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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Sri Lanka: Distributing billions of Rupees via informal channels by Ranil Rajapaksa as a election ploy!

In a letter addressed to the chairperson of the Election Commission People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (Paffrel) has questioned the legality of distributing billions of rupees as development projects through informal and politically selected mechanises throughout the country.

English translation of the letter:

R.M.A.L. Mr. Ratnayake,
Election Commission,
Sarana Mawatha,
Dear Chairman,
Providing space to compete for elections under equal opportunities by avoiding political promotion programs carried out in the name of development projects using state power and resources.

“It is our belief that the pre-election laws are in force even though the date of the local government polling has been postponed indefinitely and the polling has not been cancelled.”

Also, according to the constitution, the presidential election must be held before the 17th of October and thus the election can be announced by the month of August, anyone who is interested in politics knows. In such an atmosphere, it can be seen at first sight that political parties and candidates mat be  promoted by the  planned development projects implemented by the political authority.

In this regard, we would like to bring the following points to the attention of the Commission and yourself.

1. Under the theme Decentralized Budget Program – 2024, all the development projects allocated for the year 2024 by 2024 budget allocations should be finished by 31 July.  This directive has been informed through Finance Ministry Circular MF/02/2023 addressed to all District Secretaries on 29/12/2023.   Why it is ordered to finish the implementation of development project money allocated in the budget for one year in 7 months? Doesn’t expediting affect the effectiveness and quality of program implementation?

According to the government, this acceleration is done in the time of an economic crisis where there is no money. At first glance, the purpose here is very clear. As the presidential election is scheduled to be announced by August, the purpose of this is to finish these development projects before then and take advantage of it to the party in power.

2. Circular No. PS/FID/ID/Circular/1/2024 issued by the President’s Office (January 24, 2024) under the theme of Upcountry Decade 2024-2033 Ten Special Integrated Rural Development Program.

According to this circular, the development program related to 2024 of the 10-year development plan must be sent to the Presidential Secretariat for approval before March 10 and the said development work must be completed before July 31, 2024 (Section 4.1).

Accordingly, obtaining approval for development projects and  completion of allotment and development work has been given only a period of 4 months. Through this, the problems of effectiveness and quality of the said development projects may arise. It is surprising that the 2024 portion of a ten-year plan is advised to be completed in 4 months. Here too it appears that the real objective is the election.

3. Also, it appears that the current subsidy programs, distribution of rice, land, housing, employment applications, etc., are being carried out with the aim of elections.

4. Circular PS/SB/Circular/5/2024 issued by the President’s Office under the theme of Appointment of Local Government Area Community Advisory Committees:
This circular has suggested the appointment of community committees to monitor the government’s development projects. We have no objection to that and community participation should be appreciated. But considering its content, it appears at first glance that it is also a political program aimed at the upcoming elections. We would like to draw the attention of the Election Commission to the following points related to it.

The above-mentioned development projects are carried out at the level of the Divisional Secretariat, but the committees here have been proposed at the level of the local government bodies.

(It should be kept in mind that the local government candidates requested the President to distribute the government’s development schemes through them.)

There is a serious risk of electing local political representatives in a situation where the guidelines have not proposed to elect these community committee members. It is confirmed by the following facts.

It is stated that the appointment of community advisory committees should be done by the Governor and the prior approval of the Prime Minister should be obtained. The Governor is the direct representative of the President and the Prime Minister is directly the political leader. He is also the minister in charge of local government. So the appointments are highly likely to be political. This situation will be avoided if the divisional secretary or the district secretary makes those selections from the non-political group according to a set of  guidelines.

According to this circular, 10 million has been allocated to each of the local government areas and it is planned to be given to the development activities selected by the committees.

It is amazing to spend money in such a hurry in a situation where there is no money even to hold the local government election. This amount is 3.4 billion, which is about 1/3 of the total cost of local government elections. Finally, the project will be implemented by the Provincial Council with the approval of the Governor, who is the direct representative of the President, without public representatives. Also, as the government that does not release the money allocated for the election in the budget, it  is a problem as to how this amount money will be allocated by the Parliament.

The government does not release the 10 billion rupees allocated by the parliament for the local government elections through the above two circulars (except for the development plan of the Upcountry) through the decentralized budget of 11.2 billion rupees for urgent development works and 3.4 billion rupees for development works by the governors with the recommendation of the local government advisory committees.

We have no objection to the implementation of welfare programs by the government at a time when the people are in difficulty or to the implementation of development projects allocated by the government’s policies and budget.

We request the commission headed by you to act to prevent the political use of state power and resources through this process and to take proper measures to prevent the promotion of political parties and candidates, as an election is already underway and the next presidential election is near. Thus, to protect the land, which is an essential factor in elections.

thank you.

Rohana Hettiarachi
Executive Director, Paffrel

( This is not an official translation. Translation by Sri Lanka Brief)



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