Provincial Councils Are White Elephants
By Niranjala Ariyawansha
According to our Constitution there are specific responsibilities and duties allocated to Parliamentarians, Minicipal Councillors, Provincial Councillors and Pradaysheeya Sabha Members. They are all elected through our votes and are paid by us.
But they all forget their duties once they get into office. The Provincial Councillors from the day they are appointed, wait for the monies from the central government to start spending it. Most of it is misappropriated. From the little that is remaining they spend it on simple things to please the voters of the area.
“They may donate some chairs to some schools or organise a shramadana. If they build a road which would cost Rs one lakh they would charge five and pocket the balance”.
This was said by a law student, Priyantha Liyanage from Imaduwa, Galle. He added that the Provincial Councillors are intent on enhancing their families and personal life styles. Even the elections fixed now would be a waste of public funds. The people will be fooled once again.
“How much of public funds would be wasted by this exercise? This is our money. They take it from us and go to the North and donate some books.
They take the money from taxes in the North and come to the South and rob the peoples votes. Provincial Councils are white elephants maintained by peoples money,” he added.
He is not alone in this line of thought. Are Provincial Councils white elephants? Is it another exercise to waste public funds?
The Advent of Provincial Councils
Indian pressure prompted the then President J. R. Jayewardene to agree to devolve power to the provinces in 1987 as part of the Indo Lanka Agreement signed by the then Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi and President Jayewardene. It was an adaptation of an Indian model to devolve power.
Whilst some of the powers of the central government was to be devolved to the provinces, the main intention was to address the ethnic problem. But, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution came under fire from the SLFP, JVP and even the LTTE who were fighting for a separate state.
The UNP, SLMP of Vijaya Kumaranatunge, CP, LSSP, NSSP, and other leftist parties backed the constitutional amendment. They felt this would be the answer to the ethnic issue. Has that been achieved? What is the position today? Or as the law student stated at the beginning of this article, has it really transformed into a white elephant? Or has it given birth to another layer of corrupt politicians and thereby created a ‘third class’ political culture?
The Provincial Council system has not provided answers to the ethnic problem but created a new set of problems. It is ironic that most of the provincial councils are controlled by the parties that opposed this system when it was introduced. Though there are 9 provinces, the proposed system is active only in 8 provinces.
The amalgamated North-East Provincial Council at the outset in 1988 was separated in 2006. This was due to the successful court action by the JVP. Thereafter the eight provinces other than the Northern Provincial Council, have functioned.
The term of a provincial council is limited to five years and many an election has taken place from 1988 to 2012. It throws up a large number of elected officials.
The powers devolved are specified clearly and those which are not listed in the reserve list. Finance, National Security, Ports and Air Ports, Transport and Higher Education, Land and Police come under the Centre whilst Education, Health, Agriculture are devolved to the provinces.
There are three ways through which finance is raised for Provincial Councils:
1) Budgetary allocations from the Central Government.
2) Monetary Board
3) Local taxes
The debarkation of powers are spelt out clearly but is not followed as intended. Terrence Gamini de Silva, the Chairman of the North/Central Health Services Society says, “If powers were indeed devolved as intended this system would have been more than satisfactory. That is my thinking. People in Colombo would not know the problems of those in Padaviya but those in Anuradhapura would. As a health worker we have to trudge to Colombo to sort out even a minor problem.
This is because both big hospitals in Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura come under the Central Government. The budgetary allowances allocated to the Provincial Council by the centre is constantly being cut back. They are then unable to fulfill their needs.
We lack medicine, other services, and are understaffed. The staff shortage is acute and the Centre should find solutions. They do not do so saying they have no funds. But, contractors are paid their money. Anyone could see there is fraud here. If power was devolved in a correct manner the centre could not interfere.”.
But Sumudu Ekanayake, a Health Services employee from Pujapitiya, Kandy had a different view. “Before this, one had to go to Colombo to obtain a passport. It cost us money and time. We can get that done in our area now.
However it must be said that those who get elected to political office be it at the Centre or Provinces are mainly humbugs and deal makers. They will not do good by the country. If the country is peaceful and the politicians were honest I for one don’t mind going even to Colombo to obtain a passport.”
The above shows that the problems of the people are not about the central government or the provincial administration but the efficiency and honesty of service. Yet, the Eastern Province, North Central and Sabaragamuwa are to get into hustings in September. Bandula Gunatilleke from Polonnaruwa Rd., Mahiyangana has a different take on the current situation. “I do not think much will be achieved through provincial councils save for wastage of money.
More corrupt politicians will be thrown up. Did the people in the North get any political solution? I remember Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara saying that if a wife has suspicions over her husband in that he is a thief or a dishonest person, then she has the right to separate. Similarly if the Northern people say they have no faith in the Sinhala people, they too have a right to separate.
Many think that the government will not have the elections to provincial councils in the North. They think that this is trickery. The southern governments always fooled the northerners. These councils are another way of fooling them”.Ratna Marian, a Maths teacher from Rilaulla, Kandana had this view, “A file takes two days to leave a table to another. Two days can stretch up to two weeks. Wednesdays are public days. We have to obtain leave to go there. It takes 3 to 4 months to get something done. We often feel dejected and wish to give up on getting any job done.
Even with the central government it was the same. With the provincial councils too it is the same. Actually this system was meant for the North. But without having it there, people are being fooled by holding elections everywhere else. Formerly to undertake contracts one had to register.
