All state institutions are mandated by Constitution to facilitate election work: SJB counselView(s):
SC issues interim orders directing Finance Ministry and AG not to withhold funds to EC and Govt. Printer
By Ranjith Padmasiri
The Supreme Court on Friday issued an interim order preventing the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and the Attorney General from withholding funds allocated by the 2023 Budget for the local government elections.
The court also issued a separate interim order preventing the withholding of funds allocated to the Government Printer for printing ballot papers.
A three-judge bench comprising Justices Preethi Padman Surasena, Janak De Silva and Priyantha Fernando issued the interim orders while giving leave to proceed to a Fundamental Rights petition filed by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara.
All government institutions, including the Finance Ministry, the Government Printer, and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), are mandated by the Constitution to support the Election Commission’s (EC) efforts to hold free and fair elections, Upul Jayasuriya PC, appearing for the petitioner, told court.
He said the Finance Ministry Secretary was duty-bound to provide the financial allocations necessary to hold the elections while the Government Printer was also duty-bound to print the ballot papers. He added that both officials were also bound to follow orders issued by the EC.
Mr. Jayasuriya reminded that the court could impose a fine amounting to not more than Rs. 100,000 or a prison sentence of up to three years or both on officials who refused to follow the EC’s orders. Senior Additional Solicitor General Priyantha Nawana, PC, appearing for the Finance Ministry Secretary and the Attorney General, insisted that the government had no intention of violating democracy or human rights and added that the government was working to protect and promote the people’s franchise and human rights.
He refuted the accusation made by the petitioner that the Finance Ministry Secretary was deliberately withholding funds allocated for the election. He pointed out that the Treasury had released Rs. 100 million for the Election Commission, Rs. 40 million to the Government Printer and Rs. 25 million to the police. As such, he queried how the petitioner could claim that the Secretary was obstructing the election process.
The Finance Ministry Secretary had stated that he was unable to release funds as the local government election had not been designated as an essential activity.
Saliya Pieris, PC, who appeared for the EC said the Finance Minister had no authority to decide whether elections were an essential activity or not.
The EC had requested Rs. 8 billion to hold the poll. It also asked that an increased fuel quota be given for election-related work. That too was refused. The IGP, meanwhile, presented an estimate for expenses that are six times more than funds allocated during previous elections. This was a dangerous situation, Mr. Pieris said.
Upul Jayasuriya PC with Sandamal Rajapaksha, Nisala Fernando, Sachitha Andrahennadi Instructed by Sampath Wijewardena appeared for the petitioner.
Campaign goes on regardless
Although the local council elections have been postponed and a new date is yet to be announced amidst legal battles in the Supreme Court, opposition parties are continuing their election campaign regardless. Here the Samagi Jana Balawegaya leader Sajith Premadasa is seen addressing a political rally in Bibile this week.
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