By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
People are eager to know whether the Political leaders in Sri Lanka are concerned with the Quality of Life or the high Standard of Living. Standard of living and quality of living are two different aspects of life. High standard of living revolves round the wealth of people which generates luxurious comforts and class disparity. There are many definitions for Quality of Life, but for analyzing purposes, let us determine in the context of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides a list of freedom and rights that can be considered as evaluating the quality of life. Quality of Life is ascertained by the impact on social, health, economic and environmental conditions which affect human and social development indicating satisfaction and happiness.
After the defeat of the LTTE, life among the communities have been a disproportionate one. The oppressed communities are at the mercy of the ruling politicians. It is unfortunate that politicians when once emerge victorious, are engaged in taking revenge on others. Moreover, the Military Forces and the para-military groups were also given a free hand to plunder the wealth of the oppressed minorities to the extent of destroying their properties, especially belonging to the Tamils and the Muslims, all of which demonstrate that there is an absence of rule of law and sends the message of a decline in the Quality of Life.
Problems between Standard of living and Quality of life in developing countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh in Asia and in some Northern, Eastern & Central African countries have been a great concern to the extent of committing murders sometimes amounting to genocide for which the unscrupulous politicians are responsible for failure to realize the consequences of maintaining the Quality of life. Had Sri Lanka been a liberal democracy, mass murders of its own citizens would be reduced.
Generally more prominence is given to Quality of Life in view of the operation of the Provincial governments among the developing Federal countries. Quality of Life has the force of discouraging disparity of class as more opportunity is afforded to the citizens of the Provinces by way of participation and share powers with the Central Government. Mention should be made that half the number of G20 countries are with Federal structures from which Sri Lanka receives aid.
The authoritarian rule by unscrupulous politicians of the majority in a Unitary State is bound to promote the Standard of Living of the ruling class resulting in discrimination among the society. The ruling politicians misled the public with their interpretations of self-determination for their survival, when in fact it is concerned with the Quality of Life. If unscrupulous politicians fail to learn from Singapore, then this is another disadvantage in the Unitary State which brings about discrimination within the society. Even the cause of the insurrections by the JVP was due to the unscrupulous politicians for neglecting the Quality of Life of the masses. The use of emergency regulations by unscrupulous politicians resulted in the emergence of poor governance and manifesting the inability to maintain law and order to control the sporadic eruptions of political instability and violence. As a result it had experienced regional insurrections which had caused a negative impact on the economic growth. The aspect of quality of life within the concept of democracy is bound to fade away in a Unitary State as there is lack of transparency and accountability for the accumulation of wealth by unscrupulous politicians.
The essence of Provincial Councils with sufficient authority in a country practising pluralism symbolizes liberal democracy. They were established to ensure the Quality of Life of the citizens through participatory governance. The Provincial governments has the force of fulfilling the purposes of Quality of Life for community development in areas of social, health, economic and environmental conditions. Exploitation of natural resources (which differ from Province to Province in terms of climate, rainfall, resources in coastal areas, water, etc.) can be effectively performed by Provinces because they are more in tune with the daily needs and aspirations of the people and of the availability of natural resources. As land is an integral part in the exploitation of natural resources, Police and Land powers should be granted to the Provinces for development programs in the areas of infrastructure of roads, school, hospitals, etc., as it could attract foreign investors and enhance both public and private sectors project, all of which would lead to the improvement of the Quality of Life. As for Land matters, the Provincial Councils can present a Land Use Planning which can be utilized to address the conflicts between residents and uses of land. Such a Land Use Planning can provide security and stability for investors. Planning is a method to protect land and other resources as well as to ensure the Quality of Life for the residents within the area. It is the Provincial governments which could frame a Provincial Land Use Policy and set out guidelines as to how it should be used and the manner of developing it, thereby enhance the Quality of Life for its citizens. The implied expectation of the 13th Amendment has clearly demonstrated that Federalism promotes participatory governance through non-violence. Since the constitution allowed room for the existence of Provincial Councils, then it is presumed that Local Planning Decisions should be made at the local level and be given utmost importance. If the Provincial Council is granted its due power and allocated its adequate funds, then there will be mutual understanding and strengthening of unity – thus generating the improvement of the Quality of Life. If the Central Government refuses to grant power and allocate adequate funds to the Northern Province, then its evil motive of ignoring the Quality of Life of its citizens and maintaining high Standard of Living of the ruling elite is bound to be exposed.
