Sri Lanka’s Lack of Transparency Persists: MPs Maintain Secrecy in Asset Declarations Despite Economic Crisis

<p><img src="" alt="Featured Image"></p><p><!-- wp:html --><p>Nearly two years after Sri Lanka faced significant economic and political challenges, pushing the country into a debt crisis, it appears that little has been learned about the importance of transparency in government spending. Various governmental departments continue to operate without clarity regarding their expenditures, with State ministers remaining reticent about declaring their assets. The issue of undisclosed wealth among parliamentarians has long been a concern, predating even the recent economic turmoil. A new investigation, supported by a grant from the Washington-based non-profit International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ), reveals ongoing obstacles in accessing information about State expenses and the spending habits of parliamentarians.</p>
<p><strong><em>Declines to release information</em></strong></p>
<p>As part of this investigation, a team of reporters filed numerous applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act with various government departments, seeking data on the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law and requesting the statements of assets and liabilities of all 225 MPs. However, as in the past, the Secretary General declined to release this information. Subsequently, an appeal was lodged with the RTI Commission, contesting the Secretary General's decision, but no notification regarding this appeal has been received to date.</p>
<p>Queries directed to government agencies such as the Inland Revenue Department, the Bribery Commission, and the legislature have gone unanswered. The established process for obtaining information about the assets and liabilities of Members of Parliament is through their declarations submitted to the Secretary General of Parliament. Although all government officials, including the President, are mandated to disclose their asset and liability statements, it has become evident that these requirements are often only superficially adhered to and lack effective enforcement.</p>
<p>An official from the IRD, who preferred to remain anonymous, stated, "We are unsure about the contents of the assets and liabilities documents. According to the current laws of the country, it is illegal for one person to view another person's property rights. Violating this law could result in punishment. Therefore, we are unable to access the assets and liabilities records at any time. Consequently, no one is able to open these envelopes, leaving us unaware of their contents. Even if we were to open them, they might contain nothing more than blank pages."</p>
<p><strong><em>MP's salary plus allowances</em></strong></p>
<p>A Member of Parliament presently garners a parliamentary allowance or salary amounting to Rs 54,285 monthly. On top of this base salary, they receive various additional allowances. These include an office allowance of 100,000 rupees, a telephone allowance totalling Rs 50,000 rupees, and a collection allowance of Rs 1,000.</p>
<p>Further, MPs receive allowances for attending parliamentary sessions. This includes Rs 2,500 per day for participating in Parliament sittings and the same amount for committee meetings held on non-parliamentary days. Additionally, they are entitled to a driving allowance of 3,500 rupees and a transport allowance of Rs 10,000 for their private staff. Moreover, MPs are granted a fuel allowance, which varies based on their district of representation. For instance, an MP representing the Colombo district is allotted 283 liters of diesel per month, while their counterpart representing the Gampaha district receives 355 litres. At the present diesel price, an MP from the Colombo District receives a fuel allowance amounting to Rs 33,000.</p>
<p><strong><em>Withholding information</em></strong></p>
<p>The Parliament has a lengthy history of withholding information from public disclosure. Previously, Ravaya, an alternative newspaper made a significant move by uncovering and sharing the assets and liabilities of the former president in accordance with the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law. Subsequently, journalist Chamara Sampath from the 'Ada' newspaper sought the disclosure of MPs who had submitted their asset and liability declarations to Parliament within a specific timeframe under the Information Act. However, the Secretary General refused to comply with this request.</p>
<p>Despite appeals and hearings, Parliament disregarded the Information Commission's directive to disclose the information. Parliament then contested the Information Commission's ruling in the Court of Appeal, but the judgment favoured the journalist. Following this, the Court of Appeal ordered the release of the pertinent information, citing its importance to the public. However, there was a delay of two months before Chamara Sampath finally obtained the list of MPs, albeit with only their names and not the full details.</p>
<p>Talking to Professor Priyanga Dunusinghe regarding this issue, he said, "The main problem is the lack of political determination". "The data is available. However, there is no political will. The Criminal Investigation Department, the Bribery Commission and the Inland Revenue Department are ineffective without political will," he concluded.</p>
<p><em>(Supported by: ICFJ Financial Forensic Grant)</em></p>
<p><strong><em>By Methmalie Dissanayake, Bingun Menaka Gamage, Mithun Jayawardhana</em></strong></p>
<p>The post <a href="">Sri Lanka's Lack of Transparency Persists: MPs Maintain Secrecy in Asset Declarations Despite Economic Crisis</a> appeared first on <a href="">Ceylon Today</a>.</p><!-- /wp:html --></p><p>[Category: <a href="" rel="category tag">Uncategorized</a>]</p><p><strong>Tags:</strong> </p>

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