Misuse Of Public Property And Funds
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
An initiative of Transparency International of Sri Lanka (TISL), the Programme for Protection of Public Resources (PPPR), notes that the governing party in its presidential election campaign has during December misused state resources amounting to millions of rupees.
The PPPR has also stated that the Tharunyata Hetak youth organisation headed by the President’s sons Namal and Yoshitha has spent Rs. 89 million (Rs. 89,869,600) of sponsorship funds received from state institutions on advertisements to promote the President on TV and radio.
TISL Executive Director J.C. Weliamuna said the total value of the misuse of state funds and resources during the presidential election campaign could amount to approximately Rs. 8 billion.
“It is a rough estimation as the real figure would only be known after the conclusion of the election,” he said.
The first report issued by TISL’s PPPR on December 31, 2009 highlighted several areas where public resources have been misused in violation of the law.
The report states that the high cost involved in election campaigns is a contributory factor for using public property by candidates who have control over them.
Cost of propaganda material
Citing examples with regard to the cost of propaganda material, the report observes that a four-colour poster (medium size) would cost approximately between Rs.8 to Rs.12 for a quantity over 100,000 in the initial print. A cost of a 20X20 feet hoarding to be exhibited in Colombo city limits would cost around Rs.300,000 and a larger hoarding would cost approximately Rs.500,000.
The PPPR states that a large number of hoardings and advertisements sponsored by public institutions are displayed at various places in the country and published in newspapers supporting the President and his election messages.
The hoarding displayed at Nugegoda sponsored by the State Trading Corporation, in Town Hall sponsored by the Presidential Secretariat, in Thimbirigasyaya sponsored by Presidential Operational Office, in Matara sponsored by Southern Development Authority and Ruhunu Radio have been cited as examples.
In reference to advertisements, the report has highlighted the advertisements published in Ravaya on 20.12.2009 sponsored by Board of Investment (BOI), Sri Lanka; in Lankadeepa (Sunday Edition) 28.12.2009 sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism; in Divaina on 29.12.2009 sponsored by Urban Development Authority and the Ministry of Urban Development and Scared Area Development and in Dinamina 29.12.2009 sponsored by Lanka Sathosa.
The report has also laid emphasis on the Tharunyata Hetak youth organisation, which is reportedly receiving high contributions (by way of sponsorships) from several public institutions such as Bank of Ceylon and National Lotteries Board, both of which fall under the purview of the President.
The key officials of this youth organisation are the President’s sons Namal Rajapaksa (chairman) and Yoshitha Rajapaksa (vice chairman).
The report states that while a series of advertisements are carried out by the organisation through radio and TV highlighting the need for a strong leader for the country, the advertisements do not mention the name of a candidate — “it is not a secret or difficult to understand, for whom they stand for, given the direct political affiliation of this organisation with the President and his regime and the content of the advertisements.”
“Total cost of the advertisements during this period, based on regular disclosed rate cards of the channels, amount to Rs. 84,027,600. We have observed that another amount of Rs. 5,842,000 has been spent on radio advertisements. We note that the cost of political commercials is more than the normal rates disclosed in the rate cards,” the report states.
Further there is an additional cost of production, which has not been ascertainable as at present.
The report also notes that facilities at Temple Trees, the official residence of the President, are used to entertain people from various sectors for political purposes.
“At these events, most of the participants were transported to the venue at state expense and were provided with food and in some instances, even with liquor. The President justified such entertainment events where the cost was borne with public money as a normal cultural practice.
Another case of misuse of public property highlighted in the report is in relation to public buildings and machinery.
The report refers to a property belonging to the Ports Authority situated at 56/1 Mc-Callum Road, Colombo 10 being used to print propaganda material in favour of the President. The said posters are seen in Colombo city and other parts of the country and a large stage that is the property of Sri Lanka Ports Authority was transported to Minuwangoda and used for the public rally on 27.12.2009, patronised by the President.
Several employees from the Ports Authority and two vehicles registered as Ports Authority vehicles (registered numbers: 41 – 3995 and GJ – 2312) have reportedly been discharged for this purpose.
Misuse of vehicles
Vehicles belonging to various public institutions are reported to have been transporting supporters and used for propaganda across the country for the candidate of the UPFA.
The vehicles of Sri Lanka Transport Board, different government ministries, departments and local government authorities have been abused in this regard.
Meanwhile the PPPR states that there are reports of many public officials from ministries and public corporations being engaged in political party activities.
Under the Establishment Code, Chapter XXXII, members of Armed Forces, Police, State Officers and Supervisory Officers etc. are prohibited from engaging in political activities, except to vote at an election.
The Elections Commissioner, acting under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution has also prohibited usage of public officials/employees in political party activities pending an election.
The report refers to a key public servant in the Defence establishment being actively engaged in campaigning for the President’s election campaign. For example the respective official had addressed a political meeting on December 19, 2009 at a rally in Urapola, Kadugannawa.
Misuse Of Public Vehicles
Given below are a few instances where public vehicles have been misused according to the PPPR report:
1) (a) Nine lorries bearing the numbers WP-LG 4738, WP-LG 4740, WP-LG 4741, WP-LG 4742, WP-LG 4744, WP-LG 4745, WP-LG 4546, WP-LG 4547, WP-LG 4749 of Sri Lanka Ports Authority (purchased in 2009) have been released for election work of the UPFA in the Southern Province.
(b) A fatal accident that took place at Koppara junction in Negombo on the night of 12.12.2009 involving a lorry bearing number LG-4608 belonging to the Ministry of Road Development and a double cab bearing no. NB 7414 belonging to the Chief Secretary of the Eastern Province. It was revealed that the lorry was transporting several cut-outs of the President at the time of the accident.
2) The use of Central Transport Board (CTB) buses
There is almost a pattern of using CTB buses to transport crowds for meetings attended by President Rajapaksa. Two such instances are given below:
(a) The meeting of the UPFA on 27-12-2009 at Minuwangoda (Japalawatta) – Around 26 CTB buses were used to transport crowds free of charge from Nittambuwa, Attanagalla, Mattakuliya, Udahamulla, Angoda, Wattegama and Teldeniya.
(b) The meeting held on 26-12-2009 in Alankuda Grounds in Kalpitiya – The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), previously displaced from Jaffna and now living in Mannar, were transported by CTB buses free of charge.
(c) Crowds for several meetings in Temple Trees were brought in CTB buses. On 13.12.2009 a large number of CTB buses were used to transport police officers from outstations (in addition to police vehicles) to Temple Trees.
3) The use of Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) helicopters
On 24-12-2009, a SLAF helicopter carried Ministers Dulles Alahapperuma and Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, Member of Parliament Wimal Weerawansa and Western Provincial Council Minister Udaya Gammanpila to Kandy where they participated in a public meeting attended by Technical College Staff, Women’s Organisations and University Employees.
These acts violate the regulation of the Commissioner of Elections issued on 08.12.2009, which prohibits the use of government motor vehicles and helicopters/aircraft for the benefit of a candidate of the election.