18 September, 2021

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Centralised Governance Overburdened In Tackling Covid Crisis

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The government announced the present ten day lockdown giving only a day’s notice. Until the announcement was made it seemed that the government would keep the county open regardless of the human cost for the greater good of the country as a whole. There was a resemblance to the government’s success in the war with the LTTE. The government conducted military operations that were high in human casualties. But it was these military operations that finally led to the end of a war that had dragged on for three decades and was generally believed to be unwinnable. As Defense Secretary and military leader President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was known to be resolute in his determination to achieve targets and to give his fullest backing to those entrusted with those tasks.

It was therefore not surprising that when he was elected president, there was anticipation that the president would govern with a firm hand. Those at the extreme nationalist end of the political spectrum even called on the president to act as a Hitler to achieve the vision they held for the country. There was much trepidation in those who felt they might be on the wrong side of the new president’s policies that seemed to be oriented in the direction of nationalism and militarization of society. These apprehensions increased when the president made a large number of high level appointments of military personnel drawn from the group who had fought the war against the LTTE along with him. A dark era of oppressive government seemed a possibility. However, President Gotabaya Rajapaka’s conduct of state affairs as an elected leader has been much more democratic and less authoritarian than anticipated.

The president has taken his role as an elected leader seriously which manifests itself in different forms. The end of war is not the end of military battles but becomes peace when there is a rebuilding of trust and political relations that stabilizes the country. In his inaugural speech the president said he would be the president of all Sri Lankans although large sections of the ethnic and religious minorities had not voted for him. He has also been willing to accept public criticism of his shortcomings which are displayed in exaggerated detail on social media in particular. At a recent meeting with a group of civil society leaders, one of them from the East felt able to remind the president of his promise in his inaugural speech and that he needed to live up to it which the president appeared to take in its positive spirit.

Self-Lockdowns

It would also seem to be the case that the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not been as directive as initially anticipated. This is partly due to the economic calamity that has befallen the country due in most part to the Covid pandemic. If the government had been able to achieve economic success that enriched the general population, there would have been a growth in self-confidence and hubris that might have impelled government leaders to more severe actions to achieve their economic and ethnic nationalist goals set out in the election campaign. Economic success might have strengthened the credibility of the government to take strong measures that had a high cost even in terms of people’s rights. But the present absence of economic success has not made this possible. There is skepticism about the government’s cost-benefit analysis.

The rejection of the government’s preference to keep the country open despite the human cost in terms of Covid spread is seen in the decision of traders associations in many parts of the country to declare self-lockdowns. The traders in many towns closed down their shops and commercial establishments in a manner that demonstrated their solidarity with the plight of their workers and the general public who had begun to be infected by the virus in droves. The lockdown of the traders was given moral support by the country’s health workers who have themselves been calling for a lockdown even as the health system is overwhelmed by Covid patients.

The self-lockdown of several important towns in different parts of the country is an indication of the possibilities of self-governance that can occur in a time of central failure. The concept of self-governance has come to be identified with the demand of ethnic and religious minorities who have felt themselves to be marginalized in the national governance processes. However, in this case of Covid-generated self-lockdown there is no ethnic or religious dimension to the impulse of self-governance but the feeling that the central authorities are insensitive to the needs of the people at the community level. The devolution of power would allow more people to be engaged with resolving the issues collectively or differently and also provide a form of competition for success which would be a motivation which does not exist in a centralized system.

Provincial Councils 

The present Covid crisis is of such severity that it requires a whole of government approach to mitigate its impact. The government is relying on its vaccination programme to protect the general population. This vaccination programme is being implemented efficiently by the army for the most part. But this can only be part of the solution. There is a significant proportion of those who have been vaccinated who fall prey to the virus which is an indicator that the general population has also to be made aware of the need for continuing safety precautions. There is a need for government agencies at all levels, central, provincial and local, to work hand in hand with civil society at the community level to get the message across. The provincial councils in particular would allow the government to look at long term policies and development beyond the local administration that could be handled by the provincial councils.

