By Somapala Gunadheera –
The recent gimmicks seen at the passing of the “Office of Missing Persons Bill” (OMP), reminded me of a couplet I used to hear often in the heyday of ‘Thuppahi Culture’. It ran, “If you want to marry me darling, come the proper way – Peeping through the window darling what will people say?”
According to the Government, the OMP had been tabled three months back. No one had raised objections against it in Courts or in the House. The debate on the Bill had been fixed at a meeting of all Party leaders and a two day schedule for a debate thereon, had been mutually agreed. In that background, it is difficult to understand why some MPs, inclusive of prominent politicians who had held prestigious office in the past, resorted to an ugly show of canker and abuse on the aisle of the House that is universally accepted to be hallowed ground. The public did not see any obstruction, repression or sleight of hands on the part of the Government that could have justified such behaviour.
The scene created a sad display that reflected not only on the participants but also on the nation as a whole. Why could not the Honourable Members of Parliament who formed the crowd, rise from the seats allocated to them and make a contribution to the debate, that could have gone down to history in writing? The ink that would have gone into that writing has now created a blot on the non-speakers. May it dawn on the JO that unconventional behaviour, at the drop of a hat, has the potential to drive them into a corner, sooner than later!
In the first place, by resorting to this un-parliamentary conduct, the participants have denied themselves a chance to convert the masses to their point of view on the Bill. If they made use of the opportunity to speak, which is their due and the privilege of the people they represent, they might have prevented the passage of the Bill or made amendments to it in the national interest. In addition, the unfortunate display provided the Government with a loophole to rush the Bill through Parliament. That blocked the legitimate right of the third party members to express their point of view on the Bill, which again throttled the right of the electorate to have their voices heard in Parliament, through their elected representatives.
Having thus upset the apple cart, the activists are now reported to be going to canvass Court to have the OMP Act nullified. It is very unlikely that any Court would lend itself to undo a damage that is self-imposed. Court would be satisfied if the prescribed procedure had been followed in passing the Act.
It is true that the JO has failed to make hay while the sun shone. But the Government should be large hearted enough to offer another chance to their adversaries who have squandered their turn. In any case, the signs are that they would be obliged to do so, if the news that appeared in the alternative media is correct. That news was to the effect that what the Leader of the House presented to the House was an earlier version of the OMP Bill and that in any case, the Act would have to be amended due to non-observance of other procedural dictates. If that is so, the Government has an opportunity to make a virtue of necessity.
This time around, let there prevail a spirit of give and take. After all, the OMP is no body’s private property. It is being introduced in the name of justice, fair play and reconciliation. It is gratifying to hear that the President himself had made several amendments to the draft and the Prime Minister has graciously accepted several amendments to it. May that spirit continue to prevail until an OMP that pleases the largest number is passed! Wide consultation is essential to ensure that objective and let there be no one-upmanship when the matter is reopened.
The proposed Amendment should be discussed at length to ensure optimum approval. It would be useful to summon a delegation of the JO to the Heads of Parties’ meeting that would finalize the amendment to the OMP. There should be a spirit of understanding, accommodation and transitional justice that could put an end to the vexed question of missing persons. The outcome of the negotiated settlement should not be a death warrant to those who fought devotedly to restore national peace or a Greek gift to real victims. These two parameters should create common ground for the negotiators to resolve their differences.