P’ment considers giving media access to COPE proceedings

Thursday, 25 August 2016 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Parliamentarians yesterday considered inviting the media to witness the proceedings of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), a move that will keep the public better informed about its deliberations. 

COPE Chairman Sunil Handunnetti, highlighting a statement from Minister of Higher Education and Highways and Leader of the House of Parliament Lakshman Kiriella published in the newspapers, accused him of leaking information to the press and disrupting the ongoing investigations. Untitled-1

MP Handunnetti’s charges paved the way for lawmakers to consider amending the Standing Orders to provide access to the media from September.

“Four newspapers have carried news items about the COPE proceedings. The media quoted Minister Lakshman Kiriella identifying the mismatches of the statements obtained from top officers of the Central Bank. He made this comment referring to the notes of the COPE, of which he is not a member and whose notes he has no right to access. Such media reports discourage the officers who came forward as witnesses and also interfere with the process,” said MP Handunnetti.

Seeking members’ assistance to avoid speaking to the press on COPE proceedings before the report was published, he said: “COPE met yesterday to prepare a roadmap. Our report will be presented in Parliament in October. We all came to an agreement on a timeline regardless of differing opinions. Until the report is published it is inappropriate to make statements to the media. I request the members to avoid making such statements. So let’s get the media to attend all of COPE’s proceedings.”

However, Minister Kiriella, justifying his move for sharing information with the media, said that the statements of Central Bank officers were contradictory. “I requested Parliament to invite the media to take part in the COPE proceedings. There is one Standing Order allowing us to invite the media. I have shown this Standing Order to MP Handunnetti. Rather than waiting for the new Standing Orders to come into effect, we can make use of the existing one. Anyway, if you look at the statements of these officers, there are contradictions. If the media is invited to COPE we could have stopped the spread of wrong information. With your consent we can invite visitors to COPE,” said Minister Kiriella.

Joining the debate to provide the media access to COPE proceedings, Chief Opposition Whip JVP MP Anura Dissanayake said: “The Speaker has the authority to decide the fate of the COPE report but not to make judgements of the content. The issue now is about inside information of the COPE proceedings coming out. Minister Kiriella has no right to make such statements.”

Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake, who served on COPE for almost 22 years, requested the committee to not only focus on the recent bond issuance but to investigate losses incurred from the Greek bonds and hedging scam. 

“We need to understand the fact that some stories appeared well before being brought in front of COPE. You are worried about a statement in the newspapers. Now is the time to take a decision whether to publish it all or to avoid doing so. Anyway, why are you only focusing on the recent bond issuance? You should also investigate the greek bonds and hedging scam,” said Minister Karunanayake.

However, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said that some of the existing Standing Orders overrode Standing Order 130 (1) and the proposed amendments would make room to invite the media to witness proceedings from September.