But by doing away with that in the Provincial Councils it is now easy to rob through political patronage”. However Ariyaratne Withana, a bank employee from Baddegama felt that the fault was neither with the central government nor provincial councils.
“If people can benefit from a service, any form of governance is good. But if corrupt politicians are spawned from either system therein lies the problem.
The political parties must answer. They give nominations not to efficient or good men. Mostly they nominate wealthy people. They have no education nor discipline. They are clever at murder, to undertake contracts, rape women.
These politicians are responsible for many crimes that have been reported to courts. The national leaders of political parties are responsible for this situation.
“Though the 13th Amendment was to seek a political solution to the North, other problems have cropped up instead.
For example the rising crime rate has thrown up suspects who are either Municipal, Provincial or Pradaysheeya Sabha members. By speaking to a fair cross section of the people it is evident that without Police and land powers the system would not be successful.
However with the Provincial Council system being the law of the land a new political system is now within us. This has pervaded the entire political culture of the land and not confined to the provinces alone.
Governments did not want to devolve power
If anyone says that the Provincial Councils are a white elephant it is a lie. It is a success. But every government used every clause and sub clause of the 13th Amendment to it’s advantage to control the Councils. None of the said governments were comfortable with devolving power. They do not want to devolve. Therefore they used the powers of the Councils to their advantage.
They scuttled the process through various means. Besides its not only the North and East that needs devolved power. We also need it in our provinces. We can also run them independently. We know the needs and requirements of the people in our areas.
Let the passports be given from Colombo. But we need powers to develop our areas. But none of these governments want to devolve power. It is true many corrupt and unsavoury characters have sprung up at provincial level. It does not mean that there are none like that within the central government or at national level.
Prof Jayampathy Wickremaratne.
“If anyone says that the Provincial Councils are a failure it is the government that would be the prime suspect. It is the central government that collects revenue. They handle the finances of the country. But the centre never had a plan for the North nor the South. When Ministers and MPs change, the plans also change.
How can you develop a land like that? If the centre is not prepared to devolve power, the councils will fail That is what is happening. But in countries like the USA, Malaysia, Japan, India there is a healthy competition for improvement amongst the provinces and districts where power has been devolved. It is a boon to the centre. Finally the whole country gets developed. The Environmental Directorate for the Wayamba Province was started by me.
As the Chief Minister it was I who obtained the most laws through the centre to my Province. It depends on the strengths and capability of each Chief Minister.
But most provincial ministers and members are only interested in the enlistment of their families and not that of the people. They want to make money. So when the centre doesn’t give money and the members get keen on making money, there is no purpose of provincial councils”.
Gamini Jayawickreme Perera ( UNP). Former Chief Minister, Wayamba Province.
“We have made a decision at the Central Committee meeting not to nominate those involved in corruption, cheating and rape at the forthcoming elections. Accordingly we have removed four of those who were there before. But we cannot go by newspaper reports alone. We also need to get those proven.
Without such proof we cannot block someone’s rights. Then again who doesn’t have allegations? Even Budha and Jesus had allegations against them.
Maithripala Sirisena, General Secretary, SLFP
Those Provincial, Municipal and Pradayshheya level members who were suspected of being involved in crimes in recent past are tabulated below:
Sampath Chandra Pushpa, Chairman Tangalle Pradaysheeya Sabha – Raping a tourist and murder of her associate.
Anjana Liyanage, Member, Tangalle Pradaysheeya Sabha – Rape of a 14 year old.
K. Jagath, Chairman, Aratchikattuwa Pradaysheeya Sabha – Assaulting Jude Nishantha at the ceremony to welcome Sarath Fonseka
Nalin Deepthi, Member Horana Pradaysheeya Sabha – Arrested for felling a jak tree without a licence
Member of Sapugaskanda Pradaysheeya Sabha – Arrested for taking bribes from those transporting sand without licence.
Ranjith Perera, Secretary to Minister Mervyn Silva – Arrested for taking a bribe of Rs 26 lakhs.
H. Piyasena, Member Mahawa Pradaysheeya Sabha – Killing a deer
Sarana Gunawardene, Deputy Minister Petroleum – Shooting in the air at Weerangula and abducting a child, and for bribery.
Trimalay Ariyawathy, Vice Chairman Eastern provincial Council – Was arrested and bailed out for threatening and abusing Trinco Court Staff
Clarence Thushara, member Western provincial Council – Murder of Stanic Joseph, a millionaire.
Co-ordinating Secretary of a Kalutara Deputy Minister – Abduction of a Pradaysheeya Sabha member.
Chairman, Karuwalagaswewa Pradaysheeya Sabha – Assault of a staff member of the Pradaysheeya Sabha.
Suresh Premachandran Says…
The north and east provinces had a majority of Tamil speaking people. But after independence the provinces have lost their individuality because of the state sponsored colonization predominantly in the Eastern province.
Before there were no Sinhala representation in the north and east but now there are five candidates representing the Sinhala people including Ampara and Seruwila regions. We need to safeguard the Tamil speaking identity in the north and east and it should only be represented by a single political party. The chief negotiator Prof G. L. Peris during former President Chandrika’s time said that in a unitary system devolution of power is not possible. Here power has not been devolved but taken back – agriculture and transport services which were given to the provincial councils have been taken back. Even finance, land, police powers that have to be devolved to PCs under the 13th Amendment have been withheld.
The 13th Amendment is not enough to run a PC as it does not include development and law and order. We are not satisfied with the PC system at all.”
- Suresh Premachandran Member of Parliament, TNA