Sri Lanka: Main Opposition punching above its weight

Politicians are driven by their party allegiances and expediency rather than their conscience when they make decisions or vote in Parliament.

2 mins read
Leader of the Opposition, Sajith Premadasa [File Photo]

Some more deaths in government hospitals allegedly due to the administration of substandard drugs have been reported while the SJB is drumming up support for its motion of no confidence against Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella. The Health Ministry has sought to pooh-pooh the reports that the hurriedly-imported low-quality drugs are causing deaths, but the health sector trade unions are convinced otherwise; they insist that substandard drugs and equipment are procured as emergency purchases, which enable some venal elements in the Health Ministry to line their pockets at the expense of the sick. They are demanding a thorough probe into corruption in the Health Ministry.

Having appointed a seven-member committee to investigate the aforesaid allegations as well as other issues affecting the government hospitals, etc., Health Minister Rambukwella has urged the Opposition to fast-track its no-faith motion against him so that he can clear his name. He is obviously putting on a brave face. He did not seem his usual self when he said so in Parliament on Thursday; his speech was devoid of rhetoric and pugnacity, and worry was apparently written all over his face.

Not all Opposition politicians are agreed on the SJB’s decision to move a no-faith motion against Minister Rambukwella. Opposition parties see eye to eye on the need to expose corruption in the Health Ministry and hold the Health Minister and the top bureaucrats in charge of the procurement of medicinal drugs and equipment to account, but some of them think a no-confidence motion could end up boosting the morale of the government, which still has a working majority in the House. Among the proponents of this view are some SLPP dissidents.

SLPP MP Udaya Gammanpila has warned that the no-faith motion could prove counterproductive. However, the fact remains that extremely remote as the SJB’s chances of securing the passage of its no-faith motion are, the Opposition will get an opportunity to address the various allegations against the Health Minister and top health officials under him.

The general consensus is that everything is rotten about the public health sector, and therefore a campaign against corruption and other forms of malpractice in it should not be limited to an attempt to remove the Health Minister; it should have a broader scope. This argument sounds tenable, but it may also be argued that a no-faith motion will allow issues other than the allegations against the Health Minister to be taken up for debate in the House, provided the Opposition remains unprovoked and thereby frustrates the government MPs’ efforts to raise a ruckus and derail the debate. The opponents of no-confidence motions against government politicians usually succeed in making parliamentary debates descend into slanging matches, which leave the public none the wiser.

Perhaps, the SJB is trying to make use of the differences among its rivals on the other side of the House with the help of its no-faith motion against Minister Rambukwella. Some Opposition MPs who are supportive of the government but not well-disposed towards Rambukwella are reported to have signed the no-confidence motion to be moved; the SJB may be trying to drive in the wedge. Claiming that the no-faith motion is not against the Prime Minister or the government, the SJB has called upon the ruling party MPs to support it.

Politicians are driven by their party allegiances and expediency rather than their conscience when they make decisions or vote in Parliament. The SLPP MPs, save a few, will therefore circle the wagons and vote against the SJB’s motion of no confidence at issue, because they do not want the Opposition to score a win in Parliament at this juncture, but in doing so they will only make the allegations against Minister Rambukwella applicable to the entire government, and provide grist for the Opposition’s mill. This may be one of the objectives the SJB is seeking to achieve with the help of its no-faith motion. It is desperate for some traction on the political front.

Manik De Silva

Manik De Silva is the Editor of Sunday Island, a Colombo based weekly published by Upali Newspapers Ltd.

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