Controversial bill now needs simple majority due to JO’s lapse Office of Missing Persons:
Posted on July 26th, 2016


Due to a serious lapse on the part of the Joint Opposition (JO), the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in now in a position to pass the controversial Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Bill with a simple majority, according to legal sources.

The JO comprises nearly 50 members out of 95 UPFA parliamentary group, including a dozen National List nominees.

Sources said that the UNP and four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had the required numbers to adopt the Bill.

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The UNP and the TNA secured 122 seats, including 25 National List slots at the last parliamentary polls in August 2015. In addition to UNP and TNA parliamentary groups, two members elected on the SLMC and EPDP ticket, too, would vote for the Bill, sources said.

Legal and Opposition political sources said that the JO had failed to challenge the OMP Bill in Supreme Court within seven days of its being placed in order paper. In accordance with Standing Orders, the government placed the Bill in Order Paper in early July after having gazetted it two weeks back.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs proposed the establishment of OMP through an Act of Parliament. The Premier’s proposal has received the unanimous cabinet approval.

Lawyers working with the JO told The Island that had members brought to their notice the government move in Parliament, the Supreme Court could have been challenged. Responding to a query by The Island, a constitutional expert said that they could have argued that the proposed Bill couldn’t be passed without a two-thirds majority as certain clauses therein were contrary to the Constitution.

The expert asserted that the proposed Bill contained several clauses which violated the Constitution. The lawyer cited the conflicting nature of the OMP Bill and the recently adopted Right to Information Act (RIA) to prove his point.

Sources said that those members who had been campaigning against ongoing government efforts to implement contentious Geneva Resolution had failed to take it up before the stipulated time, thereby unwittingly missing an opportunity to thwart the project.

Sources said that the Bill could be passed without the support of those SLFPers loyal to President Maihripala Sirisena.

Former President and Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa last week appealed to all members, particularly those SLFPers who had switched allegiance to President Sirisena not to back the Bill.

The National Joint Committee (NJC) told The Island that certain provisions in the proposed OMP Bill were not only against the Constitution but contrary to the very purpose it was established. The NJC emphasised that nothing could be as surprising as the provision to let a missing person decide whether his/her whereabouts could be revealed when the OMP located he/she.

The Foreign Ministry has informed the Cabinet that various presidential commissions had placed the number of persons missing since President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure at 65,000, though the Paranagama Commission estimated 20,000 cases.

The Island sought an explanation from the National Peace Council (NPC), one of the major supporters of the proposed OMP Bill, regarding the provision for a man/woman found to decide the follow up action. On behalf of the NPC, Dr. Jehan Perera has sent The Island the following statement: “The OMP is meant to locate missing persons to give closure to their relatives and loved ones who do not know what had happened to them and therefore cannot get on with their lives. If people have chosen to hide themselves due to feeling under threat, they will not wish their whereabouts to be revealed. That also needs to be respected, which the OMP law does.”

Asked whether the provision to enable them to remain underground would be inimical to those who had been accused of disappearances, Dr. Perera said: “If a missing person is found by the OMP, the person is no longer missing, and so there cannot be a case against anyone. If there is a case against someone who was accused of the crime of enforced disappearance, it will necessarily have to be withdrawn.”

Asked to comment on the disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of presidential polls on January 26, 2010, Perera said: “In Ekneligoda’s case he continues to be missing, and there is no evidence to the contrary.”

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