Candidates fight shy of declaring assets

By Leon Berenger

Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayaka has turned down a number of requests to make public the declared assets and liabilities of candidates contesting the upcoming Parliamentary Elections. According to sources, the requests have come from individuals, organisations, political groups and the media after nominations for the elections closed on February 26.

Out of more than 7,500 candidates, only 13 persons have so far declared their assets and liabilities. The 13 include two former ministers and a front-line candidate of the main opposition United National Party (UNP): former Nation Building Minister Basil Rajapaksa; Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, and the UNP’s Ravi Karunanayake.

Independent polls observers say the election law pertaining to assets has been made a joke of by amajority of the 7,500 who have chosen to ignore the requirement.

“The regulation stipulates that candidates declare their assets and liabilities within three months of the nominations, but there is no law to prosecute those who fail to do so,” said Keerthi Tennakoon, an independent polls observer with the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE). Rohana Hettiaarachchi of the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) said those who had not declared their assets could be holding illegally generated monies, or planning to illegally channel such monies after the polls. Mr. Hettiaarachchi said party leaders could lead by example by declaring their personal assets and liabilities and thereby encourage party members to do the same.

“So far, party leaders have not done so. The rot begins at the top on either side of the political divide,” he added. In some cases, reluctance to comply could be out of concern for personal safety, as criminal or enemy elements could use the information to their advantage, he said.

The law has provisions for ministers to declare their assets to the Chief Executive, Members of Parliament to the Speaker, and others to the returning officers of their respective districts.

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