21 June, 2024

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Are Local Government Elections That Important? 

By Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

News coverage now a days, overflows with debate and conjecture about the looming (or receding) Local Government Elections. Such copious coverage suggests a contrived strategy designed to distract public agony from every day travails to a make believe circus. 

The public mood is vicious, and the police reaction is correspondingly firm and often unjustified. The ready use of water Cannons and Tear Gas is suggestive of panic and over-kill. The possibility that the gas, tossed around with gay abandon, may be long past their expiry date, or may contain cheap and hazardous ingredients. Long term deleterious effects are possible. The fact that no proper account of numbers used, could well lead to easy fraudulence. An unfortunate death of a demonstrator, could well ignite waiting tinder. 

The prominent presence of robed ‘monks’ displaying their vaulting abilities, are unbecoming contrasts with the normally expected saintly calm and dignified presence. Since the ‘Ata Pirikara’ offerings include a razor (but no comb) among the eight prescribed items, there is little excuse for stylishly parted hair and smartly trimmed mustaches. Both Priest and Police, robe and uniform, unsurprisingly have lost the dignity and restraint that they hitherto enjoyed. Crowd control measures increasingly resemble “no holds- barred” street brawls. The foul and filthy language exchanged, may well deceive a dreamy listener into believing that he was really in our Parliament. After ten long years of existence, one would have expected devolved Local Government Councils to be a forum for intelligent discourse. The reality is a grave contrast with early expectations.

Pot-holed roads, dangerous bridges, abandoned buildings constructed at great cost are all regularly shown on Television broadcasts. One justifiably asks, has the devolution experiment been successful? Have the exalted assemblies done much that is even mildly useful? Is the money spent on these astonishingly useless bodies, done anything to justify their massive keep?  

I stand firmly behind the Chief Priest (of Mihintale?), when he declared that the “Pradeshiya and Palath Sabhas” are a useless expenditure of Public Money. Clearly, our “Diyawanna Denizens” think not. They, in their wisdom doubled the numbers from some 4000-odd to 8,000 recently.  

The Thirteenth Amendment under which these bodies came into existence, we are told was, because we feared India’s armed intervention. Also, the increasingly strident LTTE’s cries for autonomy, were troubling. What cowardswe have proven to be, by not holding the interests of our country first? 

Amidst this pretext of “patriotic piffle”, there was the feeble hope that these appendages, through their closeness to their “electorates”, would be better positioned to identify local needs, and thus to promote more efficient prioritization and delivery of governance. Has this happened? 

It was also claimed that these bodies will serve as “training centres” for future entry into national Parliamentary politics. There are precedents. When one sees the wild and rowdy scenes, despite the presence of lady members, one cannot escape the conclusion that the lofty hopes and pretensions have been fake. It would not be uncharitable to conclude that these “training centres” serve better as “Schools for scoundrels” They are efficient preludes to the atrocious behavior, often seen at the Mother of Politics,  at Diyawanna.

Meanwhile, rural roads remain unattended pothole-chains, ghostly buildings done at colossal costs, remain unoccupied, weed-covered ruins in sad testimony to failed hopes.

It is left to private generosity through programmes like “Gammedda” to intervene. They have done so quite admirably. They have succeeded in energizing rural communities, thus urging them to arrange for such requirements as clean drinking water, sanitation, school buildings, playgrounds, roads and, bridges and many more. The underlying, valid thinking being to train the populace to help themselves, to be self –supportive. They thereby free the politicians to unveil foundation hoardings,  that stand in silent testimony for what might have been. This should satisfy the ego of them who should have (even received Funds), for doing this work. The failed hopes have angered the rural folk so much, that future canvassing visits may well turn out to be very dangerous. Appears reasonable in the way they have dashed any hopes for the proper exercise of their “devolved” glory. 

Apart from the physical improvement of their life supports, these voluntary projects have nurtured an unsung reduction of the “Dependency Syndrome” of looking to “Government” to provide services, which are within their own capacities to perform, when given some support and encouragement. In this sense, these voluntary programmes, along with commendable generosity of business houses and individuals, have created a very positive attitude towards self- help.

These illustrate vividly the failed expectations (or reveal the nudity), of the loudly proclaimed, and still pretended, value of “devolution”. Therefore, it is fancifully argued that the upcoming elections are important as evidence of a virile democracy. Had it been so, after a period of an experiment that has now lasted more than a decade? The alacrity with which these failed enterprises are being dramatized, point to some unseen objectives. Most Local Bodies have proven to be colossal failures.

