LG polls: Possibility of another delay?
The Election Commission (EC) stated that it should receive the postal ballot papers by 21 March in order to hold the postal voting related to the Local Government (LG) elections on the scheduled dates (from 28 to 31 March), while the Department of Government Printing however, stated that they cannot be printed by the said date, even if the relevant financial allocations are received within the course of today (13), thereby implying another postponement of the postal voting.
When contacted by The Daily Morning, EC Chairman, Attorney Nimal G. Punchihewa said that the EC should receive the postal ballot papers by 21 March to hold the postal voting on the scheduled dates, which are from 28 to 31 March.
“We summoned Government Printer Gangani Liyanage and the Police, and had a discussion with them. We asked them to sort out the finance issue with the Treasury. When we asked her (Liyanage) when she will be able to print the ballot papers, she said that postal ballot papers could be printed within five days, and 25 to 26 days will be needed to print the other ballot papers.” he said.
In response to a question about the Treasury not having released the required funds to the Government Printing Department to commence the related work, he said that it is Liyanage’s responsibility to discuss with the Treasury and obtain the relevant funds, and inform the EC if there is an issue.
“Even though she has told the media that she has not received funds, she has not made any official notification to us. It is not enough to send letters to the Treasury, she should inform the EC if there is any issue. In fact, the issue about financial allocations is something between the Treasury and the Department. The practice is for the Treasury to release funds to the Department, it is not something that is being done through the EC.” explained Punchihewa.
Speaking to the Daily Morning Gangani Liyanage stated that printing ballot papers is merely one task among thousands of others of the Department, and said that it is the EC’s responsibility to discuss with the Treasury and release required funds to the Department. “During the meeting with the EC on 7 March, they asked me to send a letter to the Treasury asking for funds. I did it on 8 March, and there was no response from the Treasury. Even that is something that the EC should have done. The LG election was called by the EC. It is they who have all powers regarding elections. What I can do is to print the ballot papers when I receive funds. This is just one task among thousands of others of the Department.”
According to her the Department will need at least five to six days to print the postal ballot papers, and a request should be made to the Police for security to the Department three to four days in advance.
“We have received only Rs. 40 million as of now, but we have done work worth nearly Rs. 150 million. We need at least Rs. 200 million more to commence printing postal ballots and the rest of the funds should be provided to us during the printing process. However, if we assume that the Treasury releases funds tomorrow (13), we then need to request the Police for security. It will take about three to four days for the Police to make the necessary arrangements. Let’s say we requested the Police for security tomorrow, so it will be 17 March by when the Police will be able to provide security to the Department. Then it takes about five to six days to print ballot papers. With all that, we will not be able to finalise the printing of postal ballot papers by 21 March.” Liyanage added.
LG polls critical – Julie Chung
US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung has deemed the upcoming Local Government (LG) election ‘critical’ for the island nation.
Speaking at the 2023 National Law Conference hosted by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) in Colombo this morning (12 March), Ambassador Chung spoke on matters of varying concern, including Sri Lanka’s longstanding relationship with America, the rule of law and judicial independence.
Speaking on the shared interest of an independent judiciary being amongst several others on which the two countries built their bilateral relations, Chung emphasized the importance of the LG polls, explaining that it gave citizens ‘the ability to advocate directly to the government in partnership with civil society organisations and through qualified legal representation in an independent judiciary’.
“That is why local government elections, we have been discussing, are so critical”, she said in this regard.
The Ambassador further assured America’s unwavering support for the rights of Sri Lankan citizens to voice their needs peacefully and to participate in their government.
Commenting in this regard, she also noted that Sri Lanka’s ‘proud history of free elections underpins those rights’.
Meanwhile, speaking on the rule of law in the country, the Ambassador highlighted that no democracy stands in the absence of the rule of law, and emphasised that those present at the event were the ‘guardians of that precious rule’.
LG polls: Cardinal asks Prez to abide by SC order
Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday (13) declared that President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the Finance Minister, had to carry out the interim order issued by the Supreme Court on March 03 pertaining to a fundamental rights petition filed by SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara.
Addressing the media at the Bishop’s House, Borella, the Cardinal strongly criticised President Wickremesinghe’s conduct and statements by SLPP parliamentarian Premanath Dolawatte and State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe.
The Cardinal said Parliament had the authority to decide on suitable laws and rules for the country, but the interpretation of the application of these laws in concrete situations was the province of the judiciary. That power had not been conferred on the Parliament, the Church leader said.
The following is the text of a statement issued by Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith Archbishop of Colombo:
” It was reported in the media that two Members of Parliament have spoken concerning the judgment given by the Supreme Court enforcing on the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance as well as the Attorney General the allocation of funds, that had been approved by the Parliament for conducting the local government elections, which were scheduled to be held on the 9th March 2023, calling this decision a violation of their parliamentary privileges by the Courts. This matter is to be viewed with great concern and I wish to comment on it as follows.
This request by the two parliamentarians is not in keeping with the dignity and the freedom of the Supreme Court in deciding on this matter and so any interference on the basis of parliamentary privileges is totally unacceptable and I wish to condemn this attitude quite firmly.
