Funds not released despite SC order Govt. intensifies campaign against LG polls
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government has stepped up attacks on the Election Commission (EC) in the wake of the Supreme Court directive meant to clear the way for much delayed Local Government polls.
Urban Development and Housing Ministry yesterday (13) quoted Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga, apparently oblivious to what is happening, as having told the local media at Udugampola earlier in the day the EC should examine whether the allocation made through budget 2023 for the independent commission was sufficient.
Minister Ranatunga has declared that the economy should be stabilised before elections could be held.
The Supreme Court on March 03 issued an interim order to Finance Secretary Mahinda Siriwardana and Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, not to withhold funds allocated to the Elections Commission by the 2023 budget.
The AG was named respondent on behalf of the President.
The Gampaha District SLPP heavyweight declared that the country was experiencing such a difficult situation the government was not in a position to release funds in support of the electoral process.
SLPP MPs, Premanath Dolawatte and State Minister Shehan Semasinghe on March 7 and 10, respectively in parliament explained why LG polls shouldn’t be conducted as scheduled.
Asked whether the EC received fresh funding since the Supreme Court directive issued on March 03, EC Chairman Nimal Punchihewa said that the court intervention didn’t make any difference.
Punchihewa said that before the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) moved Supreme Court, the Treasury had released Rs 175 mn in support of the scheduled election. “Of that amount, we received Rs 100 mn while the Government Printer and Police Department received Rs 40 mn and Rs 35 mn, respectively,” the embattled EC Chief said.
The order was given by the three-member Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Preethi Padman Surasena, Janak de Silva and Priyantha Fernando in respect of a fundamental rights petition filed by SJB General Secretary MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara, MP.
Responding to another query, Punchihewa said that though the budget allocated Rs. 10 bn for the EC, they could manage with Rs 1.1 bn.
Punchihewa said that the EC expected the government to abide by the SC directive though LG polls obviously undermined its political strategy. The outspoken lawyer and former member of the Human Rights Commission said that unless funds were made available immediately it wouldn’t be possible even to conduct LG polls on April 25. The poll was to be originally conducted on March 09.
The EC Chairman said that petitioner MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara would have to move the Supreme Court again. The EC could make representations before the Supreme Court again but that entirely depended on the SJB’s response to the latest situation.
SC summons IGP for disregarding court order
by AJA Abeynayake
The Supreme Court (SC), on Friday, summoned IGP C. D. Wickramaratne to appear in court on 03 April for disregarding a court order.The SC issued the summons when a fundamental rights petition was called before a bench comprising Justices S. Thurairajah, A. H. M.D. Nawaz and Achala Vengappuli.
The IGP has been ordered by the Supreme Court to prepare a set of guidelines to prevent the deaths of suspects in police custody taken out for various investigations.The SC judges pointed out that the IG had not abided by the order and expressed displeasure.
Justice Thurairajah said that despite the fact that the Supreme Court itself had given many judgments regarding the police, there had been no progress in the police department.The Justice said the police had a separate legal department and money should be allocated and training imparted to the police personnel through that section.
Opposition slams govt. for move to undermine judiciary
The Opposition has strongly condemned what it calls a move by the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to undermine the Supreme Court (SC).The Opposition has, in a joint statement issued over the weekend, urged the government to refrain from being hostile towards the apex court.
Among the signatories to the statement are Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, Dullas Alahapperuma, Prof. G. L. Peiris, Wimal Weerawansa, Gevindu Cumaratunga, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, M.A. Sumanthiran and Udaya Gammanpila.
“The country is facing an unprecedented crisis in respect of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary,” the Opposition has said.
“Basic principles and values we had all taken for granted, are now being directly and strenuously challenged.
“Now, for the first time, a criterion fraught with the gravest consequences for the very survival of representative democracy, is sought to be laid down that election can be held only if and when the Head of State is subjectively satisfied that the economic condition of the country warrants the allocation of resources for the conduct of an election at a particular time.
“The alarming corollary is a vicious onslaught on the Supreme Court in the exercise of its inalienable jurisdiction to uphold and implement the provisions of the highest law, the Constitution of the Republic.
“The country has been treated to the ignominious spectacle of the apex court being derided and reviled in parliament.
“The interim order by the court, directing the Minister of Finance and the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance to refrain from preventing the release, to the Election Commission, of financial resources allocated by parliament in the annual budget for the conduct of the Local Government election, has been contemptuously disregarded.
