Sri Lanka has witnessed a spate of Presidential Task Forces in 2020. Three Task Forces were appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as a response to COVID-19, another relating to poverty alleviation and one on education affairs. The most recent two are 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 2nd June 2020.
These two Task Forces are appointed at a time when Parliament has not been functioning for more than three months, contrary to mandatory provisions of the Constitution. Notably, the Gazettes appointing the two Task Forces followed on the heels of the ruling by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka refusing leave to proceed to all petitioners on the subject of the dissolution of Parliament for more than three months and the holding of free and fair elections. In the absence of a Parliament, there is no legislative oversight over executive action and this raises concerns regarding accountability and transparency of these Task Forces. Moreover, the composition of both these Task Forces, as is with the previous ones appointed in 2020, comprises of former and present military, law and order officials and others, with concerns raised about the creeping militarization in government and governance in Sri Lanka. With no oversight, effective checks and balances and growing reliance on military actors, the reliance of President Rajapaksa on Task Forces to govern Sri Lanka and its implications must be further studied. CPA notes that these present initiatives build on the campaign promise of President Rajapaksa prioritising discipline, stability and security. These steps, however, have serious ramifications for a free and open society and liberal democracy.
The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) raised initial concerns with the two Task Forces and those appointed as a response to COVID19, questioning their need and legality. In this short discussion paper, CPA examines the legality of the two Task Forces appointed on 2nd June, the manner in which they were established and their implications. Other concerns are also raised regarding their composition, the vires of the powers bestowed on them, and their impact on the rule of law, constitutional democracy and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The paper is structured in a manner where legal and broader concerns are raised relevant to both the Task Forces followed by a closer examination of the purported mandate of each Task Force and related issues.
 Task Force to be established for poverty eradication and livelihood development, Gazette Extraordinary No. No. 2159/64, 25th January 2020, http://documents.gov.lk/files/egz/2020/1/2159-64_E.pdf;
Presidential Task Force to direct, coordinate and monitor the delivery of continuous services for the sustenance of overall community life, Gazette Extraordinary No. No. 2168/8, 26th March 2020 http://documents.gov.lk/files/egz/2020/3/2168-08_E.pdf;
Task Force for Economic Revival and Poverty Alleviation, Gazette Extraordinary No. 2172/9, 22nd April 2020, http://documents.gov.lk/files/egz/2020/4/2172-09_E.pdf;
Presidential Task Force to study and provide instructions on measures to be taken by all Armed Forces to prevent Coronavirus infection among members of the Tri-Forces, Gazette Extraordinary No. 2173/4, 27th April 2020, http://documents.gov.lk/files/egz/2020/4/2173-04_E.pdf
Task Force on Sri Lanka’s Education Affairs, Gazette Extraordinary No. 2173/7, 28th April 2020, http://documents.gov.lk/files/egz/2020/4/2173-07_E.pdf
 Article 10(5)(a) of the Constitution provides that – ‘A Proclamation dissolving Parliament shall fix a date or dates for the election of Members of Parliament, and shall summon the new Parliament to meet on a date not later than three months after the date of such Proclamation.’. In Sampanthan v. AG (Dissolution Judgment) SCFR 351/2018 the Supreme Court held that “…Articles 70 (2), (3), (5), (6) and (7) specify requirements placed on the President‘s
power of summoning Parliament and the instances where the President is mandatorily required to summon Parliament within specified time frames.” (at page 71). Judgement at http://www.supremecourt.lk/images/documents/sc_fr_351_2018.pdf
 ‘Supreme Court dismisses FR Petitions’, Daily News, 2nd June 2020, https://www.dailynews.lk/2020/06/02/law-order/219880/supreme-court-dismisses-fr-petitions
 ‘Sri Lanka’s Recent Political Challenges & Prospects for the Future’, Centre for Policy Alternatives, March 2020, https://www.cpalanka.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Commentary-Sri-Lanka%E2%80%99s-Recent-Political-Challenges-Prospects-for-the-Future.pdf
 Statement on ‘the Appointment of two Presidential Task Forces’, Centre for Policy Alternatives, 5th June 2020, https://www.cpalanka.org/the-appointment-of-two-presidential-task-forces/
 ‘Structures to Deal with COVID-19 in Sri Lanka: A Brief Comment on the Presidential Task Force’, Centre for Policy Alternatives, April 2020, https://www.cpalanka.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/FINAL-Presidential-Task-Force-on-COVID19-April-2020-copy.pdf.