8 December, 2023


Selection Of Returning Officers & The Publicising Of Complaint Determinations

By S. Ratnajeevan H. hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Our chief returning officers are powerful in that they keep a balance between contenders. Even after elections they play a role. When vacancies occur, it is they who determine who succeeds. However, character is rarely a consideration in their selection. Their SLAS rank and office are a prime consideration. Government Agents almost automatically become Chief Returning officers. This undermines confidence in the system.

Recently an NGO grouping looking into land grabbing by the military and state agencies from Amparai was readying to release its report on 12 October: “Land-Grabbing – Denial of our Existence” by Human Elevation Organization from Addalaichenai. There were forces desperately out to stop the report. MPs of all hues were to attend.

Just before opening IDDPK Perera, Assistant Returning Officer – Investigations, ordered the ceremony closed. Our Assistant Commissioner of Elections for Amparai also joined in bullying the NGO. HEO assured our Assistant Commissioner and Perera that all politicians would be kept out. No luck. The order used a letterhead that said in English “Presidential Election,” and no more signaling something fishy. They got the landlord to padlock their office. There was almost a riot. The abusive handling of HEO continued.

HEO Complained to the Commission. When it was taken up, it was immediately determined that the letter is a forgery because our letterhead always says “Election Commission.” It was also determined that we have no authority to order an NGO.

Strangely the Commission decision has not been communicated to HEO. They have persistently asked me for what we decided. This article is my statement to them. I ask, is Mr. Perera fit to be a Returning Officer? If we retained him, how much confidence will the people of Addalaichenai have in our election process? I myself keep asking why we did not communicate our decision to HEO? Are we covering up for our man?

A bigger offender against the confidence people must have in the way we conduct our elections is Mr. Sunil Kannangara. He is the Chief Returning Officer for Colombo. He gets away with a lot.

During October 2018 he came out publicly against the party that had the majority in Parliament Despite the reversal in court, he survived.  That is SLAS. Recently he made anti-green Face Book posts and got away saying, as I was informed at the Commission in one instance that he took it down and in another claiming that someone hacked his account and posted these non-neutral posts. A week ago Mangala Samaraweera made a recording at Rupavahaini Corporation where reporters tell me, Samaraweera stormed into secure areas looking for untrue things he had been told were on the video, and told the guards “If I find what I am looking for you are finished and your candidate too is finished. The security people were about to attack him physically when Mahinda Deshapriya, summoned by his friend, went and rescued him. 

There are also issues I have addressed over Grama Niladaris/Sevakas in Colombo who seem to be cheating by deleting certain voters of a particular hue from our voter registers.

I am informed that the cabinet discussed these matters and has made a complaint.

The Commission Chairman in response is planning to appoint a retired Commissioner General of Elections so Kannangara can be watched, and to make a statement that we are so secure that a CRO cannot tamper with the result. Indeed, we have a CRO to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process and not to be a cheat whom we have to watch carefully to ensure that he does not cheat, and waste valuable human resources in watching over them. 

There are other similar horrible GAs too. One  was transferred out of Jaffna for siding with a party and he comes to the Commission and shares heavy liquor during working hours as I have seen. There is another who was brought in as GA after the Vavuniya army commander had got Government Agent Mrs. Charles transferred out in 2012 and got this GA to establish all-Sinhalese villages like Namalgama around Vavuniya. He is a GA elsewhere now. I interviewed him for a job recently and asked him about it. He seemed contrite and said he had taken an oath of loyalty to the government and had lacked the strength of character to resist the pressure. 

I am nervous about the election. I am in the East after giving lectures on how to vote. The pro-boycott forces are telling people the wrong way to vote. Those in the East who want a change of party are also teaching people the wrong way to vote. A Dean at Jaffna has told votes to place one X, 2 X-es and three-Xes in the boxes for those they like. That is a sure way to nullify their vote.  Minister C.V. Wigneswaran says in a media release, spoil your vote so that with the spoilt votes no one will get 50% (whereas spoilt votes are not counted in determining what 50% is). 

I have seen a tape by a President’s Counsel telling Muslims that his client will win and if Muslims do not vote for him they will get whacked. (He has denied saying that but the video is there with a copy in the complaints section of the Commission with no action for so many days.

I feel as gloomy as I am sure many citizens will feel. We need to suspend suspect ROs and Assistant/Deputy Election Commissioners pending inquiry. We must widely publicise Commission determinations on complaints. We must tell voters of the warning to the former President by the Commission for saying his side has got 80% of the postal vote. Not only did he violate the law on telling people how others voted but also broadcast fake news when we have not even counted the votes. There is no point in warning him without telling Sri Lankans that he has been warned. Indeed, I wonder if that letter was even written conveying our decision.

That is way to win the confidence of our votes and take them to the ballot box to use their power to establish out next President.

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Latest comments

  • 5

    This is a sorry state of affairs. What may be the Minister responsible doing about this?

    One wonders why these Public Officers behave and conduct themselves the way they do as described in this write up. It may be due to:

    1) Self interest
    2) Influence of and protection by persons of importance and power
    3) Bribery and corruption
    4) Lack of professionalism

    MR&Co had extended its tentacles and power to all sectors of our society that it stinks and standards have deteriorated beyond redemption. Additionally, there is a Government that seems ineffective to clean up the Act and bring about reforms.

    We have a former President (MR) who needs to be warned about his actions. When we have such People setting an example like that, what more can we expect from those at lower levels?

    One wonders why action cannot be taken to discipline and punish the Offenders.

  • 1

    Traditionally, Government Agents were appointed Returning officers and Registering officers. It is because he is deemed the head of the district and gives leadership to all staff. He is usually a member of the senior rank of SLAS officers. Even though he works under the directions of Ministers in matters connected to development, he is fully aware that he should act independently in regard to matters connected to Elections. He is ably assisted by an Asst. Commissioner of Elections chosen by the Elections Commissioner. In choosing an Elections Officer/ Asst. Commissioner from among the SLAAS officers, great care is taken to check his antecedents vis a vis his competence.
    During the time of elections if the Commissioner had doubts about the competence of the Returning Officer, it had been the practice to send a senior officer of proven record to assist the RO. Assist is a polite euphemism for looking over the shoulders. What I have said is the old practice cautiously followed; and Mako knows very well.

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