By Himal Kotelawala
COLOMBO – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has agreed to the appointment of main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Harsha de Silva as chair of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) but disagreement within the committee has led to a deadlock.
Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premdasa told Parliament on Thursday (25) the president has conveyed to SJB legislators Harsha de Silva and Kabir Hashim, at a meeting attended by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Leader of the House Susil Premajayantha, that he is agreeable to the appointment.
“I would like to know if there is some problem within the government and if that is why the president’s directives are not followed,” Premadasa queried.
Responding to the opposition leader, Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga acknowledged that the president had indeed agreed to de Silva’s appointment but government MPs in the COPF have expressed concern.
“As you said, the president has agreed, but in discussions among the MPs of the committee – we have no issue with Harsha de Silva – but our MPs have a small concern about his conduct,” he said.
Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella noted that Parliament’s standing orders do not say that a committee chair cannot be appointed because MPs are opposed to it. Ranatunga, however, countered that majority support from the committee was needed, which Kiriella again refuted.
The issue of COPF chair has dragged for weeks now, said Premadasa asking why the government was so adamant on blocking de Silva’s appointment.
The SJB and other opposition groups have been crying foul over the government’s refusal to appoint the economist-turned-politician as COPF chair. An allegedly surreptitious attempt to have de Silva’s SJB colleague Mayantha Dissanayake came a cropper after Dissanayake, who had initially accepted the position, resigned mere days later. Government MPs have claimed that the SJB had wanted Dissanayake to step down due to internal rifts in the party.
For his part, de Silva has said the government has been violating parliamentary procedures and governance by running the committee without a chairman since January.
On May 12, the main opposition questioned the legality of raising a ceiling on Treasury bills to 6,000 billion rupees from 5,000 billion over dispute over the committee chairmanship.