However, an element of amusing theatre is provided by these bodies. The “Chamber” is lavishly, (and often in poor taste) decorated with expensive furnishings, thick carpets and sometimes with microphones at each seating position. Meaningless symbolism where the treatment is worse than the malady. All pomp and ritual and little else. All that is lacking is an “Electronic Score Board “which is so glamourous, in their parental Diyawanna home, and which one expects will soon be installed in theirs as well.  What has happened thus far, kindles little hope and less evidence that the much heralded advantages of “Devolved Power” has been of any use. 

May all the multiple deities before whom we supplicate, help Sri Lanka.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    0

    “What has happened thus far, kindles little hope and less evidence that the much heralded advantages of “Devolved Power” has been of any use.

    May all the multiple deities before whom we supplicate, help Sri Lanka.”

    Not only Lord Buddha but also Lord Siva, Jesus Christ or Allah can’t help Sri Lanka because this country is in the hands of greedy Animals who can change every minute for money and power. there is nothing wrong with unitary administration or devolved administrations, it is the problem of administrators of both politics and religions.

    • 5
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      “The Thirteenth Amendment under which these bodies came into existence, we are told was, because we feared India’s armed intervention. Also, the increasingly strident LTTE’s cries for autonomy, were troubling. “
      Dr. P ignores the fact that only one PC was originally proposed, to give autonomy to the North and East. JR’s Machiavellian manipulation resulted in the current 9 PC’s.
      “What cowards we have proven to be, by not holding the interests of our country first?”
      Easy enough to say, but in retrospect, what could we have done? We live a few miles away from India, and brave talk doesn’t change that.
      Still, the JVP , LTTE and our politicians between them trashed the country better than the Indians could have.
      “I stand firmly behind the Chief Priest (of Mihintale?), when he declared that the “Pradeshiya and Palath Sabhas” are a useless expenditure of Public Money.”
      That is true, but this same entitled monk is currently kicking up a fuss that the govt is not giving him enough money to have his Poson tamasha in style. Is he really a Buddhist? Were there electric lights and loudspeakers in Mihintale even for 100 years of its 2300 year history?

      • 3
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        (Page I)
        OC,
        That is absolutely correct, as I remember the clarion call was for 2 separate Councils – one for North East and another for rest of country – like Regional Councils mooted in BC Pact!?
        Came the theorists, who were in effect deflecting deceptively, Sinhalese wonder why Tamils being given preferential treatment!!! Leak from PMD and/or the presidential secretariat sparked joining, Lalith A and Gamini D got engaged and made it would enable to ‘sell’, the idea to the voters!? RP too went along later-on!!! JRJ at his BEST!!
        Post 13th amendment, the parties who were until them dormant or even the proponents of PC’s, decided not to fully implement it!!! LAND AND POLICE POWERS TO PC’S
        That made salient difference to NE PC’s and other PC’s None!!! Thus non-implementation of LAND and POLICE POWERS meant the PC’s were useless for North and east Councils – the abuse of the central authority continued as before w/o difference – Centre was Happy, and North East was unhappy – say the least!!
        The abuse of land settlements and incarcerations unlimited made NE people, devoid of trust they had in devolution (PC’s)!!! This disinterest made the PC’s in time defunct!!!
        (TBC)

      • 3
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        (Part II)
        Now the clarion call of the SOUTH is abolish, what has not been functioning for a long time!!!
        Machiavellian or not, it’s trickery at its best element, or CUNNINGNESS recognised of the majority community, attributed by ROBERT KNOX almost 200 years ago, DEVOID OF INTELLIGENCE!!!???
        THAT IS TOO TRUE TO DISREGARD, CONSIDERING THE STATE WE ARE IN PRESENTLY!!!???
        What for the telling, the Maestro who not long ago 2009, stated or called for a change in captaincy of cricket – asking for all to hear – Can’t we have somebody else captaining the team than a ‘Thambiya’ – referring to Dilshan, has been SHEET ANCHOR of SL cricket, Captain for well over a decade as Opening batsman!!!??? SUCH WAS THE DISPENSATION, PROFESSED during world cup feat with full load of Boeing supporters in tow to satisfy his EGO!!!???
        Then came 2019/20 and COVID 19 victims of Muslim lineage could not bury those who succumbed within the day as per their religious belief and had to cremate them!!! Lastly after 2 years of torment thus found a place in East SL!!! Even contemplated sending the corpse to Maldives??? Whatever appeal ended on DEAF EAR!!!???
        (TBC)

  • 2
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    If one were to look at the “TOTAL HEALTH” (the country and the people) one would find that we have reached very “HIGH RISK” levels of “STRESS” (economic, social, political) that could lead to trigger volcanic eruption type breakdown in every aspect of life.

