A salutary move | Daily News

A salutary move

The declaration made by President Maithripala Sirisena that the much delayed Provincial Council Election will be held soon would be welcomed by those who cherish democracy. Elections are the lifeblood of democracy as the saying goes and any attempt to postpone elections on some pretext is unacceptable in a democratic setup.

It is in this manner that Provincial Council elections were circumvented by the former regime through a process of gerrymandering with legislation in Parliament. Currently six PCs are without people's representation and are run by Administrative Officers.

Speaking at the Vap Magul ceremony in Tissamaharama, President Sirisena said that six Provincial Councils are in a helpless state due to lack of a precise political leadership or guidance. The officials can accomplish tasks to a certain extent with circulars, but there must be a people-oriented political leadership that offers better services, he pointed out.

True, administrative officers are mere ciphers, working in accordance with ARs and FRs as is the case. They lack contact with the populace, particularly in rural areas where the peoples’ needs are more in evidence. They tend to merely issue orders and leave it at that without bothering to see if the task is completed, which is typical of Sri Lanka's public service. On the other hand, politicians get more involved to ensure the people receive the full relief, since they are elected representatives and they would want the voters to repeat the favour next time around. President Sirisena who is an accomplished grassroots politician is only too aware of this.

Provincial Councils were introduced as part of the Indo-Lanka Accord with the intention of devolving power to the provinces, as a means of inhibiting any separatist ambitions they may entertain. This is indeed a praiseworthy proposition. But in practical terms, provincial councils have come to be known as white elephants guzzling public funds for little or no return.

It is also common knowledge that our provincial councils are packed with siblings and progeny of Parliamentarians and serve as a finishing school of sorts for the next step of entering Parliament. This state of affairs should end and our PCs made a truly representative body that comprises individuals who are aware of the true aspirations of the people. Above all, it is essential to ensure that provincial councils are corruption free and public funds utilized for the maximum benefit of the people. The Western Provincial council was embroiled in a controversy recently after ordering expensive chairs and air fresher machines. Such incidents should not be repeated in other provincial councils.

As stated above, PCs were originally intended as a mechanism of devolution for the people of the North. However since this was legally not possible all nine provinces were given PCs, although it was only in 2013 that the North got theirs, due to the intervening war years. However, the North continues to languish behind the other provinces, a fact that was brought home by the President.

At the same Vap Magul ceremony the President said that the people who were given responsibilities failed to respond to the issues of the people of the North during the last three and half years, adding that the proposed housing projects for the people of the North were limited to mere Cabinet discussions.

What the President left unsaid was that it was difficult to reach consensus on this and other important issues by a Cabinet which was divided. Clashes during Cabinet meetings were the norm then with no consensus reached on virtually anything. As a result much of the work was deferred or put off altogether resulting in development work coming to a standstill.

Now, with the advent of the new regime that is composed of members belonging to a single political party consensus is bound to emerge on the direction the economy and the country should move. Hopefully, the new Cabinet would take up the matter of the housing projects in the North at the first instance while also attending to other issues affecting the people who underwent much suffering.

Meanwhile, the observation made by General Secretary of the National Economic Council (NEC) Prof. Lalith Samarakoon, which we carried on our front page yesterday, that investor and business confidence in the economy should be a priority under the new dispensation, should be considered with due seriousness by the new rulers. He said the political transitional period needed to be managed prudently and the Government should be serious about our credit worthiness.

It is only too well known that investor confidence was low under the former regime with foreign investors pulling out of the Bourse. No worthy project got underway despite grandiose pronouncements like the Volkswagen car assembly plant which later became an object of much derision.

The main reason for the breakdown in investor confidence was political instability. No investor would risk his money in a situation where the two main leaders of the Government held diametrically opposite views on such matters as the direction of the economy. This issue has now been resolved much to the relief of all concerned stakeholders.


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