Doubletalk in House over emergency laws

By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent

Prime Minister D.M.Jayaratna raised hopes in Parliament on Tuesday that the repressive emergency regulations would see an early exit.

Ironically he used the monthly debate in Parliament to make the announcement to extend by another month the continuation of the regulations, which entered its sixth year last week, since their imposition on August 13, 2005, following the assassination of former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

“We are consulting with the National Security Council to abolish the emergency regulations soon,” the Prime Minister said.

But almost in the same breath he said, Security Forces personnel continued to recover hauls of weapons hidden by the LTTE while more arrests of former cadres who fled the north during the humanitarian operation were continuing, hence the need for special laws to deal with this situation.

Given the somewhat contradictory positions on the matter, it was unclear how the government planned to lift the emergency and also deal with remnants of terrorism.

The state of emergency was first enforced in Sri Lanka for a period of less than a month on August 12, 1953 due to a civil disturbance caused by the increase in the price of a measure of subsidized rice from 25 cents to 70 cents.

Between then and now, the regulations were imposed over and over again by successive regimes to deal with various public uprisings and disturbances It has unfortunately taken precedence over the normal laws of the land and even used to override constitutional provisions ensuring civil liberties particularly those ensuing the rights to freedom of assembly and association as well as freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention and torture. The absence of these emergency laws will go a long way to ensure that people’s civil liberties are protected.

Along with relaxing emergency rule, the government also needs to do more to strengthen state institutions that ensure accountability in the state public sector. As to how sincere the government is about doing so came under scrutiny when Democratic National Alliance MP Anura Dissanayake questioned in Parliament why no permanent appointment had been made for the post of Auditor General for one year, with only an acting appointment in place.

"The failure to appoint a permanent officer to this post means that the important task it carries out with regard to looking into the accounts of government institutions is not being done properly," the DNA MP charged, making a special statement in Parliament. He said the failure to make a permanent appointment was in violation of the Constitution.

However, the Prime Minister replied there was provision in the Constitution for an acting appointment and this would be in place until a permanent appointment is made. He assured that a suitable person would be appointed to the post shortly.

Another issue that made news in Parliament last week was the statement by Minister of Civil Aviation Priyankara Jayaratna that no foreign aircraft had violated Sri Lankan air space, as was widely reported in the media. He said an investigation carried out by officials had found no such violation. His statement contradicted claims made by the Sri Lanka Air Force earlier last week that several US jets had intruded Sri Lanka’s air space.

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