dream finally comes true
By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent
History was made in Parliament last week when the curtain finally
fell on the decades-old problem of stateless persons of Indian origin
in Sri Lanka when the Bill granting citizenship to these persons
found unanimous passage in the legislature. The unanimity among
the legislators ended there with the explosive nature of national
security exposing the vast divisions that exist between the ruling
party and Tamil political parties on one side and the PA and JVP
on the other.
Ranil Wickremesinghe's controversial remarks alleged to have been
made during his recent address to the UN General Assembly in New
York continued to reverberate in the House with the opposition demanding
a parliamentary discussion on the subject. The date for this session
has been fixed for October 23.
by Baddegama Samitha Thero condemning the Premier's address to the
General Assembly also added fuel to the discussion particularly
when the monk referred to Sri Lanka becoming a "pariah"
among other third world countries as a result of the UNF government's
The use of
this word by Samitha Thero immediately drew protests from House
Leader W.J.M. Lokubandara who said it was an unsuitable word to
be used in the House and the Deputy Chairman of Committees Siri
Andrahennady who presided ruled the word was unparliamentary.
If the learned
members of the legislature feel this word, which simply means "an
outcast", is unparliamentary, how would they then describe
the kind of language used by Kandy District PA parliamentarian Mahindananda
Aluthgamage and Plantation Minister Lakshman Kiriella during one
of their verbal duels later that evening is anybody's guess.
Let alone printable,
most of us felt like plugging our ears rather than having to listen
to the kind of words exchanged between the two parliamentarians.
It fell on the Deputy Chairman of Committees to remind the House
the following morning to refrain from using such "unparliamentary
language" in the future.
Whip Mahinda Samarasinghe too intervened to say that this kind of
behaviour projected a negative image of Parliament especially at
a time when many school children visited the Chamber during sittings
which only prompted the Gampaha district PA parliamentarian Jeyraj
Fernandopulle to say that nobody could dictate the language MPs
chose to use in the august assembly even if students were amidst
No sooner all
the fuss kicked up by Samitha Thero's statement on Tuesday settled
that Interior Minister John Amaratunga presented the historic Bill
titled, Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin. The Bill
was presented amidst applause from both sides of the House and the
presence of a large group of visibly happy visitors from the estate
sector seated in the public gallery of the legislature.
detailed the background that led to the protracted struggle by persons
of Indian origin, brought to this country way back in the 19th century
to work on tea and rubber plantations and culminating in becoming
fully fledged citizens of Sri Lanka with the passage of this Bill.
It was also an emotional moment for members of the Ceylon Workers
Congress (CWC) who are now partners in the UNF government, whose
founder Saumyamoorthy Thondaman, during his lifetime championed
the cause of stateless persons.
Arumugam Thondaman echoed the words his grandfather had used in
1988 when a large segment of stateless persons were granted citizenship,
"My people have had to go through really hard times. Now at
last they will be able to live with dignity and honour".
said that one of the conditions they had insisted on when pledging
their support to the UNF government in 2000 was the granting of
citizenship to stateless persons of Indian origin and had since
then pursued this matter to a successful conclusion.
yet another debate on the security situation in the country but
unfortunately it was more or less the same list of speakers who
brandished their often repeated arguments on why the peace process
was either good or bad for the country.
However this paved the way for Defence Minister Thilak Marapane
to admit in the House that the strength of the LTTE had doubled
since the ceasefire but said it was the price we have to pay if
the peace process is to be pursued.
Leader Mahinda Rajapakse moved the adjournment motion and spoke
of the perilous situation facing Tricomalee while the JVP's Colombo
district MP Wimal Weerawansa urged ruling party MPs to leave the
treacherous government and speak up against the disintegration of
It was another
poor showing by members on both sides of the House with a half empty
chamber and the absence of many frontline government Ministers which
has been a regular feature when debates on the security situation
take place. The dearth of speakers appear to be one of the main
problem especially with those involved in the peace negotiations
or related matters rarely using such opportunities to express or
clarify their views.
Rajitha Senaratne who has been the most consistent contributor for
the government on security related debates went as far back as 1956
while recalling the many similar speeches heard in the chambers
as those now made by opposition members. He said that all the leaders
of the past should bear the responsibility for the tragic situation
this country is facing today and said the present Prime Minister
was the only leader who dared to be different and had the guts to
come forward in finding a permanent solution to the ethnic problem.
Ports and Shipping
Minister Rauff Hakeem said the biggest threat to peace was for any
community living in any part of the country to feel they were insecure
and went on to say that LTTE needs to be more responsible now than
at the time they started out on the peace process.
Minister said the signing of the ceasefire agreement resulted in
safeguarding the sovereignty of this country. "At the time
the ceasefire agreement was being signed all major government military
camps had fallen to the LTTE", he said. Another strong advocate
of the LTTE was the Tamil National Alliance's Trincomalee district
parliamentarian R. Sampanthan who accused the opposition of trying
to undermine the peace process when the LTTE was seriously studying
federalism in bringing about a settlement to the ethnic issue.
parliamentarian A.H.M. Fowzie, one of the silent supporters of the
peace process, said he had followed the peace process with much
optimism but now with the growing number of ceasefire violations
by the LTTE, the agreement had become stained with the blood of
Muslims. He urged Minister Hakeem to insist on a separate Muslim
delegation at the next round of peace talks.