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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Online Safety Bill: Govt. wants to pass the repressive act with a illegal debate!

M.A. Sumanthiran (M.P)

A very important debate has commenced in this house about a law, that is going to change the phase of communications in this country, and unfortunately, there is no consensus in this house as to how we should adopt this law.

This morning we met the honourable speaker, and we raised concerns, the honourable speaker was good enough to convene party leaders meeting a little while ago.

This debate is illegal; this debate is contrary to the standing orders. Standing orders very clearly says that the sectoral oversight committee must give a report and it is only after that report that anything in Parliament must move. The business committee of parliament indeed fixed these dates for this debate, but the leader of the house himself conceded in this meeting that that was done subject to receiving a report from the sectoral oversight committee.

We have had many instances before, when the date is fixed but the sectoral oversight committee report hasn’t come and therefore we have postponed the debate.  That’s what must have happened today! Because what has been tabled today called a report, is not a report. This is all that it says, this insults, this insults the basic intelligent of all the members of this house and worse it insults the intelligence of the people of this country.

It says “after consideration the sectoral oversight committee on media youth heritage and new citizen agreed to the bill entered in online safety subject to the amendments proposed by the Supreme Court determination to the bill and resolved that the report of the committee thereon be presented”. It says the report should be presented. And there is no report, now at the party leaders’ meeting it was told that this is the practice, this is how all reports are, but that is not true we have today in this house another report, I am comparing now the two reports. The other report is by the committee on public finance, two reports; one says the report will be submitted.

The report of the committee on public finance is an actual report it deals with. There is an introduction, order under section 2, the special commodity levy. Observations made by the committee, recommendations made by the committee, like that one by one by one everything that has been conceded and then finally the decision of the committee. That is the report. Not what has been tabled here, calling itself a report but which says a report will be submitted by the chairman.

So this is an illegal debate merely because there are more numbers on the government benches doesn’t mean that this is a report. What we have demonstrated to the country today is that the members who voted a little while ago cannot read.  It exposes to the country the literacy of the government members today. The government members have said that this is a report when definitely it’s not a report.

The whole country must know that these are the people who are on the government benches today, who cannot even read. The literacy level of the government members in this house is zero! That’s what it means, unfortunately the honourable member who is presiding now also voted for it.

A literacy level that is zero, the whole country must know this, a piece of paper that says a report will be submitted by the chairman, is considered to be the report. Now all that we the opposition wanted was that the minister himself appointed an expert committee. After the gazetting, after the challenge in the Supreme Court, after the determination of the Supreme Court he went and appointed a committee, that committee made some recommendations, yesterday at the sectoral oversight committee, apparently what the government members and opposition members agreed that that must be incorporated. So why don’t we incorporate that?

The attorney general has said that, the attorney general has said that cannot be done because article 78/3 there is a bar it changes the nature of the bill. Then what you have to do? You have to withdraw the bill, you have to re-gazette it according to the consensus that has been reached by both sides, that the recommendations of the experts must be incorporated, and then have the bill passed without a division once the consensus has been reached also at the sectoral oversight committee, the government is bulldozing this defective bill today, the minister conceded at the party leaders meeting that this is defective. He is giving an assurance that he’ll bring amendment to this, so then why pass it?

The minister giving that assurance itself is confirming the fact that this is a defective bill. That is dividing this house, why is he giving that assurance? So therefore I am not going into the merits of this bill, because the whole process is fraud. I was counsel to challenge this bill in the supreme court, the determination shows that, there are only 56 clauses in this bill, supreme court has suggested that 24 of that be amended, and what is worse the government has placed amendments that are amending 42 clauses out of 56 and that comes to us just now, when there can be a process by which, the entire house on both sides can agree and pass a law that is complete the government has chosen their wrongful path of bulldozing through, this is the characteristic of this government that using the false majority that they have, they are bulldozing through oppressive, draconian, piece of legislation in this house. Thank you.

(Speech made in Parliament on 23rd January 2024, on online safety bill debate)

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