Despite steady progress, the Government’s mechanism to distribute relief to those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak continues to be dogged by accusations of poor planning and blatant political interference aimed at the upcoming parliamentary election. The main issues stem from the Rs 5000 one-time allowance that the Government is paying households to mitigate the economic [...]


One-time Rs 5000 allowance mired in controversy

Accusations galore of blatant political interference aimed at upcoming parliamentary elections

Despite steady progress, the Government’s mechanism to distribute relief to those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak continues to be dogged by accusations of poor planning and blatant political interference aimed at the upcoming parliamentary election.


The main issues stem from the Rs 5000 one-time allowance that the Government is paying households to mitigate the economic impact from COVID-19.

As of Thursday (23), the Government had distributed its Rs 5000 one-time allowance to over 2.4 million eligible households which are already receiving Samurdhi or are on the Samurdhi waiting list, Co-Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Ramesh Pathirana told the media.

Meanwhile, over 1.5 million households of those in the private sector who had lost their livelihoods due to the impact of COVID-19, had also received the Rs 5000 allowance. “We believe that number will increase to 2 million by the end of the week,” Mr Pathirana stated. The process of distributing routine allowances such as the senior citizen’s allowance, disability allowance and kidney disease allowance has also been completed.

The process whereby the beneficiaries are selected for relief has been controversial even from the start. Eligible households are selected by a village committee composed of the area’s elected local government representative, Samurdhi Development Officer, Grama Niladhari Officer, Agricultural Research Officer, Family Health Officer and Economic Development Officer.

The presence of a politician in the committee has led to concerns that the relief mechanism would become politicized, especially with a parliamentary election around the corner. The process was also mired in confusion due to different ministries and authorities issuing contradictory circulars that frustrated officers on the committees tasked with compiling lists of those who were qualified to receive the relief allowance.


Matters came to a head on April 15, when Minister of Health and Indigenous Medicine Services, Women & Child Affairs and Social Security Pavithra Wanniarachchi announced that the Government was calling for fresh applications from daily wage earners and low income groups who were affected by the COVID-19 outbreak for the one-time only Rs 5000 allowance.

During a statement delivered on camera, the Minister showed a sample of the new application, while also announcing that the Government was extending the distribution of a one-time only Rs 5000 allowance to many other groups coming under the low-income category.

By the time the minister made her statement, most village committees had finalized their lists of names of those eligible for the allowance and forwarded it to their respective divisional secretariats, explained Dhammika Dissanayake, President of the All Island Independent Grama Niladhari Union. “Questions then arose as to what will happen to people on those lists if the Government now wants people to apply again,” he said.

Given the confusion over the matter as well as frustration over several other developments, unions representing Grama Niladharis, Economic Development Officers and Agricultural Research Officers decided to step away from duties related to distribution of the Rs 5000 allowance last week. This decision was reversed after late night discussions with Government authorities.

Sumith Kodikara, President of the Sri Lanka Grama Niladhari Association said the Government had agreed to most of their demands. “Regarding circulars, we emphasized that all circulars related to the distribution of allowances related to the COVID-19 outbreak should come from a single authority as there has been much confusion over the past weeks with different authorities issuing contradictory circulars. They agreed that henceforth, only the Prime Minister’s Office would issue circulars related to the allowance distribution.” He also called for officers to be allowed to carry out their duties without political interference.

The decision to make local government members part of the allowance distribution process continued to create issues.


In the Kegalle district, there were numerous reports that while Samurdhi Development Officers were going around handing over the new forms, Sri Lanka Podukana Peramuna (SLPP) electoral organizers who are contesting the upcoming parliamentary election as well as local government members were distributing their own forms to people and telling them to apply for the Rs 5000 allowance. Many of these people, however, had already received either Samurdhi or another allowance already distributed by the Government and were thus, ineligible for further assistance.

There have been complaints that some families have got nothing while in others, several members of the same family had received the Rs 5000 allowance in direct contravention of circulars that it should only be paid once.

Accusations are also being made that many are being deprived of assistance simply based on their perceived political allegiances. SLPP local politicians are alleged to be influencing Samurdhi Development Officers to give preference to their own lists of names when providing certain allowances. They have been accused of cutting off names of households thought to include UNP supporters.

Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara , Hiran Priyankara and Reka Tharangani Fonseka

In one incident in the Galle district, several SLPP local councilors allegedly forced their way into the Gonapinuwala Divisional Secretariat on April 15 and berated a Grama Niladhari officer for not following their dictates when distributing the Rs 5000 allowance for those on the Samurdhi waiting list in her area.

Gonapinuwala Divisional Secretary Piyumali Liyanage confirmed the incident but said the councilors later apologised to her and her staff. “I stand by my staff, who are working harder than ever to get relief to people who need it during this time of crisis. We will not pursue this further since they apologized,” Ms Liyanage said. She however, added that the Grama Niladhari had made a police complaint regarding a threatening phone call she received on the same day.

K.G. Nishanthi, the Grama Niladhari who faced the ordeal, told the Sunday Times that she lodged a complaint with the Thelikada Police over the threatening phone call she received. “I believe the call is connected to the incident that happened at the Divisional Secretariat earlier in the day,” she added.

Meanwhile, Grama Niladharis in Nuwara Eliya district stepped away from distributing the Rs 5000 to households on Thursday (23) citing intimidation by local government politicians.

Samagi Jana Balawegaya General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara meanwhile, claimed they had received numerous complaints that the mechanism to distribute relief to the affected had become heavily politicized, with those perceived to be Opposition supporters being cut from the Rs 5000 allowance. “We have already complained to both the President and Chairman of the Election Commission about this,” he said.

In response to complaints of interference by local government politicians, the Prime Minister’s Office has now issued a new circular, former State Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena revealed. “Accordingly, anyone who has not received the Rs 5000 allowance but who believes he or she is eligible for it, can apply again. However, their forms need only be certified by the Grama Niladhari and Samurdhi Officer of the area. The circular directs that all such persons are entitled to relief,” he stressed.


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