    This “STRESS” (High Level) is the net result of being “LET DOWN” (by those entrusted to take care of Governing functions at all levels) and having “DISENFRANCHISED OF CONTROLS” (to make decisions to change and effect controls). The writer has given a good account of all those “STRSSES” (Frustrations) suffered by the people.

    But ironically, there is yet another “MINORITY” that is endowed with all the “SURFEIT” (Excessive enjoyment and controls). The large “MAJORITY” see this today unlike a few years back. That “IDENTIFICATION” has led to increasing “Stress” levels high. That looks very “Dangerous”.

    So what needs to be done to address this issue? (1) Give immediately the “CONTROLLING POWER” – to make a “CHANGE” and that is to ELECT their representatives to all levels in the political establishments (2) EMPOWER the people to take “Control” ( a system change) of the activities spread across the economic, social and political domains. So start with “ELECTIONS”.

  • 2
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    @Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda – There is no gurantee abolishing a local governing body will not make a difference in decency at the Parliment. Neither local governtment body spending is a not a burden or bottleneck for development when we compare to what the central governing bodies spending and wasting on.

    What we really lacking is mututal trust and compasionate among communities and beliefs to co-exists. As such Parliment and it’s governmening body reluctant to decentralize the administratie duties while mainly concentrate on National Security, Infrastructure development and Foreign policy, etc imporant at the country and diplomatic level. This way we allow healthy competition among region, investment to flow and even better cordination between regions (region can be anything if you call it province or district, etc).

    While you restrict everything to local government body and allow to function as a skeleton body without power and authority what else yoiu expect them to achieve?

    The problem is not just politicians, we all and our mind set to treat everyone equal and feel like equal. We always doubt and says deligation mean spliting of country into many pieces. In that case we should not complain rather learn to live with what we got now is the best solution.

  • 0
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    I fully agree with your article. May I kindly request you to read my article titled ‘Aren’t Citizens Entitled to propose & enforce ‘System Changes’? in today’s CT (30-5-2023)where I have inter alia proposed a simple alternative to LG bodies among a package of system changes essential for a bankrupt country?
    Your valuable critique is most welcome.

    • 1
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      Dear Mr J. Bernard Fernando,
      .
      PART ONE

      .
      I’m at my wit’s end in Bandarawela wondering what is happening in the country which is my sole country, and I have regarded this hill-country town as my base all my life. It is true that I spent a total of seven years outside Lanka, but within Asia, to earn some money.
      .
      I hadn’t noticed this welcome article by Dr Upathissa Pethiyagoda until an hour ago; I had read a number of his articles before. I then found this comment of yours, which took me to the article that you have referred to. I haven’t really read it yet, but scrolling down I have noticed that you have actually given your email address. Shall consider writing to you depending on what I read in the article.
      .
      The problem is not which election ought to be held, but something must be. Before I chanced on Dr Pethiyagoda’s article, I had looked to see what You Tube would give me as significant:
      .
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eS-IRefvXxo
      .
      That is Tivlin Silva also complaining like me; comments are turned off there, but he is questioned by HIS faceless audience. At least there is consistency in what he says.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V)

    • 1
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      I’m acutely conscious that there are others in this land who are even worse off than I am. I don’t understand any Tamil, so I’m not sufficiently conscious of what monolingual Tamils are saying. In any case, we can never know everything that is happening! If you listen to Tivlin’s speech, you will realise that there’s nothing unacceptable that he says, but there are just not enough Tamil speakers in his Party.
      .
      How accurate his Abraham Lincoln quote is cannot be ascertained:
      .
      https://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/10/15/liberty-fist-nose/
      .
      My teacher-father passed away in 1963, used it often, and I get the point.
      .
      The problem now is that we now have just one dictator in this country who was roundly defeated by us at the last elction, but who has taken it upon himself to do as he pleases until – when? Right now he says 2048. It’s possible that he imagines that he will live until even after that!
      .
      I know that this just can’t be, but if we continue to get enervated the way we are, there’ll be nobody left to protest.

