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Friday, June 13, 2008

The old Parliament Building of Sri Lanka

The old parliament building - Colombo

The old parliament building is an imposing building that you won't miss if you are travelling past the Galle Face Green in Colombo. Despite the many high-rises dotting the area, this building still manages to hold its own. It was in this historic building that all discussions on reconstructing post-independent Sri Lanka took place.

The building was constructed between 1920 and 1930 to house the Legislative Council as a result of an idea mooted by Sir Henry E. McCallum. The proposal made by a committee to construct the new building for 'the Secretariat, Council Chamber and Government offices on reclaimed land at the northern end of Galle Face' were accepted by the Government in 1920.

The old parliament has been designed according to the 'Ionic Style', one of the five architectural orders, and resembles the temple of the Greek Goddess, Athena on the Acropolis hill at Athens, Greece, about which we have already talked. Chief architect of the Public Works Department, A. Woodson was responsible for the design of the old parliament.

The building was designed with an open outlook in a way that it will benefit from the sea breezes. The Council Chamber, which later came to be known as the Parliament Chamber, was located in its centre, protected from the noise outside and the strong breezes. The initial estimate of Rs 400,000 for the scheme was later revised by the Public Works Advisory Board to Rs 450,000, taking into account the extra expenses involved.

The building, the Legislative Council as it was then known, was opened on January 29, 1930 by Governor Sir Herbert J. Stanley. It was renamed as the State Council a year later, and designed to house the State Council from 1931 to 1947.

The Soulbury Commission was adopted in 1947 and the building was known as the House of Representatives from 1947 to 1972. After the 1972 Constitution, it was renamed as the National State Assembly; this name was used upto 1978. After the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was introduced in September 1978, it was renamed as the Parliament building. The presentation of the Speaker's Chair and the Mace by the House of Commons of Britain to Sri Lanka took place in these premises in 1949.

The British Coat-of-Arms, which was displayed prominently on the front of the building was replaced with the insignia (official badge) of Ceylon after independence and with the insignia of Sri Lanka in 1972.

It has functioned as the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Executive President since 1983. This is where all important official announcements are made and appointments of the State are administered.

The Old Parliament, now houses the Presidential Secretariat and the Finance Ministry.

Parliament Buildings

The Old Parliament Building the near the Galle Face Green, now the Presidential SecretariatUnder the British Colonial regime, when the Executive Council and the Legislative Councils were set up in 1831, they met in a building opposite Gordon Gardens, which is now the Presidential Secretariat. On January 29, 1930 the British Governor of Ceylon, Sir Herbert Stanley (1927-1931), opened a building fronting the ocean at Galle Face, Colombo, designed for meetings of the Legislative Council. It was subsequently used by the State Council (1931-1947). Initially, it seated 49 Legislative Council members.

Structural changes to the parliament building were made in 1947 when membership to the House of Representatives was increased to 101. In 1960, membership was increased to 157, and in 1977 to 168 but no changes were made to accommodation and facilities.

In 1967 under Speaker Sir Albert F. Peris, the leaders of the political parties unanimously resolved that a new Parliament building should be constructed on the opposite side of Beira Lake from the existing Parliament at Galle Face, but no further action was taken. While Stanley Tilakaratne was the Speaker (1970-77), the leaders of the political parties entrusted the drawing up of plans for a new Parliament building to architects, but the project was subsequently abandoned.

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