As soon as Charles is mentioned, Prince Charles of England comes to mind in Sri Lanka. (King Charles the Third after the Queen’s death.) But these days, many people in Sri Lanka immediately think of another Charles when they say Charles. P.S.M. Charles aka Prince Sarojini Manmataraja Charles. An experienced civil servant, she is a member of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, chaired by Attorney at Law Nimal Punchiheva.
Born in a Dravidian Catholic family, Prince Sarojini Manmataraja is a graduate of Jaffna University. She is also a recipient of Master’s Degree in Disaster Management and Business Administration from University of Peradeniya and Rajarata University. She held the position of Additional District Secretary (AGA) in Vavuniya District in 2008 when the war was in full swing. By the end of the war, she became the district secretary of Vavuniya and was the senior civil officer in charge of nearly 300,000 people who lived in the displacement camps of Wanni. In 2012, P.S.M Charles becomes the Batticaloa District Secretary. Charles was appointed as the Director General of Sri Lanka Customs in September 2017 by the Good Governance Government. Her role in the customs was indeed a controversial one.
It is said that the investigations which were being carried out regarding 143 containers of suspicious goods at the customs, which was a place where there was a lot of smuggling, were influenced by the good governance government. In addition, as the director of customs, she sent seven customs officials on compulsory leave under serious charges of customs corruption. It was revealed that she incurred the wrath of the good governance government due to several activities including restarting the hidden investigations on a customs fraud of 16 billion rupees, uncovering a serious tax fraud committed by a company in the importation of cars. At that time, the facts were revealed that there is a smuggling of karunka and pepper, which caused is lot of revenue loss to the country.
Charles alleged that the strongmen of the previous government were involved in that and the strongmen of the current government are also involved. At the end of all the crises, in January 2019, the good governance government decided to remove her from customs. It was later revealed that the secretary of Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who appointed the Director of Customs to that position, was behind the operation. Accordingly, P.S.M. Charles removed from that position. It is clear that there is a political story behind Charles’ expulsion from customs. However, due to the influence of the port workers, the she was again appointed as the director of customs. P.S.M. Charles leaving customs then became the Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medicine.
Among the limited appointments made by former President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa immediately after he assumed the presidency was the post of Governor of the Northern Province. She was appointed as the new governor of the Northern Province on December 30, 2019. P.S.M. Charles played such a complex role in the public service. Charles came to limelight again in October 2021 after she was appointed as a member of the Electoral Commission. That appointment was also made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Accordingly, it is clear that she was a confidant of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa enough to be appointed to two of the most important positions in the country in a very short period of time.
The number of members of the Election Commission appointed by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on the recommendation of the Parliamentary Committee established in accordance with the twentieth constitutional amendment is five. It is chaired by attorney at law Nimal J. Punchiheva. S.B. Diwaratne, M.M. Mohammad, K.P.P. Pathirana and P.S.M. Charles as the other members of that commission. With the announcement of an election, many institutions in the country will be brought under the authority of the Election Commission. That is why the members appointed to the Election Commission, which is a fully empowered independent body, are entrusted with a huge set of responsibilities.
After the 21st amendment passed after Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed the presidency, the Constituent Assembly established by the 19th amendment and abolished by the 20th amendment will be re-established. But the Election Commission appointed by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa with the approval of the Parliament in accordance with the provisions of the 20th Constitution is responsible for conducting the local government elections this year. The only female representation in that commission was the aforementioned PSM. Charles, aka Prince Sarojini Manmataraja Charles.
Although there were many crises and conflicts between the former member of the Election Commission, Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole, and the Chairman of the Commission, Mahinda Deshapriya, no one said that the ideological division of the Commission at that time was an obstacle to holding the election. But this time the situation was different. Seeing that the commission was clearly working from the same position, President Ranil Wickremesinghe called its members and asked if all the members were of the same opinion. At the same time, news is spreading that the division of the members of the commission is an obstacle to the election. The campaign was so strongly socialized that the chairman of the commission even had to issue a statement that it was not divided.
In the meantime, the government started implementing many plans to reverse the declared election. It was one of the occasions when the secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration, Neel Bandara Hapuhinna, notified the election officials in a letter to suspend the acceptance of nominations. Another trick is to say that there is no money to pay salaries if elections are held. In the midst of such efforts, the Constitutional Council met on the 25th. It was revealed that it was decided to appoint new officers for independent commissions including the Election Commission. On the same day, Election Commission member P.S.M.Charles reported in the media that Charles resigned from his position.
The news was released by the President’s Office, and it was said that Mrs. Charles sent her resignation letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe. Generally, not even a government employee is appointed after an election is announced. Therefore, the problem of whether the commission can continue conducting the election when there is one member missing, started to arise in the society. This moment was very decisive and it was able to raise the heart rate of many people. Many people began to express the opinion that the government would somehow succeed in postponing the election through the resignation of Charles. Accordingly, this writer contacted the Election Commission through telephone number 0112 868441. A spokesman for the commission said that his agency had not even received a copy of Mrs. Charles’s resignation. And that she has not informed the commission or its chairman about it. Then the writer’s attempts to contact Charles by phone were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, at around 10 am on the 25th, news published on several websites in Sri Lanka said that the chairman of the commission, Nimal Punchihewa, and other members may also resign. This news was able to disappoint the majority of people, and it created a silence in the society similar to the silence before the storming of the Bastille in the French Revolution. The writer contacted the Election Commission once again and tried to contact the Chairman of the Commission, but that too failed. In the end, the writer had to make a call to the mobile phone number of the media spokesman to verify the truth of the news. It was confirmed that the news was deliberately fabricated by someone. ‘There is no such thing. The members of the commission are still working.
Even if one person resigned, there is no obstacle to the election…’ said the media spokesperson. On January 28, it was said from the Presidential Media Division that President Ranil Wickremesinghe has rejected Charles’ resignation. The surprise is that the President has spent three days rejecting that letter which has disturbed the country. As the focus on Charles’s resignation letter, which had not been sent or seen by anyone, was thinned, it was reported that P.S.M. Charles has not resigned from the Election Commission and she has also signed the local government poll gazette sent to the print. Accordingly, it can be said that ‘if planting news is an art, this government is its Picasso’.