22 September, 2018

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Code Of Ethics For The Election Commission

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

At the last meeting of the Election Commission on 18.06.2018 some ethics issues came up. An MP had complained that I had been untruthful about him in one of my articles – whereas I had referred to my personal observation in June 2011 of his cadres and the army forcing the public at the Jaffna bus-stand to sign a statement that there had been no casualties at Mullivaikal. This was immediately after the UN Secretary General’s Panel gave 40,000 as the casualty figure there. We came to the realization that we have no code of ethics although we have promulgated codes for political parties and candidates. 

Another issue concerned my referring to Thambyrajah Gurukularajah of ITAK as a friend. It was suggested that I had compromised the integrity of the Commission. Gurukularajah is my childhood friend not a political friend. I have lived in his house in Paranthan. We are from the same school and church parish. Our fathers were Anglican priests (his in the CSI, the Anglicans in South India).

We all have political friends. Keeping quiet about them does not change that and does not mean we have no politician friends. In fact, my open declaration of our friendship prevents me from participation in Commission decisions concerning Gurukularajah, whereas non-declaration would allow me secretively to take his side. What I did is known and expected in ethics as full-disclosure.

More importantly, however, the Commission’s function is to uphold election laws. It is agreed that when no one cheats it is wrong to say anything negative or positive about a party or politician; whereas when there is rampant cheating, there is no way in which our laws can be upheld without pointing fingers. Yet another function of the Commission is voter education – voters have the right to know when politicians openly flout the laws of the land. Commission neutrality must not be an excuse to hide from the voters the misdeeds of our politicians, thereby shielding them from the punishments the law prescribes.

Voters’ Day at South Eastern University

Friday to Saturday (22-26 June) engaged the Commission in celebrating Voters’ Day (01.06.2018) in Muslim areas because of Ramzan. At the grand meeting at Sainthamaruthu Grand Mosque, Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya in the spirit of pointing fingers at those that cheat, referred to the Commission’s determination that the ongoing postponement of elections to Provincial Councils is a violation of our franchise and therefore of our sovereignty. The country belongs to us the people and not our rulers, he said. 

We had decided on 18.06.2018 that after speaking to party representatives on the 26th, we would refer to the Supreme Court for direction in the face of government recalcitrance in avoiding PC elections just like the LG elections were dragged on through delimitation and legislative changes.

Minister Faiszer Muthapha who as recently as on 25.04.2018 said on Ada Derana that “Elections for 6 Provincial Councils are mandatory this year,” has declared on 16.06.2018 (Daily Mirror) that elections to six provincial councils are not likely this year because “the political parties are apprehensive of the outcome following the experience gained at the February local government poll.” What was mandatory is no longer mandatory? The only problem was that many old men had to give way to young women with new ideas. The only basis for such postponement is to deny us our franchise. At the same time, Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne (Hiru News, 20.06.2018) has told us that elections will be held in December under the old proportional representation. This is incredible for two reasons. First, December is the month of national exams when holding elections is very difficult. Second, to hold elections under the PR system after the laws have been changed to a mixed system, needs new legislation. 

I have pointed out to huge flaws in the legislation where the Commission has a quorum of three on a membership of three. The law does not say if the Chairman is an executive or primus inter pares. I have been assigned a Rs. 50,000 travel allowance by parliament which is finished in two and a half trips by car to Colombo (with nothing for hotel accommodation). In reality, this means I cannot attend all meetings. Assistant Commissioners get cars from our large fleet for official travel but not Members because the auditor says we have a travel allowance. Naturally, we are back to square one where decisions are taken without the quorum. The Chairman tries to accommodate me by asking junior officers to attend meetings that they need not attend so that I get a free ride in their cars. They resent disturbance to their work to baby-sit me. The President has ordered that I be allocated quarters but the people allocating housing say that I am far behind in the queue; although some Assistant Commissioners get quarters in Colombo. The Constitutional Council is exercising powers like giving us leave when such powers are not on record anywhere. The government is unable to make the simple, required  legislative changes. Even the new laws the government passes refer to the Chairman as Election Commissioner. The Government website refers to him as Head of the Commission whereas a Head is not quite the same as Chairman. The law removed the Commissioner but allowed the old designations like Additional Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner to stand with cars for personal use and a higher salary than Members. People naturally ask, “If someone is Additional Commissioner, then where is the Commissioner?” So for all practical purposes, however hard the Chairman tries, people refer to him as Commissioner and even parliamentary committees ask him to take decisions that are the Commission’s.  Is it any wonder that I am asked if I am sure I am on the Election Commission, whether I am the member in charge of Jaffna, etc. We members are simply commission flatulence. 

