If those ultra chauvinists who thump the ‘Sinhala only’ drum, do so out of a genuine concern that a separate state of Tamil Eelam will sooner or later be established on Lankan soil if measures are not taken now to prevent its inevitability, they should be amongst the first to hail the establishment of the [...]


The OMP Act: The first step on the Long hard road to reconciliation


If those ultra chauvinists who thump the ‘Sinhala only’ drum, do so out of a genuine concern that a separate state of Tamil Eelam will sooner or later be established on Lankan soil if measures are not taken now to prevent its inevitability, they should be amongst the first to hail the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons as a powerful tool in any Sinhala dominated government’s arsenal to thwart future calls for a utopian Tamil Eelam.

First they must understand why there is a need for reconciliation, why there is a need to swallow false pride and compromise. For without it, reality dictates that intransigent Lanka will soon be standing on the brink of being torn asunder.
They should realise that jingoism cannot prevent it, will only precipitate it.

They should realise that an appeal to the power of numbers and thereby, on the strength of it, to espouse that the majority Sinhala race are entitled to special rights, notably the one to trample upon the rights of the minorities, will only fuel calls for Eelam and hasten its creation.

They should realise that to brazenly advocate that every rape, every gangbang, every murder and even mass slaughter, if it had happened and had it been done in the cause, in pursuit of maintaining presumed Sinhala supremacy, was justified: and, furthermore, to hold, sans blush, that such vile deeds, if it had indeed taken place, elevated the perpetrators to the station of national heroes who warrant the nation’s shield of immunity, who must be placed beyond the reach, beyond the jurisdiction of international law, and made exempt from all prosecution and shrouded from all probes: such advocacy will, alas, serve only to present to the world’s gaze, the incontrovertible proof that Lanka’s majority race has taken leave of its senses and can no longer be trusted to be the fiduciary guardian of her minority races; and that the Tamil demand for Eelam is more than justified.
For contrary to what such misguided and politically misled shadowy tribes may hold through blinkered eyes, such prejudiced babble no longer command sway in a world where the concepts of human rights and sovereignty of nations have undergone enlightened change.

Already the international community which had long berated Lanka for allegedly discriminating the minorities and had pressed successive Lankan governments to mend its ways or else be prepared to face the prospect of a separate state being carved out of the island mass, have this week praised the passing of the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP) Bill as a step in the right direction to bring about reconciliation and forge a durable peace in the land. Even the London-based Tamil Diaspora, the Global Tamil Forum has been forced to hail it is an important step in the journey to reconciliation.

What the nationalists die-hards must realise is such action by the government not only silences the Jayalalithaas and Wigneswarans of the world — the self-appointed godmothers and godfathers of Eelam — who, along with the international Tamil Diaspora, repeatedly call for a separate state for the Tamils in Lanka as the only way to escape from the planned genocide that await them at the hands of a racist Lankan government; such action not only gives one less grave reason for foreign nations to meddle in Lanka’s affairs but also writes upon the smudged palimpsest of a nation’s recent violent past, a new and enlightened dedication to render justice to all those who breathe her air.

But the OMP is only the first step. And the phobia of Eelam is not the only concern. What is at stake is a hard wearing peace within a united and sovereign Lanka, a peace that bestows dignity and comes attended with honour.Much blood — one common human blood which knows no racial divisions — has flowed for the last thirty years to stain the land indelibly. No amount of pseudo tears shed can cleanse its grievous blot on the landscape.

The Tamils have attributed the rise of terrorism and the emergence of Prabhakaran and his Tiger cadres to the perceived failure of Sinhala governments to grant redress to their ‘justified grievances’.

The Sinhala majority has, on the other hand, held that the Tamils, after enjoying British patronage till independence, were only complaining the loss of their privileged status as the pampered stooges of a colonial power; and perceived that if, in the course of satisfying the liberated Sinhala masses’ demand after independence for their long denied rights and privileges as the majority race to be restored, the Tamils had perforce been left with a smaller piece of the national cake they should make do with it; and accept it as their destined lot given their minority status.

The abject failure of both claimants, both dictated to by their own perceptions and both motivated by self-interest, to compromise led to the thirty-year-long terrorist war, the untold horrors of which need not be recounted herein, for it is still fresh in the memory of those who survived the gruesome ordeal.

All that need be said is that with the fall of the Tiger leader by the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon in May 2009 simultaneously followed by the successful annihilation of his fighting force, there emerged throughout the land a consensus among all reasonable men that the country could not afford to live through another harrowing war. Even the jubilant Sinhalese, apart from the political leadership who gloated over the victory ad nauseam seeking sole kudos for their own mean political gain, had to contain their celebrations upon discovering the price of peace which would henceforth have to be met if they wished to savour its fruit.

