Transparency International Sri Lanka observed with shock and dismay, the behavior of Members of Parliament over the past week.
TISL wishes to highlight that in law, parliamentary privileges are not a cloak for criminal behavior. TISL is also concerned by the behavior of MPs towards law enforcement authorities on the premises of the parliament, showcasing a pervasive culture of impunity and total disregard of the rule of law.
TISL wishes to bring to the attention of the public and the relevant authorities, the provisions in law which enable action to be taken in such cases. Whilst the conduct of certain MPs as witnessed in parliament on the 14th, 15th and 16th of November amounts to blatant violations of the code of conduct adopted in April 2018, attempts to sabotage parliamentary proceedings also constitute offences under the Parliament (Powers & Privileges) Act.
The schedule of the Act clearly outlines that incidents of assault, threat, intimidation and disobedience, as witnessed over the past week, constitute offences under the law and are punishable by a sentence of up to 2 years. TISL calls on the members of parliament to petition the Speaker to use his statutory power to make a reference to the Attorney-General on the conduct of errant MPs. It is based on this report of the Attorney General that legal proceedings can commence before the Supreme Court.
TISL feels it important to emphasize that the freedom from arrest of Parliamentarians is only applicable for what they have said and for matters ‘brought before Parliament by petition, bill, resolution, motion or otherwise’. Any action of assault can give cause for legal proceedings to be initiated against a Member of Parliament.
TISL Executive Director Asoka Obeyesekere said, “The entire country watched with dismay as their elected representatives were reduced to acts of thuggery and intimidation. At this crucial juncture it is imperative that all law enforcement agencies display independence and send a clear message to those who seek to disregard the law”.
Obeyesekere added, “We are yet to see any action taken by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption regarding the complaint filed by TISL over allegations of bribery of members of parliament. We are mindful that complacency on the part of Law enforcement agencies will cause irreparable harm to public faith in the rule of law and the institutions of democracy”.
TISL calls on the President, the Speaker, the Chief Whips, party leaders and all members of parliament to ensure that steps are taken to hold offenders to account and deter the recurrence of such behaviour.