A costly exercise | Daily News


A costly exercise

Provincial Councils have long being criticized by the majority of the public, and, even by politicians, as being White Elephants which is a drain on the exchequer, ever since they came into being as a vehicle for devolution of power, for the people of the North and East. No one exactly knows what functions are performed by these entities other than payment of salaries of teachers in the provincial schools and similar inconsequential chores, according to what one hears. In any event, Provincial Councils are no longer in operation, with their functions being overseen by the respective Governors, which office too raises more questions than they give answers. In fact the people have not missed anything by the non-functioning of Provincial Councils which has being consigned to the periphery of things though plans to hold the much postponed PC elections, anytime soon, is being discussed.

If that be the case, the Central Government is going to be plunged into a massive financial hellhole at a time when the economy is in dire straits in consequence to the Coronavirus pandemic. According to a news report, the Government has spent close to Rs. 22,000 million to maintain the nine Provincial Councils in 2019 alone. This is due to the inability of the PCs to meet their expenditure as a result of massive shortfall in the income and this had been a continuing feature right through, the news report quoting the 2019 Central Bank report, stated. What is more, the expenditure of the Central Government on PCs has overshot by a massive Rs.16,000 million during the period they had ceased to function over that during which the PCs were in operation. According to the CB report, if the trend were to continue the Government will be hard-pressed to meet its budgetary commitments and if the pressure on the budget is to be eased there is a dire need for the PCs to rationalize their spending, and, importantly, seek more income generating avenues.

The Central Bank report, more than anything else, throws light on the criminal waste that have become the lot of the Provincial Councils. All right thinking members of the public, no doubt, would fully endorse the stance taken by the Provincial Councils and Local Government Affairs State Minister Rear Admiral (Rtd.) Sarath Weerasekera calling for doing away with Provincial Councils. In any event, PCs were an unwanted baby thrust upon this country as a solution to the call for extensive devolution by Tamils in the North which even Prabhakaran eventually rejected. PCs which were meant as a solution for the devolution call in the North East were thrust on the whole country and time was when PCs were operating everywhere except in the North and East for which it was primarily meant.

When, eventually, the North received the PC, allowing its politicians to manage their own affairs as per the rationale for setting up the PC system and bring development to the population the Chief Minister did everything else but this. Instead, the NPC devoted much of its time passing resolutions in support of international organisations critical towards the Government and the CM getting involved with protests and agitations espousing the separatist cause. The record of the Northern Provincial Council’s service to the people could be gauged by the simple fact of the Chief Minister repeatedly returning unutilized funds meant for the development of the province back to the Central Government - all of which make one wonders on the feasibility of continuing with such wasteful project that is bleeding the central Government white at a time it is plagued by scarce financial resources due to the Covid -19 damage. One must also not lose sight of the fact that in addition to the PCs there are the Local Government bodies with over 10,000 members to look after and maintain. Can the Government afford this, on the long run?

Understandably there were protests by the PC fraternity to alleged moves to do away with the system through the proposed 20th Amendment. These represent those elements who have grown into the PC system and cannot let go. It is no secret that PCs too lavish largess on its members though not to the extent of Parliamentarians. One recalls how certain PCs in the past sent entire entourages on foreign jaunts spending millions of tax payers money, ostensibly for workshops or study tours. Whether the benefits accrued to the public from these trips justified the costs is anybody’s guess except that the garbage mountains, broken bridges and culverts were still very much in existence following these foreign tours.

As already mentioned, Provincial Councils are not being missed. The people do not feel the difference by the absence of PCs. The hands on approach by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has ensured delivery of services to the remotest corner. His frequent interaction with the villagers, where their problems are discussed and prompt relief granted has obviated the need for PCs which had failed to address the people’s grievances for all the funds left at their disposal, and, what is more, continue to be subsidized by the Government.

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