It appeared to be a gain for the Joint opposition or the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) faction loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when the Supreme Court declared the process of Value Added Tax (Amendment) Bill a nullity. This was done in answer to a petition against the Bill by MP Sisiria Jayakodi.
The glow of this victory was short-lived as the Joint opposition suffered a legislative defeat as it failed to thwart the government in enacting the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Bill in Parliament. It could have petitioned the Supreme Court against the Bill and sought a determination on its constitutionality within seven days upon its presentation in Parliament. The Joint opposition missed the opportunity and enabled the government to ensure the passage of the Bill through the House with a simple majority.
In a last ditch attempt to preempt the enactment of this legislation, the Joint opposition MPs rushed to the Well of the House and demonstrated. However it was in vain as the government had the backing of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as the main opposition and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) amidst the din created by the protesting legislators.
The Bill is now in the public domain and the political scene is tense with back and forth arguments on its implications. The government has been hailed for the passing of the Bill. The United States commended the move, calling it a historic milestone towards reconciliation in the country in conformity with commitments to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Alongside this, the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) a Diaspora group and NGOs such as the National Peace Council rushed to join the bandwagon of OMP backers.
The government advocators tried to give credence to their argument, articulating the point that the OMP findings would halt the endless search of missing persons by their loved ones. They said it would lead to the ascertainment of the truth and ensure justice to the victims. They flaunt the example of a distressed mother, waiting tearfully for the return of her missing son. The OMP would discover the fate of her son, thus ending her endless crying. Behind this emotional saga however, the critics of the Bill see the dangers inherent for the the soldiers who participated in the war against LTTE terrorism.
Though the findings of the OMP will not give rise to criminal and civil liability, they can be used as evidence in prosecution through the proposed judicial mechanism. The OMP is the first of four steps to be taken for what it calls ‘transnational justice’. The establishment of a truth commission and the payment of reparations will come next. Finally the judicial mechanism will be set up. Once the judicial mechanism is put in place, the Joint opposition says the government will be ready with OMP findings as evidence for the necessary prosecution of soldiers.
In all, the OMP will focus on the cases of disappearances in the North and East primarily during the war. Allegations have been made in various reports compiled with international backing to look into the disappearances of LTTE cadres after surrendering to the military during the last leg of the war. Critics believe the OMP is nothing but a ruse to examine such cases.
At the moment, the parliamentary authorities are in the process of incorporating amendments moved to the Bill during the committee. The government alone brought in 17 amendments in addition to the ones proposed by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). After that is done, it is to be sent to the Legal Draftsman to be put in correct legal format. Next, the Speaker will certify it into the Act.
Having failed to take judicial action during the pre-enactment period, the Joint opposition is now in a dilemma as to what should be done to halt the implementation of the provisions of the Bill despite its passage through Parliament.
In a last ditch attempt, they requested President Sirisena to refer the Bill to the Supreme Court for determination on its constitutionality. This proved awry as the President did not respond before the enactment. No option is left on the table now. As a result, the Joint opposition is in the process of forming public opinion against the Bill with the help of the Buddhist clergy.
Today, land and police powers have been devolved to the provincial councils to a certain extent. Yet, the relevant provision was not implemented due to public pressure.
On similar lines, the Joint opposition believes they can build public pressure against the OMP as well. All in all, the country’s situation is poised to become volatile in the days and months to come over the OMP.
During the debate on the OMP Bill, the demonstrating joint opposition MPs were sometimes seen in eyeball to eyeball confrontation with the government members who stood guard on Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera, probably in anticipation of physical harm on him. Even a slight provocation could have triggered a major brawl as things turned explosive.
At one point, MP Udaya Gammanpila was glaring at Mr. Samaraweera. He was confronted by Deputy Minister Ajith Perera. This led to a heated exchange of words and nearly ended in a brawl. “Why, what is the problem? asked Mr. Perera
“Why, what is wrong with you?” retorted Mr. Gammanpila During the commotion, a number of government MPs including state minsters and deputy ministers had rushed into the Well of the House, probably to stand up to any possible hostility from the protesting opposition members. Among such government members were Anura Sidney Jayaratne, Dilip Wedarachchi, Nalin Badara Jayamaha and Hector Appuhami.
On behalf of the Joint opposition, former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and Kandy district MP Keheliya Rambukwella held a press conference and extensively dealt with the issues related to the OMP. The following day, Mr. Rambukwella reportedly received a call from President Sirisena. It is learned that the President asked Mr. Rambukwella to write the implications of the Bill on a sheet of paper and forward it to him. Subsequent to the President’s request, the JO leaders met at the residence of Prof. Peiris on Tuesday and decided to send a note to the President to take action. Be that as it may, the Joint opposition received a shock from the President on Wednesday as nine of its MPs were expelled from their organizer posts. Mr. Rambukwella is one such member who lost his post.
The action is bound to precipitate developments for the formation of a new political movement as the space for the Joint opposition in the SLFP is shrinking now.
Vasu misses Alavi Moulana
The Joint opposition is to commemorate late Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) trade union leader Alavi Mowlana who also served as a Governor. A commemorative committee headed by MP Dinesh Gunawardane has also been appointed for the event to be conducted next Monday. MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara, a close associate of Mr. Mowlana, said the trade union movement was the best place for national reconciliation.
Mr. Nanayakkara said Mr. Mowlana symbolized this both by word and deed.
“As a Muslim, Mr. Mowlana headed the trade union wing of the SLFP which is a party with a majority representation of Buddhists. My beloved friend Mowlana showed that it was the best avenue for reconciliation among different peoples of this country,” he said. He recalled how Mr. Mowlana sustained serious stab injuries in the late 1970s when fighting for workers’ rights.
After recuperation from these injuries, he said Mr. Mowlana joined the struggle with renewed vigour. Mr. Mowlana actively organized the May Day rally of the SLFP for more than 50 years during his long spanning political career.
Only standard coconut oil for parliamentary kitchen
A movement championing consumers’ rights put up a press note recently saying that cooking oil of inferior quality was used in the parliamentary canteen when preparing meals for the MPs. The news drew the attention of Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. Issuing a press release, the Speaker’s office denied this. The Speaker observed the condition of the canteen soon after he assumed office last year and instructed all concerned to use only quality coconut oil when cooking meals. “Cooking oil with standard certification is now used,” the press release says. Accordingly, the press release by the Consumer Rights Movement was denied.
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