Honourable State Minister for Health Ms Pavithra Wanniarachchi had made a significant statement. According to her, the government does not wish to take over the hospitals in the North (and East). But in that case they also cannot/will not allocate any fund for the hospitals! What blackmail! This is the fundamental issue. She does not seem to have any idea of devolution but just power. It is the same issue that goes around all those in power at the center. Why? Why do they all think the center could manage the country but province cannot manage the province? Often it is stated that the Provincial staff are unable to manage the province or the associated actions. Why? They pass out from the same university and they have experienced the same trainings either in life or institution. Then why should there be a difference in skills?
It is indeed unfortunate that except for the north and east, in other provinces the politicians feel that provincial councils are just a stepping stone to national politics. This is why they do not see the value of those offices or their role to provide the best for the province. They seem to wag their tail to satisfy the masters in the party and never seem to see their larger role as politicians, to consider the public (members of the society) as their responsibility. Lack of political parties in the province is a major defect in the process. Given what had happened in national politics currently, it can be argued that there should be more political parties in the provinces, and with the capacity to govern the province. They may even be independent individuals and parties who eventually come together to form a government. This might be the only way Sri Lanka could get its life, hope and image back. The centralized politics and its policies, more its corruption and swollen heads had gone beyond limits to the extent that many faults are in the open. I consider every and all political parties that ruled the country for the past 73 years since independence to be responsible for bringing us to the bottom of the table from being on top, even in Asia. An alternative is the need of the day.
Provincial Council in law
What is the issue in not holding Provincial Council elections? Delimitation, electoral reforms etc. are simple excuses and if these are not ready have it the way it was last held, as already damages had accumulated for not having these over time. There had been statements made that the Provincial system may be removed as it is a white elephant. When 17 billion rupees were taken away from the government coffers TACTICALLY from sugar import duties this year the state observed silence and it is hilarious when someone speaks of expenses for the provincial councils. It is the failure of the state for not holding Provincial Council elections which are mandatory as being part of the governance under the Constitution and they have a role in the system. They are as essential as the parliament for the country. Many regulations and laws that need to be endorsed by the provincial council have gone by passing them and thus the law may be challenged at a later point in time. The Divinaguma programme which sought to further centralize power reaching to the grassroots was prevented by the non-acceptance by the Northern Provincial Council. Will it be correct to pass any/all laws keeping the provincial councils suppressed, if being a requirement under the constitution?
“In its determination the Supreme Court agrees with the submissions made by CPA and determines that Article 154(G) (3) of the Constitution needs to be complied with in respect of the subject matters referred to in the Provincial Council List and that it is mandatory for the Central Government to consult the Provincial Councils before placing such a Bill on the Order Paper of Parliament” (Note on the Divineguma Bill By Centre for Policy Alternatives January 2013)
Violating the Provincial mandate, negative approach
Recently there had been disputes over development in the Maduru Oya right bank where colonization/encroachment of the area that was within the Batticaloa district had been in contest. The left bank had been developed 60 years ago where many agricultural towns flourish today, Aralagangwila, Dehiyattekandiya and many more. It is only now that the state had time to look into the right bank and before they start already disputes have started by people invading these lands from other districts and provinces, and these matters are in court. Why should the people of Batticaloa not have similar development in their area, does the center think they need not develop? Is this the equity under the one law for the country?
Center had not delivered, Option is devolution
At joint meetings of the Provincial councils they unanimously endorse the need for increased powers and finances for better management. It is like what the state minister for health had stated now, Funds will not be provided but you run the province in spite of it but almost all taxes are sent to the central government. It is what is referred to as ‘CATCH 22’ or ‘heads I win and tails you lose’ syndrome with no option in reality. These had also been seen with sectors such as Education and Agriculture extension and in cases where even after the courts had ruled against, the center defies it conveniently through neglect.
It is also the Land and Police powers to the provinces are in question and why the state cannot/does not devolve this as in many other countries is reflective of the determination not to let the system work. It is illogical to claim that they would misuse or they cannot handle while those at the center will do a better job which is not the case as plainly evident from the plight the country is in at the present time. It may be that the center does not want to lose power or the benefits associated to power, but, it is definitely not in the best interests of the country.
It has become evident that over the 73 years of governance the central governments has failed to develop the country. The only way now may be to provide the provincial councils devolution with power, removing the extra executive powers of the appointed Governors of the Provinces, provided by the constitution and the Province Council Act 42/1987, who should not be above the elected representatives for executive action, a total reversal of the democracy where power of the people is vested in the executive by election. Alternatively, the Governors too need to be elected. The politicized governors with their dependence on the goodwill of the president who appoints them have been a block to the development of the provinces in general.
Covid had shown the mismatch and management of the pandemic as a whole including information sharing and vaccination which should be taken as a failure of the center, whatever the reasons may be. This also reminds us the failure of the Post-Tsunami assistance which was managed from the center, and which made many donor agencies who came with money leave without being able to spend it, again owing to the inefficiency of the central authorities who had no idea of what to do at the local level. It is time that we move away from this fossilized management attitudes, by experience.
The country has limited choices at present considering the many setbacks and independently functioning Provincial Councils, each innovating and showing the way forward to the others, may be the silver line across the dark skies. It parallels the ‘children making their own households away from the MAHAGEDARA (compound families/extended families) for the benefit of both and sustenance of their relationship so that the family stays intact.
*The author was the chairman/member of the Public Services Commission of the Eastern Provincial Council for three years and was also Professor of Botany and Vice Chancellor of the Eastern University, Sri Lanka.