Provincial government plays a vital role for effective way of governance that can rescue the country and avoid the growing discontent resulting from the malignant economic policy as well as illegal businesses carried on by some ruling politicians. There will be an economic growth if the Central government encourages the Provincial governments in their tasks which is certain to reflect on the improvement of the Quality of Life of its citizens. Even Mahinda Chinthana has become ridiculous when some unscrupulous ruling politicians are engaged in illegal business affecting the State’s revenue, instead of allowing for unique and innovative methods of solving the social, economic and political problems through the Provinces.
If Provincial governments are not given powers and adequate funds for development programs, power to generate revenues, powers to pay their employees and powers to secure their development programs, there would not be any development which is urgently required by the Provinces. Hence the Northern Province Provincial Council wanted all political leaders to realize that the correct representation of citizens in various Provinces enhances effectiveness of individuals and small businesses in the private and public sectors which would lead to improve the Quality of Life.
The true component of Federalism is the devolution of power as much as possible to the people. In a Unitary State, the power of the people is concentrated in the Central government, with Provincial government and local authorities merely implementing directives from the top. Avoiding or dragging the problems of granting powers to the Provincial Councils only increases the distance from the solution. The easiest way to escape from such problem is to solve it by explaining the real significance of participatory governance which promotes unity and ensures the Quality of Life. The devolution of power to the Provincial governments keeps close to the grassroots. If there is a possibility to make a difference, only then it becomes a true sovereignty of the people and a true democracy. Devolution of power in no way leads to separation. Though the responsibility of the Central Government and the Provincial Government appear to be inter-woven to the extent of creating confusion on the citizens in knowing which level of government is responsible for what type of services and hold accountable, the constitution should be framed in such a manner to specify the functions of each level of government and be monitored by an Upper House together with an independence Judiciary where the affected party can seek remedy. What matters is both level of governments should co-exist in the best interests of the citizens of the country and demonstrate the expansion of democracy. The improvement of Quality of Life begins to improve no sooner such an arrangement in the constitution operates. Had the draft constitution (on the Canadian model) that was placed during Chandrika Bandaranaike’s period been approved, the improvement of Quality of Life of the Sri Lankans would be similar to that of Canadians.
Freedom of the Press has played a vital role to check the Quality of Life of the citizens. Sri Lanka restricted the freedom of the Press with the sole view that it does not criticize the government policies. If the Press is forbidden to reveal the true level of food stocks and the problem of distribution, there is a possibility of the emergence of famine which can be judged from the prevailing costs of food items. Had there been a Provincial government there would have been prompt information as to the food stocks. The restriction of the Press would allow only a class of people to maintain the Standard of Life, leaving room for disparity of class. Sri Lanka experienced such an incident during the period of Srimavo Bandaranayake when rice was allowed to consume two days in a week and not more than 50 guests were allowed to attend a ceremony. Today the price of food items had soared to an unprecedented level, while the ruling class waste food like anything, thus demonstrating disparity of class the signs of which are clear. The death of 20 -30 million Chinese as a result of famine during the period of 1958 – 1961 and almost a similar tragedy in Bangladesh due to famine due to the prohibition of the Press to reveal the true level of food stocks are cases in point. However, India avoided such a tragedy because of liberal democracy. Had Sri Lanka been a Federal State, it would have provided a barrier to the ruling politicians who represent the majority. In other words, prominence would have been given to Quality of Life rather than to Standard of Living which has been the concern of the ruling politicians for themselves.
As Sri Lanka is divided by race, language, religion, and culture, a national government is required with sufficient authority to bind the provinces politically, which with the passage of time will transform Sri Lanka into a distinctive kind of civilization focussing on the quality of life. It is unfortunate that today the quality of life is shattered when religious and political leaders have failed to realize that each individual is unique and the necessity to recognize other’s differences along the dimensions of race, religious and cultural beliefs, language, and political ideologies. There should be a workable balance between the responsibilities of the Central government and the Provincial governments. The implied expectation of the 13th Amendment is that if each Provincial government works within its own constitutional jurisdiction, there will be balance of powers between the Central and the Provincial governments. Moreover, exploitation of Natural resources (which differ from Province to Province in terms of climate, rainfall, resources in coastal areas, water, etc) can be effectively performed by Provinces because they are more in tune with the daily needs and aspirations of the people and of the availability of natural resources. Hence it has become a must for the ruling politicians to realize that Provincial governments be empowered to exploit the natural resources within their Provinces (even to receive technology through foreign assistance) so that the Quality of Life of the citizens would be ensured in keeping with the terms of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a million dollar question whether the ruling politicians will address their minds towards an obligation to ensure a social contract that provides the government the legitimacy to govern through the Provincial governments which will improve the Quality of Life of the citizens.