When the government cannot make urgent changes to make the 19th amendment work as it should at least with respect to the Election Commission where decisions previously taken by the Commissioner are now meant to be taken by the Commission, what chance is there that it can change quickly the legislation with respect to the Provincial Council Elections as Rajitha Senaratne has suggested? None!

It is a given among election administrators as declared by the Commonwealth’s “good practices” to which we subscribe, that we should be wary of attempts to change the rules when elections are due. This seems to be such a moment. One does not change rules half-way through a game except to gain an advantage. Indeed, the rules need to be clear well before the game begins. Any party preparing for elections must have candidates, campaign machinery and financing ready. If elections are to be under the new PC law, they must have women ready; but not if they are to be under the old law. When only the government knows the rules, it has a clear advantage. Besides, reversion to the old system is an unacceptable roll back of all the gains we made for women on 10 February. 

The police whom I suspect have taken money to play down election law violations, seem to be helping to push back on women’s gains. In Akkaraipattu there is a dispute over Muslims buying land in a Tamil area that led to violence. Two Tamil women elected on 10 February are Sanuja (SLFP) and Vijeyarani (UNP). While many Representatives went to see how they could help in the dispute, a party of all-male policemen went only to the homes of these two women at 1:30 am on 21.06.2018 to arrest them. This, despite their party connexions in government. They are presently out on bail, having been charged with fomenting communal discord. The two think it is the police’s way of discouraging women and thinking they can get information on the crimes easily from women through intimidation. Sanuja’s husband is upset she entered politics. Vijeyarani despairs that a marriage may be difficult to arrange for her because of her seeming criminal record. Will women come forward to contest next time? 

This brings me to my own speech at Kalmunai and again at South Eastern University. I referred to the Chairman of the local authority in Musali (a backward area near Mannar)  telling a woman member of his authority not to speak in the chamber because women are physically weak and likewise their mental ideas are also weak. This is totally unacceptable in a country where women have earned high professional status and have demonstrated mental capacities far stronger than the Musali Chairman’s. Is there a plan deliberately to roll back the gains that women made on 10 Feb. because men want it all?

I have a whole list of written election complaints against powerful politicians enjoying impunity while women are arrested – “treating” under the Sasundodaya Programme by offering Rs. 500 million for Buddhist temples in the North and East, for holding an election meeting at a temple, for spreading religious hatred by saying Tamils should not vote for Christians and that only Saivites who speak Tamil are Tamils while the rest are Tamil-speakers, for threatening a public officer and preventing him from doing his duty, etc. 

Do these criminal politicians earn the right not to be accused because that would make the Commission less neutral? Indeed, our silence would betoken partiality. It is time for a code of ethics so that we may be guided on what the law allows and what it does not.

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    What about code of ethics for poltiicans.
    More 50% of Mps are without GCSE.
    We should set some QUALIFICATION and ethics test for them first .

  • 6
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    Good to hear this atleast at this stage. So it looks like that the situation is far worse than what we think. In any event, has this commission any duty to investigate the duty free car sales by the MPs? If so, will it do it.

    • 4
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      Dear Arun Vincent,
      .
      Yes, it is shocking isn’t it, the way the Elections Commission is expected to function?
      .
      When I put in a tongue-in-cheek comment I had expected that many would be making comments showing that cynical “krama saha vidi” amounts to acting without any consideration for the ways in which people achieve their nefarious objectives. It is such people who castigate the “rules” as all silly, and become evil “strong-men”. I thought it an acknowledged fact that Gotabaya R’s beautification of sections of Colombo directly resulted in the Meethotamulla tragedy – not to speak of the numerous disappearances.
      .
      Surely, they ought to have provided dignified transport and accommodation for people whom they placed in eminent positions!
      .
      More importantly, though, this Commission has been doing its work independently, fearlessly and transparently. I can’t help feeling that a simple title for this article like, “Allowing the Elections Commission to Function Effectively” would have led to more readers accessing it.
      .
      The article now seems to be history, but may the Elections Commission continue to carry on with its mission of allowing all citizens to exercise their choice.

  • 0
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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 7
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    Grumble, grumble, grumble! Prof. Hoole in his ivory tower lacks the practical know-how to get things done. There are “ways and means” (in Sinhalese, “krama saha vidi ), that have to be used, if not you just can’t achieve results.

