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Monday April 22nd, 2024

Sri Lanka electoral reforms: President expands commission’s scope, adds member

ECONOMYNEXT – President Ranil Wickremesinghe has expanded the scope of a commission of inquiry appointed to propose electoral reforms, also increasing its membership by one, amid concerns raised by some senior lawyers.

The commission, chaired by former Chief Justice Priyasath Dep, now comprises 10 members and is expected to obtain and submit information, investigate, inquire into and examine all existing election laws and regulations and make necessary recommendations for the amendment of election laws, according to a gazette notification issued on Thursday November 02.

The announcement came in the wake of a statement by a group of high-profile lawyers in Sri Lanka that expressed “profound concern” about a gazette issued on October 16 announcing the creation of a nine-member commission appointed to propose electoral reforms, noting that, while reforms are imperative, there is an “apprehension” that the reforms might be intended to stall elections.


Sri Lanka lawyers’ collective concerned over commission to propose election reforms

On Thursday November 02, President Wickremesinghe issued a fresh gazette notification increasing the membership of the commission by one and expanding its powers. The commission is mandated to propose revisions to electoral laws that align with contemporary requirements and uphold the integrity of political parties.

According to the gazette, the commission comprises:

  1. Justice Wewage Priyasath Gerard dep esquire, PC – retired Chief Justice
  2.  Suntharam Arumainayaham
  3. Senanayake Alisandaralage
  4. Nalin Jayantha Abeysekara PC
  5. Rajitha Naveen Christopher Senaratna Perera
  6. Ahamed Lebbe mohamed Saleem
  7. Sagarica Delgoda
  8. Sriyani Nimalka Fernando
  9. Vitharanage Deepani Samantha Rodrigo
  10. Alan Carmichael Vere David, who is the latest addition to the commission.

“The primary tasks of this commission encompass a thorough examination of existing election laws and the formulation of recommendations for their improvement. These recommendations extend to guidelines on the responsible utilisation of media by political parties and independent groups,” the statement said.

The commission is also entrusted with gathering information, conducting investigations and delivering recommendations regarding the implementation of a code of conduct that governs the conduct of political parties, enhancing the regulations concerning party registration and ensuring their actions are transparent and accountable to the public.

Addressing several critical issues including augmenting the representation of women and youth in political processes, reducing the time between the announcement of an election and the release of results and exploring the possibility of electronic voting using modern technology as an alternative to traditional paper ballots are among the commission’s other tasks.

“Finally, the commission is called upon to provide recommendations related to the proposed constitution,” the president’s office said.

In recognition of the imperative to establish and uphold mutual trust between Sri Lankan voters and political parties, the statement said, various globally renowned organisations, including the Inter-Parliamentary Union, have diligently focused on delineating criteria for enhancing the transparency and accountability of political parties.

“This heightened scrutiny stems from the notable escalation in the financial expenses associated with election campaigns, encompassing elections. The role of financial resources in shaping political landscapes and the potential for undue influence on policy decisions have garnered considerable concern.

“Additionally, there has been a growing awareness of individuals with criminal backgrounds infiltrating political parties, supplanting stable political organisations with short-term political entities, consequently contributing to political instability. These issues have been of particular concern.”

The commission is expected to produce its report within a timeframe of six months, the president’s office added. (Colombo/Nov03/2023)

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IMF official: Sri Lanka’s road ahead is challenging, critical to keep up with reform momentum

ECONOMYNEXT –International Monetary Fund’s First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath said Sri Lanka’s future with many reforms are challenging, but it is critical to keep up with the reform momentum.

Gopinath stated this after meeting the island nation’s State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe, and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena on the sideline of the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington.

“I commended them on hard-won economic gains in the past year. The road ahead is challenging and it’s critical to keep up with the reform momentum,” Gopinath wrote on her X platform.

Under IMF programme, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has implemented a raft of hard reforms including higher taxes.

Sri Lanka agreed to the IMF programme after it declared bankruptcy with sovereign debt default in April 2022.

Semasinghe after the meeting tanks Gopinath for acknowledging Sri Lanka’s economic progress.

