President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has, of late, appointed several Presidential Task Forces.

The recently set up Presidential Task Forces do not bode well for Sri Lanka’s long established democracy warns a group of civil society members and organizations.

Releasing a Statement today, June 15th, the group states that the Task Forces appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa have been established ‘with broad, ambiguous mandates, bypassing existing channels such as the Department of Archaeology, and at a time when there is no sitting Parliament that can exercise oversight in respect of their functions and the exercise of their powers,’ when the country was under lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While three of the Task Forces were set up in response to COVID -19, one with ‘extensive powers to direct, coordinate and monitor the delivery of continuous services for the sustenance of overall community life, another relates to Economic Revival and Poverty Eradication and one concerns Sri Lanka’s Education Affairs,” two more were appointed recently.  Of those, one is the Task Force to ‘build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society,’ and the other is for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province.

Questioning the appointments of these Task Forces, the group points out, that they have taken priority over more pressing concerns such as health, the economy and social crisis.

As well, the signatories to the Statement raise concerns over the heavy military representation in the Task Forces, pointing out that in the case of the Task Force to build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society, it is made up completely of members from the armed forces and the police.

“This further demonstrates the steady drift towards militarizing civil functions within Sri Lanka’s health and educational sectors, development, public administration and even judicial processes following the Presidential election of November 2019,” the Statement says further.  It also points out that the members of the Task Forces are almost entirely Sinhalese, with the Task Force on Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province, having a significant number of Buddhist monks as members with no Tamil and Muslim representation.

Pointing out that democratic mechanisms should be organised to work effectively instead of ‘politicization or resort to militarization,’ the statement goes on to say that “These new Task Forces are structures that are solely accountable to the President and are staffed, not by professional civil service personnel, with the required experience, but by security personnel with no experience in civil functions.”

The group raises concern that the Task Forces will be policing the civil service “usurping the powers and functions of the Cabinet and Ministries, which are vital in a parliamentary democracy.  The Parliamentary  Sectoral Oversight Committees which were established under the 19th Amendment were represented by parliamentarians of all political parties, and were more efficient and independent oversight mechanisms which could have responded “to the exigencies faced by the country at this time.’ it further notes.

‘The crisis, the group points out, is not an excuse for militarization and militarization is not the solution to the challenges of this crisis management. Nor is it the solution to bypass the Prime Minister and the cabinet of ministers, and the Parliament in a functioning democracy.’


Read the statement in full here:Statement on the Presidential Task Forces – English





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