President urged to seek SC opinion

Is OMP Bill consistent with RTI law?


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Constitutional affairs expert Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, MP, yesterday told The Island that parliament couldn’t be bound by any particular Act and that was the reason for the absence of reference to the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) Bill in the unanimously endorsed Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Dr. Wickramaratne emphasised that the issue had been discussed thoroughly and they had also received the Attorney General’s advice in that regard.

According to the controversial OMP Bill, its members will not be bound by provisions in the RTI Act. Dr Wickramaratne said that he hadn’t studied the OMP Bill and, therefore, couldn’t comment on specific issues. However, restrictions couldn’t be imposed on parliament by way of an Act, in this particular case the RTI law. Dr. Wickramaratne is also on the Committee on Standing Orders as well as three Sectoral Oversight Committees, namely (1) Legal Affairs (anti-corruption) and media (2) Internal Administration and Public Management and (3) Reconciliation and North & East Reconstruction.

Responding to another question, Dr. Wickramaratne said that because the right to information had been categorized as a fundamental right in accordance with the 19 Amendment to the Constitution any party affected by provisions in OMP Bill could seek the intervention of the Supreme Court.

The following is the relevant section of the OMB Bill: "Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any written law, except in the performance of his duties under this Act, every member, officer, servant and consultant of the OMP shall preserve and aid in preserving confidentiality with regard to matters communicated to them in confidence. The provisions of the Right to Information Act of 2016, shall not apply with regard to such information"

Justice Minister Wiejeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, too, told The Island that any affected party could seek the intervention of the court in case of a contradiction in respect of the RTI and the proposed OMP law.

The ruling UNP-SLFP coalition introduced OMP Bill in parliament on May 22, 2016 and it was gazetted on May 27, 2016. The government move was in line with a Geneva Resolution 30/1 adopted on Oct. 1, 2015. The Resolution co-sponsored by the government of Sri Lanka was meant to set up four separate mechanisms to address accountability issues.

The Joint Opposition (JO) member and attorney-at-law Udaya Gammanpila told The Island that they could propose amendments to the OMP Bill though the JO missed an opportunity to challenge it in the Supreme Court within the stipulated period. MP Gammanpila said that some sections in the OMP Bill were contrary to its basic objectives. The Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader said that he couldn’t comprehend the provision that whereabouts of a person categorized as missing if found to be alive could be revealed with the consent of the person found alive.

Gammanpila said that controversy surrounds the provision in OMP Bill that members of the OMP wouldn’t be considered as public servants for the purposes of the Penal Code

(Chapter 19), the Bribery Act and the Evidence Ordinance (Chapter 14).

Chief incumbent of Dharmayathanaya Ven. Elle Gunawansa yesterday told The Island that he had sought President Maithripala Sirisena’s intervention to thwart the passage of the OMP Bill in its present form. While noting that an opportunity to challenge the Bill in the Supreme Court had been missed, Ven. Gunawansa said that he had requested the President to seek the advice of the Supreme Court in terms of presidential powers. The thera made available a copy of the letter dated August 2 sent to the President. Ven. Gunawansa emphasized that the President and the government should obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court before the parliament took it up.

Ven. Gunawansa said that the government couldn’t under any circumstances ignore available constitutional safeguards to prevent a law inimical to the nation’s interests being adopted.

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