One of the unfortunate features of the present time is the non-functioning of the provincial council system which is the most important of the country’s administrative systems from the point of view of accessing the community at the local level. All nine provinces are currently being run by their respective governors, who are presidential appointees, instead of by democratically elected leaders for more than three years now. During a meeting with a group of civil society members, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa noted that 60 percent of the national budget was channeled through the provincial council system. This suggests that the provincial council system needs to be reactivated soon not only to accommodate the wishes of the minorities but also to give effect to the constitution for efficiency purposes in coping with the Covid crisis.

The elections to provincial councils have been stalled since 2018 due to a defect that has occurred in the process of changing the electoral law. The Supreme Court has determined that the provincial council elections can be held under either the old or new system but subject to amending legislation being passed. There needs to be an all-party consensus built on this issue which civil society can also contribute to. The restoration of the provincial council system could serve multiple purposes. It could improve people’s participation in restricting the spread of the coronavirus in all parts of the country. It would also provide governance at a lower level of access to the ethnic and religious minorities, accommodate their grievances and contribute to healing the wounds of war which is the positive message that the international human rights community that supports minority rights is interested in.

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Latest comments

  • 15
    0

    The author is fast becoming adept at sitting on the fence, with one leg dangling in praise of the regime in Sri Lanka while the other leg is used to kick them in the head in between. To a casual observer, he sounds rather hollow. An example is his statement that Provincial Councils are a desperate need right now, in the midst of a national disaster of unprecedented proportions where innocent citizens are dying like stray dogs in hospital corridors, their bodies piling up and being haphazardly thrown in the back of trucks to be cremated or buried in batches. He should call a spade a spade without dithering and being facetious at the same time.

  • 6
    1

    Tamils asked for Tamil Elam. No half baked solutions.

    Even decentralized the army has power over the entire island.

  • 7
    1

    Dear SENSTIVE commenters/readers.
    Research groups/companies designed the anti covid vaccines.
    :
    All these were carried out all in a hurry and focused soley on over 60 age groups. Clinical data collected during the periods of focus were based on such age groups. That was the reason, WHO and Research bodies to have made it very clear ” please start it with the focusing age groups and the vulnerable and health care workers first”.
    .
    Unfortunately, countries like SRILANKA and BRAZIL and few other countries never respected the valuable information provided by WHO.
    .
    As a result, as of today, srilanka is among the top where people let die by COVID infection and the related complex health problems.
    :
    One of the rare kind of POLITICIAN Honourable Mangala Samaraweera’s death would not have been the case, if he or the like were given the jab at early stages. After JABs were given, any variants could further harm human body, however, symptoms would not be the case as for one who has not been vaccinated. This should to be CONVINCED to those low lives in our LEADERSHIP and their counterparts around the globe if we really want to save the lives.
    :
    Gotabaya led administration should be made responisble for the avoidable deaths in SRILANKA. Not the harm done by EASTER SUNDAY, but the harm done by GOTABAYA s inability is 20 times more than sofar. ‘

  • 0
    2

    The present Covid crisis is of such severity that it requires a whole of government approach to mitigate its impact
    ———–
    Actually no! This fake pandemic was created as an excuse for more authoritarian rule world wide.
    Many journalists who are freemasons are a part of this plot. Here is an entry from gematria warning of what the most high will do to them very soon:

    ‘i am about to start
    killing off members of
    the media’ – 1551 (jewish) 2742 (English) 457 (Simple)

  • 1
    3

    “This suggests that the provincial council system needs to be reactivated soon not only to accommodate the wishes of the minorities…”
    —-
    To accommodate the wishes of the minorities or the wishes of the politicians in minority communities?
    —-
    Tamils rejected Provincial Councils and Devolution of Power after Ranil handed over one third of the country to 11% of the people and decided to fight until they get their dreamland ‘Eelam’. Hundreds and thousands of Sinhalayo and members of the Armed Forces had to sacrifice their lives and the destruction of infrastructure was enormous due to the decision taken by Tamils. After Sinhalayo and members of the Armed Forces made those sacrifices, JP wants the Government to hold PC elections that will cost a huge amount to accommodate the wishes of the minorities. After elections are held, the tax payers have to bear the cost of maintaining the elected members. JP must be out of his mind to propose this when the country is almost bankrupt.

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