One-time Executive Director of the election monitoring outfit CAFFE (Campaign for Free and Fair Elections), Keerthi Tennakoon says the Election Commission (EC) is in turmoil with over a dozen public servants being transferred under controversial circumstances.
Mr. Tennakoon, who served as Governor of Uva, Southern and Central Provinces during Maihripala Sirisena’s tenure as the President, insists that recent spate of transfers and fresh appointments contrary to laid down procedures undermines the vital commission.
Mr. Tennakoon, who represented the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) at the EC in the run-up to the last general election in Aug. 2020, said so in response to queries pertaining to the raging controversy over transferring of 15 public servants. Mr. Tennakoon said that the ongoing efforts to transform the EC to a puppet should be examined against the backdrop of the enactment of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in October, 2020.
The 20th Amendment that had been brought in by the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) at the expense of the 19th weakened not only the EC but all commissions and the happenings therein was a case in point.
The EC comprises Attorney-at-Law Nimal Punchihewa, S. B. Divaratne, M. M. Mohommed, K. P. P. Pathirana and Jeewan Thyagaraja. Saman Sri Ratnayake functions as the Commissioner General, EC.
Referring to a statement dated July 16 issued by Mr. Ratnayake on behalf of the EC in response to his (Tennakoon) social media posts on July 7 and 15 and National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) Chairman, former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya as regards the deterioration of the EC, the civil society alleged that the new outfit conveniently failed to continue with projects initiated by the previous commission.
Mr. Tennakoon alleged that the EC did away with a valuable programme to educate young voters, commemorate the voters’ day, activities involving the civil society and events especially meant for the selected communities.
The 20th Amendment increased the number of commissioners to five from three to end the crisis caused by the EC being crippled by the quorum being three.
The EC explained that those who served the Election Department/EC had to move elsewhere due to several reasons, namely them being not qualified to fill available vacancies and absence of vacancies for those qualified for higher posts.
There were stipulated numbers of Class 1, Class II and Class111 posts, in addition to six Special Grade positions, the EC said, alleging that over the years quite a chaotic situation was caused by the creation of positions to suit the agenda of various interested persons as well as recruitment outside longstanding procedures.
The EC emphasized that there was absolutely no basis for the former Speaker or Governor to be concerned. In fact, remedial action was being taken to streamline the appointments, the EC said, asserting those exploited political developments to their advantage over the years seemed hell-bent on undermining the new EC.
Well informed sources said that over the years various positions had been created at the Election Department/EC as well as at district level for the benefit of influential persons.
Mr. Tennakoon said that the EC should clearly state the circumstances in which 15 public servants had been moved out of the EC over the past seven months or initiate disciplinary measures if any of them did something wrong.
Mr. Tennakoon questioned why T. Henseman, Suranga Ranasinghe, Nalaka Ratnayaka, Dharani Weerasekera, Rajendran Sasilan, Thilina Wickramaratne, Dilip Gamlath, Namal Thalangama, Gayan Pathirana, J. U. Priyanath, Thilak Kumara, Shanika Rupasinghe, Rizan Manzil, Bandula Ranatunga and P. R. B. Sumangali were transferred.
Mr. Tennakoon said that Commissioner General, EC, Saman Sri Ratnayake should set the record straight. The outspoken civil society activist said that Ratnayake, who had also functioned in the same capacity during Mahinda Deshapriya’s tenure as the EC Chairman, should explain how the conduct of previous EC caused public ire.
Mr. Tennakoon maintained that at the moment he was not serving any political party or civil society organisation. He claimed that the 17th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution were meant to democratize the system. Unfortunately, some of those who voted for that progressive legislation also raised their hands to what he termed ‘the dictatorial 20th Amendment’.
Mr. Tennakoon urged the public to be mindful of ongoing efforts to reverse the progress achieved by the enactment of the 19th in 2015.