By Kelum Bandara
After the Emergency Regulations were relaxed, Parliament met for the first time this week. Everyone concerned was eagerly waiting for this week’s sessions because it was anticipated that the government would clarify some of its actions taken in the post emergency period. The enforcement of new regulations under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the deployment of the army, the navy and the air force for duty in all the districts for the maintenance of law and order under the Public Security Ordinance were the areas of concern for some sections of polity.
During the debate on the adjournment motion on Wednesday the opposition that combined the UNP, the TNA and the JVP took the government to task over the implementation of new regulations under the PTA and the deployment of the military under the Public Security Ordinance. For most MPs, the gazette notification announcing these regulations was made available only on this day, and they were severe in their criticism against the government.
UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekara, TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran and JVP MP Vijitha Herath were three of the major speakers of the day, who criticized the government in the harshest possible manner on the new regulations. Their point of criticism was that the government had tried to repeat what they did under the Emergency Regulations, under a different legal regime. For them, the relaxation of emergency is only to ward off the international pressure ahead of the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva where Sri Lanka’s issue is expected to be taken up.
Come what may, the regulations have been imposed under the PTA on four reasons. According to the gazette notification, the first regulation is to proscribe the LTTE, which was earlier done under the emergency regulations. The number two is to proscribe the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) which is the financial agent of the LTTE.
The third regulation has been imposed for certain time frames with tasks specified for each. This regulation seeks to extend the appointment of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation till December 31, 2011. The post was created earlier under the emergency situation to look into the rehabilitation of LTTE cadres surrendered to the military in thousands and thousands during the latter part of the war.
That the government has sought to continue with this post under the PTA only till the end of this year sounds that the entire rehabilitation process is expected to be completed by the time. Also, through the same regulation, the government seeks to keep the postponement of elections to some local bodies till October 10, 2011. The government, earlier, withheld the elections to 23 local bodies under the emergency regulations. The election has been declared to them on October 8. Until such times the postponement has to be valid, and the third regulation provides for that.
The fourth regulation is meant to deal with detainees and remandees held in terms of the emergency regulations previously.
The TNA which opposed the Emergency Regulations even during the time of the war expected the release of the all these LTTE cadres after the lapse of the emergency situation. Much to their dismay, it has not happened that way, and therefore, the withdrawal of Emergency Regulations meant nothing for them.
The regulation to validate the postponement of the election till October 10 is also not a controversial one since the election has been declared to the remaining local bodies on October 8, only two days ahead of the deadline.
Yet, the counter arguments put forward by the government legislators against the opposition with regard to the imposition of these regulations were vague in tone and shallow in substance. They, except Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva, to centre their arguments mostly on the rhetorical aspect but not on the substance of the issue in an analytical perspective. They failed to take on the opposition point by point. Whether they deliberately ignored and disregarded the opposition in this regard or were not well prepared for the parliamentary debate, was unclear for viewers. Anyway, parliamentary debates are expected to be dealt with due seriousness since those who are interested in domestic politics closely monitor them.
The opposition rigorously brought the arguments that the new set of regulations could be used to undermine people’s freedom and suppress the right of the press in the same manner the government, according to them, did under the Emergency.
The Leader of the House, however, came up with clear-cut terms that the PTA would not be scrapped giving into the pressure by anyone. He cited it as part of the legal system in use in the country for a time running for decades.
Besides, Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem tried to counter the opposition with legal points coupled with his political wit. On Thursday, he stressed that the military would involve in defusing any tension in places occupied by civilians only if police ask for it.
Also on Wednesday, the House witnessed a rare enlightened debate on the regulations under the Criminal Procedure Code (Special Provisions) Amendment Act imposed in 2007. The Act had to be extended for every two year period with approval from Parliament. It had to be extended for the first time in May, 2009 accordingly. Nevertheless, the government had failed in this regard in the year concerned though the gazette notification was released. The Act provides for the detention of a suspect in police custody for 48 hours, instead of, for 24 hours stipulated under the normal law, prior to being produced before a court of law.
The move to extend the same law for a further period of two years drew criticism from the opposition on Thursday especially with the pertinent question as to why the government sought such an extension in the context of the relaxation of the state of emergency making normalcy to prevail.
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, backed by his MPs Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Dayasiri Jayasekera and John Amaratunga, took on the government on technical issues involving the law. They categorically said that the Act had ceased to exist with the dissolution of Parliament in 2010, and therefore regulations could not be imposed under it.
Mr. Hakeem joined in the debate as the responsible minister. Arguments and cross talks ensued between the ruling party and the opposition sans usual mudslinging and slandering with unparliamentary words. It was in fact the acceptable way in which parliamentarians should dwell on matters of public importance and concerns in the Legislature. Eventually, the Act was deferred by Parliament with the agreement from both sides of the House.
The questions time of each day was used fruitfully this week to discuss various issues. At one point, the illegal grabbing state prime lands in Kalpitiya, Puttalam by some elements with the backing of area politicians was raised in the House. Land Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon even thanked UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekara for bringing up the issue in the House, and he (the minister) assured not even a single acre of land would allow to be grabbed by anyone despite his or her position in society. In this landmass of over 400 acres, certain blocks have already been taken over forcibly by some persons and sold for handsome prices.
UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake, meanwhile, confronted with Government MP A.H.M. Azwer after the latter made some remarks against him. Mr. Karunanayake used this opportunity anyhow to take an indirect swipe at the UNP MPs agitating for a leadership change. He said that the present fate had befallen on Sirkotha because of the persons of the likes of Mr. Azwer.