- Heated arguments and confrontations between Government and Opposition legislators over electricity tariff hike force suspension of sittings for a day
By Ashwin Hemmathagama –
Our Lobby Correspondent
Heated arguments and confrontations between the Government and Opposition legislators yesterday on the increase in electricity tariffs forced Speaker of Parliament, Chamal Rajapaksa to adjourn the house till 1 p.m. today.
Speaker Rajapaksa presided over the first session of parliament since the Sinhala and Tamil New Year holidays at 1 p.m. yesterday, but the proceedings were marred by disturbances and uproar with lawmakers approaching the Table of Parliament where the Mace rests during a heated debate on a Government decision to raise electricity rates.
Following the presentation of papers and questions for oral answers, Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga raised his concerns on the recent increase in the electricity tariffs under Standing Order 23 (2) prompting Minister of Power and Energy Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi to respond.
The Minister justified the upward revision in tariffs to improve CEB's financial health whilst insisting 75% of the households arent seriously affected.
Opposition MPs jeered during the Minister's speech prompting the Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva to request the Speaker to adjourn claiming that UNP was trying to disrupt the parliamentary session. Siripal said a debate on the issue can be scheduled at next party leaders meet.
UNP said Government members left the Chamber as Minister Wanniarachchi was speaking, with opposition having a greater number of MPs in their ranks at one point during the proceedings.
UNP MP Dr. Harsha de Silva said that the business of Parliament is a serious matter. “The Speaker should have suspended sittings and convened party leaders to decide the next course of action instead of suspending parliament en bloc till 1 p.m. the next day,” he said.
In his speech Opposition Whip Amaratunga slammed Ministers who only paid Rs.2000 for electricity in their official residences irrespective of usage.
He charged that the tariff increase was an attempt by the Government to cover up its sins with regard to the complete mismanagement and corruption at the CEB. The Chief Opposition Whip said that the increase in electricity costs will impact every single economic activity in the country.
“The petrol that is pumped into our vehicles is not hand-pumped. The baker’s oven is electricity driven. The dentist no longer uses a foot pedal. To be economically viable they will all have to raise their rates adding to the spiralling cost of living. Soon it will be not electricity that the poor people will enjoy, but the heat of the electric chair,” he said in a hard hitting statement in the House. Amaratunge said that in some instances, the electricity tariff increase amounted to more than 70%.
He charged that the policy of the Government appeared to be to confine the poorest in the country to lives in darkness while allowing the rich to live in the lap of luxury.
“The poorest consumers living in small houses will have tariffs increased as high as 75%. The middle income consumers’ rates will be increased by 50% while the very rich who live in air-conditioned luxury houses will be forced to pay less than 25% increased rates,” Amaratunge charged.
“Why is the Minister not making statements, but rather depending on the Minister of Mass Media to make statements on her behalf? What does the Government propose to do to help the people who will suffer from this increase in electricity rates?” he demanded.
UNP MPs Dayasiri Jayasekera and Ajith Perera were most energetic during the commotion in the well of the house.
The UNP’s Parliamentary Group is expected to meet ahead of today’s session to decide on its next course of action.