“Our discussion was insightful and productive, and we appreciate the opportunity to delve into the challenges and opportunities ahead,” the State Finance minister said in his X platform.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to our reform agenda and eagerly anticipate continued collaboration with the IMF to advance our shared goals.”

Sri Lanka was compelled to go for IMF after the unprecedented economic crisis which was followed by a political crisis that ousted former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government who were legitimately elected.

The IMF programme has included reforms in state-owned enterprises, fiscal sector and financial sectors to ensure debt sustainability.

The global lender also has pledged its support to speed up the island nation’s lingering debt restructuring process with private creditors including sovereign bond holders. (Colombo/April 22/2021)

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Sri Lanka motor racing crash claims 7 lives, 4 critical

ECONOMYNEXT – A deadly accident at motor Race Sri Lanka’s hill country town of Diyathalawa has claimed at least 7 lives police said, after a racing vehicle, in the seasonal Fox Hill Super Cross ploughed in to spectators after running off the track.

Another 21 spectators were injured Sunday, and hospitalized and at least four were critical, police said.

Thousands of people come to watch the Fox Hill Super Cross race, which is usually held in April, as large numbers of people head to the cooler climes in the hills.

According to footage taken by spectators one car overturned on the side of the track.

Sri Lanka’s Newsfirst television said Marshalls were waving flags to caution other vehicles, when another car went off the track and crashed into spectators. (Colombo/April21/2024)

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Widespread support for Sri Lanka debt workout, reform progress at IMF/WB meet: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – There was widespread support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring and acknowledgement of progress made under an International Monetary Fund program, at meeting of the fund and World Bank, State Minister for Finance Shehan Semasinghe said.

“The strides made in our economic recovery and financial stability have been acknowledged as significant advancements towards our country’s prosperity by our stakeholders and international partners,” Minister Semasinghe said in an (twitter) post after attending the meetings.

“Further, it was heartening to note the widespread appreciation and support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to reaching the restructuring targets and confident of smooth progress in the continued good-faith engagements for a speedy debt resolution that will ensure debt sustainability and comparability of debt treatment.”

Sri Lanka ended a first round of talks with sovereign bondholders in March without striking a deal but some agreement on the basis for a deal.

An initial deal with bilateral creditors have been reached, but they may be awaiting a deal with private creditors to sign formal agreements.

International partners have appreciated reforms made under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister Semasinghe said.

“It was great to engage in productive bilateral discussions with all of whom appreciated the recent economic developments, progress in debt restructuring, strengthening of tax administration, and ongoing governance reforms,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has been allowed to re-appreciate by the central bank amid deflationary monetary policy, bringing tangible benefits to people in the form of lower energy and food prices, unlike in past IMF programs.

Electricity prices were cut as a strengthening currency helped reduce the cost of coal imports.

Related Sri Lanka central bank mainly responsible for electricity price cut

The currency appreciation has also allowed losses to the Employment Provident Fund imposed to be partially recouped, helping old workers near retirement, as well as raising disposable incomes of current wage earners on fixed salaries.

Related Sri Lanka EPF gets US$1.85bn in value back as central bank strengthens rupee

The IMF, which was set up after World War II to end devaluations seen in the 1930s after the Fed’s policy rate infected other key central banks, started to actively encourage depreciation after a change to its founding articles in 1978 (the Second Amendment).

The usefulness of money as a store of value, or a denominator of current and future values then decline, leading to loss of real savings, real wages and increases in social unrest.

Before that, members who devalued more than 10 percent after printing money for growth or any other reason, faced the threat of suspension from the organization as punishment.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has appreciated to around 300 to the US dollar now from 370 after a surrender rule was lifted in March 2023.

But there is no transparency on the basis that economic bureaucrats are allowing the currency to gain against the US dollar (the intervention currency of the central bank).

The rupee is currently under pressure, despite broadly prudent monetary policy, due to an ‘oversold position’ in the market after recent appreciation made importers and banks to run negative open positions as the usefulness of the currency as a denominator of future value declined with sudden strenghtening. (Colombo/Apr21/2024)

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