament but the duty that he was selected to do. The situation has deteriorated to the point that the disgraceful behaviour of politicians has become normalised and most people shrug-over it in a “MPs will be MPs” attitude.
It can only be hoped that the Committees suggestions are adopted swiftly so that the Parliament can return to its respected state and people are given the freedom to choose its truly deserving members.