Parliamentary proceedings allow for various opportunities of constructive engagement. MPs have a responsibility to use these different opportunities to further the concerns and common good of the voting public.
But data from Manthri.lk, spanning a 16 month period from April 2012 to August 2013, shows that almost one third of the current MPs failed to participate in the vital engagement opportunity known as “Adjournment Motions”. That’s a significant abdication of expectations placed on them by the voting public.
The largest non participation rate is from the UPFA, where 35% of the MPs have not participated. The best participation rate is the DNA Coalition (which includes the JVP), where only 14% have not participated.
What and Why of Adjournment Motions
An "Adjournment" refers to the temporary termination of sittings in the House of Parliament until its next scheduled date of meeting.
An “Adjournment Motion” refers to an issue raised by a Member of Parliament at the time of adjournment. According to Standing Order 17 of Parliament, an adjournment motion is designed for "discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance".
The mechanism allows private members to draw attention to an important issue at very short notice and urge the relevant Minister and other Members of Parliament to take action on the matter. Examples of such issues include the acquisition of lands in Colombo’s Slave Island area, fuel subsidies to fishermen, the Rathupaswala military crackdown on protestors and the spread of deadly renal disease.
What is more, even young and new MPs who are sometimes not on the priority list of the party for speaking in parliament, can quite easily acquire time to speak during Adjournment Motions. However, a sad feature of the current parliament has been the array of empty benches during Adjournment Motion debates.
Similar to the use of written questions in parliament (previously analysed by Manthri.lk), it is evident that Adjournment Motion debates are also dominated by a few MPs. The figure illustrates that the top 10 contributors to adjournment motions account for 30% of total adjournment motion activity.
Given the function of adjournment motions to discuss issues at short notice, unlike written questions that have a comparatively long time lag, this concentration of activity amongst a few MPs poses an interesting question. Does parliament face a lack of recognition as a forum to debate and resolve issues of urgent public importance?