The National People’s Power (NPP) yesterday, expressed grave concern regarding the appointment of a series of Presidential Task Forces (PTFs) by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in recent times. Issuing a press release the NPP stated that PTFs posed a significant threat to democracy in Sri Lanka and pledged to resist such attempts to bypass mandated, established and accountable public institutions.
“We will not allow democracy to be weakened in this country,” the NPP said, calling on the public to be vigilant and support their efforts. The NPP stated that the appointment of Presidential Task Forces is a prerogative which lies with the President, to look into special issues or problems.
However, they expressed concern that President seems to view Presidential Task Forces as an alternative government. “The President seems to want to bypass established public sector institutions which include his own Prime Minister, Cabinet and Ministries and establish a form of direct government coming under his control,” the NPP statement read, pointing out that as of yesterday, six PTFs have been established on a range of issues.
“We acknowledge that there are serious weaknesses and inefficiencies in the current system of government: attempts must be made to make the public sector and public institutions more efficient, responsive and to eradicate corruption,” the NPP argued, insisting that, bypassing and undermining these institutions is not the answer. Bypassing established state institutions and procedures cause considerable problems, the NPP said, pointing to recent experiences with the COVID-19 containment efforts. “When allowed to function as they should, established public institutions are well able to serve the public: our health system and its excellent response during this time shows the potential of public institutions to deliver, especially if they are allowed to function independently,” they argued. The NPP expressed deep concern regarding the composition and mandate of the PTFs, especially the last two: the Presidential Task Force to build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society (established by Gazette Extraordinary no. 2178/18) and the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province (established by Gazette Extraordinary no. 2178/17), both dated 2 June 2020.
The statement argued that the terms of the two PTFs were ambiguous and broad. “They are composed primarily of military and police personnel and have no minority representation. This signals a very dangerous trend within the current regime which will have many disturbing consequences.” the NPP said. The NPP stated that Sri Lankan citizens have through their active engagement in the democratic process, demonstrated their desire for democratic governance. “Their demands have been to strengthen and clean up these institutions – not to drift towards militarization.
The exclusion of minority groups from these Task Forces, especially those that are culturally sensitive also signals a majoritarian mindset which is dismissive of the concerns of minority groups and the plural nature of our society.” the NPP added.
“As recent events have shown, the worst forms of indiscipline and disregard for law and order come from within the government’s own ranks and from individuals and groups who are protected by it.” the NPP charged, pointing out that the public by and large, law-abiding, citing the public support to the COVID-19 pandemic containment efforts.