8 April 2020, Colombo, Sri Lanka: In response to the COVID-19 health emergency, Sri Lanka has witnessed the activation of existing structures and the establishment of new ones. One such new entity is the Presidential Task Force established to direct, coordinate and monitor the delivery of continuous services and for the sustenance of overall community life (‘the Task Force’). At the time of its creation, the President had already established the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak. However, the mandate and powers assigned to the Task Force are much wider in scope and range from ensuring the supply of essential goods and services to providing relief measures to vulnerable groups of society.
This guide prepared by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) briefly examines the framework of the Task Force. While efficient and effective action to minimise the impact of the pandemic is urgently needed, the guide points to a number of existing legal and institutional frameworks under which such action could have been taken. The Sri Lanka Disaster Management Act No.13 of 2005, in particular, provides for instances such as this and allows extensive action to be taken efficiently employing existing institutions and actors. There are additional, alternative laws under which the individual tasks assigned to the Task Force could have been carried out.
The guide also points out the vagueness of the definition of the tasks of the Task Force and whether its expansive mandate is ultra vires Article 33 of the Constitution and a number of individual written laws. This is compounded by the lack of transparency and accountability generated by these ad hoc measures. Thus, attention must be paid to querying the true intentions of establishing the Task Force.
CPA notes that in the face of the unprecedented scale and magnitude of the emergency, the response must also be one that is efficient, coordinated and in adherence to principles of conflict sensitivity, equity, transparency and accountability. As the guide highlights, Sri Lanka has a wealth of expertise and skills within the civil administration that can and must inform the present response. Most fundamentally, responses must be in conformity with Sri Lanka’s constitutional and legal framework.
Download the guide as a PDF here.