The realisation dawned, even as the dove flew free, that, if the May 18 triumph was not to be a pyrrhic victory, if it were not to see a disfigured, warring phoenix rise from the ashes, the scattered embers speckled in the heart, still smouldering in the cinders, had to be doused permanently with the spring waters of understanding to foster mutual trust and concord.

A peace gained in our time with so much sacrifice, peace that endures for our progeny to enjoy had to be built on the touchstone of harmony; with unity amongst races, its guarantor. But first the hard and cobbled road to reconciliation had to be traversed; the horrors each milestone held had to be first met; the ghouls that rose from the flanking shadows, the demons that haunted the long and winding foot path to the past, had to be encountered bravely sans fear. The truth had to be met face to face, eye to eye if catharsis, to purge the nation and cleanse its soul from the sins of chauvinism and fanaticism, was to be effected.

Intransigence had been easy but it had led to war. Reconciliation would prove more difficult but it may sustain the peace so bitterly gained. The establishment of the Office of Missing Persons is one of the many bridges that will have to be erected over tumultuous rivers of memory and then crossed on this stoic road to reconciliation if we are to come to terms with the nation’s bloody past.
But the OMP is not restricted to missing Tamils alone. It applies to all, irrespective of race. Even as it applies to the missing Tiger intelligence chief Pottu Amman, it applies to missing Sinhala journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda. It applies to the thousands of Tamils who went missing during the war years, even as it does to every Sinhala soldier who disappeared, went missing in action, and is still not accounted for.

Their families now have the opportunity to discover the fate that befell them. If they are confirmed dead, then to end the long night of anguish and to make up their minds and remold their lives. If they are not, then to burst forth with sunlit hopes to find them through the OMP.

For the main function of the OMP‘s Commission is to search and trace missing persons regardless of whether they are Tamils, Sinhala, Muslims, Malays or Burghers and irrespective of the geographical areas they went missing or originated from. The commission also has the mandate to not only inquire into persons who have gone missing in the past but also to probe any future disappearance.

The OMP Act will be signed into law by the Speaker this coming week. It is unfortunate that this important piece of legislation, covered in controversy from the time it was mooted, made it to the statute books in record Usain Bolt time, since it denied the Government the opportunity to explain to the pubic the true import of its content and purpose it sought to achieve.

Yet, while the opposition, namely, the TNA and the JVP, in a rare departure from discharging its traditional duty to oppose, extended its support to the OMP, the shadowy grouping within the SLFP going by the misnomer ‘joint opposition’, raised a hue and cry of opposition to the Bill which vested the citizen the right to have past and future disappearances of fellow citizens probed, on the basis that the OMP act would lead to the persecution of Lanka’s war heroes.

How war heroes can be adversely affected by the OMP is indeed strange? Whilst the joint opposition may have perverted the true meaning of the word hero and regard the corrupt and perverse as their heroes, the rest of the country stand by the Oxford Dictionary definition of a hero as one “who is admired for his courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities: a war hero”.
But who is better qualified to speak on war heroes than the General who commanded them during the last five years of the terrorist war and led them to victory on the 18th of May 2009?

War hero Sarath Fonseka who was jailed under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime in 2011 and decorated by President Sirisena in 2015 as Field Marshal in recognition of the indispensable role he played in leading his troops from the front and securing a resounding victory over the Tigers, explained the ludicrousness of the joint opposition’s claim that the OMP would lead to the persecution of Lanka’s war heroes.

He told the media on Tuesday: “I do not think that any rana viruwo, war hero, will be against the OMP. If people of this country think that war heroes are in some way responsible for the disappearance of certain individuals, or if they believe that war heroes must thus be shielded and protected then what those people are doing is indirectly insulting war heroes They must first understand that. War heroes conducted themselves according to the law. They did not break the law. They acted legally to destroy terrorism in the country.”

“It is not out of love that these people are talking about the war heroes now, “the Field Marshal said. “They may have forgotten how they treated the war heroes then. How we were locked up in jail. How senior officers who had dedicated themselves to winning the war were thrown out of the army, without even giving them their pensions. When the previous regime acted like that, none of those people who talk today about war heroes were saddened. Instead they were eating ‘kiri bath’. Today they are shedding crocodile tears.”