      • 1
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        SM,
        “taken it upon himself to do as he pleases until – when? Right now he says 2048.”
        And aren’t you the guy who claims to be honest in all your dealings? On the other hand, perhaps you don’t understand English?

      • 1
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        Dear old codger,
        .
        I know that you’re cleverer than me,
        know English quite well, and all that sort of thing. I don’t know whether I made all sorts of claims about my honesty; please classify me as a guy who tries to be honest, and I don’t tell lies.
        .
        What have I sad that you so much object to?
        .
        It’s you who took to stating some time ago that the only consideration in politics is “self-interest”. I said that although self-interest matters, Immanuel Kant’s “Categorical Imperative” is more important.
        .
        https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/
        .
        Please make it clearer to me what’s dishonest in all this. Rectifying omission of link to Bernard’s article:
        .
        https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/arent-citizens-entitled-to-propose-enforce-system-changes/
        .
        Panini

        • 1
          0

          SM,
          “What have I sad that you so much object to?”
          Here is your complete quote:
          “The problem now is that we now have just one dictator in this country who was roundly defeated by us at the last elction, but who has taken it upon himself to do as he pleases until – when? Right now he says 2048. It’s possible that he imagines that he will live until even after that!”
          This is completely false and dishonest. Do you actually think Ranil expects to live until 2048?
          What he actually said was that he has a plan, which if adhered to, will result in SL being fully developed by 2048. Now, even I don’t believe that, despite your opinion of me as an immoral Ranil worshipper.
          To be charitable, I will absolve you of wilful misinterpretation assuming you were too intellectually lazy to digest what he said, and decided to broadcast some JVP nitwit’s interpretation,
          https://www.ft.lk/columns/The-Magic-2048-What-is-to-be-done-to-make-Ranilnomics-a-reality/4-747608

          • 0
            0

            Dear oc,
            .
            It may be as you say that Ranil doesn’t expect to be in charge until 2048.
            .
            I have read through the entire article by Dr W.A. Wijewardena now, by 2.15 am. He has linked us to a 2018 article, but although I scrolled down that I haven’t read it.
            .
            Well, may be he has some plan, but is he going to implement it with the present corrupt parliamentarians? Ranil may have worked it out, and you may have faith in him and his plan, but doesn’t he have thee duty to conduct the Local Government Elections?
            .
            You may have confidence in Ranil, I don’t. I grant that Dr Wijewardena, Ranil and you know more economics than I do. Well, don’t you think that you still have to play by the rules of government?
            .
            I know that this isn’t a sufficient response to you challenge.
            .
            Panini Edirisinhe

            • 0
              0

              SM,
              “Well, may be he has some plan, but is he going to implement it with the present corrupt parliamentarians?”
              It is the plan, not Ranil that I have faith in. Any reasonable person can see that it has worked so far. This was always the only way, but the man never had absolute power to follow through. CEB reformation for example has been a hot potato since the 90’s. Now the unions have been tamed, and it is possible. Of course there is hardship, but don’t you think the idiots who voted Gota in need some punishment?
              Whether the 225 are corrupt or not is irrelevant, as long as they do what they are told. That they will do, unless they are spooked by an unnecessary LG election.
              What exactly do you expect from an LG election anyway? Will it bring the USD below 100? Reduce the price of bread? Electricity?

    • 1
      0

      If I may add a little more….26 years ago in 1997, my article titled ‘An alternate system to Local Govt. Elections’ appeared in the press.In short I proposed to depoliticise this politically biased and corrupt LG system to allow honest, respectable and acceptable people in the locality to contest as ‘Independent’ candidates citing the famous ‘Grama Rajya’ concept.With the impending establishment of NMSJ proposed independent ‘Jana Sabhas’ (JS) at ‘Grama Niladhari Division (GND) level, JS nominees would be the ideal candidates to represent people. Elections can be conducted by Divisional Secretaries.The 14,000 strong JS Representatives will surely make the LG machinery more meaningful and effective than the existing politically biased and corrupt LG system. They may be paid a monthly allowance that ensures a lesser total outlay compared to that of the existing Politicised members.
      Mission of ‘Jana Sabhas’
      ‘Ensuring optimal citizen participation in the formulation of public policies as well as in the implementation of public policies in Sri Lanka, through making Jana Sabhas the most active form of participatory democracy in South Asia, and thereby contributing towards the creation of a sustainable State with an advanced and conscious citizenry by the year 2030.’
      Let us reduce Politicisation and eliminate corruption and bias to achieve real objectives of LG bodies through an intensive approach with people participation.

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