Sep 19

Law No 1 of 1975, DECLARATION OF ASSETS AND LIABILITIES, provides for the compulsory declaration of the assets and liabilities of a number of classes and descriptions of persons associated with the public sector. Inter alia, CIMOGG notes that section 2, sub-section (1), paragraph (d) of Law No 1 of 1975 was amended by Act No 74 of 1988, DECLARATION OF ASSETS AND LIABILITIES (AMENDMENT). Particular attention is drawn to the insertion of paragraph (dc), the first few words of which read as follows: candidates nominated for election at elections to be held under the Presidential Elections Act No 15 of 1981, which, to the layman, appears clearly to extend the scope of Law No 1 of 1975 to apply to Presidential candidates as well.

Section 3 states that … a person to whom this Law applies referred to in paragraph (dc) of sub-section (1) of section 2 shall be deemed to have complied with the provisions of this sub-section if he makes a declaration of his assets and liabilities as at the date of his nomination as a candidate for election under any of the Acts referred to in that paragraph on the date of such nomination or before he functions, or sits or votes, as President …. If, however, one considers the hypothetical case of a candidate who fails to make the requisite declaration at the time of submitting his nomination but is elected President, and subsequently takes his oath, without submitting his declaration even later, thereby ignoring the provisions of the Law, and proceeds to function as the President, he would be guilty of breaching the Law but would, nevertheless, enjoy total immunity from prosecution because of the way the Constitution is formulated. CIMOGG is, therefore, of the view that it would better serve the interests of good governance if the Commissioner of Elections were to try and persuade all Presidential candidates to submit their declarations at the time of filing their nomination papers for the forthcoming elections and not thereafter.

Unwillingness on the part of any Presidential candidate to submit his declaration of assets and liabilities, notwithstanding an earnest request made by the Commissioner of Elections, could well be a factor that voters would take into account before casting their ballots on election day.

It is pertinent to report here that, late last year, CIMOGG wrote to the Secretary-General of Parliament calling for a list of the names of all present MPs who had not submitted their initial declarations. However, CIMOGG was directed by the Secretary-General to address its request directly to the Speaker. This was also done but there is no record of a reply having been received. CIMOGG subsequently wrote to the Commissioner of Elections and came to learn officially that only seven candidates had submitted their declarations to him before the conclusion of the last Parliamentary elections. The Commissioner pointed out that there is no provision to reject nominations because of the lack of such declarations.

One sees very clearly that all persons to whom Law No 1, as amended, applies are required to submit their assets and liabilities declarations before they begin to function in whatever position they occupy. If they do not, members of the public would be thoroughly justified in challenging the validity of any actions or decisions taken by such persons in their official capacity. It does not need much imagination to conclude that such challenges could very easily lead to horrendous legal and other repercussions both for members of the public and all those liable persons who are required to conform to the stipulations of Law No 1 of 1975 (as amended) but have not done so.

Sep 12

It was in the early 1970s that the United Left Front government led by Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike decided to take over the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (popularly referred to as Lake House). The UNP protested vociferously against this decision both in Parliament and outside. Nevertheless, the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited Special Provisions Law No 28 of 1973 (Law No 28″) was passed.

In order to dampen public agitation, the ULF government said that the purpose of Law No 28 was not to run Lake House as a state enterprise but to break the media monopoly held by one family. It was argued that the law would provide for only a temporary vesting of the shares in the Public Trustee and that, as soon as the law was passed, steps would be taken forthwith to broadbase the ownership.

Law No 28 provided for 75% of the shares to be taken over by the Public Trustee and the remaining 25% to be left with the original shareholders providing, however, that no single shareholder could hold more than 2%. Article 5 provided for subsequent speedy divesting to the public of those shares which had been vested in the Public Trustee. However, thirty-two years have elapsed since the take-over and no government, whatever its hue, has carried out the divestiture required to be effected in terms of this law, notwithstanding the repeated pre-election promises made in the various party manifestos. All Parliamentarians belonging to successive governments have contributed to this betrayal of the pledges given to the people. The blatant and deliberate deceit practised on the public has been compounded further by the issuing of shares to state corporations so as to increase the governments control to 95% of the total shareholding. Far from broadbasing the ownership, this subterfuge, for all practical purposes, has kept Lake House under the rigid control of the government. This has enabled the parties in power to prostitute Lake House for their election and other propaganda purposes. This flagrant misuse of government resources for party political advantage represents corruption of a high degree.

In 1995, the PA government appointed the Sidat Sri Nandalochana Committee to recommend a scheme to broadbase the ownership of Lake House. This Committee proposed that 20% of the shares be given to the employees, 15% to a trust to be drawn from the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), universities and similar institutions, and the balance shares to be sold on the stock market. However, no effort has been made to implement these proposals.

CIMOGG unreservedly condemns the continued flouting of Law No 28 and, particularly, the sordid misuse of Lake House resources on behalf of the parties in power, particularly at election times. It, therefore, calls upon all political parties to state unequivocally in their election manifestos that they undertake to implement Law No. 28 within the first six months of the next elections, if they come to power. All politicians should note that Sri Lankan voters are becoming progressively less and less forgiving of unfulfilled pre-election pledges.

CIMOGG urges the public to consider the stand of the political parties, as set out in their manifestos, regarding the extent of their commitment to freedom of the press and the other media, and to protest vigorously through these media against those politicians who do not honour their election promises.