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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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JVP accuses EC of conspiring to delay LG polls

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By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, MP, has told Parliament that the Election Commission and its Chairman are collaborating with the government to postpone the local government elections.

Participating in the Third Reading stage debate on Budget 2023, on Friday, MP Dissanayake said that as local government bodies should be reconstituted before March 20 2023, the Election Commission had to publish a gazette calling nominations by late December or early January.

“The EC has the authority to do so. It has sought the Attorney General’s opinion on some matters. There is no need at all for it to seek the AG’s advice,” he said.

“This is a conspiracy. The Elections Commission can publish the gazette even tomorrow. It is clear that the Elections Commission is collaborating with the government,” he said.

Dissnayake said that Election Commissioner Nimal Punchihewa’s impartiality was in question. “We know where Punchihewa worked before and at what party office. We know the governments and persons he has worked with closely. He is not an independent person.”

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Diana wants bars open 24/7

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By Saman Indrajith

State Tourism Minister Diana Gamage says liquor outlets should be kept open longer if the country wants to boost tourism.Participating in the Third Reading stage debate on Budget 2023 on Friday, State Minister Gamage said: “We have to keep these places open 24/7. I have spoken about it many times. Liquor is the highest tax earner in the country. In this paradise, we are closing bars after 11pm. Foreigners in hotels can’t get any alcohol if they need, because all the places are closed.

We need to keep this country open 24 hours. Like Singapore and other countries, people must have entertainment.”

“I talk about the night life, and when I talked about that earlier many criticized it and saw it as a big sin. That is ones who are incapable of understanding it,” she said.

“What we call night life is actually a night economy. All the countries in the world have developed because of night economy. These countries get 70 percent of their income from the nigh economy. They only get 30 percent during the day time. We have to develop a night economy in this country. That will earn 70 percent of the income. Only that can develop this country.

“We can do that. And also our museum, that closes at 5 pm. In other countries, museums earn most during night. It must be opened 24/7.  This night economy is essential for a country’s economy. People must have places to spend their money.”

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SJB asks govt. to introduce political reforms fast

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella has asked the government when it will introduce the political reforms demanded by the international community.

Speaking in Parliament on Saturday, Kiriella said that when the Opposition parties met the members of the Colombo-based diplomatic community during the Aragalaya protests, the latter had demanded that Sri Lanka implement political and economic reforms to receive foreign assistance to get out of the prevailing crisis. “That was six months ago. We have been asking the government repeatedly to inform this House whether it has implemented those reforms.

“The riginal plan was to establish an interim government for six months to restore the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. It was stated that an election would be held after six months. Now, what has happened? The politicians who are responsible for the crisis are still in power.

“Foreign Minister Al Sabry met USAID Administrator Samantha Power on Friday. Samantha Power called for the same political and economic reforms again. The international community is asking for the same.”

Leader of the House, Minister Susil Premjayantha said that political reforms were being implemented. “It is as part of the political reforms we are setting up a National Council, Sectoral Oversight Committees and three other committees. Counter terrorism act is in the pipeline. It will be taken up within couple of weeks. We passed several bills with your support. There were nine amendments to be introduced to the criminal law,” he said.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa: “The bills and amendments that have been passed are not enough as far as the international community and we are concerned. The biggest request is to allow the people of this country for a new mandate. Allow the people to express their will. Give them a chance to establish a new government or to maintain the same government now they have.”

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