President Maithripala Sirisena’s amateur Governor Appointees, ignorant of the terms and the boundaries of devolution of power are causing serious damage to governance.
In a controversial bungle up, Governor of Southern Province Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon interfered with four coveted school admissions to Southlands Girl School, a National School under the purview of the line ministry of Education. He threatened the principal of the school and her husband regarding this matter and engaged in further abuse of power by deploying the police to the residence of the principal to intimidate her. Later, the principal of the school was reported to have requested the withdrawal of the investigation about Governor’s misconduct. Informed sources at the Ministry of Education revealed to Colombo Telegraph that the principal has made this request under intimidation by Tennakoon who’s abusive, terror inducing conduct has been raising concern among the government employees in the province.
Tennakoon, the former CAFÉ chief, harping on impartiality and transparency raised eyebrows accepting the post of Governor from Sirisena. A brief time in to his office, Tennakoon, probably in a state of ignorance about his administrative boundaries, called for explanation from the authorities regarding an assault of prisoners within the Angunakolapelassa prison which does not fall within his purview. Facing social media backlash, Tennakoon was forced to promptly withdraw his letter via a letter of apology written to Minister of Justice Thalata Atukorale.
Meanwhile, the amateur Governor of Central Province, Maithri Gunaratne, ignoring all administrative boundaries, single handedly diverted traffic of Kandy town. With little or no consultation with experts, police or other local government authorities he practically brought the busy tourist town to a near standstill. Gunaratne, noted dissident and saboteur within the United National Party openly crossed loyalties to Sirisena after the constitutional coup of October 2018. In an attempt at off show –off politics Gooneratne ventured in to this abrupt change in Kandy traffic, pussy footing around the obvious solution of opening up the crucial roads surrounding the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the tooth relic) to appease the Mahanayakas.
In a recent development, yet another Governor took overstepping boundaries to the next level, potentially precipitating a diplomatic debacle. The amateur Governor of the Northern Province Suren Rāghavan is reported to have made an attempt at making an ‘official visit’ to India without revealing the mandate of his visit, nor the list of people he intends to carry out ‘government negotiations with’.
When contacted today by Colombo Telegraph, Governor Rāghavan confirmed that he has planned this ‘official visit’ to India to negotiate the return of 83 000 registered refuges and 20 000 unregistered refugees to Sri Lanka. When queried on what authority he, as a Governor of a province has in negotiating such resettlement which is a central government issue, Raghavan replied that” as the custodian of the people of the North, in the absence of a functional provincial council, it is well within my responsibility to attend to the day to day grievances of the people. I’m going to India to get in touch with the refugees and related agencies. I want to find out if they are returning with their free will”. When asked who authorized this planned negotiation, Raghavan stated that “I have made an application for the authorization of this visit, and I’m awaiting the permission of the President”.
Speaking to Colombo Telegraph on the condition of anonymity our Foreign Ministry source stated “it appears that Rāghavan, ignorant of the powers not vested in him has attempted to use his political shortcuts to undermine the authority not just of the central government, but that of His Excellency the President”.
A source at the Presidential Secretariat confirmed this attempt by Rāghavan stating “Rāghavan kept the President in the dark when seeking permission that he was venturing in to a serious violation of the constitution. However the President’s Secretary Udaya Seneviratne has taken prompt measures to update the President to avert a serious debacle”.
Strongly disputing Rāghavan’s claim our Foreign Ministry source stated “Governor Rāghavan is not awaiting President’s approval. That is a lie. The permission was granted by the President who was kept in the dark about Rāghavan’s actual intentions. Presidential Secretariat forwarded Rāghavan endorsed request to the Foreign Ministry which in turn was forwarded to the High Commission in India. Rāghavan is fully aware of this fact. We have also confirmed that Sri Lanka’s envoy to India, Ambassador Austin Fernando, a former Governor himself, has communicated his fact based, forth right observations on this matter in no uncertain terms, saving embarrassment to the President and the government”.
When questioned by Colombo Telegraph whether venturing in to state negotiations is a power vested in a Governor of a province, Rāghavan stated that “it is, according to the constitution I know. When questioned if foreign policy and refugee issues fell under the concurrent list between the provincial government and the central government, Raghavan replied “I’m not sure, I have to refer to the constitution”.
Under the 13th amendment, subjects falling separately under the provincial government and central government are spelt out whereas those subjects shared by the two entities are maintained in a concurrent list.
Commenting further on this debacle our source at the Presidential Secretariat opined: “it appears that the overconfident Governor about to venture in to a bipartisan negotiation with India was basically unaware or pretending to be unaware that he would be causing a serious violation of the constitution and foreign policy. Such ignorance or arrogance and overzealous attempts at abuse of power by the newly appointed Governors come at a heavy cost to the President and to the government”.
Colombo Telegraph’s attempt to contact Ambassador Austin Fernando for comment was unsuccessful.