funds and elections
An ongoing civil society initiative, (the Programme for Protection
of Public Resources), shows us this week, the malodorous extent
to which both members of the United National Front and the recently
formed brave new Alliance consisting the People’s Alliance
and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, misuse state resources.
PPPR, (as this effort is somewhat amusingly termed), commences with
recording the abuse of the state electronic media as well as the
resources of Lake House, by the Alliance. On the other hand, as
far as individual UNF ministries are concerned, the Ministry of
Rural Economy and the Ministry of Plantation Industry have been
named primarily for the use of vehicles belonging to the ministries.
To this category falls also official vehicles of the Ports Authority,
the Bandaragama Pradeshiya Sabha, the Mahaweli Authority, the Western
Provincial Council. On its own part, the Alliance has been implicated
in respect of the misuse of official vehicles of the Southern Provincial
of official vehicles for party propaganda purposes is, of course,
only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Individual ministers and
members of the UNF as well as the Alliance have been identified
as part of this 'naming and shaming' exercise. But where does this
effort of documenting abuse of state property lead us? While this
is necessary at least for the record, what effect could this have
in a society where the concept of shame has become so conspicuously
absent from our public life? Though the Commissioner of Elections
has announced his intention of confiscating any public property
used for party purposes, no such action has yet been taken by him
in this regard. Provisions of the 17th Amendment, which might have
been stronger in the enforcement powers conferred on the Commissioner
in respect of misuse of state property, have not been particularly
farce is compounded by the sudden and passionate interest displayed
by both the UNF and the Alliance in respect of Sri Lanka signing
the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. In a context where
general corruption continues unchecked, (aggravated moreover by
the blatant misuse of state resources during elections), and the
domestic body mandated with the task of fighting corruption remains
inactive, such monumental hypocrisy is unbelievable.
column has had occasion in the past to examine the rationale wherein
political abuse of the state media, print and electronic, cannot
be tolerated. The extension of this logic to propaganda use of state
property, including vehicles, does not require much cerebral straining.
one recollects the manner in which the prohibition on use of public
servants for party political work was illustrated in a fairly interesting
manner some years back in Matugama. The refusal of a Samurdhi Niyamaka
to obey a party command, (in this instance, the People’s Alliance),
to campaign and canvass support for the Alliance in respect of an
upcoming Pradeshiya Sabha election, resulted in his suspension with
no reasons given.
went against this suspension to court, contending that he had been
singled out and victimised. Responding, the Supreme Court in a judgement
spanning a mere six pages, affirmed basic norms of conduct to be
obeyed by all political parties, particularly during elections.
The question was simple. Can persons paid out of public funds, collected
directly or indirectly from citizens of all shades of political
opinion , be used to advance the interests of those of one political
this case, Samurdhi Niyamakas were persons performing what was described
as "the major poverty alleviation programme of the government"
However, it was expressly required that they should perform in a
manner devoid of politics. They were officers engaged in rendering
services to the public, for which they were paid out of public funds.
As such, a Bench comprising Justices Fernando, Wadugodapitiya and
Gunesekera ruled that they could not be commandeered to work for
one political party.
use of resources of the State, including human resources, for the
benefit of one political party or group, constitutes unequal treatment
and political discrimination because thereby an advantage is conferred
on one political party or group which is denied to its rivals"
the Court stated.
prohibition would definitely apply to public funds being paid directly
to one political party and not to others. It would also make no
difference whether such payments are made directly to individuals
or indirectly by diverting equipment, facilities of the State to
the benefit of one political party.
recent times, we have seen abuse of public property in this country
manifested to an unprecedented extent. Both the major political
parties have exhibited no compunction in this regard, despite equally
pious pronouncements from the office of the Presidency as well as
from the Treasury. We have no reason to believe, given the past
record of the JVP on other issues, that it will be particularly
scrupulous in this respect either. It is high time and more that
tax payers, irrespective of their personal political beliefs, direct
their profound anger at this unscrupulous practice and those individuals
directly and vicariously responsible.