Hulfsdrop Hill

14th November 1999

Where are the declarations of assets?

By Mudliyar

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November 16, 1999 is the last day for acceptance of nominations from Presidential candidates for the forthcoming Presidential election. An important question has been raised by certain people in some quarters with regard to the eligibility of the persons to tender their nominations to the Commissioner of Elections.

They have raised this question on the basis of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law which came into being on February 4, 1975.

The preamble to the declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law states "a law to compel certain categories of persons to make periodic declarations of their assets and liabilities in and outside Sri Lanka; to provide for reference to be made to such declarations by appropriate authorities and for investigations to be conducted upon the receipt of any communication against the person to whom this law applies".

When this law came into being it applied to members of the National State Assembly and elected members and staff officers of local authorities.

This law applied to Judges and all Government officers and members of Boards and State Corporations etc. Every person must declare not only his assets and liabilities, but also the assets and liabilities of his spouse and children.

Under this law, before it was amended, the Speaker, Ministers and Deputy Ministers and Judges and other State officers appointed by the President had to make the declaration to the President, and the other Members of the then National State Assembly to the Speaker of the National State Assembly.

The declaration made under this law was available to the Attorney-General, Director of Public Prosecutions, Bribery Commissioner and even to the Commissioner of Inland Revenue and to the head of the Department of Exchange Control.

It was obvious even in 1975 that the legislature was conscious of the fact that there were serious allegations of bribery and corruption against its members.

Therefore it became necessary to have some mechanism by which the public could complain to the authorities, specially to the Bribery Commissioner, of the ill-gotten gains of people's representatives, so that the appropriate authority could find out how people who were using a bicycle before they entered Parliament could suddenly avail themselves of a large fleet of vehicles, and how their small places of abode became palaces before they were kicked out by the voters from Parliament.

But there was one lacuna under the old law. The declarations made to the appropriate authorities, where in the case of the members of the National State Assembly was the Speaker and in the case of Cabinet Minister was the President, were bound by a secrecy clause.

Everyone who handles such a declaration is prohibited by law from divulging it to any person.

If a member of the public has come to know about some transaction which may have resulted in his member of the National State Assembly receiving huge commissions and other rewards and by the use of such commissions or rewards if the member of the National State Assembly acquires any moveable or immovable property then that member of the public could send a petition for investigation.

These laws which came into being in 1975, and the inquiries conducted thereafter have not yielded the expected results.

Corruption was escalating out of all proportion. The law virtually became a dead letter. On December 17, 1988 a very important amendment was passed in Parliament called the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities (Amendment) Act No. 74 of 1988. This amended act brought some important changes to the law of the declaration of assets and liabilities.

One of the important amendments was that it made it mandatory for all office bearers of recognized political parties for the purposes of election of the Presidential Elections Act No: 15 of 1981, the Parliamentary Elections Act No: 1 of 1981 and the Provincial Council Elections Act No: 2 of 1988 and the candidates nominated at elections to be held under the Presidential Elections Act No: 15 of 1981 and the Parliamentary Elections and the Provincial Council elections and elections under the Local Authorities Ordinance to submit their declarations of assets and liabilities to the Commissioner of Elections and unlike under the old law the candidates nominated for elections and the office bearers of recognized political parties must submit their declarations of assets and liabilities by the 30th of June each year in the prescribed form of the Assets and Liabilities of each person as at the 31st day of March.

In other words every single office bearer of every recognized political party and those who have been nominated to contest Presidential or Parliamentary elections or for that matter any election conducted by the Commissioner of Elections must submit these declarations every single year before the 30th of June, of that year.

It is apparent that this important diversion of the original declaration of assets and liabilities under the prescribed form has been ignored by many political parties in Sri Lanka.

Some political parties have made it a point to inform all of their members to submit their declarations to the Speaker and most members of Parliament have faithfully followed the instructions of the Secretary of the Party.

The question is whether the office bearers of all the parties have done so.

The office bearers in relation to a recognized political party are the President, Vice President, Secretary or member of the Executive Committee of such recognized political party and any other person who is duly empowered to give directions in regard to such political party and includes the leader of such political party howsoever designated whether as Patron, President, Advisor or otherwise.

So, clearly the law as it stands today makes it mandatory for every Presidential candidate, if he or she is the President of the country or any other person contesting for the post of President from any recognized political party if he continued to be a member of Parliament or if he is a leader or the President of a recognized political party though he may not have been elected as a Member of Parliament, to submit each year before the 30th June of that year not only the assets and liabilities of the candidate but the assets and liabilities of his or her spouse and children as at 31st March that year.

Most of the candidates aspiring to contest for the Executive Presidency should have made those declarations to the Commissioner of Elections for the past five years from 1994.

Every effort made by an investigating journalist whether Presidential candidates who represents the PA and the UNP have made the relevant declarations to the Commissioner of Elections has drawn a blank.

What is most interesting is that the amendment to the Assets & Liabilities Law has taken away the secrecy that was attached to such declarations.

Any member of the public is free to make an application to the authority here the Commissioner of Elections- to refer to such declarations and have the right to obtain certified copies of such declarations.

The application made by the same journalist to obtain certified copies of declarations has not been successful on the lame excuse that the Commissioner of Elections is indisposed.

There is another important amendment to the original law. It became necessary to prosecute any person who has not made a proper declaration by obtaining the sanction of the Attorney-General.

The prosecution of inquiries made by the Bribery Commissioner on the declaration of assets and liabilities was conducted by the Bribery Commissioner or the Attorney-General.

Now with this amendment any person is able to bring before the Magistrate's Court a private plaint under Section 136(1)(a) of the Criminal Procedure Code to bring to the notice of Court that any Presidential candidate or any office bearer of a recognized political party has violated the provisions of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law, and if convicted the person is liable to a fine not exceeding Rs. 1,000 or imprisonment of one year.

It is very unlikely that even a good Samaritan would bring such a case before a Magistrate's Court against any or all the Presidential candidates who have failed to declare their assets and liabilities to the appropriate authorities.

What is most interesting is that the Commissioner of Elections to whom these declarations are sent is supposed to be indisposed and the Acting Commissioner has said that the moment the Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake returns to work that the relevant certified copies will be issued.

If the Presidential candidates and office bearers of political parties have not submitted these declarations it clearly shows the deep abyss the people have fallen into for having placed their faith and future in the hands of politicians who have violated the laws of the land, if they have not submitted these declarations.

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