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

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…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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20A passed at first reading stage amidst protests from SJB

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By Saman Indrajith

 

The 20th Amendment Bill was passed yesterday in Parliament at the first reading stage amidst protests from the SJB.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry presented the Bill to the House.

SJB members who were wearing black armbands and badges with ‘No to 20’ printed on them shouted. They held placards denouncing the 20th Amendment.

 Some SJB MPs were seen coming from their desks to the Well of the House, and then the government MPs too came down and shouted, ‘Yes to 20’.

Serjeant-at-Arms Narendra Fernando and his deputy Kushan Jayaratne were seen standing before the Mace

 Trade Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardane moved a number of Orders under the Special Commodity Levy Act for debate.

Seconding the move, Samurdhi, Household Economy, Micro Finance, Self-Employment, Business Development and Underutilised State Resources Development State Minister Shehan Semasinghe said that the Opposition should have raised their concerns elsewhere.

“They can now go before court and express their concerns. They have one more option. That is to secure a two-third majority in Parliament and defeat the Bill. Without doing any of them they shout here to disrupt sittings and thereby waste public funds. We remember how they behaved when they were in power; they brought in several no-confidence motions. They did so after suspending the Standing Orders of the House. The then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya suspended Standing Orders to allow JVP MP Vijitha Herath to move a motion. We do not act in such undemocratic manner. People have given us a mandate to do away with the 19th Amendment. We act according to that mandate.”

SJB Kegalle District MP Kabir Hashim:

There are two groups in this House. One group ruled this country for 20 years. We were in power for five years.

If they say that they need more powers to develop this country that is a joke.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said the TV camera was not focussed on MP Hashim.

SJB MPs shouted demanding that the camera be focussed on him

MP Hashim:

If this is the manner the government ensuring the rights of MPs before the 20th Amendment, what will happen to us after it becomes law?

MP Hashim:

Have you been able to bring down the price of a single commodity after coming to power? When you came to power in 1994 you promised to abolish the executive presidency, and do away with the open economic policies. You did not do so. Mahinda Rajapaksa too came to power on the same promises. But his government did not honour thems. Today, we are staging this protest to save the powers of the Prime Minister not for our sake. Do you remember the Subha and Yasa story. A palace guard and the king exchanged their places for the fun of it. But the guard did not give back the throne to the king. He remained in the position and even killed the King. The same will happen here when the 20th Amendment is passed.

Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage:

This is a government of the people. We will not do anything against people’s aspirations. We uphold democracy. During the times when you were in the government you did not hold elections. There are many MPs in the opposition today who want to join our government. By this morning there were 17 opposition MPs who wanted to join us. We will get 20 MPs from the Opposition to secure the passage of this Bill. You do not worry about saving the powers of the Prime Minister. We will see to that. You passed the 19th Amendment to prevent the Rajapaksas from coming to power. The Opposition paints a dismal picture of the 20th Amendment. Former Minister Hashim laments about the prices of commodities. Tell me the price of a coconut. Tell me. You cannot because you do not know. You do not know because you are living in luxury away from people.  Today a coconut is Rs 70 in the market. You are not with the people that is why you lost the election.

Industry Minister Wimal Weerawansa raising a point of order said that MPs could not demand that the camera be focussed on them. “Whenever there is a protest in the House, the camera should focus either on the Speaker or the Mace. That is the procedure. It was introduced by the former Speaker W. J. M. Lokubandara.”

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa:

We register our opposition and frustration over the 20th Amendment. This amendment has provisions that will erode democratic values.

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Speaker berates opposition for resorting to harangue at question time

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By Saman Indrajith

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena yesterday (22) reprimanded the Opposition MPs for wasting the time of the House. He said that MPs should not make speeches when raising questions listed in the Order Paper because only one hour had been allotted for the question time.

He said so when Ratnapura District SJB MP Hesha Withanage raised supplementary questions and made a lengthy speech.

Withanage demanded to know from the Prime Minister the number of Cabinet ministers in governments since 1978.

Responding on behalf of the Prime Minister Chief of the Government Whip Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said that there had been nine parliaments since 1978 and there had been different numbers of Cabinet ministers in those government. He said that the first parliament in 1978 had 25 cabinet ministers and the second parliament in 1989 had 21 cabinet ministers. The third parliament in 1994 had 23 cabinet and 31 deputy ministers with a total of 54. The fourth parliament of 2000 had 42 cabinet and 36 deputy ministers with a total of 78. The Fifth Parliament of 2001 had 25 cabinet, 27 non-cabinet and eight deputy ministers with a total of 60. The sixth parliament of 2004 had 31 cabinet, three non-cabinet and 31 deputy ministers with a total of 65. The seventh parliament of 2010 had 37 cabinet 39 deputy ministers with a total of 76 ministers. The eighth parliament of 2015 had 45 cabinet and 38 state ministers making a total of 87 ministers. The eighth parliament of 2019 had 16 cabinet and 38 state ministers with a total of 54. The ninth parliament of 2020 has 27 cabinet and 40 state ministers with a total of 67.

The first and second parliaments of 1978 and 1989 had one female cabinet minister each. Third parliament of 1994 had three cabinet and five deputy female ministers with a total eight female members. The Fourth parliament of 2000 had four female cabinet ministers. The fifth parliament of 2001 had only one female cabinet minister. The sixth parliament of 2004 had three female cabinet ministers. The seventh parliament of 2010 had two female cabinet ministers and one female deputy minister post making it three female ministers. The eighth parliament of 2015 had a total number of six female ministerial posts – two cabinet, two state and two deputy posts.  The eighth parliament of 2019 had one female cabinet minister. The ninth parliament of 2020 has one female cabinet minister and two female state ministers with a total of three.

The highest percentage of female ministers was in 1994 with 13.04% and the lowest was in 2020 with 3.7 percent, Minister Fernando said.

Responding to the question the percentage of female ministers in the present government, Minister Fernando said it was 3.6. He said the figure was the same as the percentage of female representation in Parliament.

When the time came for the supplementary questions, MP Withanage said that if the funds spent on the number of Cabinet ministers since 1978 had been spent for the development, the country would have been in a better position. Then he lamented that the percentage of female members in parliament did not tally with the population’s female percentage. Thereafter, he said that under the previous government a ceiling on the number of Cabinet ministers had been imposed and the incumbent government was planning to remove it. He asked how the government would justify the proposed increase in the number of ministers.

Speaker Abeywardena intervened and said the MPs could not be allowed to make speeches making use of time allocated for questions. “You should ask only supplementary question. This cannot be permitted. We have to give consideration to the time. We move on to the next item in the order paper.”

S.M. Marikkar raising a point of order said that the government Cabinet, state and deputy ministerial posts to serve their people. The Opposition MPs had only one opportunity and that was by raising the people’s questions. “That is our right. Do not deprive us of our right,” MP Marikkar said.

The Speaker said that his concern too was to ensure the MPs’ rights and for that purpose time had to be managed.

Minister Fernando said that MP Withanage had not raised a single supplementary question and made a speech instead and, therefore, if the latter could raise a specific question the government was ready to answer them.

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20A challenged in SC

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A petition was filed in the Supreme Court by Indika Gallage, a lawyer, yesterday, challenging the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. The petitioner has requested the Court to declare that a referendum and a two-thirds majority in Parliament are needed for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

Gallage has made the Attorney General the respondent. The petition claims that the 20th Amendment to the Constitution violates Articles 01, 03, 04 (d,) 12.1, 14 (1) g, 27 (2) and 27 (3.)

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