Monday, April 05, 2010

Sudden reminder to declare assets has journalists wondering

By Nadia Fazlulhaq - Journalists were taken by surprise when they received an official letter from the Ministry of Mass Media and Information reminding them to declare their assets and liabilities on or before April 30.

The letter, dated March 23 and signed by W. B. Ganegala, Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media and Information, said the information was required under the provisions of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities (Amendment) Act No. 74 of 1988. The deadline given was April 30.

When asked by the Sunday Times why a dormant law was being suddenly implemented, Mr. Ganegala refused to comment, but admitted that neither media institutions nor media personnel have declared their assets and liabilities since the law was enacted in 1988.

In the letter, Secretary Mr. Ganegala said newspaper proprietors, editors and editorial staff were required to declare their assets and liabilities to the Mass Media and Information Ministry Secretary.

According to Chulawansa Sri Lal, convenor of the Free Media Movement, the surprise letter has caused a stir among journalists and media organisations. “This sudden decision on the part of the Ministry Secretary has sparked a lot of speculation,” he said. “Media people are asking whether this could be an attempt to suppress the media. The Secretary owes us an explanation.”

Mr. Sri Lal asked why Mr. W. B. Ganegala had not enforced the declaration of assets and liabilities when he was Secretary to the Media Ministry under a previous administration.

Those covered by the Act include Members of Parliament; candidates nominated for Presidential, Parliamentary and local government elections; officer bearers of recognised political parties; editors and editorial staff of newspapers; and the chairman, directors and staff officers of companies registered under the Companies Act No. 17 of 1982 where the majority of shares are held by the state or by a public corporation.

Other public servants obliged to declare their assets and liabilities are judges and public officers appointed by the President; judicial officers and scheduled public officers appointed by the Judicial Service Commission; public officers appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers; staff officers of ministries and government departments, the chairman, directors, members of boards and staff officers of public corporations; elected members and staff officers of local authorities, and the executives of trade unions registered under the Trade Unions Ordinance.

According to People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) director Rohana Hettiarachchi, only a handful of persons out of the 7,600 candidates at this week’s General Election have submitted their declaration of assets and liabilities.

“Election candidates were given three months from the date of their nomination to declare their assets, and only about five have done so, but no action has been taken against those who haven’t, nor have they been sent any reminders.

“A large number of Members of Parliament have become public representatives without declaring their assets.” Meanwhile, no declaration of assets reminders have gone out to trade unions.

“At the end of each financial year, a total accounts report is submitted to the Labour Registrar, who is the Commissioner General of Labour. But there is no request for the assets of the trade union leaders,” said U. Palihawadane, president of the Joint Public Servants’ Union.

Nihal Jayawardena, a Western Provincial Councillor for the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), said Provincial Council members were expected to declare their assets and liabilities on being elected to the Provincial Council.

Ceylon Teachers Union president Joseph Stalin said final income expenditure reports were usually sent to the Labour Registrar.

© The Sunday Times

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