New counter terrorism act: Yet to take off

  • Broad stakeholder consultations will be needed
  • There is room for improvement: State Minister Balasuriya

By Marianne David 

The Government is looking at bringing in a new act altogether to prevent terrorism, says State Minister of Regional Cooperation Tharaka Balasuriya, in the backdrop of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment) Bill being tabled in Parliament. 

However, no actual steps have been taken towards this end yet, while the Amendment Bill has been roundly condemned by civil society and stakeholders.

“We are looking at a new act as an option, but at the moment we want to amend the current Bill. Even with the amendments, we know that there are certain provisions which we need to change, so we are looking at bringing a new bill altogether,” State Minister Balasuriya told The Sunday Morning.

“However, that might obviously take a bit of time and we need to have wider dialogue with stakeholders. I think certainly there are areas which can still have further improvements,” added Balasuriya.

The Bill to amend the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 48 of 1979 (PTA), which was gazetted on 27 January and tabled in Parliament on Thursday (10) by Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, has come under heavy fire from various quarters, including the European Union, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and civil society. 

However, Balasuriya defended the bill, insisting on the Government’s sincerity: “The Government is very sincere. We have had extensive discussions with stakeholders. As for the changes itself, we are looking at bringing in a separate act altogether at a later stage.”

Commenting on concerns raised by those who have condemned the proposed amendments, he asserted: “Please bear in mind the previous Government of the last five years. All these people are talking about how this Bill can have better improvements. They also had five years and they brought a Counter Terrorism Bill which was rejected. It is better to get something done and then look at improvements.”

He added that the Amendment Bill would be discussed in Parliament and there could be provisions for other changes. “But even to get this going, there was a lot of friction, and it was not easy. We also want to show the international community that we are sincere and we want to have something materialise – not just talk about it.”