Onus is on the Polls Chief , Editorial, Ceylon Today
On Wednesday, the Sri Lankan chapter of the corruption watchdog, Transparency International, revealed that only a mere one per cent of a total of 3,785 candidates of the forthcoming Provincial Council elections have declared their assets and liabilities.
According to the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities (Amendment) Act No. 74 of 1988, candidates nominated for election to be held under the Presidential Elections Act No.15 of 1981, the Parliamentary Elections Act No.1 of 1981, the Provincial Councils Elections Act No.2 of 1988, the Development Councils (Elections) Act No 20 of 1981 and the Local Authorities Elections Ordinance are required to declare their assets and liabilities to the commissioner of elections.
Accordingly, it is a legal requirement that all the election candidates have to comply with. In other words, it is not just ethics, it is law.
Alas, as the latest report reveals, 99 per cent of the candidates, who are vying for the Provincial Council offices, seem to be harbouring second thoughts over declaring their wealth. The law has been observed in the breach by those prospective bearers of elected office, even before they are elected.
It was not long ago that a serving Chief Justice was impeached, under controversial circumstances, after a trial by an equally controversial Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) over her alleged non-declaration of assets and liabilities. The charges levelled against former Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, may have been trumped up, which greatly eroded the legitimacy of the entire impeachment process. Nonetheless, it must be noted that she was charged under the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Act.
However, what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for gander. What is viewed as a violation on the part of Dr. Bandaranayake, whose relations with the government was at its nadir during the last leg of her tenure, does not always constitute a crime when it is committed by a bunch of aspiring politicos, who have political blessing.
Such double standards of the law make it an ass. The application of the law in Sri Lanka has been crippled due to such inner contradictions and inconsistencies. Why the law has so far failed to take its own course against the non-declaration of assets by election candidates is too obvious. The perpetrators are men and women of some political clout, which place them away from the ambit of the rule of law.
However, the non-declaration of assets by our prospective leaders is also proof of the cheapness of the political culture of our time and the men and women who vie to be our leaders.
Those men and women fritter away millions of rupees to get elected to the public office and even Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) would find it exhausting to trace those millions of campaign funds back to their original and often less salubrious sources. The finances of elections are often a shady issue. The non-declaration of assets by candidates compounds this predicament. The provisions requiring the mandatory declaration of campaign funding and a ceiling on campaign spending are absent in Sri Lanka’s electoral law. This turns elections into an obscene display of wealth, in which money determines the electability of a candidate. Candidates, who spent millions to win elections, make use of their new found political clout to make a return on their ‘investment’ from the day one of their election to the public office. Their financers would be rewarded with lucrative contracts, from which the politico himself would keep a healthy commission. From the local government level to Parliament, politicians create their own networks of patronage in order to make sure that funds would keep on coming in the future elections. In the process, they turn the entire nation into a large cleptocracy.
And in their unscrupulous exploits, they leave no evidence. Their declarations of assets and liabilities, if they ever submitted, are so smartly manipulated that they hardly have incriminating evidence. However, all the evil begins with one misdemeanour, collectively committed by candidates for elections, who evade a legal requirement to declare their assets and liabilities to the elections commissioner. Call it the butterfly effect; a transgression of the election law at the initial point has caused a whirlwind of corruption at the national level. The election commissioner should file charges against those who fail to comply with the election law. In fact, they are better suited to be in jail than in the coveted public offices