The upcoming Local Government (LG) is deemed to be one of the most decisive elections in the history of Sri Lanka, which could result in a massive breakthrough. However, the possibility of holding the election is getting uncertain day by day with the recent statement made by the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance that it is difficult to release funds for holding the LG polls given the current economic challenges.
In addition, the Supreme Court has also given green light for the Election Commission (EC) of Sri Lanka to hold the election as scheduled. In this context, it is imperative that the political hierarchy and citizens set the tone for the smooth conduct of the election without causing any sort of hindrances resulting in putting off the polls and creating chaos in the country.
The EC in struggle
Finance Ministry officials have informed the Chairman of the Election Commission, Nimal Punchihewa that due to a circular issued recently, it is possible to allocate money only for essential services, adding that election activities have not been designated as an essential service under the said circular.
Accordingly, Finance Ministry officials have pointed out that if funds are to be issued to institutions that do not come under the category of essential services, the approval of President Ranil Wickramasinghe as the Minister of Finance must be obtained.
At the same time, an estimated sum of Rs. 770 million is reportedly required for the month of February, in order to meet the basic expenses incurred for the upcoming election due to be held on March 09. The Commission has requested the Ministry of Finance in writing to allocate
However, the EC is in a struggle to carry out its essential and urgent election duties as the Treasury has given only Rs. 100 million to the EC in spite of demanding Rs. 770 million for its day-to-day tasks.
According to the EC Chairman, if the Treasury continues to delay the provision of required funds for the EC, the Commission has no option other than reporting to the Supreme Court.
“The budget 2023 has allocated Rs. 10 billion for the EC in a special vote in Parliament as the EC is an independent Commission. We are hopeful that the EC could successfully conclude the Local Government (LG) polls with a budget of Rs. 3 or 4 billion by March 9. The Commission last week requested only Rs. 770 million out of Rs. 10 billion for the month of February to carry out immediate tasks related to the March 9 LG polls. The underfunding has put the EC in a severe financial constraint,” the Chairman of the Commission, told reporters recently.
Moreover, the EC will have to extend another request to the Treasury for election expenses for the month of March after calculating the cost to complete the election on March 9. The EC requires a minimum of Rs. 3 billion to conclude the LG polls on March 9 as most of the expenses are borne by other state establishments like the Police Department, and Government Printer, and payments to public officials for election duties are made after the conclusion of the election.
More confusion popping up
Meanwhile, Government Printer Gangani Kalpana Liyanage has said that initial printing activities in preparation for the 2023 Local Government Election have been completed adding that, the Government is yet to provide security for the smooth conduct of the ballot paper printing activities.
According to Liyanage, the Police have deployed only three police officers despite the request made to the police chief to deploy 60 police officers to oversee the security measures during ballot paper printing.
In this context, the Election Commission stated that if the ballot papers are received on time, the postal voting of the LG polls can be held on February 22, 23, 24, and 28 as scheduled. However, if the ballot papers are not provided on time, the Commission has to decide on new dates for the postal voting of the LG election, which could delay the entire proceedings.
For a free and fair election
In a backdrop where the Supreme Court has given the green light to the EC to go ahead with the LG election, a free and fair election is very much on the cards. However, the EC is yet to make an official statement with regard to the election in the wake of the statement of the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance. Nevertheless, the Treasury and the Finance Ministry have a constitutional and official obligation to transfer sufficient funds to the EC in time to ensure democracy and a free and fair elections.
In addition, as it is evident, the policies implemented by incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe do not reflect the mandate of the people as he was not elected by the people. In addition, the present composition in Parliament is also in a mess. In this context, the political analysts are of the viewpoint there an election is the need of the hour and in the event of no election, there is a tendency and possibility that people would rally around and come to the streets to show their agitation.
However, in spite of whether the election being held or not, the country cannot afford to go for another uprising, which would definitely aggravate the current crisis in the country. Therefore, the people of Sri Lanka should be mindful of the fact that the country needs to move on and stick to its priorities while ensuring democracy.
source daily mirror