Crucial OMP Bill Rushed through Parliament

Amidst Joint Opposition protests

OMP Act Aug 2016 [PDF]

CPA: Summary of OMP

Video of FM Mangala Samaraweera’s speech during debate on OMP bill [youtube]

OMP-Bill-Statement-TabledinParliament-11August2016-s [PDF]

Entire process takes less than two hours

By Saman Indrajith, ‘The Island,’ Colombo, August 11, 2016

The Joint Opposition’s protest enabled the government to rush the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Bill through parliament yesterday.

The Bill was passed with amendments amidst shouting and chanting of slogans by Joint Opposition against the government.

When the time came for Notice of Motions and Orders of the Day, Leader of the House Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella moved the Office on Missing Persons (Establishment, Administration and Discharge of Functions) Bill for the second reading.

article_imageMEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena said that the Joint Opposition would not agree with the government’s to change the session plan to hold the debate on the OMP for two days – Thursday and Friday) and to have the vote in Friday evening to advance the voting at 11 am on Friday.  He said that shortening the time of debate would deprive the Opposition MPs of their time to speak in Parliament leading to the deprivation of their privileges.

Following this, the members Joint Opposition invaded the Well of Parliament wearing black armbands as a sign of protest against the Bill. Some MPs were wearing black sataka and shouting against the government accusing the latter of betraying the nation.

As the protest was continuing not permitting the proceedings to continue, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya suspended sittings around 12.19 pm and called for a meeting of party leaders.

When the House resumed sittings, Leader of the House Minister Kiriella said that party leaders had agreed to extend Thursday’s debate time by three more hours till 9.30 pm and to have the vote at 11 am on Friday. The MPs of Joint Opposition protested, saying that they could not debate the issue till 9.30 pm and demanded the government to reverse its decision and to adhere to the original plan.

MEP Leader Gunawardena said that the change of plan amounted to a breach of privileges of MPs.

JVP MP Vijitha Herath explaining his party’s position said that the JVP had agreed to hold the debate for full two days and to have the vote taken at 6.00 pm on Friday. He, too, said that there was no point continuing the debate till 9.30 pm on Thursday but to finish sittings at usual time at 6.30 pm on Thursday, resume it at 9.30 am on Friday and to continue till 6 pm to put the Bill to the vote. The JVP had been permitted to present an adjournment motion for Friday, but the party was willing to postpone it if the government took the vote at 6 pm Friday, he said. “The original plan was to debate the VAT bill for two days, but following the Supreme Court decision that need did not arise. Had there been different pronouncement from the Supreme Court, we would have been debating the VAT Bill. Then, none of these problems of adjusting or changing the session plan would not have arisen,” he said, adding that the OMP Bill was originally scheduled for the next sitting week so that a two-day debate could be held and the vote be taken during the next sitting week.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya: “Except the Joint Opposition all other parties at the party leaders’ meeting agreed to have the vote at 11 am on Friday.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe: “The VAT Bill was presented to Parliament but following the Supreme Court opinion we did not take it for debate. The next most important Bill in the Order Book was the OMP. That was why we needed to bring it forward. There are no legal impediments to advancing the OMP Bill as it has not been challenged before courts. Then we with the consent of all allocated Thursday and Friday for the debate and agreed to have the vote at 11.00 am. There is Law Asia international conference on Friday evening. The President, the Minister of Justice and I have been invited to be present there. That was why we needed to have the vote at 11.00 am so that the MPs who go to the mosque on Friday noon prayers could do so. Otherwise, we could debate this till midnight tonight if the Opposition needs more time.”

Opposition Leader R Sampanthan said that his party had agreed to continue the debate till 9.30 pm on Thursday because the OMP Bill was very important.

Joint Opposition MPs Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa opposed Opposition Leader Sampanthan’s suggestion; they pointed out that the Opposition MPs needed more time. MP Nanayakkara said the government had proposed 17 amendments to the bill and those amendments should be presented to the oversight committee before being taken up in the House.

Leader of the House Minister Kiriella said the government was willing to give time by stretching the session till 9.30 pm yesterday and till 2.00 pm today and invited Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera to commence the debate.

Joint Opposition MPs invaded the Well again for the second time and Sergeant-at-Arms Anil Parakrama Samarasekera aided by his deputies protected the Mace from the invaders.

Minister Samaraweera’s introduction to the bill was seconded by TNA MP MA Sumanthiran. JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake, too, spoke while Joint Opposition MPs remained in the Well shouting slogans.

At the end of MP Ratnayake’s speech, Speaker Jayasuriya asked whether the Joint Opposition MPs would participate in the debate or not and if they intended to do so to take their seats. However, since none of the JO MPs taking the opportunity to participate in the debate, Speaker Jayasuriya called on the Leader of the House to move the for the next item. So Minister Kiriella said that second reading of the bill was over and moved the House for committee stage for the third reading of the bill. As the government read out its amendments, the JO MPs shouted slogans. The bill was passed with amendments and the entire process took place within less than two hours.

House was adjourned till 9.30 am today.


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