“In a flagrant violation of a binding decision by the Supreme Court, the Government Printer and other relevant authorities are being deprived of funds required for the performance of essential functions in this regard.
“Urgent appeals by the Election Commission, addressed to the Finance Secretary, continue to be simply ignored.
“Refusal by the Executive to give effect to imperative directions by the Supreme Court represents, of itself, a deliberate erosion of the foundations of our constitutional system, based as it is on the clearly demarcated separation of powers among the organs of government.
“It expresses, in our view, undisguised contempt for cherished constitutional values which form the bedrock of freedom and stability in our country.
“Tragically, not even this seems to satisfy the appetite of an unelected administration to arrogate to itself authoritarian powers incompatible with the rudiments of a functioning democracy.
“The government has brazenly invaded the province of the judiciary by means of a wholly distended, and entirely illegitimate, recourse to the concept of parliamentary privilege to assail the independence and integrity of the judiciary.
“We are aghast at the purported initiative by the Privileges Committee of Parliament directing the Supreme Court to forward to parliament the interim order which has already been impugned with egregious disregard for sound principle and policy.
“There were strident calls in parliament for the discontinuation of proceedings property in progress before the Supreme Court : these were complimented by demands for the cessation of all judicial action in respect of pending proceedings , until parliamentary processes with regard to privileges are exhausted : to cap it all, cynically infringing express provision contained in the Standing Orders of Parliament, there was explicit criticism of a judgment of the Supreme Court and indeed, of propriety of the behavior of a judge , in the absence of substantive motion before the House.
“In keeping with established precedents across the civilized world, these actions constitute, cumulatively, contempt of the Supreme Court in uniquely aggravating circumstances.
“We find very disquieting the arrogant and dismissive attitude which the government, embarked on its dangerous frolic, has adopted to the emphatic appeals by religious leaders, including the Venerable Theras of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters and his Eminence the Archbishop of Colombo.
“The sense of frivolity and flippancy underpinning the government’s approach to issues which define our political system and our way of life, presents to this nation and the world a spectacle of which we can hardly be proud.
“Representing all parties and groups in the Opposition in the parliament, we wish to express our profound respect for the judiciary –an indispensable pillar and, indeed, the final bulwark for the enjoyment of individual and collective liberties enshrined in the Constitution –and our firm resolve to resist, by all means at our disposal within a democratic framework, every attempt to undermine the prestige and stature of our country’s judiciary.”
NPC: TRC type apparatus can help Lanka address accountability issues
The National Peace Council (NPC) has said that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the lines of the South African set-up could help Sri Lanka address accountability issues.
“There have been media reports of a ministerial delegation visiting South Africa to undertake a study of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the reconciliation process that took place in that country over two decades ago. The South African reconciliation process,and its Truth and Reconciliation Commission in particular, have gained worldwide recognition for being a pioneer in dealing with human rights violations and war crimes that took place in the course of the struggle against Apartheid,” the NPC has said.
“An important feature of the South African TRC was its openness and transparency. The public hearings held by the TRC ensured that South Africans became aware of the violations that had been committed during the apartheid years. The National Peace Council (NPC) believes that such a commission could provide Sri Lankan people with renewed hope in terms of peace and reconciliation for those who have been affected by gross human rights violations. It is hoped the TRC will enable families of the missing to have the opportunity to learn about the fate of their relatives, who went missing during the war and leftist insurrection.
“The reconciliation process should be a home grown one which is organic to Sri Lanka. NPC believes that Sri Lanka should venture beyond retributive justice and restorative justice. While the criminal justice system uses retributive justice as a form of deterrence this has not provided protection against the repetition of crime. Restoring society to the pre-war period is not adequate to achieve reconciliation, neither is punishing those involved as it can polarize society in a manner where there is no organic social consciousness of guilt. NPC believes that the transformative approach of the South African model is more suitable than the retributive justice process which is not suitable for ethnic conflicts or large-scale conflicts.
“The challenge will be to find solutions that are in line with Sri Lankan values and forms of justice that are accepted by the Sri Lankan people along with the rejection of violence. Accordingly, NPC believes that it is necessary for the TRC to be representative to instill confidence in the victims. It is of paramount importance that the members of the commission are selected via a consultative process as was the South African TRC where its members were selected through an open countrywide nomination process and publicly interviewed by an independent selection panel comprising representatives of all the political parties, civil society, and the religious bodies in the country. Hence those studying the TRC process need to ensure that a transparent process emerges in the establishment and implementation of a TRC in order to achieve peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.”
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