MR Fires Back
Even when the country and the world are battling COVID-19, the opposition political parties are demanding that parliament be reconvened, writes Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is responding to the requests by opposition political parties and alliances that parliament be recalled so that a joint effort could be put in place to combat COVID-19. The Prime Minister alleges that the opposition is concerned about facing a parliamentary election at a time when the government has handled the pandemic well. Counterpoint publishes the Prime Minister’s statement in full, below:
by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa
The President, the government and the state apparatus have focused their entire attention on combating Covid-19. The way in which the people have benefited from this, is clearly apparent. Even in the midst of this national crisis and global disaster we see the unpleasant sight of the political opposition in this country vociferously demanding that the dissolved Parliament be reconvened and asserting that after the 30th of April, the President has no legal right to allocate funds for the maintenance of government services without the approval of the old parliament. They have even issued a threat to the effect that unless Parliament is reconvened, the President and all of us in the government run the risk of the loss of our civic rights and the confiscation of our property.
Parliament was dissolved at the beginning of March when there were no Coronavirus patients in the country. After the first Corona virus patient was found one and a half weeks later, the Elections Commission postponed the election till the 20th of June. The Elections Commission has already announced that the election could be postponed further depending on the advice of the medical authorities. The Elections Commission will hold the election at a suitable time in accordance with the powers vested in them. The opposition’s concern obviously is that if the election is held in a situation where the anti-Coronavirus campaign in Sri Lanka has shown much better results than in most other countries, they would be placed at a serious disadvantage. Hence we see that the opposition’s present efforts are aimed at getting the old Parliament reconvened and using their majority in Parliament to block government finances, thereby sabotaging the anti-Coronavirus campaign in order to bring the government into disrepute before the election.
Back in February, when there was no Coronavirus threat in the country, the opposition used their majority in Parliament to block payments to government suppliers of medicine and fertilizer so as to bring the new government into disrepute by creating a shortage of fertiliser and medicine in the country. The opposition argues that Article 150(3) of the Constitution allows the President to allocate funds for the running of government services at a time when Parliament has been dissolved only if the previous Parliament had not passed an Appropriation Act. They claim that the previous government had passed a Vote on Account up to the 30th of April and that therefore, after this date, the President has no authority to allocate funds for any purpose.
This is an absurd argument. Under Article 150(3) of the Constitution, the President has complete authority to allocate funds for any purpose for which funds had not been allocated by Parliament. It goes without saying that if Parliament has already allocated funds for a given purpose, there is no need for the President to intervene in the matter. The opposition also alleges that the President is not reconvening Parliament with the ulterior motive of misusing the funds coming in from abroad for the anti-Coronavirus campaign. They contend that Parliament should be reconvened to supervise how that money is spent. All funds received by the government go to the Treasury via the Central Bank system. There are procedures that have to be followed in spending this money. Funds in the Treasury cannot be spent in the manner that yahapalana ministers spent the money of the Central Cultural Fund.
After the new Parliament convenes the opposition will have the opportunity to raise questions about how government money was spent between the time of the dissolution of the old Parliament and the convening of the new Parliament. Until then they should refrain from misleading the public with blatant lies. At this moment, we should set politics aside and concentrate on controlling the Coronavirus outbreak and restoring normalcy to the lives of the people. We all saw the magnitude of the Coronavirus cluster that had formed among Navy personnel due to their involvement in the anti-Coronavirus campaign. I wish them all a speedy recovery. This highlights the personal risks taken in the service of the people by our health sector workers, and Army, Navy, Air Force, and Police personnel at the forefront of the battle against the Coronavirus pandemic. I call upon all members of the public to extend their fullest cooperation to these heroic individuals to enable them to fulfill their duties effectively.