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Polls monitor warns: 20A will dilute powers of Election Commission

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Text and picture by Priyan De Silva

The National Coordinator of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) Manjula Gajanayake said, yesterday, that if the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in its present form even the vision of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, ‘A nation that safeguards universal franchise’ would have to be amended  as elections will no longer be free and fair.

Gajanayake said that the Soulbury Commission appointed in 1944 had inspired the establishment of the Department of Elections headed by the Commissioner of Elections on the 1st of October 1955 by amalgamating the Department of Parliamentary Elections and the Department of Local Authorities Elections.

The principal duty of the Department of Elections was to take measures necessary to preserve the franchise of citizens by conducting free and fair elections and referendums, registration of all qualified citizens annually in the electoral register as voters and prevent the entering of names of disqualified persons.

The Commissioner and the Department of Elections had been given independence which was not found in any other government entity from the days of its inception, Gajanayake said, adding that the independence of the Department of elections had been preserved by not placing it under the purview of any ministry, by not appointing or removing officers in the department without the consent of the Commissioner of Elections, by making provisions for the Commissioner to operate independently and by not influencing the Department in any manner. The Commissioner of Elections was responsible only to the judiciary, he insisted.

Gajanayake was of the view that by the 20th Amendment the autonomous powers of the Election Commission would be diluted, or deprived fully, and erode public trust.

“As the President becomes the appointing authority of the Election Commission after 20A”, Gajanayake questioned whether justice could be sought from a commission consisting of people who are handpicked by the President? He said that even though prior to 2015 the Commissioner of Elections was appointed by the President,  the President was subject to some limits and required to appoint an official with due reputation in the administrative sector.

Another matter of concern after 20A would be the appointment of the Commissioner General of Elections by the Election Commission as the Commission may appoint a person of its discretion who may be from the state sector or otherwise thus for the first time in history paving the way for someone from outside the public service to be appointed to lead election officials.

Gajanayake wished to remind the public that the District Secretaries who were the key people who lead any election were already under the Ministry of Defense, and draw public attention to what might take place under this backdrop when the Commission loses its autonomous power.



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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