By 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.