A point-of-order is an important instrument of parliament. All members have a right to raise a point-of-order. The purpose is to bring to the attention of the house that some aspect of agreed parliamentary norms are being violated. That is its proper USE. The right can also be ABUSED. That happens when a member purports to have a point of order, but makes a flawed representation that only succeeds in interrupting proceedings or causing a disturbance.
Making a proper point-of-order requires active listening, and a good command of parliamentary procedure. Therefore, tracking the use and abuse of points of order is important. It indicates the alertness of members as well as the integrity of their participation – are they using or abusing this instrument?
Half of parliament was not awake to points of order
Manthri.lk is a pioneering online platform that monitors and ranks all the proceedings and actors in parliament. Its data for 20 months, from May 2012-December 2013, which had 154 sittings, shows that on average six point-of-order are made per parliamentary sitting (a total of 953).
However, More than half the members of parliament (53%) failed to raise even a single point-of-order during those 154 parliamentary sittings. Is it better to be asleep? Or awake and disruptive?
The fact that half the parliamentarians were not awake to points of order does not mean the behaviour of the other half is creditable. It turns out that the half that were making point-of-order were, overall, more prone to ABUSE points-of-order (invoke it improperly to disrupt) rather than to articulate a proper point-of-order. Exhibit 1 shows that of the total only 45% of the points-of-order conformed to proper use, 55% were an abuse of the instrument. Perhaps then there is some virtue to being in the more sleepy half of parliament – at least they are not using points-of-order to disrupt the proceedings.
Halls of fame for using and abusing points of order
Proper users: Manthri.lk documents 21 MPs as having made at least ten points of order during the period. Among these, in percentage terms, Dinesh Gunawardena (Chief Government Whip) has the highest rate – 88% – of using points of order properly (Exhibit 2). Next in line are M.A. Sumanthiran (84%) and John Amarathunga (77%).
Abusers: Of these 21 MPs, in percentage terms Mervyn Silva was the greatest abuser (Exhibit 2), where three-quarters (75%) of his points of order are abuses of the procedure. Two other leading abusers are Sujeewa Senasinghe (74%) and Shantha Bandara (70%).
Guinness record for greatest user as well as abuser
One single MP in parliament stands out for the sheer number of points of order made. A full 25% of the all the points of order in parliament were made by A.H.M. Azwer (a total of 242 of the 953!). The next highest is Ravi Karunanayake with just 53 points of order. That means Azwer asked five times more than the second highest.
In absolute numbers A.H.M. Azwer is both the greatest user and the greatest abuser of points of order: 152 (63%) were abusers and only 90 (37%) were proper uses.
In total, A.H.M. Azwer is responsible for 21% of the total proper uses of points of order, and 29% of the total abuses of the points of order.
The data from Manthri.lk suggests that some MPs are causing a great deal of disruption in parliament by the improper use of points of order. How can parliament be preserved from such disruptions, who should be responsible for a resolution? Please write your thoughts to www.manthri.lk/en/blog; or by text to 071-4639882.