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2020 GE: Polls monitors get about Rs. 56 mn from donors



…another Rs. 2.5 mn to ensure peaceful election

by Shamindra Ferdinando

 Two leading polls monitors-PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections) and CMEV (Center for Monitoring Elections) received approximately Rs 50 mn and Rs 6 mn respectively from donors in support of their operations.

 Executive Director of PAFREL Rohana Hettiarachchi and National Coordinator of CMEV Manjula Gajanayake said that they would be issuing detailed reports soon on the operation undertaken at the 2019 general election.

The Island sought explanation regarding their operating expenditure after they revealed the high cost of electing an MP. The PAFFREL estimated the cost of electing an MP at approximately Rs. 55 mn whereas the CMEV estimated the cost at about Rs. 77 mn.

 In terms of the Right to Information Act enacted on Aug 4, 2016, the public could seek information even from civil society organisations that receive foreign funding.

 Asked to explain the vast discrepancy in the amounts mentioned by the two organisations, Hettiarachchi said that his outfit divided the Election Commission (EC) allocation amounting to Rs 10 bn by 196 as the remaining 29 members were appointed through the National List. Responding to another query, Hettiarachchi said that PAFFREL didn’t take expenses borne by political parties, individual contestants as well as the funds received by them in support of their campaigns.

 Gajanayake pointed out that the CMEV, having estimated the EC budget for 2019 parliamentary election at Rs 8.5 bn, also took into consideration funding received by political parties and individual contestants from various sources, both here and overseas. Therefore, the CMEV on the basis of all estimated funds received by those in the fray placed the cost of electing a lawmaker at Rs 77 mn.

 Gajanayake noted that some contestants spent extravagantly on costly television and social media campaigns.

 Both Hettiarachchi and Gajanayake emphasized that corona epidemic caused sharp increase in the EC’s budget. The poll couldn’t be held as originally planned on April 25, 2020 due to the outbreak of epidemic in the second week of March.

 Asked how the CMEV had funded its polls monitoring project, Gajanayake said that the Management Systems International Inc. provided required funds amounting to Rs 6 mn. Gajanayake said that a detailed report would be prepared though he was unable to go into details at the moment. According to Gajanayake, their primary objective was to ascertain the expenditure incurred by political parties for propaganda. “We bought nine television sets, four lap tops, six hand phones and some desks and chairs required by the staff,” Gajanayake said, adding that the monitoring process was carried out over two months by 40 staff and two permanent employees. Gajanayake said that they worked as many as 18 hours a day on some days. The CMEV attributed two day workshop for the staff, other training programmes and facilities to the overall cost of the operation amounting to Rs 6 mn.

 The Management Systems International Inc is a powerful US consulting organisation engaged in a spate of projects in various parts of the world, including Asia.

 Hettiarachchi said that PaFFREL received funding amount to Rs 50 mn from about seven donors, including Norway and Canada. Responding to another query, Hettiarachchi said that a detailed account would be released later. “We provided 550,000 face masks to the EC in support of the operation. Face masks were distributed among polling booths countrywide in case some voters turned up without face masks.”

PaFFREL conducted the largest operation countrywide thanks to sufficient funds provided by donors.

Meanwhile, executive director of CaFFE (Campaign for Free and Fair Election) Ahamed Manas Makeen yesterday told The Island that in spite of submitting several proposals seeking donations he couldn’t raise funds for countywide polls monitoring work. However, a foreign mission provided Rs 2.5 mn to undertake an initiative to promote a peaceful election. According to him, promoting a peaceful election differed from conducting a countrywide polls monitoring operation.

Gajayanayake said that CMEV published advertisements in the media requesting information from public regarding campaign finances. However, public response was low, Gajanayake said, adding that much more organized effort on the part of the civil society was needed to further improve the election process.

Police headquarters spokesman and attorney-at-law Jaliya Senaratne said that the general election was peaceful. There hadn’t been serious violence in any part of the country though there were some clashes between supporters of TNA heavyweight M.A. Sumanthiran and Sashikala, wife of slain TNA lawmaker Nadarajah Raviraj.


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SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn



By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report



by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies



By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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