On a previous occasion in a judgment given by the Supreme Court in the case reported in (1999) 1 SRI LR 157 on a contention between Dayananda Dissanayake, Commissioner of Elections and others against Karunatilleke and others, the judgment given very clearly affirmed that according to the provision No. 14 (1) of the National Constitution, the Courts accepted that the citizens of this country have a right to exercise their freedom to express themselves and to speak out also through the medium of elections basing itself also on the principle that people have the right to elect their own representatives during a course of a scheduled election.
According to the Constitution of Sri Lanka it is clear that the Supreme Court is the highest and last decision making body in matters concerning the interpretation and application of law to concrete situations. In this matter the Supreme Court holds the authority as the last source of appeal in all matters, as it has been assigned such authority by the very Constitution of the nation.
The Parliament as the law making body has the authority to decide on suitable laws and rules for the country. Yet, the interpretation on the application of these laws in concrete situations belongs to the judiciary. That power has not been conferred on the Parliament.
The Executive is bound to ensure that the laws that are passed by the Parliament are carefully implemented and that the wellbeing of the people is always ensured. The Executive does not have the authority to violate International Human Rights stipulations and the basic Human Rights Chapter inserted into the National Constitution. The President who is appointed as the Executive authority, always taking his oaths, assures that he or she will preserve carefully the provisions of the Constitution. He or she also accepts that they will work for the dignity and the progress of the people. As such the Executive does not have the authority to interpret the law according to their wishes, or to try to enforce them according to the way they visualize. In a similar fashion even though the Parliament prepares the legal bills and the rules and regulations concerning the country, it has no authority to decide on the implementation of the law according to their whims and fancies.
At this point I wish to remind everybody that in October 2018 the then President removed at his own discretion the Government, of the time where the then Prime Minister was the present President of Sri Lanka, without any legal basis. And so, the same Ranil Wickremesinghe went before the Supreme Court appealing against that decision and by order given on 13th December 2018, after a hearing of Case SC FR 351/218, the Court ruled the decision of the then President illegal and he had to eat humble pie and reappoint the same government of Wickramasinghe.
What is surprising is that the same Ranil Wickramasinghe who sought refuge in the Supreme Court that time is now allowing parliamentarians to belittle and criticize the decision of the Supreme Court in this case. We see a deep contradiction in his behaviour.
Hence since no one has the authority to interfere in the decision of the Supreme Court, it is clear that the judgement given on 3rd March 2023 by the Supreme Court binds on the President, the Government and the Parliament in equal measure. And so they need to follow that decision faithfully. Else they would be belittling the authority of the Supreme Court and undermining the very basis of democracy in our country.
I appeal that action be taken against such Ministers and MPs to ensure that the freedom of the judiciary is maintained at all costs without interference from petty politics and concerns.”
Quo vadis for EC by end of the week
- To commence talks if Treasury funds not forthcoming by end of the week
The Election Commission (EC), which is yet to decide on what steps should be taken if the Ministry of Finance, Economic Stabilisation and National Policies, and the general Treasury do not release the necessary funds for the holding of the Local Government (LG) Elections, is scheduled to take a final decision in that regard by the end of this week, The Daily Morning learned.
The Daily Morning yesterday (13) queried EC Chairman, Attorney Nimal G. Punchihewa as to whether the EC would initiate fresh legal action or make fresh submissions related to the ongoing legal proceedings pertaining to the LG Elections, or seek a meeting with President and Finance, Economic Stabilisation and National Policies Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, if the Treasury does not release the required funds. In response to the query, he said: “There have been no discussions about this matter. We are still hoping that we will receive the funds, but we will have to meet and have discussions if we do not receive them.
“When queried as to how long the EC would wait for the Treasury to release the funds, he said: “We have to make a decision by the end of this week. We will see if the Treasury would release funds before then. If they (Treasury) don’t, we will decide on the next course of action.”
The Daily Morning also queried Punchihewa about the statement made by Government Printer Gangani Liyanage that the printing of postal ballot papers would not be concluded by 21 March as expected by the EC due to the required funds not being released by the Treasury, and also because, even if the funds are received, there is a need to make a request to the Department of Police three to four days in advance in order to obtain security to the Department of Government Printing. Responding to the query, he said: “If the ballot papers are not given, the Elections cannot be held. However, it is said that the Government Printing Department has printed ballot papers required for 17 Districts as of now. I do not know if she is having an issue with giving us those ballot papers too. Anyway, we have to look into all these matters by the end of this week. We will then make a decision.”
Claiming that it is unlikely that the Finance, Economic Stabilisation and National Policies Ministry and the Treasury would release required funds to the EC to conduct the LG elections, Punchihewa had previously told the media that the only remedy would be to seek redress from the Supreme Court (SC) once again as a last option.
While the SC, considering a fundamental rights application filed by Samagi Jana Balawegaya General Secretary and Opposition Parliamentarian Ranjith Madduma Bandara, has issued an interim order preventing the Secretary to the Finance, Economic Stabilisation and National Policies Ministry and the Treasury Mahinda Siriwardana from withholding funds allocated for election purposes through the 2023 Budget, he (Siriwardana) has however not taken steps yet to release the required funds and instead forwarded the recent related requests made by the EC and the Government Printer to subject Minister, President Ranil Wickremesinghe,