Sri Lanka’s presidential task forces established in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak are now functioning with broad, ambiguous mandates, by passing existing channels such as ministries, departments and statutory boards.

The island nation’s key strategic nerve institutions have been brought under some of these task forces without following any rules and regulations and no parliamentary approval had been sought for such takeovers, official sources said.

In a startling move, the Colombo Port City Project, Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) and its subsidiaries, Board of Investment (BOI), Sri Lanka Telecom PLC and its subsidiaries and all information technology parks have been assigned to the President.

This declaration was made in a special gazette notification issued on September 25 which handed over all subjects and institutions that weren't under the purview of any Cabinet ministry to the Presidential Secretariat.

Further bewildering the public administration system, these four institutions, including the Port City, TRCSL, BOI, and SLT will be handed over to the presidential task force on economic revival and poverty alleviation.

The Task Force appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is headed by Basil Rajapaksa and comprises over 30 members, including officials and business leaders.

The relevant gazette notification towards this end will be issued as soon as possible, official sources said.

The Task Force is responsible for reviving the economy and eradication of poverty, while paying special attention to the challenges posed and opportunities emerging in Sri Lanka in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak.

"The Task Force should steer the relevant institutions to create a production economy through the formulation of a unique economic structure based on novel initiatives," an official statement said.

Implementation of joint operations to establish a people-centric economy which will promote domestic industrialists and entrepreneurs is another objective of the task force.

These new task forces are structures that are solely accountable to the President and are staffed, not by professional civil service personnel, with the required experience, but by security personnel with no experience in civil functions.

They are expected to ‘police’ the civil service and are usurping the powers and functions of the Cabinet and Ministries, which are vital in a parliamentary democracy.

It is also unclear how the work of these task forces will be financed, to what extent they will duplicate functions of ministries, and the extra costs and expenditures that this will entail at a time when the need for cost cutting should be a primary concern of the government at present, a senior official said.