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Ranil Rajapaksa refuses to adhere to Election Commission directive

  • Polls chief says proposed community advisory committees could be misued by local council candidates; President’s Office says commission’s objection untenable

The Election Commission and the President’s Office are at sharp variance over a fresh directive on the proposed community advisory committees at the local government level to carry out supervision of development projects and relief schemes with elections pending.

Election Commission Chairman R.M.A.L. Ratnayake has written to Presidential Secretary Saman Ekanayake, drawing attention to the possibility of local government election candidates being appointed to these advisory committees and pointing out that it was unavoidable that they would promote their respective political parties, thereby violating election laws.

Mr. Ratnayake has stated that since nominations filed for the postponed local government elections are still valid and the relevant election laws remain effective, state property cannot be misused by the candidates through these committees.

The Election Commission was reacting to a circular issued by Presidential Secretary Saman Ekanayake to provincial governors, provincial chief secretaries, district secretaries and divisional secretaries on the appointment of community advisory committees in each of the local council areas.

Under the plan, Rs 10 million was to be allocated for ‘urgent development’ activities identified by the advisory committees in each of the local council areas.

Cabinet approval had been granted for the proposal, and each committee, among other duties, is expected to supervise the Urumaya land distribution scheme, the distribution of houses in urban areas, the implementation of hill country development projects, agriculture modernisation projects and the free rice distribution project.

A senior official of the President’s Office, however, told the Sunday Times that they had no plans to stop the proposed committees as there were projects to the tune of Rs 14 billion to be completed.

He said the position taken by the Election Commission would affect the performance of public officials as it would mean that they could not go ahead with the projects and that ministers and MPs also could not take part in the opening of development programmes when an election was due.

He also said the presidential election had still not been officially announced, and the Election Commission was referring to the local government elections that were scheduled for last year but postponed.

The Election Commission, in its letter to the President’s Secretary, also referred to the presidential election due to be called shortly.

By Damith Wickremasekara  Sunday Times

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