Minister: Prez- JVP moved amendments to OMP Bill

Govt. claims a two-thirds majority but unable to state number of votes


by Shamindra Ferdinando

Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe yesterday said that the controversial Office on Missing Persons (Establishment, Administration and Discharge of Functions) Bill had the backing of a staggering two-thirds majority in Parliament, though the Joint Opposition (JO) behaved as if it could have thwarted that important piece of legislation.

The Bill needed only to be passed with a simple majority, the minister said.

Minister Samarasinghe stressed that the JO lacked the strength to thwart the passage of the Bill and therefore it had tried to disrupt parliament. Minister Samarasinghe alleged that an attempt was made to seize the mace and cause turmoil. "Their unruly behaviour prompted us to advance the vote and bring the process to a swift conclusion"

Addressing the media at the Information Department, Minister Samarasinghe said both the SLFP as well as the JVP had accepted the Bill following consensus with the UNP over four major amendments proposed by them. The four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi had endorsed the OMP Bill introduced in Parliament in accordance with Geneva Resolution 30/1 adopted in last October.

The OMP is one of the four mechanisms mentioned in the Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the government.

Minister Samarasinghe said that President Maithripala Sirisena on behalf of the SLFP had made three major recommendations in respect of the Bill. Subsequent to consultations with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the government had accepted the amendments in respect of Clause 11, Clause 12 (f) and Clause 21.

Minister Samarasinghe said that Maithripala Sirisena had made the recommendations, in his capacity as the President as well as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

Minister Samarasinghe said that on the President’s recommendation the UNP had deleted 21 to 29 lines in Clause 11 and replaced them with (a) to enter into all such agreements as are necessary to achieve the mandate of the OMP, with any person or organization.

As regards Clause 12 (f) (1) to authorise in writing a specified officer of the OMP to enter at any time, any place of detention, police station, prison or any other place in which any person is suspected to be detained, or is suspected to have previously been detained in, and make such examinations therein or make such inquiries from any person found therein, and retain any documents or objects, as may be necessary, the government included the following: "the Minister in charge of the subject of Justice shall make guidelines as to the manner in which a search in terms of this sub-section should be conducted. Such guidelines shall be placed before the parliament within a reasonable time not exceeding three months.

Finally, in respect of Clause 21 (1) The OMP shall have the power (a) to raise funds in order to achieve its mandate, including but not limited to obtaining any grants, gifts or endowments from within Sri Lanka and (b) to raise funds in order to achieve its mandate, as grants, gifts or endowments from outside Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena had proposed in the event that the OMP raises funds in terms of sub section (b) of this section, such funds shall be channeled through the External Resources Department.The government also accepted the JVP’s proposal that in case the OMP had conducted a search in terms of Clause (12 (f), the OMP should inform the Inspector General of Police within 48 hours.

Having amended the Bill, the parliament followed proper procedures in adopting it, Minister Samarasinghe said. Minister Samarasinghe dismissed the JO contention that the passage of the Bill wasn’t acceptable due to the failure on the part of the government to follow proper procedures. Minister Samarasinghe said that in line with the British parliamentary tradition there had been a vote on the Bill convincingly won by the government. At the time of the vote there hadn’t been even 20 members of the JO in parliament, Minister Samarasinghe said, alleging that those opposed to the Bill weren’t prepared for a debate.

Asked by The Island whether he could reveal the number of votes received for and against the Bill, Minister Samarasinghe side-stepped the issue saying that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya had endorsed the process. Once Speaker Jayasuriya signed the Bill, it would become law, Minister Samarasinghe said.

Samarasinghe alleged that the JO squandered an opportunity to present amendments and propagate its point of view during a two-day debate. The Minister said that party leaders met in parliament under the leadership of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to explore ways and means of settling the issue. Participants at Speaker Jayasuriya’s meeting included TNA leader R. Sampanthan, Ministers Mahinda Samarasinghe, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Lakshman Kiriella, Ravi Karunanayake and Gayantha Karunatilleke as well as MP s Vijitha Herath, Douglas Devananda and Anura Kumara Dissanayake. MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena represented the JO at the meeting.Minister Samarasinghe maintained that the MP Gunawardena said that he couldn’t agree on proposal regarding the allocation of two and half hours for JO members on Thursday and Friday consequent to complaints the grouping had been denied adequate time. Instead of presenting the JO’s case in parliament, the grouping sought the easy way out, Minister Samarasinghe alleged.

Samarasinghe played down a statement attributed to government member JHU MP Ven. Athureliye Rathana that they hadn’t been given an opportunity to move amendments. Minister Samarasinghe asserted that the amendments proposed by President Maithripala Sirisena had ensured required safeguards for the armed forces as well as the police.

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