    This country needs strong people who will get things done! That is why General Gotabaya Rajapaksa ought to be the next Executive President. Just think of the way in which he transformed Colombo. Such results cannot be achieved by sticking to all sorts of silly “Rules”.
    .
    Actually, close reading of what Prof. Hoole has written shows that the more experienced Mahinda Deshapriya has taught the others how to bend the rules. So the Members of the Commission organise free rides for themselves by getting a Junior Assistant Commissioner to request a car, ostensibly for themselves. Deshapriya was a teacher, and would know that when the Principal of a school has a problem accounting for the number of chairs that he has to show auditors, he tells the labourers “eka putuwa dekak karanna”. That is one takes a usable chair, and breaks it in two. Provided you have not foolishly antagonised the auditors, this works, always.
    .
    People in responsible positions must know how to achieve results. People like Hoole must be removed forthwith from the Commission. They are naive.
    Why was a man like him put in the Commission in the first place? He obviously hasn’t had the money to get himself a chauffeur-driven car; the cost could easily be recouped from other sources which are legitimate for persons in authority.

    This man is a born loser! Sack him! .

    • 3
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      Dear S_M,

      Having read the article above, I was just about to pen a comment. But then I saw yours and decided there was no point in beating up a dead-horse!

      Thanks.

  • 1
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    Sinhala_Man

    General Gotabaya Rajapaksa? Why don’t you make it Field Marshal Gotabaya Rajapaksa?

    • 2
      3

      Dear Kumar R & Estate Labourer,
      .
      Sorry that I’ve been “playing the fool” with that tongue in cheek response. Yes, I did consider promoting Gotabaya to Field Marshall.
      .
      I think the import of this article is serious; it’s not about Prof. Hoole, but what it says about the way our country is run. The article is well written and ought to be read by all Sri Lankans who are concerned about the way in which we elect representatives to various levels of government. I don’t think that the author decides the Headline; perhaps it should have drawn the attention of us all to the debonair indifference of the government to how this very important Commission is made to function.
      .
      The utter carelessness of the politicians who have now drawn up the regulations is shocking.

      .
      Kumar R., I must apologise to you; when I joke like this it makes a joke of everything in public life. I thought that the irresponsibility of the writing would be obvious to all. Perhaps it was to many, which may be why four have actually liked the comment – seeing it as a bit of satire. I know that in your case you have a personal dislike of Prof. Hoole, whereas I think Prof S.R.H. H. an honest man who is often too outspoken for his own good.
      .
      I think that Dr Wijewardena’s article, just above this, which requires hours of listening to video clips, may have kept people too busy; I hope all of us take that situation also seriously.
      .
      Having, therefore, abjured all that I have said above, and resolved not to play silly practical jokes hereafter, I shall endeavour to make more pertinent comments at the bottom of this pile.

      • 3
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        Dear Sinhala_Man,
        No need to apologize. I am relieved that you are not a stranger to “tongue-in-the-cheek,” a mis-assessment I had made following an earlier incidence where you relentlessly pursued my identity to which I responded to the effect “do you need just my full name alone, or would you like to have my address, email contact and even my citizenship registration details?!”
        S_M – it will be wrong of me to declare that you have a personal torch-to-carry for Jeevan based merely on your unceasing applause on every one of Jeevan’s pen-drop. It is not different when you unduly declare that I have a personal issue with Jeevan, despite my having in every instance explicitly stated my objections and reservation, calling a spade a spade. You have occasionally acknowledged my objections but have always found a stretch of a sugar coat. For instance, you chose to dismiss Jeevan’s repulsive denigration of the K’Badda girls as merely “inappropriate” rather than acknowledge the maliciousness where Jeevan sympathize with the “intelligent” cultured Tamil boys, while gravely vilifying a whole village of poor, uneducated, Sinhala village girls (“including the married women” as Jeevan would elaborate). That alone was rabid bigotry on multiple counts — racial: Tamil vs. Sinhala, chauvinistic: boy vs. girl, uppity: higher income cultured vs poor, disdain: intelligent and educated vs. uneducated and naive!
        I ask you once again, if you feel that if any of my criticisms has been “personal” attack rather than a focused response to Jeevan’s statements here in the forum, please identify one! On the otherhand if you somehow feel obliged to join Jeevan in his deceptive ways to deflect criticism, being unable to legitimately defend his positions (or at least acknowledge and apologize for the misstatements), so be it. (Continued)

      • 3
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        Dear S_M

        Merely repeating “he is a honest man” is worthless. Such blind-faith is unhealthy, but I guess it is reality going by the statistics that 30% of Americans feel that way about Donald Trump! Apparently, as I have noted previously, narcissists have that impact on a certain segment of population.

        Just a few instances that may help in regard to assessing honesty, or even basic credibility.

