Doing a job of work in House gone quiet
By our lobby correspondent Chandani Kirinde
All was pretty quiet within the Chambers of Parliament during its sessions last week, with four legal amendments being taken up for debate. But news of a visit by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Maha Nayaka of the Asgiriya Chapter Ven Udugama Sri Buddharakkitha to the legislature, created a buzz outside the Chambers.

President Kumaratunga had met with PA Parliamentarians in Parliament on Wednesday, while the Maha Nayaka visited the House on Thursday to meet with Buddha Sasana Minister W.J.M. Lokubandara. The Chief Thero along with four others partook their meals in a lunch room of the Parliament and invoked blessings on those present.

Maybe the good behaviour of the MPs was due to the fact that Speaker Joseph Michael Perera informed the House that all four cameras within the Chambers were operational. For several months only one camera which was pointing in the direction of the Speaker had been working.

This came to light when television footages of the unruly incidents in the Chambers in late July, showed only a segment of it.

An amendment to the Factories Ordinance to increase the overtime work entitlement for women from the present 100 hours a year to 60 hours a month was introduced by Labour Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe. "We have to bring our laws in line with laws of other countries. This will benefit women as well as the country," the minister said introducing the amendments.

Most members who followed, paid tribute to the women workers of the country and their contribution to the country's economy but none of the women MPs bothered to speak on the matter nor on another amendment that was brought to the Civil Procedure Code to repeal the provision that debars married women from representing a minor in judicial proceedings. In a Parliament which has less than ten women legislatures among its 225 members, why none of them could stand up and speak on the plight of countless women workers who undergo tremendous hardships in their workplaces cannot be understood.

PA's Jeyaraj Fernandopulle spoke in particular of the women working in the free trade zones in the countries. "They work for 10 - 15 years and leave to get married and raise children but they have no income after they leave. Some form of a pension must be started for them," he suggested. Mr. Fernandopulle also said that many factory owners were defaulting in the payment of EPF and ETF funds and closing factories when ever they chose to, leaving many workers stranded.

PA Parliamentarian Nimal Siripala De Silva said the opposition too supported laws that make the rights of women equal to that of men as women have surpassed men in many achievements.

The Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill and the Bail (Amendment) Bill too were debated and passed.

The first Bill will provide for Sri Lanka to exchange information regarding criminal matters with all countries within the Commonwealth as well as several other countries. The second Bill will prevent the granting of bail by the Magistrates Court for a number of offences including homicide, rape, sexual exploitation and attempted murder.

Parliamentarians representing Tamil parties said they would not support the Bail amendment Bill as it had ignored the right to bail of those detained under the PTA. "No bail is allowed if you are held under the PTA. This rigorous provision must be repealed immediately even if the PTA is not abolished soon," TULF lawmaker R.Sampanthan said.

M.I.A.Ismail of the SLMC did not touch on any of the Bills under debate but instead focused on the hardships the Muslims were facing in the east of the country. Another of his colleagues H.M.H. Harees too delivered emotional speech calling for respect for the rights of the Muslims.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister A.H.M.Azwar who spoke on almost every subject under discussion helped liven up the lacklustre debates in his own inimitable style although Justice Minister W.J.M.Lokubandara who introduced three of the amendments too said that there was not very much to debate in them. The Bail (Amendment) Bill had infact been debated and passed just prior to the dissolution of Parliament late last year but had to be re-introduced as the speaker could not sign that Bill once the dissolution took effect.

Although many opposition speakers inferred that the Bail amendment had been brought to put their supporters in jail and keep them there without bail, Defence Minister Tilak Marapana said the provision of appealing to the High Court has been included in the Bill. "The non bailable offences are serious crimes such as rape and murder and I am sure none of the PA members or their supporters would be involved in those kinds of acts," he said.

One wonders why such similar bills cannot be debated simultaneously and passed in a day, without sittings being prolonged . After all the millions spent on the daily running of Parliament are the tax payers money.

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