Dr. Nirmala Chandrahasan
The Island of May 20 carried the following in a news item:”Although the Provincial Council system had not yielded the intended results, it was not the time to criticize it in view of a Provincial Council election on the horizon”, observed Mahanayake Thera of Malwatte Most Venerable Tibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala when the Water Supply and Drainage Minister Dinesh Gunawardena called on him yesterday.”
Reading this news item I was struck by the statesmanlike comment of the Venerable Mahanayake Thera. It confirmed my view that the majority of the people of the country do not oppose the holding of an election in the Northern Province.
However as happens the democratic and civilized elements of society who are in the majority, do not express their views in a strident manner, whereas the small minority who are vociferously campaigning against the holding of elections do so, and are able to get news coverage, and may even attempt to pass off their views as that of the silent majority.
Whatever our private opinion may be as to the usefulness or otherwise of the Provincial Councils it is only just and fair that the people of Northern Province should exercise their franchise and elect a Provincial Council just as much as the people of all the other eight provinces in the Country have done. It seems strange that only when the election to the northern province is in the offing that certain politicians are suddenly seized with misgivings not only on the holding of an election in this particular province, but even as regards the question of devolution of powers to the people of the country and the Provincial Council system.
These Councils were established in 1988 under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the Provincials Councils Act, and have been operating for the last 25 years in all the provinces of the country (the eastern province more recently) bar the Northern Province. The people of the Northern Province are also part of the body politic of the country. It seems strange that anybody should seriously put forward the proposition that they alone be debarred from exercising their democratic voting rights at a Provincial Council election.
This was also pointed out by Mr Sajith Premadasa of the UNP in a recent statement. Can it be that those who are campaigning against the holding of elections are opposed to the principle of equality of all people which is the corner stone of democracy, or are they living in the colonial past when it was believed that one set of people could rule over another?
Admittedly the Provincial Councils have not as the Mahanayake Thera pointed out ‘yielded the intended results’. They are currently more in the nature of white elephants. But this is not the fault of the system but the way in which it has been operated. The powers that the Councils have are in themselves very modest, furthermore even those powers have not been adequately used and have been stymied by the governmental and bureaucratic interference of successive governments over the last 25 years.
They could be made to work more efficiently by making some amendments to the Provincial Councils Act in respect of the administrative and financial powers of the councils, and also if there is a change of heart by governments and bureaucrats so that they do not try to stifle its workings. In this way the Councils can serve as providers for the public services they are supposed to deliver and give ordinary people in the provinces a greater say in matters affecting their localities. This holds good for all the people of the country whether they be Sinhalese Tamils Muslims or Burghers.
Finally turning to the police and land powers, they have been on the statute book for the last 25 years but have not been implemented up to date. Why should they suddenly become the focus of so much agitation? (Some would say: ‘Let sleeping dogs lie!’) Is it a diversionary tactic to undermine the whole system of devolution so that all power can be concentrated in the hands of the Centre alone, which is the antithesis of democratic governance? If that is the case the people of the country must stand firm on their democratic rights and this includes the democratic right of their brethren in the North to vote at the Provincial Council election on the Horizon.
Time not opportune to criticise PCs – Malwatte prelate
By Cyril Wimalasurendre
KANDY – Although the provincial council system had not yielded the intended results, it was not the time to criticize it in view of a PC election on the horizon, observed the most Venerable Mahanayake Thero of Malwatte, Tibbatuwa Sri Siddhartha Sumangala, when Water Supply and Drainage Minister Dinesh Gunawardena called on him yesterday (19). The prelate added that a campaign against the PC system would be a topic for Geneva.
Minister Gunawardena paid a customary courtesy call on the prelate to mark 30 years in Parliament.
The most Venerable Mahanayake Thera said that Minister Gunawardena had throughout been against the prevailing Provincial Council System as well as the Thirteenth Amendment and the preferential voting system.
The prelate said that as long as President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in office there was nothing to fear. “But, we are unable to predict the situation under some other President,” he said, stressing the need for a new Constitution. He said there were too many institutions to run the country.
Minister Gunawardena said that it had become necessary to evolve a better system of administration and to do away with the existing Provincial Councils, which had created more problems instead offering solutions in areas such as health and education.
The Ven. Mahanayake Thera and Minister Gunawardena agreed destruction wreaked by illicit felling and illegal sand mining on the country’s environment was tremendous and they had to be tackled as a national priority.
Minister’s son Yadamini Gunawardena, Chairman National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB) Karunasena Hettiarachchi and Regional Deputy General Manager L. L. A. Peiris were also present.