        While the siblings champion “merit based appointments” be the singular rule for appointments, could Jeevan elaborate on the circumstances why MR had to appoint Jeevan at a (very) private meeting? And, then withdraw that equally clandestinely?! Was it in view of some unrevealed obligation that MR found an alternative parking spot at the election commission.
        In that regard, there was a claim that Jeevan, “if only he was up to sucking up he could get any top official position in the country.” Here is what I found from Sabapathy Krishnakumar, I believe an associate, written not in animus, but rather in sympathy “It is 3 months since he (Jeevan) returned to Sri Lanka on the government’s invitation, and, despite being the only person with a D.Sc. London degree in Sri Lanka, remains unemployed(except for the part-time appointment this week to the independent Elections Commission.” Go figure!
        Don’t you think honesty would demand that Jeevan respond to a recent comment from Udayakumar: “You appeared before the LLRC on the 12th of November, 2010, at the Jaffna District Secretariat sitting. The Chairman of the Commission former Attorney General late C. R. de Silva told publicly that your name was recommended by the Government and, thus, you were the first to do the presentation. Will you please tell everybody what you told the Commission without hiding anything?”

        Honesty – my foot!

  • 3
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    “Two Tamil women elected on 10 February are Sanuja (SLFP) and Vijeyarani (UNP). …………… a party of all-male policemen went to the homes of these two women at 1:30 am on 21.06.2018 to arrest them.”

    I am shocked and appalled at the conduct of the Sri Lanka Police authorities. What was so serious and urgent about any complaint that might have been lodged against these persons, that the police had to visit their homes at 1.30 am to arrest them? Not even taking into consideration that they were women? What is the harm that would have been caused if the arrest had been delayed until say, 9 am? Were these women IRCs or serial killers or ‘terrorists’?

    Our policemen are real a-s- h-l-s who are only good at licking the boots of politicians and the slippers of Buddhist monks. Why should they harass the helpless citizenry by employing unwarranted force even when making inquiries about some matter?

  • 4
    2

    Prof. Hoole has been open enough to write some of the observations early in this article in the first person. He too is a voter; he too has his likes and dislikes. It is from an honest position that he makes his observations.
    .
    However, it is important to note some of the adversities that they have to contend with. Originally the legislators had wanted to have five Members in the Commission; a quorum of three would then have been fine; but now nothing can be done if one is absent. Sickness? Even death is possible. Can a country be governed in this way?
    .
    Rs 50,000/= travelling allowance. MPs seem to think everyone lives in Colombo. The irony of it – they were elected to represent constituencies throughout the land. Now they forget us villagers who live far away.
    .
    Prof. Hoole expects just single accommodation in Colombo when on work. Accepted as reasonable by President My3; as usual, he doesn’t ensure that it gets done – for this Commission, upon whose efficiency our democratic way of life hinges.
    .
    It is true what Prof. Hoole says: the public don’t study the set up sufficiently to know how this “Election Commission” is constituted. It is for Parliament to clear up the paradoxes in designations. Hoole has much to legitimately complain about; thank God he has!
    .
    However, what is most worrying is the clear revelation that the policies of previous governments will continue: elections only when it suits the current government. More effective protests are needed! .

  • 4
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    It is possible for the Election Commission to function without a code of ethics. Code of ethics cannot foresee every possible mis-steps. For example in March 2018, Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya is alleged to have told the world regarding the pogroms against Muslims, “Most Sinhalese happy about recent riots…………”. He neither confirmed nor denied this. Was that ethical?
    The Election Commissioner is somewhat tilted in directing the Commission.
    .
    SRH Hoole has some complaints.
    For example ~ “………I have been assigned a Rs. 50,000 travel allowance by parliament which is finished in two and a half trips by car to Colombo……….”.
    Perhaps SRH H was expected to use public transport!
    Another one ~ “…….Is it any wonder that I am asked if I am sure I am on the Election Commission, whether I am the member in charge of Jaffna, etc……”.
    SRH H is certainly not in charge of Jaffna. Each province to have someone in charge?
    .
    Election Commission could attend to some important developments. The news item in “The Island” reproduced ~ “…….Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Chairman and top Joint Opposition spokesman Prof. G.L. Peiris on Monday (June 25) strongly opposed any special arrangement between the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government and the Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran to put off elections to the NPC………..”.
    Sounds ditsy. The Election Commission must verify the truth. SLPP’s showing at the recent LG elections was due to the language/religion-divide. Precursor to the insertion of the divide in future elections?
    GL P is known for Gobellsian lies.

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