Transparency International Sri Lanka launched the report Electoral Integrity based on highlights of Presidential Election monitoring on the 25th February 2015 at the Committee room B of BMICH. This event was organized by Programme for Protection of Public Resources (PPPR) an initiative taken up by Transparency International of Sri Lanka (TISL) in order to combat corruption and for the protection of public resources.
The report was officially handed over to Mahinda Deshapriya the Election Commissioner by Shan Wijethunge who spearheaded the Election monitoring process.
The launch was followed with a panel discussion on Electoral Integrity for Stronger Democracy. A large gathering comprising of presidential candidates, politicians, lawyers, civil society, journalists and Trade Union activists attended this gathering.
Anushika Amerasinghe representing the Director Board of Transparency International welcomed the guests and thanked Transparency International for taking up this initiative.
Sashee De Mel representing the team for protecting the public property and resources addressing the gathering presented information gathered about misuse of public resources during the presidential election campaign. “From the first election rally to the final one on January 5th, out of an operational fleet of 4500 over half of buses belonging to Sri Lanka Transport Board were used for election work during the 30 day period. It is estimated that the loss faced by the SLTB due to the arbitrary use of buses exceeds 140 million rupees. A preliminary estimate offered by the new Ministry of Internal Transport suggests that the cost might be as high as 190 million rupees. She concluded her presentation posing questions as to why does this scale of misuse take place in Sri Lanka? Why did nobody stop it? Was anyone able to stop? Did the public resist such manipulation?
Ananda Jayasekera who was in charge of the media monitoring said the objective of the study was to monitor, make recommendation and to introduce best practices to the media in order to promote healthy media culture in Sri Lanka. Except for two candidates Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena all other candidates received near zero coverage and the state media acted in a highly arbitrary and haughty manner even paid no respect and attention to the Election Commissioner’s guidelines and warnings were some of the main observations of the media monitoring team.
The recommendations highlighted the importance of setting up of an independent print and broadcasting authority, providing both print and electronic media journalists with further opportunities to enhance their capacities and empowering the Election Commissioner to act instantaneously and decisively when his guidelines and warnings regarding the behaviour of media (both state and private) are disregarded or breached he added.
The Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya in his key note address commended the efforts of PPPR Team of Transparency International and stated that Elections Commissioners office is continuing taking action against complaints about misuse of public resources. He further stated that being aware of misuse of public resources should not limit to election time and stressed the need for a mechanism to address such issues.
The other panelists were Mr Mayadunne the former auditor general, S. Ranugge former Executive Director of TISL and Shan Wijethunge member of the Interim management of TISL. The panel discussion was moderated by veteran journalist Mandana Ismail.
The need for having a regulatory authority for media under the elections commissions’ office was highlighted in the panel discussion bringing in the examples from India and Nepal. Having rules and regulations alone will not help to address the concerns related to media behavior but it is equally important to have the engagement of civil society, citizens, parliamentarians etc.
The problems faced by public officials during an election period, the distinction, the confusions and expectations from government and public servants was another aspect taken into discussion by the panel.
The expenditure made on the presidential election campaign amounts to 12billion rupees and the expenses of one candidate the former president had been 6 to 8 billion rupees. Questions were raised whether this was public funds utilized and the importance of auditing accounts of political parties and obtaining records of assets and liabilities of political parties.
The former auditor general Mr. Mayadunne expressing his views explained the legal provisions to take actions against misuse of public resources/funds provided from the constitution and further stated that what is required is citizen and civil society engagement and political will to take action against such violations or such recurring of such occurrences in future.
The audience also expressed views and suggestions about enhancing skills in relation to auditing processes to highlight misuse of public and state funds and the importance of having independent commissions such as bribery and corruption elections commission etc.