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.

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