Asset declarations fundamental to understanding political motivations | Sunday Observer

Asset declarations fundamental to understanding political motivations

15 September, 2019

It is important that asset declarations of politicians are in the hands of the public as it indicates the interest one has when contesting in an election, which can be a financially illogical proposition, Executive Director for Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) Asoka Obeyesekere told the Sunday Observer.

On Tuesday (10), TISL filed a complaint with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) against eight cabinet ministers who have not submitted their Declarations of Assets and Liabilities for the years 2018 and 2019 by August 20 despite the deadline being June 30.

Information obtained through the Right to Information Act reveals Ministers Navin Dissanayake, Harin Fernando, M. H. A. Haleem, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Ravi Karunanayake, Gayantha Karunathilaka and Sajith Premadasa has thus failed to disclose their assets, which is a requirement under the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law and its failure punishable by a fine not exceeding Rs. 1000 and/or a prison term up to a year.

Following the complaint, Minister Fernando wrote to the TISL explaining that his were not submitted to the Presidential Secretariat as a result of confusion as to ‘where the documents should be sent’. He has submitted them to the Secretary General of Parliament. He assured the documents were forwarded to the Presidential Secretariat. On Thursday (12) the Presidential Secretariat wrote to Min. Dissanayake stating his declaration was also obtained.

Obeyesekere said this is a fundamental step in understanding how someone is motivated to contest in elections.

He added Sri Lanka is behind all other countries in the South Asian region with regard to accountability of parliamentarians and their asset disclosures. In India, asset disclosures are taken at the time of nominations. The copies are scanned and then uploaded to the internet.

Obeyesekere and his team are hopeful that CIABOC would take necessary steps in ensuring the asset declarations of parliamentarians are made public.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said also explaining that delays in the judicial system cannot be solely landed on the CIABOC. Sri Lanka has an enormous issue within its criminal justice system, he said, this means that an average criminal prosecution takes ten and a half years to conclude. That is roughly two presidential terms.

He said the fact that the public have very little knowledge on what is going on in CIABOC is a testament to conservative non-communicative culture of Sri Lankan bureaucracy than an issue of legal restraints on CIABOC officers.

TISL has also, through an RTI, requested and awaiting information of asset disclosures of non-cabinet members of parliament, deputy ministers and state ministers.

This includes the asset disclosure of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. “We have a concern here because the President has also accused the PM of being a corrupt individual, but yet the office of the President has appealed the decision of the RTI Commission for his asset declaration to be disclosed,” Obeyesekere said.

“We are doing this as a part of a long term campaign on asset disclosure. We have done this irrespective that there is an election around the corner or not,” he concluded.