To Fight the Good Fight

Asoka Obeyesekere is leading the charge to bring about greater national transparency in a country that is being denigrated by the political class – and for that he warrants an ‘Honourable Mention’ this year

“A barrister, political scientist and ‘professional’ asset declaration hunter” reads the bio of Asoka Obeyesekere back from when he addressed TEDxColombo 2016. And the latter ‘qualification’ (i.e. the declaration of assets and liabilities particularly on the part of the political top brass) has become one of his core concerns in Obeyesekere’s capacity as Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), a position he assumed in October 2015.

Accordingly, his work has covered such diverse areas as electoral reform research, championing revised MP asset disclosure standards and securing reformed parliamentary committee reporting practices.

These undertakings have proved to be all the more relevant this year as Sri Lankans went to the polls to elect a new head of state.

ELECTION ENDEAVOURS In the lead-up to the 16 November presidential ballot, Obeyesekere found himself in the limelight given TISL’s efforts to ensure greater transparency of the electorate. This included the launch of a hotline for the public to report any abuse of state resources for election campaigning purposes.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the presidential election, he revealed that the Program for the Protection of Public Resources (PPPR) – TISL’s election monitoring arm – had mobilised district level observers who would be responsible for coordinating 160 observers in each electorate in the country.

“The observers will be on alert round the clock and engage with the public to collect information on the possible misuse of public property,” he assured at the time.

Obeyesekere also made a request of political candidates, parties, officials and the media, to comply with regulations and circulars issued by the Election Commission (EC), drawing attention to the directions of the EC’s extraordinary gazette notification number 2141/52 of 19 September.

PROFESSIONAL PROFILE Prior to joining TISL, Obeyesekere was a Governance Consultant of Verité Research where he was instrumental in launching Manthri.lk, which is a homegrown parliamentary performance monitoring platform.

A pioneering trilingual website, Manthri.lk profiles the actions and activities of the 225 Members of Parliament in Sri Lanka. It recognises the need for accountability between MPs and their electorates; and in doing so, it seeks to promote transparency and good governance to improve the nation’s democratic framework.

Obeyesekere also previously worked as a research consultant at TISL as well as at a number of Westminster based political think tanks. Meanwhile, his private sector experience stems from a stint as a graduate trainee at Ernst & Young in London.

He holds an LLB from Queen Mary College, and an MSc in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Obeyesekere was also called to the bar at the Inner Temple.

HIS PET PROJECTS With a focus on tackling corruption and improving governance, Obeyesekere guided TISL in supporting the Sri Lankan Right to Information (RTI) Bill in the Supreme Court and championed a draft bill seeking to change the nation’s asset declaration laws.

The RTI Act provides citizens with a mechanism to oversee public authorities’ decision making and actions. In December last year, Obeyesekere cited the act when requesting the Presidential Secretariat to release information pertaining to the asset declaration of the then prime minister. He noted that this move originated from an RTI request dating back to February 2017.

And more recently in September this year, TISL filed a complaint with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), citing information retrieved through the RTI Act – i.e. that eight cabinet members had failed to submit declarations of their assets and liabilities for 2018/19 (Note: the non-declaration of assets and liabilities represents an offence punishable by a fine of not more than Rs. 1,000 and/or a prison term of up to a year).

As for TISL’s actions to review conformity with the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law, Obeyesekere has publicly affirmed that “whilst several Members of Parliament have already gone beyond legal requirements to publicly disclose their asset declarations, it is important that those who have neglected their responsibility are held to account.”

CHAMPION OF RIGHTS In the light of his efforts to champion the right to information, bring those who are responsible for corruption to book and agitate for greater transparency at the highest level of government, Obeyesekere is among the citizens of our precious country who are working in the national interest.

These notable endeavours, which are broadly in line with LMD’s mission statement, led us to pay tribute to Asoka Obeyesekere – by bestowing him with an ‘Honourable Mention’ for 2019.