Any act to probe the past transports the joint opposition to a state of paranoia. In their eyes, the collected tumulus of sin and misdeeds heaped upon the previous regime’s grave must not be disturbed, lest it awakens the ghosts of times past to spook the present and terrify the future. And, as Field Marshal Fonseka said on Tuesday, they raise the issue of the war hero only to take cover behind his impenetrable shield.

What should be borne in mind is that the OMP will not only be engaged in an academic exercise confined to excavating fossils from the past and unraveling its mysterious origins. The OMP enshrines the right to all Lankans to demand that any disappearance in the future of their loved ones be investigated and the missing person’s whereabouts be searched and traced and redress granted to the victim and families if the unthinkable had occurred.

Rather than MEP leader and JO member Dinesh Gunawardena vowing to repeal the Act when they, the JO, comes to power, he should instead be swearing to preserve the OMP so that future generations of Lankans will not disappear from the face of this earth without their families having a legal right to demand of the OMP to investigate the fate of their loved ones.
It behooves this government and all future governments to implement the Act and ensure it works effectively for the peoples’ benefit. Not for anxious families to come to the doorstep of the Office of Missing People only to find, as the very name suggests, the office bare and no one there.

Pickpocket first, legalise later policy gets Supreme Court rap
Past governments, and even the present one, have been following a flagrant procedure of taxing first and legalizing later, in the manner swashbuckling cowboys in the wild west of yore used to shoot first and apologize later.

Ravi Karunanayke: Plans to introduce amended VAT bill

It had succeeded only because the Supreme Court had never been petitioned before to rule whether such a practice violates the law which states that taxation can be imposed only after a tax bill has first received Parliament’s approval.

Under this ruling not only the present VAT increase but the legal validity of amendments to Income Tax, Corporate Tax, Economic Service Charge (ESC) and Betting and Gaming levy as well as the ‘Surtax’ on Tobacco, Liquor and Casinos remain suspect for though the Bills were presented to Parliament during the last three months, they are still to receive official parliamentary approval to grant the government the legal right to pick your pocket.

The Supreme Court’s observation in its August 8th judgment, that in accordance with Article 148 of the Constitution, the tax or levy shall not be imposed without Parliament approval, has thrown a spanner into the tax administration machinery and placed the government in a quandary. It has now to count the cost of yielding to expediency, to having followed a legally objectionable practice of the former regime, merely because it was convenient and expedient to do so.

Merely because the UNP government hadn’t objected to its practice whist in the opposition ranks and had allowed the Rajapaksa government to do as they would, without seeking a legal ruling then on the propriety of the Lankan public being deftly relieved of their incomes by an artful dodge that lacked legitimacy until and unless Parliament approved it retrospectively and gave it the required legal base, the Government had assumed that no one, least of all a member of the previous government, would now rise to rock the boat but would acquiesce in this deviation from procedure which they themselves had practised, without petitioning the supreme court for a ruling.

Once the first sluice gate had been opened by previous governments and the then opposition did not deem it fit to move the Supreme Court against this breach, the practised had continued unabated with the present government picking up the baton from where the Rajapaksa regime had left it.

The Finance Minister’s statement in Parliament that it had been the practice followed in the past with none objecting, cannot hold water for the repeated practice of following faulty procedure cannot remedy the defect and render the practice legal merely because no one had protested. Isn’t it paramount that Parliament members must be the first to observe to the letter, all the laws that Parliament makes?

On the same basis, there were many instances during the Rajapaksa era where tender procedures were not followed. Does it give a right to the present government, especially one wedded to the Yahapalana doctrine, to ignore legal requirements and do away with tender procedure altogether now on the basis that it had been the usual practice that had existed in the past and no one had gone to court over it? Is one justified to hold that a certain practice which is at deviance with constitutionally laid down procedure assumes the status of custom and gains legal status if practised over a period of time?

The Supreme Court has no right to intervene in Parliamentary matters unless petitioned to do so by one who has locus standi; and can only look askance and even helpless if Governments impose taxes by midnight fiat flouting the legal procedure if no petitioner has canvassed the legality of such a procedure before the bar of court.

Reacting to the Supreme Court ruling that the VAT bill was null and void since certain legal norms had not been adhered to, the Government initially considered whether to defy the court ruling and instead ask the Speaker of the House to give a ruling on the matter. Since then wiser counsel seems to have prevailed and the Finance Minister has announced that the Government would present an amended VAT bill in Parliament soon. A constitutional crisis with Parliament and the Supreme Court at logger heads has thus been averted.

For after all, as any self-respecting damsel would tell a suitor wooing her hand in marriage in a brash manner, ‘If you want to marry me darling, come the proper way,” so has the Supreme Court only told the Government ‘ if you want to tax the people, go the legal way”.

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