Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is set to take back from Minister Mano Ganeshan, the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) at Ganeshan’s request.
A Gazette to this effect is expected soon, Minister Ganeshan told this correspondent on Saturday.
Ganeshan said that he had requested the President to take back the OMP allotted to him in the recent reshuffle of cabinet portfolios.
He also desired that the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) be taken over by the President.
Before the reshuffle, President Sirisena was Minister of National Reconciliation, and as such, had with him the Office of Missing Persons.
ONUR was under former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
In the reshuffle, the President divested himself of National Reconciliation and gave it to Ganeshan who became Minister of National Integration, Reconciliation and Official Languages with authority over the OMP and ONUR. Earlier, Ganeshan was minister of National Co-Existence, Dialogue and Official Languages but OMP and ONUR did not come under his purview.
Giving reasons for asking the President to take back the OMP and ONUR, Ganeshan said that, in his considered view, the OMP, especially, should be handled by the highest authority in the land, given its critical national and international importance.
Decisions in regard to the OMP might have to be taken at the highest level, and implementation too, would have to have the backing of the highest authorities, Ganeshan pointed out.
The Paranagama Commission on missing persons received more than 20,000 complaints about missing persons including 5,200 complaints from the Security Forces. However if one were to count the missing from 1980s onwards, the total would be 65,000.
The OMP, which was meant to investigate complaints of enforced disappearance became operational only in September 2017 two years after the government promised it in response to demands by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the minority Tamils who were the main victims of abduction.
Minister Ganeshan, felt that the responsibility for national reconciliation should be assumed by the highest authority in the land, namely ,the President of the country.
Even prior to the allocation of these institutions to Ganeshan, when there were discussions about it with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, the consensus was that the President should handle OMP and ONUR.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was also of the view that the President should assume direct responsibility for bringing about national reconciliation after the 30-year war and that key institution like the OMP should continue to be under his direct charge.
“I am prepared to handle everything that comes under the Ministry of National Reconciliation and Integration other than the OMP and ONUR,” Mano Ganeshan said.
Under the Sri Lankan constitution, the President is the head of the cabinet and holds ministerial portfolios too. Sirisena had with him Defense, Mahaweli Development ,Environment and National Reconciliation. He was in charge of OMP too. Minister AHM Fowzie was his second in command.
Ganeshan, on the other hand, had National Co-Existence, Dialogue, and Official Languages. In the reshuffle, Ganeshan was given National Reconciliation ,National Integration and Official Languages including OMP and ONUR.
Difficulties with ONUR
Ganeshan has been keen to divest himself of ONUR, the chairperson of which is former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga. This is because he had difficulty working with ONUR as the latter was interfering with the Ministry’s work.