Monday, June 13, 2011

Parliamentary questions

The workings of parliament are sometimes obscure, but I think people should make the effort to try and and understand what goes on.

Last week the chief government whip refused to answer a question on the basis of national security. Why should an MP refuse to answer questions? Does parliamentary procedure allow questions to go unanswered?

Reading the Parliamentary procedure in the UK relating to questions it appears to me that an MP cannot refuse to answer. Parliamentary questions are but one way by which the Government is held to account. Accountability to its citizens is what makes a democracy a democracy so refusing to answer a question is simply 'not on'.

Even more intriguing was the question which he refused to answer. He had refused to reveal the findings of a commission set up to look into alleged irregularities committed in the procurement of arms and ammunition for the military.

As this was a commission set up by the Government to look into alleged irregularities, it seems very strange that its results cannot be made public. “The President and relevant officials will take the necessary action based on the findings of the report,” Minister Gunawardena said, which does not seem very convincing since the overriding aim seems to be to sweep things under the carpet.

This reaction seems especially odd in contrast to the conviction of Sarath Fonseka on charges of corruption in arms procurement. Sauce for the goose is apparently not sauce for the gander, so while enemies of the republic will be persecuted its friends will be protected.

There is also another question: on the quality of internal mechanisms. The Government has repeatedly boasted that the country, being a democracy, has the necessary mechanisms and processes to deal with all problems. The reaction to the findings of this commission seem to demonstrate the opposite.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Of pensions and pensioners

The Government has barely had time to withdraw the pensions bill when a pensioner has stepped into the limelight, threatening to ignite the controversy all over again.

Sanath Jayasuriya had been put out to pasture a long time ago. Following his entry to a geriatric day care centre (otherwise known as parliament) he was expected to spend long hours ruminating and peacefully chewing the cud, but no, he has vaulted over the parliament walls and is back playing cricket.

The life force obviously flows freely in the swamps and lakes that surround the parliament and sustains the life forms within that august building. Perhaps its denizens are all imbibing the Vivificus Iunvenesco Potion. Either way, the ordinary forces of time do not seem to operate within that building.

Under the controversial pension bill, a worker was paid a pension after the age of 60 and was expected to retire at the age of 55. In contrast, the Prime Minister, now 80, is by the standard of wine, of an old and rare vintage that is only available through specialist shops. Hale and hearty, he shows no inclination to retire. A founding member of the SLFP he has spent half a century in parliament.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, current leader of the opposition is 62. He has already shown keen intent on holding this position for the rest of his life, which should be long, given his considerable skills in hanging on by the skin of his teeth. Le Roi, already 65 will be 73 by the time his second term expires.

Perhaps what we need is a pension bill for parliamentarians? Perhaps someone should also drain the swamp? There is life emerging from it all right (and crawling inside the parliament), but in the words of Scotty "not as we know it".

It may even be of an everlasting type, last seen in the Doctor Who series. Who wants MP's who last forever? The whole building may be a giant TARDIS for all we know, defying the laws of time and space and lasting forever. There are certainly enough Doctors in it.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


Java Jones had written something on the last round of Wikileaks revelations. He felt that the leaks were helpful, I disagreed and wrote a reply that kept growing longer so I decided to post it on my own blog instead.

I had not read his blog for some time, so this reply is almost six months late but I think the point is still valid.

What the last round of Wikileaks revelations has done is damage diplomacy, which is a danger to all concerned.

Previous leaks, such as the footage of helicopters shooting civilians was in the public interest. Action needed to be taken and making the news public was necessary.

Releasing diplomatic cables revealing the opinions of diplomats on meetings, personalities and other routine matters was grossly irresponsible and highly damaging.

The fact that diplomats felt they could not trust certain Saudi ministers or their thoughts on Chinese and North Korean officials do not further anyone's interests. It is not necessary to talk to ones friends but one must always talk to ones enemies. The alternative to not talking is misunderstanding, conflict and worse.

It is not possible for leaders of countries to talk to each other face-to-face on a regular basis, so their representatives - diplomats must do do so on their behalf. They then need to make as frank an assessment of the people they meet and the situations they encounter and report these to their superiors.

They need to be polite to people they meet but they also need to be frank in their assessments. This is not double dealing or hypocrisy, this is simply good manners and necessary. We do this all the time; when we deal with unpleasant neighbours, co-workers and the like, diplomats are no different. Nothing that has been leaked is completely unknown or unexpected but it does embarrass all concerned.

Wikileaks needs to edit and release information on the basis of public interest, their last revelations have been anything but.