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Sunday, 19 July 2015

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Election regulations on posters:

Dead or ignored?

Municipality workers, the Police, Government Departments and environmental activists went into action tearing down millions of posters, hoardings, bill boards, banners on public roads, buildings and public vehicles across the country from July 3. The largest number of election related posters said to be around 2,000 were reported from the Greater Colombo district .

The decision to bin all election posters with immediate effect, came hot on the heels of an order by the Elections Commissioner Manhinda Deshapiriya's office as a step towards establishing good governance in the country.

Municipal Commissioner, Colombo Municipal Council V.A.K. Anura told the Sunday Observer, "It is a mammoth task, which we are trying to complete with a short time. All my labourers are already on the job. I also requested the co-operation of the Police Headquarters which responded positively."

"We also informed the public via the media of the new regulations and requested their co-operation in reporting any incident where these regulations were being flaunted. If any member of the public is a witness to any violation of these regulations they should immediately inform the Police Headquarters Elections Branch in Colombo so that we can take action.

They can e-mail us : [email protected] or [email protected] or telephone us on the following numbers: 0112543811 or 011238799."

The Parliament Elections Act No 1 of 1981 -Section 74 on Provisions relating to display of handbills and posters states, that no bills or banners be displayed in any premises , whether public or private except in or on any vehicle used to convey the candidate at such elections, commencing from the first day of the nomination period at an election and ending on the day following the day on which a poll is taken at such election. It also states that no handbill, placard , poster or drawing or photographs of a candidate , symbol, sign, flag or banner should be displayed on any public road.

On penalties for violators, it says, "Every person who contravenes the provisions of subsection 1, shall be guilty of offence and shall on conviction after summary trial before a Magistrate, be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred rupees or to imprisonment or either description for a term not exceeding one month or both such fine and imprisonment".

"Even religious statues have been desecrated by posters and banners.. It was one such act, where we found a banner being erected under a Buddhist statue, that prompted us to initiate legal action to frame a new regulation", says Chairman, Center for Environmental Justice, (CEJ) Rabindranath Dabare. "There should be demarcated places for doing this," he said pointing out that school walls and walls of private residences and state buildings were also used to paste posters promoting various candidates during an election. .

Outraged by the discovery of political banner erected under a Buddhist statue at Kuruppu Road, Borella, , the CEJ decided the time had come to change the regulations and introduce their own regulations. "We filed a case with the country's premier environmental body, the Central Environment Authority ( CEA) and the Police asking for approval to pass a new regulation under visual pollution and road safety. "

It was not easily given. "Only after a prolonged legal battle we had to fight, that we finally managed to win the approval of the Court and granted the right to implement this regulation.," Dabare says in retrospect.. "The new regulation we have drafted goes beyond just banning putting up of posters and hoardings during and immediately following an election, which is specified under the Elections Act of 1981. What we were asking was for something more permanent. A law that did not fall under a time frame and which should come under Visual Pollution, and road safety", he explains.

Following the court's approval, The Attorney General had informed the Court of Appeal on December 3, 2014, that the government authorities including the Central Environmental Authority had already drafted a regulation in this regard and it has been referred to the Legal Draftsman's Department to be gazetted. However, the Attorney General undertook the responsibility of implement this new regulation which upholds the concept of environmental justice and good governance in the interest of the general public, he said. "We are hoping it will be gazetted soon as it is an important step towards good governance ", he said. "There are similar regulations with regard to visual pollution in other countries which are showing positive results. So why the delay in gazetting our regulation tailored to our country's needs?", he asks.

Meanwhile in the latest addition to the now prevailing election regulations, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake announced, Wednesday, that Cabinet had imposed a ban on the use of state vehicles for election related activities. He said it had been decided to charge Rs 100,000 per government vehicle used for election activities and would the apply to all politicians of all parties contesting the Parliamentary election on August17.

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