By R.M.B Senanayake –
The current state of disagreement or dispute between the Governor and the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council seems to throw open the whole issue of devolution under the 13th Amendment as a solution to the ethnic problem. The resolution of the ethnic problem will receive a serious setback if the dispute is not resolved amicably. It would lead to the unraveling of the 13th Amendment as a solution to the ethnic problem and open the whole issue once again and this time we may well see the intervention of the International Community through the UN. Statistically it has been found that a civil conflict between two communities that ended would erupt again in a few years. All reasonable men would not want a resumption of conflict although extremists and nationalists may welcome it as a way of enforcing supremacy over the north since the Army is still in control there. A country cannot be held together by force but only with the consent of the people. But little do they know that the only way to keep a nation together is not to force it to be together. It is the Freedom and Respect that breeds the feeling of community and a sense of belonging.
As Parents, we keep our families together by encouraging discussion and dialogue and discouraging dispute and disdain. So are communities and so are nations. It is the freedom and the responsibility that are the essence and the essentials of any communion.
Let us not forget how the LTTE began its struggle. Small isolated strikes at the Army patrols began by the youth which escalated as time went on. It is also difficult to expect the International Community to remain silent when it is already probing allegations of war crimes and genocide. The doctrine of responsibility to act has been invoked in Kosovo and in Iraq with the establishment of Kurdistan. Haven’t we lost a large number of Sinhalese troops in the war?
But it must be said that the Chief Minister although he has been a judge has no experience in administration. His strong point is that he is not a politician. But he needs to know how district administration works. Why in the world does anyone suppose that people who specialize in and excel at winning political elections are also uniquely skilled to excel at running other people’s lives? As for the Governor he is undoubtedly a strong administrator given his Army background. All this time he would have acted as the unchallenged head of the Province. But he needs to change. I remember after 1956 several Government Agents found it intolerable to see local MPs interfering in the district administration. Several of the old school of District administrators as Government Agents were transferred and replaced with younger members of the Civil Service who were more amenable to working with local politicians. In this case too the situation is the same although the overtones of ethnicity may color or discolor the issue. It is difficult for an administrator used to exercise power to change his ways of working and listen to the politicians although they are the representatives of the people. It is a question of accommodating to the peoples will and not necessarily a matter of inter-ethnic relations. So the prudent thing is for the Government to allow for changes in the holders of the posts of Governor and use the administrative capacity of the Governor in the South and send a more pliable officer to the North as Governor.
As for the Chief Minister he too will have to learn to keep to policy making and allow the permanent administrative officials in the provincial administration to interact with their counterparts in the central government administration in the district.
The problems have arisen because of a faulty re-assignment of administrative agencies carried out by President Premadasa in order to implement the 13th Amendment. He should have made the Government Agent the District Secretary of the Provincial Council and the Kachcheri should have been under the Provincial Council. The district departments of Education and Health which are also functions of the Central Government should confine their activities to the national schools and national hospitals. The rest should be part of the Provincial Council administrative set up preferably under the kachcheri which will be the District Secretariat of the Provincial Council. Had this been done the costs of the devolution would not be so heavy and people would not call the Provincial Councils a white elephant.
Meanwhile a hard look has to be taken at the provisions of the law in the 13th Amendment. Does it allow sufficient power to the Chief Minister and the Provincial Council to manage its affairs?
The 13th Amendment provides overriding legal powers to the central government vis-à-vis the provincial councils, not only in the Northern Provincial Council but in the other eight provincial councils also. The Governor of each province is vested with superior legal powers by the constitution, even though he or she is an appointed official, and not elected as the provincial council members are. Democracy means the Administration must listen to the people and the representatives of the people. But the manner in which the representatives exercise their voice is through the normal administrative bureaucracy.